Anand Vs Kasparov: Who Is The Better Player?

If you love a heated chess debate, the easiest way to get one is to throw two world champions into a hat and argue over who was better. Viswanathan Anand and Garry Kasparov are two such men and there’s certainly a debate to be had here but which one is best based on facts?

Who is the better player: Anand or Kasparov? Although Anand is a brilliant player, Kasparov is the better player out of the two. Kasparov is better because he single-handedly dominated the game for 2 decades and had the better results head-to-head.

Let’s compare the two giants of the game a little further.

Anand vs. Kasparov: Who's the better player? - ChessPulse.com
Anand vs. Kasparov: Who’s the better player? – ChessPulse.com

Who Is Viswanathan Anand?

Vishy Anand is the first player from India to become a grandmaster and the first Indian grandmaster to become world champion. At the peak of his game he was rated 2817. He has been world champion twice and has won the championship 5 times in total.

He began life as something of a chess prodigy, picking up the game when he was about 6. In 1983, he won the Indian sub-junior championship with a score of 9-9. He became India’s youngest IM at 15, their first GM at 18 and then qualified as a candidate in 1993.

Chess was complicated as Anand rose to the top of the game and there were two chess association competing to be the “official” world championship. One was FIDE (the current and only body representing chess) and the other Kasparov’s PCA.

Losing The World Championship Before Winning It

In 1995, though Anand had lost the world FIDE title twice in the final, he faced Kasparov in the final of the PCA word championship and lost.

Anand became FIDE world champion, eventually, after several attempts in 2000. But by 2002, he was no longer world champion. In the next few years, the PCA closed down and the game was unified under FIDE and in 2007 Anand won the unified world chess title and held it until 2012 when he lost the title to Magnus Carlsen.

Anand is a solid player with no major obvious weaknesses. His play isn’t dramatic or exciting but there’s no doubt that he has been one of the real powers in the game for the last 30 years or so. Even when Magnus Carlsen beat him, Carlsen urged the world not to write off Anand and noted that his best days might still be to come.


Who Is Garry Kasparov?

Kasparov is a player in a league of his own. His highest rating of all time was 2851, this has only been surpassed by Magnus Carlsen. He was ranked world number 1 for over 250 months, more than any player in history.

He has written the book on chess, quite literally, we recommend his five-volume set of books to any aspiring grandmaster – it’s the finest study of the finest chess players ever put together. He was, at 22, the youngest world champion of all time (when he won).

Kasparov is a product of the USSR and it’s fair to say that his ability to produce world class games is, in part, down to the incredible levels of education and training that the Soviet Union could provide along with access to the greatest array of talent in chess history.

Not Everything Is Perfect, But It’s Close

In fact, the only dark spots in Kasparov’s career are his loss to Deep Blue in 1997, making him the first world champion to be bested by a computer chess program (there’s no shame in this, today, no human player can hope to beat the best computers – the finest ranked computers have ratings of around 3,500 that’s a huge jump up from the 2,800-ish of the best humans).

That and the fact that due to a dispute with FIDE over the purse and the representation of players, Kasparov founded his own chess federation and split chess for more than a decade with the two bodies jostling for attention. He has apologized for this and acknowledged that this was a mistake that was bad for the game.

However, nothing can take away the fact that he was the de facto world champion from 1985 to 2000 when he was finally defeated by Vladimir Kramnik and even then until he retired in 2005, he was still the world’s number one rated player.

He has returned to chess recently, but he is no longer the force that he once was though he can certainly still hold his own against most of the modern game’s strongest players.


Anand Vs Kasparov: So, Who Is The Best?

Pretty much every commentator agrees on this and we don’t disagree with them – Kasparov was a true chess giant. He dominated the game for nearly two decades and nobody else came close, Karpov may have been grinding out alternative world championship wins at the time but nobody seriously suggests that he’d have beaten Kasparov if the titles had been unified.

Then we turn to their head to head record and the numbers never lie. Garry Kasparov, in classical slow chess, had beaten Anand 16 times and lost just 6 with 32 draws between them. If we include Rapid chess (Blitz chess wasn’t a thing for most of Kasparov’s time of chess dominance at least not at his level) and exhibition games then the numbers swing even farther towards Kasparov’s favor – he won 26 games to Anand’s 8 with them having 43 draws between them.

Anand did play directly against Kasparov for the World Championship title and was savagely dispatched 10 ½ to 7 ½. The match wasn’t the greatest example of chess to begin with and the two titans managed to grind out 8 draws before Anand finally broke through and took a point from Kasparov.

From there on, the match was savage and Kasparov whipped Anand taking the 4 ½ points from 5. However, in the aftermath, Kasparov said he didn’t blame Anand for losing, he felt that Anand’s advisors had let him down and failed to prepare him psychologically for what was, in essence, Anand’s first stab at the chess world crown.

While Anand would, of course, win the world title in 2000, he never faced Kasparov again for the title and thus, we have to take the evidence as it stands. Kasparov was the better player.

We know that some will argue that this is unfair and that Anand was a youth player on the verge of greatness and Kasparov was at the height of his powers when he won and many feel they should play again today to see who would win.

We feel that this is likely to be as mismatched as the original game and Kasparov is now a genuine retiree who is unlikely to recreate his best form.

And to these people we offer the Chessmetrics ratings for players that have been standardized over time to allow for “inflation” and with the exception of a 1-year period in the history of chess (where Bobby Fischer is considered to be the best player) Kasparov has the highest rating for 5 year, 10 year, 15 year and 20 year peak play.

We are happy to hear arguments regarding Kasparov, Fischer and even Carlsen but when it comes to Anand, he is a brilliant player who never quite achieved the level of brilliance of Garry Kasparov.


Conclusion

Anand vs Kasparov: Who is the better player? Garry Kasparov is the better player because all the available data suggests that this is so. We would note that Kasparov benefited enormously from having the might of the Russian machine behind him when learning the game but his utter domination of chess for 2 decades until he retired from the game in 2005 is simply unassailable.

The head-to-head figures don’t leave much grey area either and Anand himself would probably acknowledge that he wasn’t quite as good as Kasparov but then there can only be one greatest player in the history of chess and there are many almost that good players.

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