Which chess player beat the most World Champions?

by ChessBase
10/31/2012 – In September Garry Kasparov visited ChessBase in Hamburg and brough us a little puzzle: which chess player has recorded wins over the greatest number of World Champions. We passed this on to our readers. Result: nope, it is not Kasparov himself, as many had assumed, but... well, read the article! Three readers won the special prize: a personally dedicated DVD by Kasparov.

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The Gelfer/Kasparov puzzle

In late September Garry Kasparov visited ChessBase in Hamburg and brough us a little puzzle he had encountered during his visit to the Chess Olympiad in Istanbul. It came from FIDE Vice President Israel Gelfer, who had done a bit of research on the question: which chess player has recorded wins over the greatest number of World Champions. Gelfer had included the FIDE knock-out and tournament world champions – Khalifman, Ponomariov, Kasimdzhanov, Topalov – but Garry decided that was unfair to the older players. So the search was narrowed down to the fifteen classical World Champions: Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov, Kramnik and Anand.

Our question at the time was: which chess player has beaten the greatest number of the above fifteen World Champions? In classical chess, but not necessarily when they were reigning, of course. We were asking not for the number of times they had defeated a world champion, but the number of world champions they defeated. Naturally the world champions themselves are not excluded. We also wanted to know who comes second, third, fourth, etc., and we asked for the names of the players and the world champions they have beaten. Garry offered to sign three of his ChessBase DVDs for three winners, personally dedicated, which he duly did for readers who had submitted the first batch of answers, before his departure from Hamburg. Note that the winners were chosen from messages we had received in the first three days, so that the DVD could be signed and dedicated during Kasparov's stay. We receive more comprehensive answers and research after he had left.

Here are the three winners, who should send us their postal addresses so we can ship them the prizes:

Timothée Heinz, Strasburg
Paul Keres won against the most World Champions, nine: Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe, Tal, Spassky, Smyslov, Petrosian, Fischer, Botvinnik. Then there are those with eight victories: Geller (against Karpov, Euwe, Botvinnik, Spassky, Smyslov, Petrosian, Tal, Fischer); Botvinnik (against Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe, Spassky, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian); Korchnoi (against Karpov, Kasparov, Tal, Botvinnik, Spassky, Smyslov, Fischer, Petrosian); Petrosian (against Karpov, Kasparov, Tal, Euwe, Botvinnik, Spassky, Smyslov, Fischer); and Smyslov (against Karpov, Kasparov, Tal, Euwe, Botvinnik, Spassky, Petrosian, Fischer). I collected the games as proof in ChessBase format.

Dallas Gatti, Melbourne, Victoria
I believe the player who has defeated the most World Champions was Paul Keres, who had defeated Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, and Fischer. There are also three players who defeated eight World Chess Champions: Smyslov (Euwe, Botvinnik, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov); Petrosian (Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov); Korchnoi (Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov).

Andrii Punin, Nikolaev, Ukraine
1. Keres - nine (Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer); 2/3. Kortschnoj - eight (Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov); 2/3. Geller - eight (Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov); 4. Larsen - seven (Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov).

The following very astute and well-researched message did not make it to a dedicated DVD, but we will be sending Daniel a special undedicated Fritz 13 signed by Kasparov – in return for the Exel file he generated in the process of his research.

Daniel Brandao Mariani, Florianopolis, Brazil
Before I submit the result f my research I would like to thank you for providing such great time killing puzzles (this one took us some six hours). I say "us" because I had a lot of help from my girlfriend Amanda Paul Dull (who is the current Brazilian U18 vice-champion, by the way). This research required ChessBase Fritz 11, Microsoft excel and a fried chicken.

Initially I expected our guy to be Korchnoi or Botvinnik, so I was a bit surprised in the end. Paul Keres is the chess player who defeated more world champions, winning over Alekhine and Capablanca once, Euwe 11 times, Botvinnik 3 times, Smyslov 9, Tal 7, Petrosian, Spassky and Fischer 3 times each. He's also one of those who had more wins against world champions (5th) with 41 games won (the first is – guess who – Kasparov, with 58 wins over world champions).

The second place is shared by four players who defeated eight different World Champions:

  • Botvinnik, with 45 wins (25 over Smyslov)
  • Geller, with 32 wins
  • Petrosian, with 30 wins, and
  • Beliavsky (!), with 18 wins.

