The Glorious 55 — Top five players since the introduction of the Elo list

by Eduard Frey
5/1/2023 – The following survey lists all chess players who have reached a top five or top ten status at least once in their career, ranked by their highest position, then in chronological order. Of course, the start of the FIDE Elo list and the current date are arbitrary, but the chess world has now had an established rating and ranking publication for more than fifty consecutive years. How many different TOP FIVE players would you expect? Well, there are only 55 luminaries in the last 55 years or so! Check it out. | Photo: Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov | Photo: Grand Chess Tour

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Since 1967, FIDE has presented a rating list of the world's top players, which was further discussed and introduced at the FIDE Congresses during the Olympiads in Lugano in 1968 (formation of an expert group headed by Arpad Elo) and in Siegen in 1970. In 1971 it became official and was named after Arpad Elo.

In the 1970s there was usually only one list per year, in the 1980s semi-annual lists (January and July) were published, though later FIDE published its Elo lists quarterly, then bimonthly, and since mid-2012 the official FIDE Elo Ranking and Rating list is published monthly. These lists now include many thousands of players from all over the world, whereas in the beginning there were only a few hundred players included.

The Elo rating system is by definition a zero sum game, theoretically there should be no inflation or deflation, but that is another topic.

A top ten ranking peak position within the official FIDE Elo rating: There is a list of all the players who have achieved this feat in their lifetime. In other words: A Peak *Life* Rating (not to be confused with the daily updated *Live* Rating).

Clear Number 1

Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov, Topalov, Anand and currently Carlsen: Since the introduction of the official FIDE Elo rating more than half a century ago, only six players have managed to become clear number 1!

Garry Kasparov in 1985, the year when he became World Champion. | Photo: Rob Bogaerts, Anefo

It must be pointed out that in the pre-FIDE Elo era - let's start with 1950 (the year of the introduction of the GM title) up to about 2005, when the much-quoted retrospective Chessmetrics ranking by Jeff Sonas stopped - the following twelve players, listed in chronological order, were clear number one players for at least one month: Botvinnik, Bronstein, Smyslov, Reshevsky, Tal, Petrosian, Fischer, Korchnoi, Spassky, Karpov, Kasparov and Anand.

Obviously, most of these number one players reached their peak before FIDE introduced its Elo lists. Players, who were listed as number ones by Chessmetrics and who were later also listed in the FIDE Elo Top Ten (e.g. Smyslov) are therefore marked with an asterisk (*).

FIDE World Champion Veselin Topalov, the only Number One player in official FIDE rating lists who was never an undisputed World Chess Champion. | Photo: Wijk aan Zee 2012 | Photo: Stefan64, Wikipedia

Shared 1st/2nd

*Spassky (on the unofficial FIDE rating list from June 1967, together with Fischer) and later Kramnik, who twice shared 1st/2nd: in 1996/I (half-yearly list January - June, together with Kasparov) and in 2008/I (quarterly list January - March, together with Anand), i.e. neither Spassky nor Kramnik were at the top of the pyramid during their reign as World Champion.

Number Two

2 *Botvinnik (unofficial FIDE Elo list 1968), *Korchnoi, *Tal, Timman, Ivanchuk, Shirov (de jure in 1994 when Kasparov, who was the world's number one at that time, had been expelled by FIDE, though Shirov de facto was no. 3 at that time), Morozevich, Aronian, Caruana, Nakamura (one month in October 2015), Vachier-Lagrave, So, Mamedyarov, Ding Liren, Firouzja, Nepomniachtchi (since February 2023)

2-3 *Petrosian, Portisch (all in all 18 players peaked as number two or shared number two)

Number Three

3 Hübner, Ljubojevic, Jussupow, Short, Gelfand, Grischuk, Giri

3-4 Larsen, Polugaevsky, Beliavsky, A. Sokolov, Svidler

3-5 Mecking, Vaganian, Salov (15 further players)

Peak as Number Four or Five

4 Geller (unofficial FIDE Elo list 1970, best historical world rank in Chessmetrics #2), Andersson, Bareev, Kamsky, Adams, Leko, Karjakin, Radjabov, 4-5 Speelman

5 Jakovenko, Rapport 5-6 M. Gurevich, Ponomariov, 5-7 Ehlvest

Some players stayed in the TOP FIVE much longer than others. Richard Rapport was among the top five players in the chess universe for only one month in May 2022. Or Dmitry Jakovenko, he became the fifth highest rated player in the world in the July/August 2009 list (two-month rhythm), but has practically never won a supertournament.

Magnus Carlsen, a TOP FIVE player for about fifteen years and now for more than ten years in a row at the top of the pyramid, plays Dmitry Jakovenko, a TOP FIVE player in one list, on which he was number five. | Photo: Dortmund Sparkassen tournament 2009 | Photo: Gerhard F. Hund

Today it is somehow easier to get into the top five, ten, twenty, etc., because monthly lists are more volatile than a twelve-month average, as was once common practice.

