Chess is probably one of the oldest games there is. It has a centuries long record full of twists and turns.
The game has not been updated for centuries, yet people are still finding new ways to approach it everyday.
Due to its complication, there have been many events and meta (most effective tactics available) that have been seen over the decades.
I am here to tell you which eras of chess I think are the best of all.
Take note that this is my personal opinion and I could very well understand why someone would prefer another era for my top list, ranking the eras are hard after all.
But so far, here are what I think are the best eras. Without further ado, let’s get started.
What are the eras of chess?
There is something that makes the creation of this list quite tricky. Chess doesn’t really have official eras, this is part of the problem.
Some may call a particular year as an era even when there are no significant chess-related events that have occurred there.
There are so many unofficial eras about chess that if we are going to count everything, there is no end to it. For me an era will be best tied with a world champion or any particular event that has been prominent to their reign.
There isn’t a higher symbol in chess than the world championship title, I think that it should be a good benchmark for determining eras.
This article will use this standard, basically I will determine the era primarily on who was the world champion at the time and some related chess-related trend that was popular at the time.
1.) Era of Paul Morphy (Romantic era)
The best era for me would be the romantic era led by one of the best to play the game, Paul Morphy.
Now, I know that Paul Morphy is not an official world chess champion, but I think he should be considered as one.
He is after all known as the best in the world at one point and has been given the “unofficial world champion” title even before the actual title is concepted. Even by today’s standards he is one of the best to play the game.
The romantic era is associated with Paul Morphy, basically it is an era of tactics and art.
Chess during such a time was full of attacks and sacrifices, painting the board with beautiful combinations.
Playing timidly is not popular at the time, chess players find the flashiest ways to win in each of their games.
The games played in this era are beautiful, they will remind you that chess can be considered an art when played in a particular way.
Paul Morphy embodied this era becoming the best chess player at the time.
Although there have been many criticisms about the romantic era being full of inaccuracies, I still think that it is the best era chess has ever entered into.
2.) Era of Magnus Carlsen (Supergrandmaster era)
The era of Magnus Carlsen is my second best era in chess so far.
It is where modern knowledge meets the recommendations of strong chess engines, creating the super grandmasters that can play for the advantage at every centipawn.
Almost all openings are already analyzed, chess players need extreme squishing of the position in order to find a win.
The moves played in this era might not be the flashiest (in fact it is probably the opposite, most people consider this era the most boring one), but it is the deepest one.
When I say deep, it means that you won’t appreciate the moves until you have given it some further calculation.
Some normal-looking pawn moves be leading to a crazy endgame where one side is up a pawn all of the sudden.
The most normal-looking moves turns out to be a winning one under the surface, this is a characteristic of this era.
There is also something beautiful about this in my opinion, although you just have to think deeper when looking at the games since the ideas are more subtle.
3.) Era of Jose Raul Capablanca (Opening theory era)
The next era for me in this list is the one led by Jose Raul Capablanca. Capablanca is one of the best chess prodigies that came to chess.
Most prodigies don’t really stack up to the big leagues, Capablanca was a major exception leading one of the best eras ever.
While being the world chess champion, our theory of openings is starting to become formalized at this time.
During Lasker’s reign at the title, openings are starting to get studied. During Capablanca’s reign, we have seen what incredible games can arise from preparation.
It is the time when opening theory is still young and is full of improvisation, players can creatively prepare openings at their home.
My favorite was when Frank Marshall played the Marshall attack against Capablanca himself, a weapon that Marshall has been hiding for 8 years (allegedly).
It is a crazy game full of complicated variations that Capablanca also won unexpectedly, it is the third best era in my opinion.
4.) Era of Bobby Fischer (U.S. vs. U.S.S.R.)
The era of Bobby Fischer is the fourth best era in my opinion.
This one would have made it higher if not for the fact that this only constitutes Bobby Fischer’s run for the title.
Since Bobby did not hold the world champion title for a very long time, this era lasted at the blink of an eye.
However short it may be, it is one of the sweetest. This is probably the era that made chess so popular in the United States.
The politics at the time were going bitter between the U.S and the U.S.S.R, it was the cold war. They are basically competing in many areas that would show which country is better at the time.
Chess is one of U.S.S.R.’s pride, before and after Bobby Fischer the Soviets have hoarded the world championship title.
Almost all world champions at the time were Soviets/Russian up until Garry Kasparov. Bobby Fischer’s run is legendary, as he had not only beaten the dominant Soviets, but had actually crushed them that you’d feel bad.
Mark Taimanov for example was thrown to prison after getting swept by Bobby Fischer.
Soviets are also colluding with each other to fix their tournament results, intentionally giving points to a fellow Soviet that is leading in a tournament (which is proven eventually).
Bobby puts on an absolute show delivering the most legendary win streak of all time, at the world championship run no less.
He also managed to gather the biggest prize fund at the time due to the whole Spassky drama.
It is the right place at the right time, the politics, the prime of Fischer, and the drama just aligned for the most ultimate story.
Fischer losing the world championship title was definitely the end of an era, it is one of the best in my opinion.
The best eras of chess for me were Paul Morphy’s era (romantic chess), Magnus Carlsen’s era (super grandmaster chess), Capablanca’s era (opening theory revolution), and Bobby Fischer’s era (U.S. vs U.S.S.R.), in this particular order.
I think all of them deserve to be in this list for one way or the other.
The only objection that I can imagine is the actual order of the eras from the greatest to the least greatest, but I guess it is really up to you.
For me the romantic era is the most memorable one as it contains the most beautiful essence of chess, creativity.
The games played in the romantic era are “full of life”, you can tell that the players have tried to make the game as appealing as possible.
The other eras were exciting too in their own ways, this is just my personal take on it.
That is all for this article, thank you for reading.