The Art of Control: Who Reigns Supreme as the Best Positional Chess Player?

Chess is a game of strategy and positioning, so who is the best positional chess player?

Let’s take a look at 5 greats and how they stack up against each other.

Who is the best positional chess player?

While it’s difficult to definitively name one player as the best, Garry Kasparov gets my vote. He combined positional mastery with aggressive, dynamic chess play.

The ability to control the board is what sets the best players apart from the rest.

In this article, I’ll take a look at the careers of five of the greatest positional players in history: Magnus Carlsen, Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, Tigran Petrosian, and Garry Kasparov.

Let’s analyze their achievements and playing styles, and see if we can determine who is the best positional chess player of all time.

For anyone who is addicted to chess, this article will be a fun one.

The Mozart of Chess – Magnus Carlsen

magnus carlsen

Magnus Carlsen is the current World Chess Champion and is, no doubt, regarded as one of the best players of all time in the chess world.

He is known for being able to adapt to a wide variety of styles, balancing offense vs defense, and being a master of positional chess.

Carlsen has a very evident prowess of gaining positional advantage in his games. He’s able to create and maintain strong pawn structures, control the center, and put his opponent in a pressure cooker.

He has a history of finding unexpected moves based on position that disrupt his opponent’s plans.

One of Magnus Carlsen’s most famous positional victories came in his match against Viswanathan Anand in 2014. In their ninth game, Carlsen played a brilliant positional game, gradually improving his position until Anand was left with no counterplay. Carlsen went on to win the game and the match.

Carlsen’s achievements in chess speak for themselves. He’s won more World Chess Championships than any other player in history (4), and has also been ranked number one in the world for over ten years.

The Maverick of Chess – Bobby Fischer

bobby fischer

Bobby Fischer is easily one of the most famous chess players of all time. He’s regarded as a chess genius, and while he was known for his aggressiveness during play, he was also a master of positional chess.

Fischer’s match against Boris Spassky in 1972 is considered one of the greatest positional masterpieces in chess history.

In the fifth game of the match, Fischer methodically outmaneuvered Spassky until he was able to create a completely winning position. This was a positional chess class in session.

Fischer won the World Chess Championship in 1972 and was ranked number one in the world for several years. His legacy continues to inspire players to this day.

Master of the Endgame – Anatoly Karpov

anatoly karpov

Anatoly Karpov is another master of chess, widely considered to be one of the greatest chess players of all time.

Why? Because of his positional play.

Karpov was known for controlling the board, creating strong pawn structures, and slowly and methodically wearing down his opponents.

Have you noticed a theme to these grandmasters’ games? They make the pawn, what many consider the weakest piece on the board, a dominating piece.

Karpov’s positional game was evident in his match against Viktor Korchnoi in 1978. In their fifth game of their match, Karpov positionally maneuvered until Korchnoi was left with nothing.

Karpov’s won the World Chess Championship in 1975 and held the title for ten years. During his career, he won over 160 tournaments and had a winning percentage of over 70%.

Defensive Genius – Tigran Petrosian

tigran petrosian

Tiger Petrosian was a defensive chess genius. He was consistently able to neutralize his opponent’s attacks and take control of the game.

Like Magnus Carlsen, he was known for his ability to find unexpected moves that disrupted his opponent’s plans.

The height of Petrosian’s positional prowess was on display in his match against Boris Spassky in 1966.

In the tenth game of the match, Petrosian played his best positional game, using his strong pawn structure to improve his position methodically until Spassky was dead in the water.

Like Fischer’s match against Boris Spassky, this game is considered one of the greatest positional masterpieces in chess history.

Petrosian won the World Chess Championship in 1963 and held the title until 1969. During his career, he won over 80 tournaments and had a winning percentage of over 60%.

The Chess Prodigy – Garry Kasparov

garry kasparov

Garry Kasparov is often mentioned as one of the greatest positional chess players of all time.

He was a dynamic player, combining tactics with positional play.

He created complex positions that his opponents found difficult to navigate and play against.

In Kasparov’s match against Anatoly Karpov in 1985 he classically wore his opponent down positionally. His methodical approach to winning is considered classic positional genius.

Kasparov’s had numerous achievements in chess, winning the World Chess Championship in 1985 and holding onto the title for an amazing 15 years.

He won over 200 tournaments and had a winning percentage of over 64%.

Final Thoughts

Each of these players has a unique style of play, if I were to choose based on playing style, Garry Kasparov stands out as the best positional chess player.

His aggressive and tactual style of play, combined with his deep understanding of positional chess, made him almost unbeatable.

What do you think? Who is your favorite positional chess player? Let me know what you think in the comments section below! I love reading your opinions and I always respond.

6 thoughts on “The Art of Control: Who Reigns Supreme as the Best Positional Chess Player?”

  1. An interesting read for sure. I’ve heard of Bobby Fischer before and even seen videos of Garry Kasparov playing more than one person at once. The other grandmasters I’d never heard of but, then again, I’m not well versed in the world of chess. 

    I am curious though how great chess players reach the level of grandmaster. What is the process and time it takes to achieve that level of chess playing?

    • It’s just like anything else, once you’ve spent 10,000 hours studying something you become a true expert. These players have analyzed chess and set entire games to memory. When they’re playing an opponent they’re looking 5, 6, 7 moves ahead. I can’t imagine being able to see the board that well.

  2. This is a wonderful piece. Eric, I was researching positional chess and found your post. I hope to teach my kids about the game and even show them how to use it someday. It is a great tool that helps people think critically and be smart. I bookmarked your page and look forward to reading more of your articles. Please keep us informed.

  3. Wow – I didn’t know there were such “sub-categories” of superb chess players! Comparing chess to professional team sports or even individual sports, it is HUGE to even win a “title” or “cup” for two years in a row, not to mention fifteen plus! Where are the world championships held? Do they have national competitions and then meet in several different countries for semi-finals? I have so many questions! 

    • Every grandmaster is not only great all around, but they definitely have huge strengths which make them almost unbeatable. It’s amazing to see how these players get this good. Thanks for the comment!


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