Nearly "forgotten" former top five players from official Elo lists are probably A. Sokolov, Jakovenko, M. Gurevich and Ehlvest. To some extent also Salov and Bareev.

In total, only 55 TOP FIVE players in around 55 years (from 1967 to spring 2023)

Missing Top Five by one spot

6 Stein (unofficial Fide Elo list 1967, best historical world rank #3), Eljanov, 6-7 Gashimov, 6-8 Hort, Nikolic (5 players in 55 years to miss the Top Five by only one spot)

All further Top Ten players in official FIDE Elo lists

7 none!, 7-9 *Smyslov (unofficial FIDE list 1969, last time in Top Ten in 1984 at age of 63, but of course, he was a clear number one according to historical ratings before the FIDE lists were introduced), Psakhis

8 Ribli, Judit Polgar (best woman), Wang Yue (first Chinese player to enter the Top Ten), 8-9 Yudasin

9 Bacrot, 9-10 Nunn, Georgiev, Movsesian, 9-11 Miles

10 Kavalek, Gheorghiu, Seirawan, Epishin, Krasenkow, Van Wely, Dominguez Perez, Harikrishna, Artemiev, 10-11 Yu Yangyi

10-13 Unzicker (unofficial FIDE list 1968), as well as Keres (unofficial FIDE Elo list 1969, best historical world rank #2), plus much later Khalifman (10-13 and 10-14 as peak rank)

In total 84 TOP TEN ranked players in a FIDE Elo rating list so far. Who will be next?

However, the top ten boundary is arbitrary, as is the beginning (of publication) and current date as of Spring 2023. Historical ratings (such as Edo or Sonas), live ratings or alternative combined or universal lists are generally not part of this survey.

For the sake of clarity and consistency, no distinction is made in terms of duration and distance. Kasparov and Carlsen were / are long term number one players in a highly competitive circuit. Korchnoi, Karpov and Anand were really top five, top ten players for a long time. Fischer was incredibly dominant in his prime, but then abruptly stopped playing.

Top Hundred

Of course, one could also take the Top Hundred as a reference: Viktor Korchnoi, the chess condition miracle, was in the TOP 100 for more than fifty years: World Ranking survey -

Do you know who is the youngest player ever to reach the official FIDE Elo top 100 (not to be confused with the youngest grandmaster, who is usually far from the top hundred)? It is a woman! Judit Polgar (born in July 1976) joined the one hundred strongest chess thinkers on our planet at the age of 12-13 in January 1989, on a shared 55th place.

Note: Radjabov, Carlsen or, more recently, just as an example of a promising player, Gukesh D (born May 2006, first time in the top 100 in May 2022) were at least 14 or older when they first entered the top 100. Kasparov (born April 1963) had no Elo rating when he won the Banja Luka International Tournament in April 1979 at the age of 16 as an unrated and non-titled player.

A rather rare picture of Arpad Elo (right) together with Yuri Averbakh as an official and the legendary Ineke Bakker from the Netherlands, who served as FIDE General Secretary under Max Euwe, FIDE President 1970-1978, and Fridrik Olafsson, FIDE President 1978-1982, taken in 1981 at the Dutch Madurodam, a miniature park and tourist attraction in the Scheveningen district of The Hague. Professor Arpad Elo was later expelled by Florencio Campomanes around 1986. | Photo: Eric de Winter via schaakclub


You can add a lot of footnotes or comparisons - a top ranking on its own does not speak for itself!

Ljubojevic peaked at number three, he won many world elite tournaments, had big triumphs in the series in Palma de Mallorca, Las Palmas and Linares, also won or co-won Amsterdam-IBM, Amsterdam-OHRA and Wijk aan Zee, claimed Brussels SWIFT together with Kasparov, Barcelona GMA again together with Kasparov, Bosna Sarajevo, Belgrade Investbanka, Buenos Aires Konex, Reggio Emilia, Manila Marlboro or Melody Amber in Monaco (overall rapid & blindfold), but never made it into the Candidates.

Jussupow also peaked at number three and was a multiple semi-finalist candidate (he also won an Interzonal and shared the first three places at the Montpellier Candidates tournament, which was actually a strange pre-qualifier for additional Candidate Matches), but he never won a world elite series organised during his career, e.g. no wins in Linares, Las Palmas, Madrid Magistral, Tilburg, Dortmund, Biel GMT, Bugojno, Bosna Sarajevo, Capablanca Memorial, Tal Memorial, Novgorod, Belgrade Investbanka, Hastings or Wijk aan Zee (without an A-invitation, but twice playing a Candidate Match there). 

