Where Do Great Chess Players Come From?
I wondered for several years whether I had an advantage (living where I live in the learning environment I had) as a chess player or if I could have been a better player under a different set of circumstances. I did a bit of research to see what backgrounds the best chess players in the world came from. Here is what I found.
Paul Morphy – Born in 1837, he learned how to move the pieces at age 8. By age 9, he was the best player in New Orleans. He was awarded the master title by 12 and started playing competitive chess at age 20 in 1857. By 1859, just 2 years later, he gave up competitive chess forever. Morphy was considered to be the best chess player of all time (at that time). He was invited to royal balls, state dinners, and everybody wanted to meet him. He was considered to be a gentleman and was well dressed and polite. Morphy would often give away prize money to help opponents and upcoming chess players. There was no official world championship at the time though he is considered to be a “world champion”
Bobby Fischer – Fischer grew up in poverty and never graduated high school. He had symptoms of paranoia and feared others were trying to take things from him. Fischer always said what was on his mind. In 1959, he defeated Borris Spasky in Iceland to take the “world champion” title away from the Russians who had held the title for many many years. He decided not defend his title the following year and the title returned to Russians with Anatoly Karpov becoming the new world champion.
Alexander Alekhine – Alekhine, born in 1892, learned to play sometime between ages 6-7. He was born in Moscow to wealthy aristocratic family. ,He became the fourth world champion after defeating Capablanca in 1927 at age 35. At the time, Capablanca was considered to be unbeatable. Alekhine studied hard for many years and lost many games, but he slowly raised his rating a little bit at a time. Alekhine died in Portugal in poverty. He was the only chess champion to die with the title. In 1922, he had such a poor result in a tournament that nearly gave up chess forever thinking he would never be able to achieve his dream of becoming the world champion. Alekhine’s greatest strength was his work ethic. He studied relentlessly. It is because of Alekhine that players today must study openings, study opponent’s weaknesses, psychologically prepare for matches. For people to play with Alekhine, they had to work just as hard as Alekhine did and the practice has continued ever since.
Gary Kasparov – Kasparov was born in 1963 and studied and patterned his own play after Akekhine. He took the title from Anatoly Karpov at only 22 years old in 1985. Becoming the world champion at this age beat Mikhial Tal’s record as the youngest world champion. Kasparov is an outspoken opponent of Vladimir Putin. He was awarded the U.N.s Human Rights award in 2013. Kasparov lost the world championship title to Vladimir Kramnik in 2000 but remained the worlds top rated player until he retired in 2005.
Mikhail Tal – Became the youngest world champion at the age of 23(at that time). His attacking style was so violent that his play was considered to be incorrect. His fellow grand-masters thought they only needed to get used to his style of playing. They figured that after they learned his style, he would be easily defeated. He lived during the “Russian System” where Russian Players were housed and paid by Russia to play chess as their primary job.
What did I learn from my research? World champions come from all different backgrounds, had many different styles, and had varying talents and work ethics.