Reports | April 13, 2012 10:05

Kasparov: Fischer’s 1972 rating 'much more significant' than Carlsen’s current rating

Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen

In a telephone interview Garry Kasparov expressed the opinion that Bobby Fischer’s 1972 rating was 'much more significant' than Carlsen’s current rating. The 13th World Champion said this yesterday to Viktoria Korpan for Estonian newspaper Postimees.

Kasparov, who turns 49 today, is going to appear with the Estonian President at the Pärnu Finance Conference on April 19th. They will talk about "the role of innovation in the modern world".

On this occasion, Postimees spoke with Kasparov yesterday and published a lengthy interview about Russian politics, Chess in Schools and his new book. The following part was probably of most interest to chess fans. Asked 'who stands out among the young chess players', Kasparov answered:

The most talented is Carlsen, who is of course a star of the first order. In contrast to the situation in athletics, chess records depend on “inflation”. When I was climbing to the top you’d count one or two people with a 2700 rating and that was that, while now it’s at least 45 people.

In fact, due to the increase in those playing chess the base of the pyramid has grown, and that adds points at every level. Fischer’s rating was 2785 in 1972, but that’s of course much more significant than Carlsen’s higher rating now. It can be compared to my 2851 in 1999. The evolutionary factor is having an impact, so despite the mathematical basis of ratings I nevertheless wouldn’t attribute such historical importance to them.

When Fischer was climbing to the top he’d score +6, I’d score +6-7, while Carlsen scores +3-4. That's simply enough, as the pyramid really has grown, and today’s super-tournaments are now rated above 2750. The only tournament with a similar rating was in 1996. At the tournament in Las Palmas, which featured myself, Karpov, Kramnik, Anand, Ivanchuk and Topalov, the top six were all playing. That tournament was unique, although by current standards the ratings of the top players weren’t the highest. So you have to take that into account if you want to carry out a historical analysis.

Translation by Colin McGourty


Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


redivivo's picture

Being 125 points ahead of World Champion Spassky more significant than being 10 points ahead of Aronian, no way! :-)

Ch_P's picture

But there is a difference, this 10 point difference is in 2800s, not 2700s. That is a huge barrier.

adam's picture

meow, meow

choufleur's picture

mreow ?

Mig's picture

That's pretty much conventional wisdom by now, no? It was a big deal when Kasparov passed Fischer and it will be a big deal when Carlsen passes Kasparov, but mostly just because it's the simplest and most obvious metric, not the most accurate or relevant. Fischer's incredible gap over the rest and Kasparov's ridiculous plus scores are harder to quantify but surely mean more than an arbitrary rating number a dozen years later. (Nobody even notices anymore as more players stampede across Fischer’s 2785.) It will be interesting to see if Carlsen can detach himself from the pack. Probably better for him if Aronian (or others) keep on his heels the way Kasparov had Karpov pushing him hard well into the 90s until the next generation came along.

Laramonet's picture

Isn't Kasparov's comment just common sense ? There can't truly be anybody out there that believes the Carlsen of today is a better player than the Fischer of 1972, can there ? Granted, he skirts the issue of Fischer versus himself but that's a never-ending topic.

grasjeroen's picture

I'm certainly not sure that Carlsen today is a better player than the Fischer of 1972, but it could very well be the case, simply because chess has evolved, and Carlsen is part of that evolution.

Fischer's rating was that high because he mastered chess way much better than his competitors (at that time). But that does not guarantee he would excel with that knowledge and capabilities today. Too bad we do not have a time machine to test this :-)

Nuvel's picture

What do you mean by "chess has evolved" since 1972? The pieces move the same way, the blunder frequencey is probably the same, so what do players do today that they did not do back in 1972? Of course, opening theory has exploded, but the rook still belongs behind the passed pawn, so what's different?

slonik's picture

Chess databases and engines have made it much easier for all players to have access to the latest theory and analyse games played with 3000+ rated engines, play games every day against the same 3000+ rated opponents etc, of course this development makes chess evolve.

redivivo's picture

"There can't truly be anybody out there that believes the Carlsen of today is a better player than the Fischer of 1972, can there ?"

He could well play better chess, I don't know if Anand today must play worse than Fischer did 40 years ago either. Andy Murray could play better tennis than Laver did without being the more significant player of the two.

Otherwise Fischer's 125 points are always brought up even if that was a "one list only" achievement, his usual distance to Spassky was no bigger than Kasparov's to Karpov in the early 1990s, it's just that Karpov at his peak was a tougher opponent than Spassky in 1972.

Alfonso's picture

There is a way to know if a player rated 2700 today has the same strength as a player rated 2700 30 years ago: comparing their moves with those suggested by a computer. As far as I know, when this analysis has been performed, the results suggest that the ratings closely mirror move strength. Put another way, the moves by Vallejo today are of the same "intrinsic quality" than those of Tal in 1980 (both around 2700 ELO). Tal opponents were weaker than Vallejo's, and therefore he was a top-5 player then.
There is nothing strange about that: obviously the quality of training has improved a lot. The 20th player in the world today plays chess much better than the 20th player of 1980. It happens that, by chance, the ELO system seems to reflect this improvement.