Probably the least strongest top ten players since the introduction of the FIDE Elo list:

M. Gurevich, Yudasin, Krasenkow, Epishin, Van Wely, Movsesian, Jakovenko, Harikrishna, Wang Yue, Artemiev (in order of birth). Yudasin would certainly disagree, he was a candidate twice in a row but lost in the first round in both cycles, failing to reach the quarter-finals.

Ten strong non-top-ten players since the introduction of the FIDE Elo list (only players who reached their individual career peak between 1970 and 2020, in order of birth):

Browne, Sax, Torre, Piket, Lautier, Vallejo Pons, Navara, Naiditsch, Wojtaszek, Wang Hao, all never made it into the official top ten (so far). Of course, there are many more, and the promising youngsters of today who will be chasing the top in the near future are not included here.

The Fallen Meteor

Sokolov, Andrei, not Ivan! Do we remember him? Grandmaster Andrei Sokolov was once ranked world number 3= in January 1987, together with Jussupow, behind the dominating Kasparov and Karpov, above Korchnoi as fifth, followed by Ljubojevic, Hübner, Short, Portisch, Spassky and Tal; and again in the next list of July 1987, together with Jussupow, above Korchnoi, Beliavsky and Timman as joint fifth, followed by Tal, Ljubojevic, Short and Nikolic.

Spassky and Portisch, both born in 1937, Tal, born in 1936, were then 50-51 years old and still in the top ten, Korchnoi, born in 1931, was a clear number five for the last time in July-December 1989 at the age of 58, behind Ivanchuk and ahead of Salov, players really from a different generation.

Andrei Sokolov beating Karpov at Bugojno 1986:

Andrei Sokolov beating Karpov at Belfort (GMA World Cup) 1988:


Andrei Sokolov beating Kasparov at Reykjavik (GMA World Cup) 1988:


Andrei Sokolov beat the reigning World Champion Garry Kasparov at the GMA tournament in Reykjavik in 1988. It was Garry's only defeat in the event that he won outright. | Photo: via Douglas Griffin

Andrei Sokolov was just one step away from a World Chess Championship match against Garry Kasparov!

However, exhausted from the Zonal, Interzonal and Candidates Tournament (Montpellier 1985, Sokolov co-winner, 16 players including the former world champions Spassky, Tal and Smyslov, plus Korchnoi, Timman, Short, Portisch or Beliavsky), the then following Candidates semi-final and final, which he won both times, Sokolov lost the additional so-called "super-final" in 1987 to Anatoly Karpov, who had been seeded directly (!) as the loser of the 1986 title rematch between Karpov and Kasparov; and he never fully recovered.

Sokolov was born in March 1963, just a few weeks before Kasparov, both of whom are celebrating their 60th anniversaries this spring. Kasparov was beaten by Andrei Sokolov in Reykjavik in 1988 (GMA World Cup umbrella tournament series, Andrei Sokolov was one of the participants with guaranteed invitations). After that, Andrei Sokolov didn't get many more chances, rapidly dropped in the ratings, immediately relegated to the Open in the Swiss system. Times can change quickly. 

Sokolov was World Junior Champion in 1982 and won the USSR Championship in 1984 as a clear first. He played for the USSR team at the Chess Olympiads in 1984 and 1986, as well as at the Soviet Union vs. Rest of the World match in London in 1984, and at the first World Team Chess Championship in Lucerne in 1985, but was not nominated for the USSR team at the Chess Olympiad in November 1988, despite having beaten both Kasparov and Karpov earlier that year. Andrei Sokolov soon took up residence in Belfort and later played for France in team events. He won a couple of pretty strong Open Festivals, but the momentum has gone.

Quote from Andrei Sokolov: "Le long parcours des Candidats a puisé trop d'énergie dans mes réserves. Les années suivantes n'ont pas été aussi glorieuses." ("The long journey of the Candidates drew too much energy from my reserves. The following years were not so glorious.") Source: (in French)

Read more in the blog of renowned chess historian Douglas Griffin:
Andrei Sokolov. | Soviet Chess History (

Main source: OlimpBase by Wojciech Bartelski with History of Elo ratings: OlimpBase :: the encyclopaedia of team chess and FIDE, other sources may slightly differ

The site Live Chess Ratings - presents updated daily live-ratings.

Eduard Frey was born in spring 1967, is an economist (lic. et mag. rer, pol.) and works as a coach in human resources. He learned the game as a child from his father. Chess is a hobby without rating. He has been a frequent visitor to the Biel Chess Festival since 1976, as well as to Lucerne (1982 Olympiad, and the 1985, 1989, 1993, 1997 World Team Championships), and to the international tournaments in Zurich or the Lugano Open series. Frey spoke with many top players; he knew Viktor Korchnoi, Wolfgang Uhlmann and Mark Taimanov more closely.