History of top chess players over time

by Frederic Friedel
2/27/2019 – Which are the commonest words in the English language, which are the most common girls' and boys' names? Today it is possible to calculate these things fairly easily, but it becomes really useful if you are able to present the results in a comprehensible way. Like with dynamic graphs and bubbling. This was done very nicely for historical chess strength in 2016 by Abacaba, a site that makes videos about data and math. Now a YouTube channel called TheRanker has published a 10-minute video visualisation tracking official FIDE ratings from 2000 to the present. It is informative, interesting and even relaxing to watch.

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The 20 highest rated players (2000 to 2019)

This visualisation tracks FIDE ratings of the top 20 players starting from July 27, 2000, through February 24th, 2019. There are a lot of interesting features that pop out, such as the rapid ascendence of Magnus Carlsen beginning in June 2007, or the extreme variability of Vassily Ivanchuk. You'll notice certain players disappear, such as when Garry Kasparov abruptly retired in 2005 while still number one. Others see more gradual moves up and down.

TheRanker on YouTube

Top chess ratings over time

Want more? For reference, here's the 2016 Abacaba visualization charting the history of top chess players over time. The video presents historical ratings of the top ten players for any given time are tracked. This video is six minutes long, and you would do well to maximize the YouTube player, lean back, sip your coffee (or chai) and enjoy this extraordinary presentation.

Try to spot patterns, e.g. at what age do players enter the group of top ten; do most players peak in their twenties; how dominating were the top players; how long did they stay in place one; who were the oldest ones that were still in the top ten? Feel free to post your observations in our comments section below.

The data, in this case, is taken from several sources: Kevin MacLeod's Edo Historical Chess Ratings site, which tracks the ratings of top players between 1809-1920 (how this is done is described in this comprehensive article); ChessMetrics Performance Ratings (1910-2005), calculated by Jeff Sonas; and of course the official FIDE Elo ratings, from 2000-2016.

Fischer stat

Fischer was the number one player for a far shorter period than Carlsen or Kasparov

Other Abacaba visualizations

In 2013 the most common girl's name was Sophia — 1.15% of all girls was so named. For boys it was Noah (0.9%).

 Watch it in video form

Which is the most common English word? Here's the bubbled visualization.

743 billion words were examined, and 97,565 distinct words found, with the most common being "the", at 7.14% of all the words encountered


Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.
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tjallen tjallen 2/27/2019 05:58
Why does the FIDE Elo not reach back further than 2000? You can find the older FIDE Elo ratings, in the last few pages of end-of-year Chess Informant, from the 70s on through the 90s. Of course, someone would have to scan or type them in.
guitarchess77 guitarchess77 2/27/2019 07:41
Very nice article, thanks a lot :)
NMcrazyim5 NMcrazyim5 2/27/2019 03:55
In terms of ratings and stats, Carlsen is probably the GOAT even at this "tender" age! But he is definitely not the people's champ.
benedictralph benedictralph 2/27/2019 03:21
Anand appears to be the most consistent. Until age started to catch up with him later in his career.