Guillaume's picture

I doubt that. Even if true, it would only show that modern player are using computers for their preparation (which is hardly surprising), not that they play better chess. For each game, compare the moves played way after of the last theoretical move, and I doubt that there is any trend showing a superiority of modern players, even by computer standard. I wouldn't be too surprised if it was in fact the opposite.

redivivo's picture

Gheorghiu (#10 in 1980) was in fact playing better chess than Ivanchuk (#10 today)? I doubt that, and I think it isn't all about opening preparation.

Alfonso's picture

Opening moves were removed from such studies. I do not have the reference at hand, it was a study from Macieja et al. Maybe it can be criticized, but it showed a lot of data. If athletes and swimmers today are better than 30 years ago, why not chess players? After all, nowadays there are more chess players doing more intensive training.

Please note that Kasparov wisely speaks of "significance", not "better". Janowsky was a very "significant" player, but probably much "intrinsecally" weaker than, e.g., Jakovenko.

Guillaume's picture

Alfonso, thanks for pointing out that it was coming from a paper by Macieja et al. Maybe it's this paper?
It looks like that they have removed only the first eight moves of each games. Not sufficient, I would say. This is still theory, and of course very much influenced by computers nowadays.

Alfonso's picture

Yes, it is!! (technically Regan et al. but it was Macieja the name I knew)

Yes, I was also a bit disappointed with the 8-move cut-off, but it may be claimed in the 80's there was a fashion for long theoretical lines (arguably more than today), so it is not clear that another cut-off would have changed things. Another confounding factor (favoring "old players") is the incremented rate of play today and the disappearence of adjournments...

Anyway I would say that the "onus probandi" lies now in the other option: to show that a 2625 player in 1987 is better than a 2625 player nowadays.

I myself considered rather counterintuitive that Ivan Salcedo (2621- Spain 2012) is more or less of similar strength than Ljubojevic (2625-Yugoslavia 1987), but what if my feelings were wrong?

Alfonso's picture

...but I also would find counterintuitive if the player number 15 today is not significantly stronger than the player number 15 of 30 years ago.

archimedes's picture

Strong computers nowadays *DO* play better chess than the best humans. 3200+ ELO.

Computers don't just comparatively qualify opening theory, but quality of each and every move in the whole game.

These findings have found that modern players do play superior games than the old masters. This is encouraging! It doesn't mean they were any more or less brilliant than the great masters of the past, but have built upon their knowledge.

darkergreen1327's picture

I agree! Opening preps nowadays are so intense and using computer while preparing closes the gaps between players significantly. In the end I do not think that anybody would be able to have that much difference with their own generations as Fischer and Kasparov had... BUT in the end, Kasparov is right, Carlsen's rating is as interesting as his or Fischer's ratings!

FP's picture

Happy birthday, Garry Kasparov!

Anonymous's picture

Professional chess has never recovered from the retirement of GK...although Bobby's leaving the game was even more significant.

Anonymous's picture

"When Fischer was climbing to the top he’d score +6, I’d score +6-7"...of course, Garry, you scored 7 while Fischer scored just 6, humble as always, aren't you? Anyway, we still love you for all the great moments you have given us throughout your career, С Днем Рождения!

redivivo's picture

The + comparison with Fischer is a bit unfair to Carlsen though, since the opposition is much stronger in his tournaments. When he won Tal Memorial 2011 the clearly lowest ranked opponent was Nepomniachtchi at #20. Not easy to score +6 in 9 games in such surroundings. In the Stockholm Interzonal 1962 5 of Fischer's 22 opponents were top 20 but most of them were below top 50.

valg321's picture

he was the undisputed world champion for almost two decades...he doesn't need to be humble

True Chess's picture

He has a point, and he is right about it.

Anonymous's picture

Fischer's "+6":
+16 (19/22) Herceg-Novi 1970 (blitz)
+9 (13/17) Zagreb 1970
+13 (15/17) Buenos Aires 1970
+13 (17.5/22) Palma de Mallorca 1970 (interzonal)

Maybe Garry was talking about candidates' matches? :)

redivivo's picture

As with Carlsen these comparisons with Fischer are difficult to make though. Kasparov's last tournament before winning the title was Niksic 1983. He scored +8 in 14 games and only 2 of the 15 players weren't top 50 (but still top 100). Fischer's +14 in 22 in his last tournament was with a bunch of below top 100 players in the field. Also comparing Fischer's scores at 28-29 with Carlsen's and Kasparov's as teenagers is difficult.

winter tire's picture

Saved as a favorite, I love your website!

Ebrahim's picture

But Fisher was playing against fewer active chess players. Rating inflation is a real anomaly. Surely the person who is the best of 200 chess players should be rated higher than the best of 100 players, statistically speaking. There is a greater chance of the superior chess player being the 'best of 200'than the 'best of 100'. So, statistically speaking Kasparov's rating should be higher Fisher's and Carlsen's higher than Kasparov and rating inflation is a hoax.