One should note that Botvinnik is not in first place because he failed to defeat himself. The list goes on:

  • Kasparov, 7 champions, 58 wins (28 over Karpov)
  • Karpov, 7 champions, 46 wins
  • Smyslov, 7 champions, 37 wins
  • Larsen, 7 champions, 25 wins
  • Reshevsky, 7 champions, 19 wins
  • Korchnoi, 6 champions, 51 wins
  • Spassky, 6 champions, 36 wins
  • Portisch, 6 champions, 23 wins
  • Gligoric and Timman, 6 champions, 21 wins

And so on... There are other five players who beat over six different World Champions, and some 476 players who beat a World Champion once in their lives. I should note that I used a Database from 2007, so Anand and Kramnik relative results may be a little innacurate. It is true about rapid tornaments as well, for I may have counted a couple of rapid victories as classical victories.

To conclude, I would like to point out the data we collected made possible to discover other thing as well, for instance, the player who won more times against a single World Champion (it's the above mentioned Kasparov with 28 wins over Karpov), or who's Anand nemesis (yes, that's him again: Kasparov won 15 times against the Indian GM).

Paul Keres

The winner of our chess puzzle was of course the Estonian GM Paul Keres (January 7, 1916 – June 5, 1975), who was among the world's top players from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s. Keres narrowly missed a chance at a world championship match on five occasions. He won the 1938 AVRO tournament, which led to negotiations for a title match against champion Alexander Alekhine, but the match never took place due to World War II. After the war Keres was runner-up in the Candidates' Tournament on four consecutive occasions. Due to these and other strong results, many chess historians consider Keres the strongest player never to become world champion. He was nicknamed "Paul the Second", "The Eternal Second" and "The Crown Prince of Chess". Keres was the only player in chess history to defeat nine undisputed world champions. – Source: Wikipedia.

Twelfth World Champion Anatoly Karpov (right) in front of a
monument for Paul Keres in Tallinn

The postcard reflects the only Keres victory over Alekhine (the overall victory score was 1:5) in the Margate 1937 tournament:

Keres,Paul - Alekhine,Alexander [C71]
Margate Margate (7), 1937
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6 5.c4 Bd7 6.Nc3 g6 7.d4 Bg7 8.Be3 Nf6 9.dxe5 dxe5 10.Bc5 Nh5 11.Nd5 Nf4 12.Nxf4 exf4 13.e5 g5 14.Qd5 Bf8 15.Bxf8 Rxf8 16.0-0-0 Qe7 17.Bxc6 Bxc6 18.Qd3 Bd7 19.Nxg5 0-0-0 20.Nf3 f6 21.exf6 Rxf6 22.Rhe1 Qb4

23.Qxd7+!! 1-0.

Reports on Kasparov in Lüneburg and Istanbul

Kasparov in Lüneburg, Minister to promote chess in schools
04.10.2012 – Recently the northern German city of Lüneburg saw a festive chess event. Guests of honour was Garry Kasparov and the Culture Minister of Lower Saxony Dr. Bernd Althusmann. Kasparov used the opportunity to pressure the minister into making chess part of the school curriculum. If things go as planned a pilot project will soon introduce chess as a regular subject in 100 schools.
Hurricane Kasparov makes landfall in Germany
21.09.2012 – On Thursday Garry Kasparov flew in to Hamburg, en route to a big chess event on Saturday in Lüneburg, about fifty km to the south. Not one to waste any time, Garry is currently (Friday afternoon) recording a DVD in the ChessBase office studio, one that retraces his life and chess career from the start to 1985, just before he became World Champion. Here are pictures and a puzzle he brought for us.
Garry Kasparov on FIDE and Istanbul Olympiad
13.09.2012 – The 13th world champion was not in Istanbul just to cheer on the Russian team and its new coach, his old trainer Yuri Dokhoian. Kasparov took part in complex negotiations to reform FIDE's rules on elections, stemming from lawsuits against FIDE during the 2010 Karpov campaign. In this exclusive interview we also get his thoughts on the Russian and Armenian teams, and even some chess.

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DurhamChess DurhamChess 1/10/2021 06:05
I wonder who has played the most wc's in classical chess? I was thinking Korchnoi, Smyslov, Reshevsky and Keres 10 each