Throughout chess history, there are hundreds—if not thousands—of truly memorable masterpieces that have been played by legends and relative unknowns alike. However, a few games exist in their own special category, standing above the crowd as timeless creations that will forever be loved and admired by chess players.
The following are ten of the most famous chess games ever played. They are not all among the greatest games ever, but they have certainly each left a mark on the world of chess. In fact, it's fair to say that nearly every serious chess player is familiar with all of the games on this list, each of which has a special beauty all its own.
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McDonnell vs. La Bourdonnais (1834)
This game was the 62nd game in a series of matches played between two of the world's top players at the time—matches that were ultimately won by La Bourdonnais. This game, which ends incredibly with three black pawns abreast on White's second rank, is the most famous game of La Bourdonnais' career.
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Anderssen vs. Kieseritzky (1851)
The Immortal Game was the first of two timeless games by Adolph Anderssen, both of which combined some spotty defense with incredible combinations. In this case, Kieseritzky was the victim, as Anderssen sacrificed both of his rooks and his queen before vanquishing his opponent.
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Morphy vs. Duke of Brunswick/Count Isouard (1858)
The Opera House Game wasn't played against opponents of the highest standard. Still, it remains one of Morphy's calling cards, as his play features both a straightforward, logical plan and a stunning combinatorial finish.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Levitsky vs. Marshall (1912)
It's one thing to leave your queen en prise; it's another to do so in a place where it can be taken in two different ways. But if you can put your queen on a square that not only allows it to be taken by three different pieces, and that move is enough to force your opponent to resign, then you know you've created something special. That's just what Frank Marshall did in this classic game.
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Byrne vs. Fischer (1956)
In 1956, Bobby Fischer was only emerging as a great talent, and his results were just good enough to get him an invitation to the Rosenwald Trophy tournament in New York City. Fischer did not have a great tournament there, but he did play what would become known as The Game of the Century against Donald Byrne. At just 13 years old, Fischer pulls off a stunning queen sacrifice, eventually winning more than enough material in exchange before mating his opponent.
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Deep Blue vs. Kasparov (1996)
Deep Blue's first match against World Champion Garry Kasparov ended in defeat for the machine. Nonetheless, it was notable for being the first time a computer had won a single game at standard time controls against the human world champion. While it may not rank among the most beautiful games ever played, it's certainly an important milestone in the history of chess.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Kasparov vs. Topalov (1999)
In one of the most stunning combinations ever played, Kasparov played 24. Rxd4—a combination that required seeing around 15 moves ahead in order to know that the sacrifice works. While Topalov may have been able to survive had he declined the sacrifice, one can hardly fault him for believing it was unsound; he reportedly has said he looked around nine moves deep in the position but missed 33. c3+, which ultimately proves decisive.
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Anand vs. Topalov (2005)
In this modern masterpiece, Anand initially finds himself in a difficult position before sacrificing his queen. After gaining a material advantage, it then transpires that Topalov is again the one playing for a win! While the game eventually ended in a draw, it was certainly one of the most exciting drawn games ever played. In the press conference after the round of the tournament this game was playing in, Vladimir Kramnik called this game “23rd Century Chess,” a name that has stuck to the game ever since.