The Devil's picture

You can't ask if Player X from 50 years ago is better than Player Y from today, it simply isn't fair. The players of today profit from the players of the past "Standing on the shoulders of giants" if you will. That is why it's also not fair to compare Morphy to Fischer. Fischer knows far more theory, just like Carlsen probably knows far more than Fischer did.

The only way you can judge the greatness of someone is how they compared to their peers during their time, and it's pretty clear the big guys like Morphy, Fischer, and Kasparov are all legendary.

sled's picture

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Carl Lumma's picture

But there's "inflation" in athletic results too... records are constantly being broken. Why are those considered objective, but not an Elo rating? Ken Regan's recent work gives very strong evidence that Elo ratings ARE an objective measure of playing strength and that there has been essentially no inflation since the early '70s at least.

stevefraser's picture

Gary is not only the greatest chess player ever, he has also intensely studied in depth those greats that came before him. His opinion on this matter should be given the most serious consideration.

Matt's picture

Comparing champions from now to those from the past may be unfair; if we brought Capablanca or Fischer to our time and gave them today's resources they'd be able to beat anyone, just as they did at their time. Same with Carlsen or Kramnik taken to the 20's or 30's, only using those day's resources. All is relative.
Let's not forget that computers analysed all world champion's games and the one that gave better moves overall was (surprisingly?) Capablanca!. Everything is relative.

Foibos's picture

There is no point in comparing players without taking into account the time they were active. It is like comparing a M.D of our days with Hippocrates. Of cource the M.D of our days has much more knowledge than Hippocrates had, nontheless it is him who bends the knee in front of Hippocrates with respect...

MH's picture

Kasparov is right, elo inflation is significant. Carlsen is not at the same level as Fischer. When Fischer played it was quite certain he was going to win a tournament. With Carlsen it could as well be someone else. He also is not revolutionizing chess yet.

Of course Carlsen is an excellent player, but comparing him at par with Fischer or Kasparov is not (yet) the case...

Centovic's picture

Taking into account that Magnus Carlsen is still only 21 and hasn't reached anywhere near his peak yet we're probably seeing tournament by tournament the greatest ever chess talent in history. Sure, he'll mess up from to time but he is truly gifted and good for the game. Personally I don't give two hoots about chess ratings it's the player and his chess that matter. My favourite player Rashid Nezhmetdinov wasn't even considered a GM and yet if I could sit and watch Rashid and Misha Tal play chess against each other every single day I'd be very happy. The same applies to Capablanca and Morphy. It's the games that really matter not those boring numbers by their names. Leave that stuff to the stat-geeks.

Happy Birthday Gary, you were a great attacking genius. Loved your style of play. Wish you were still playing.

Have a good summer people.

ll's picture

Onboard his plane toward Iceland, Fischer said that if Morphy would come back today he would be beaten by an average grandmaster just because of the latter's advantage in opening theory and progress in the understanding of the game. So one could think that in absolute terms today's higher elos indeed partly translate raw accumulated progress. Kasparov himself wrote all his books about progress and revolution in chess so why wonder? That is not to say that absolute chess strength and elo should command more respect than being relatively the strongest at some point in time. Both Fischer and Kasparov were visionary geniuses. Likewise, an average PhD in physics today will know a lot more about quantum physics than Einstein did, yet we know who is the genius.

Anthony Migchels's picture

I think all this is a little out of proportion. Kasparov is not making a major statement, but more matter of factly is saying everybody already knows. He's not trying to belittle Carlsen in any way.

G Kasparov's picture

I am better than Fischer & Carlsen. End.

V.Kramnik's picture

Last time we played together in a match, I kicked your @@s, remember Garry? Period.

ps4 games 4's picture

Thanks for revealing your ideas. I would also like to
say that video games have been actually evolving.
Better technology and enhancements have made it simpler to
create realistic and enjoyable games. These kinds of entertainment games were not
actually sensible when the concept was first being experimented with.

Just like other designs of electronics, video
games way too have had to progress through many ages.
This is testimony for the fast growth and development of video games.

Anonymous's picture

John B. Watson, chess's greatest scholar of such things agrees with you.

dentist's picture

Awesome post.

SXL's picture

Pretty big logical fallacy in Kasparov's argument re. plus-scores.

jo's picture

Just because Muhammad Ali said he was the greatest does not mean that Cassius Clay was not ;();

Anonymous's picture

This technical paper examines other factors which should be considered, like accuracy:

Rodzjer's picture

Chess 40 years ago is not the same as chess today. Top-grandmasters nowadays exist by virtue of computer preparation. Fischer could not do that. This makes it harder for a grandmaster these days to make the difference OTB. Chess has evolved and "strength in chess" now is not the same as strength in chess back in the 70s. That's why imho it would be harder for a "brilliant player" to stand out at modern times, than it was in Fischer times. Garry actually put that change in motion with his revolutionary approach of his KK-matches.

akim gettings's picture


Anonymous's picture

Don't shout, please!


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