Fischer versus Kasparov
September 29, 2012 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Which player is more highly regarded, in terms of skill and mastery of the game, by the world chess community: Bobby Fischer or Garry Kasparov?

I watched a documentary recently in which Bobby Fischer was presented as being such a phenom that it would be unlikely the world of chess would every see another player at his level. Shortly after, I watched another documentary in which Garry Kasparov was presented as being, essentially, the greatest player in all of chess history. I guess it helps to have an admiring filmmaker make a documentary about you. What I really want to know, since I'm not an active member of the chess community, is what people say when they compare the two? The question essentially is, Bobby Fischer versus Garry Kasparov...which is the greatest?

In the interest of avoiding too much open-endedness I think what this question hopes to reveal is a general consensus, if there is one. Also, it would be preferable to have something more meaningful than simply talking about 'Peak rating' since, I presume, there is more to a Grandmaster's place in chess history than a mere numerical value.
posted by mousepad to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Their numerical values are quite similar. Maybe it would come down to preference in style of play. My understanding is that Fischer was the impeccable classicist, and Kasparov was more of a fiery modernist. Where Fischer plays Ruy Lopez, French Defense, and Caro-Kann, Kasparov plays Nimzo Indian, Queen's Indian , and Queen's Gambit Declined.

Kasparov played hyper-modern, and often opened with pawn to queen four while Fischer opens with the more conventional pawn to king four.

Kasparov, who was recently arrested for demonstrating in support of Pussy Riot, is more of an iconoclast, and that has a certain appeal.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:16 PM on September 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

According to the ELO scoring system, which, admittedly, has its shortcomings, Kasparov was the highest-rated player ever, followed closely by Magnus Carlesen.

Fischer rates at 11.

There are obvious problems with the rating system, though, so it's hard to really argue that one player is better than another merely because one's rating is higher than another.
posted by dfriedman at 4:19 PM on September 29, 2012

Rating is also in the context of your competition, so ratings from two different eras cannot be accurately compared.

Additionally around the time of Kasparov's reign you had somewhat of a revolution in chess knowledge. Modern super GMs have entire teams of GMs helping them prepare with racks of silicon loaded with databases of every chess game ever.

I'd wager that if you analyzed each move in each of their games versus a deep analysis by stockfish, Kasparov would come out on top. This would be the most accurate way to tell. But was it because he was a better player or because he played in a more advanced time? It's impossible to tell.

I do think that Kasparov has said that he considers Carlsen to have surpassed his play, but I may be misremembering. This could also b a superfluous statement considering that Kasparov was Carlsen's coach at the time.

I would go with Kasparov, if nothing more than he was a more consistent player who didn't try to dodge competition. But there is simply no way to come up with an accurate objective answer.
posted by robokevin at 4:28 PM on September 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think there is a consensus, but I have generally seen Fischer considered a game-changer with a stronger creative will to win, and Kasparov a superior technical player and a more thorough student of his opponent's mind (or patterns if the opponent has no mind or has thousands of minds.)

Kasparov also has been able to keep his mind which should be required to be considered the master of a game. Chess beat Fischer.
posted by michaelh at 4:29 PM on September 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

To follow up on other comments, Fischer played hypermodern as well. He took the King's Indian Defense to a new level, and virtually invented the King's Indian attack.

That top Elo list tells a lot about the fallacy of using Elo to compare across era. Notice how many of the players are current era. Is Gelfand's chess brilliance really on par with Morphy?

We simply know more about chess now than we ever have. It's similar to marathon times decreasing over the last hundred years -- runners today don't have more talent, they simply know how to train and race better, have better medical support, and better nutrition and equipment (and maybe drugs too).
posted by robokevin at 4:37 PM on September 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Its a terribly difficult to answer but if you had to boil it down I think you might find that a lot of people think Fischer had the potential to be considered the greatest of all time, but by stepping away when he did and his idiosyncratic nature its difficult to really judge against Kasparov's talent and longevity which gives Kasparov the nod.
posted by bitdamaged at 4:40 PM on September 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Temperament is part of being a great player. You cannot just consider "raw talent", because that's hard to judge - if you cannot convert you raw talent into practical play, as in competing in games against opponents - then your "raw talent" is purely theoretical. So it's fair to consider temperament. And it has huge impact. Kasparov is certainly one of the most disciplined players ever - his consistency and mental resilience put him at the very top. If you now only judge on "raw talent/ability" things get very murky very fast. Could Morphy be the greatest if he had a different temperament? Could Alekhine? Capablanca? It was very dependent on a particular timing - what if Capablanca wasn't so easily bored? What if Alekhine didn't drink like a fish? But that's also a question about people at their peak. Kasparov was perhaps closer to his peak when he played another player also renowned for his discipline - Karpov. What if Karpov was a bit younger and closer to his peak, would Kasparov still beat him? And ultimately, it's also about playing style. Alekhine was perhaps the greatest attacking player ever, but Capablanca was a more all-around great who wasn't hypertrophied in any one particular dimension at the cost of some other dimensions. How would players who have totally different strengths be judged against each other - sometimes you may beat a great champion because you have a particular key to his vulnerability, but you are a weaker player overall against many more others compared to the champion you, uniquely can beat... does that make you the greatest - obviously not. To take an analogy from tennis, Nadal seems to have Federer's number, but in turn Federer may beat more players etc.

Therefore any ranking is necessarily going to be imperfect, and ultimately it's hard to answer the question about players from different eras, all depending on your criteria of what "greatest" means. Which is why the simplest way is to say "let them play against each other" - which is not possible if they are not contemporaries, and even if they are, they may have age or performance peaks at different points, and all it tells you is that at that particular moment Alekhine beat Capablanca and maybe one of them caught a cold and was not at their peak at a given moment.
posted by VikingSword at 7:06 PM on September 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

VikingSword nailed it. What difference does it make when there's so much brilliance and creativity to learn from individual games? Apple vs orange, really.
posted by doreur at 5:23 AM on September 30, 2012

Fischer played hypermodern as well. He took the King's Indian Defense to a new level, and virtually invented the King's Indian attack
posted by robokevin

Yes that is correct, I was only thinking of games played as white.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:19 AM on September 30, 2012

They're both legends. I don't think chess players spend much time debating who should be #1 or #2. Kasparov certainly accomplished more over his career (because he didn't quit, for one thing), but Fischer towered over his peers more, if for a shorter period.

I think most players would agree that Kasparov at his peak would beat Fischer at his peak if you plucked them out of their lives and sat them both down at a chessboard, but that's largely because Kasparov was playing in a different context; he had access to much more opening theory, and also (later in his career) could use computers in his research. You could ask who had more raw talent, but that's kind of silly too, since so much of talent at that level is about the ability they had to apply themselves.
posted by dfan at 5:52 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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