Chess is not only a sport, but also a science and an art. Over the centuries, there have been many great chess players who have left their mark on the royal game. However, among these elite players there are some legends who, with their innovative ideas and original technique, managed to change the very course of contemporary chess thinking, despite never having won the title of “World Champion”.
This article is an attempt to list 10 such chess players, who, despite never winning the world championship, were some of the greatest minds the chess world has ever encountered. A player’s lower position on the list does not mean that he would lose to higher-listed players in head-to-head matches, but is just a subjective marker for the player’s place in chess history. The players’ positions on the list is based on several factors such as their contribution to the game, dominance over other players of the time, how long they were among the chess elite, and so on. The list is based on the objective ratings of the players from sites like chessmetrics, as well as subjective opinions of many chess critics.
So, here we list the top 10 players who never won the World Chess Championships ever.
10. Akiba Rubinstein (1882-1961)
Akiba Rubinstein was a Polish chess grandmaster, and one of the leading players around the beginning of the 20th century. During his illustrious chess career, he won several major tournaments, and defeated many famous players like Caplablanca and Schlecter. He was all set to challenge Emmanuel Lasker for the World Championship in 1914. However, the match did not happen because of World War I.
He remained a leading player for many years, but was never able to challenge the World Champion again. He retired in 1932 and later suffered from mental illness for the last 30 years of his life. Nevertheless, his accomplishments have secured him a solid place in chess history.
9. Harry Nelson Pillsbury (1872-1906)
Pillsbury was an American chess player who went on to win one of the strongest tournaments of his time, the Hastings tournament in 1895, when he was just 22 years old. He also won the US Championship in 1897, a title he held until his death. He was an extremely talented player who dominated his contemporaries, and was believed to be the strongest player in the world by many. Despite this, he never got a chance to challenge the reigning world champion Emmanuel Lasker for a World Championship match. This was mostly because of his health issues. He had contracted syphilis, which had an adverse effect on his physical and mental health. This prevented him from reaching his peak.
One of the great highlights of his career is his even score against Emmanuel Lasker (+5-5=4). He was also a superb blindfold player, who once took on 22 chess players in a blindfold simultaneous display. His games are studied by students of chess even today. His short career is one of the greatest “what-ifs” in the history of chess. He died in Philadelphia in 1906.
8. Miguel Najdorf (1910-1997)
The Najdorf variation of the Sicilian defense is an extremely dynamic and deeply studied opening variation, which is used very often at all levels of play. It was named after the Argentine grandmaster Miguel Najdorf, who was one of the world’s best players in the 1940s. Born in Poland, Najdorf’s early career saw him secure good ranks in many strong tournaments within the country. He represented Poland in the Chess Olympiads. He went on to become one of the best chess players in the world and won many top-notch events.
Unfortunately, despite his great success in tournaments, he was not invited to the Candidates’ Tournament in 1948, which prevented him from getting a chance to challenge the World Champion. His greatest contribution is to chess opening theory, and the Sicilian Najdorf is an opening variation that every serious chess fan has played at least once in their chess journey. So, it is fair to say that his contributions to chess have been immortalized.