Chess is a game of kings. Or it’s a game with Kings. Also checkers. Anyway, this is about chess. It’s a game all about strategy and thought, where prowess comes not from bicep or speed in a footrace but with one’s ability to think smartest and quickest. For the past 200+ years, the top chess players in the world have been considered among the smartest and cleverest people in the whole world, but their names are largely unknown.
The above video by YouTuber Abacaba shows a line graph of the top 10 chess players over time and what countries they’re from. This data was culled from three different sources of chess records-keeping. Some of the stats, especially with regard to the top player at any given time, are pretty staggering.
American Paul Morphy entered the scene in 1849 at the age of 12, started as the #2 ranked player, and then became #1 in the world, a title he held for over 17 years (!) before being unseeded by Austrian Ignatz Kolisch in 1867. A few months later, he become #1 again for over a year before retiring entirely at the age of 32. And he wasn’t just the best; Morphy was staggeringly the best, winning hundreds more matches than his closes rival for awhile. That’s pretty impressive, except for when you see German Emanuel Lasker was #1 for over 21 years. I mean, try harder, Morphy.
Eventually, as we enter the 1960s, we begin to see the rise of Bobby Fischer, who had a huge spike in wins to overtake the top spot in the early ’70s, and then disappeared rapidly due to his paranoid schizophrenia. The Russians took over and Garry Kasparov was eventually the top chess master in the world for over 22 years before retiring in 2006. The current number 1 is 25-year-old Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, who’s been on top for six years. Talk about dynasties with a lot of these people.
The visualization is beautiful in its own way, as you can see certain players’ meteoric rises and falls. Even if you don’t understand chess, you have to be impressed by that kind of longevity.
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!