The Education of Grandmasters

Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946) graduated from Polivanov Grammar School (which includes High School) in July, 1910.  He then applied for admission to Moscow Imperial University to study law.  Alekhine was accepted and he attended the Law Faculty of Moscow Imperial University through the early winter of 1911.  In February 1911, he transferred to the St. Petersburg School of Jurisprudence and usually got the top grade possible.  He received a degree in law in Saint Petersburg in May 1914, but never practiced.  He studied at the Sorbonne Faculty of Law for a “Doctors of Laws” degree.  His thesis was on the Chinese prison system, but never completed.  His law degree was not considered a PhD where one had to write and defend a dissertation.  Nevertheless, Alekhine claimed the title of “Dr. Alekhine.”

Viswanathan Anand (1969- ) was educated at Don Bosco Matriculation Higher Secondary School in Chennai and holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Loyola College in Chennai.  Had he not chosen chess as a career, he would have gone into Fine Arts or Information Technology.  He was bestowed with an honorary doctorate degree of Kala Praveen by Jawaharial Technological University, Hyderabad in 1988.

Levon Aronian (1982- ) holds a diploma from the Armenian State Institute of Physical Culture.

Maurice Ashley (1966- ) graduated from the College of the City of New York (CCNY) with a B.A. in Creative Writing.

Anjelina Belakovskaia (1969- ), woman grandmaster, graduated from Odessa University of Agriculture with a Bachelor’s in economics and accounting.

Joel Benjamin (1964- ) graduated from Yale University in 1985 where he majored in history.

Vinay Bhat (1984- ) received a B.S. in Statistics and Political Economy from the University of California Berkeley in 2006.

Mikhail Botvinnik (1911-1995) wanted to study Electrical Technology at the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute and passed the entrance examination.  In 1928, he was admitted to Leningrad University’s Mathematics Department.  He later transferred to the Polytechnic's Electromechanical Department.  In the late summer of 1931, Botvinnik graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering, after completing a practical assignment on temporary transmission lines at the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station. He stayed on at the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute to study for a Candidate’s degree.  In December 1932, Botvinnik became a postgraduate in the Polytechnic’s Electro-Mechanical Department.  In June 1937, he received his Candidate’s degree after finishing his thesis.   In 1949, Botvinnik published a major work on motors and generators called “Regulation of Excitation and Static Stability of the Synchronic Machine.”  In 1951, Botvinnik earned a PhD in Science and Technology. His dissertation was entitled “Regulation of Oscillating Current in Electrical Equipment.”  In 1956, he joined the Research Institute for Electrical Energy as a senior research scientist.  In 1961, Botvinnik was awarded an honorary PhD in mathematics from the University of Ferrara for his work on computer chess.  Botvinnik became a professor specializing in electronics and computer chess.

Robert Byrne (1928-2013) graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School and Yale.  He was a philosophy professor, teaching at Indiana University through most of the 1950s.  He did not become a professional chess player until he was in his 40s.

Jose Capablanca (1888-1942) went to school at the Instituto de Matanzas, 60 miles east of Havana from 1898 to 1904.  In the summer of 1904, Jose went to a private school (Woodycliff Preparatory School) in South Orange, New Jersey to learn English and to prepare himself to enter Columbia University.  He passed the entrance examinations with ease for Columbia University in 1905.    He obtained the high mark of 99% in algebra and also had high marks in other scientific projects.  In 1906, Capablanca attended Groff School in Manhattan, New York.  He enrolled at Columbia’s School of Mines, Engineering and Chemistry in September 1906 to study chemical engineering.  Later, his financial support was withdrawn because he preferred playing chess to studying engineering. He left Columbia after one semester to devote himself to chess full-time.  Capablanca may have been at Columbia as late as 1908.  Capablanca had an abnormally developed memory.  He said he could read 7 pages of history and recite them verbatim.

Magnus Carlsen (1990- ), after finishing primary school, took a year off to participate in international chess tournaments.  He has an exceptional memory.  Carlsen lost interest in high school and dropped out of high school in his senior year to play chess.

Larry Evans (1932-2010) received a bachelor’s degree in 1954 from what is now City University of New York.


Nick de Firmian (1957- ) graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in physics.

Jaan Ehlvest (1962- ) attended high school in Estonia.  From 1981-87 he studied and graduated from Tartu State University with a degree in Psychology.

Max Euwe (1901-1981) was awarded his abitur (high school certificate) after attending a six-form high school in Amsterdam at the age of 18.  He studied mathematics at the University of Amsterdam and was awarded an Honors Degree (cum laude) in 1923.  In 1924 he started teaching mathematics, first part-time, later full-time.  He earned his doctorate in 1926 from the University of Amsterdam.  The title of his dissertation was “Differentiaalinvarianten van twee covariantie-vectorvelden met vier veranderlijken” (Differential variants of two co-variant vector fields with four variables).   Euwe then lectured on mathematics in Winterswyk and Rotterdam.  From 1926 to 1940 he taught high school mathematics at the Lyceum for Girls in Amsterdam.  In 1929 Euwe published a mathematics paper in which he constructed an infinite sequence of 0's and 1's with no three identical consecutive subsequences of any length. He then used this to show that an infinite game of chess was possible. It had always been the intention of the rules that this should not be possible, but the rule that a game is a draw if the same sequence of moves occurs three times in succession was not, as Euwe showed, sufficient.  He later became involved with Informatics, the forerunner of today’s computer science.  In 1956, Euwe joined Remington Rand’s computer department as a scientific advisor.  From 1959 to 1965, Euwe was director of the Research Center for Automatic Data Processing in the Netherlands.  In 1964, Euwe was appointed professor in Informatics at the Universities of Rotterdam and Tilburg.  In 1976, Euwe was appointed professor in Cybernetics at the University of Mantach in Luxembourg.


Reuben Fine (1914-1993) earned a bachelor’s degree from City College of New York (CCNY) in 1932.  After World War II, he earned his doctorate in psychology from the University of Southern California.  For awhile, he was a university professor.


Robert ‘Bobby’ Fischer (1943-2008) dropped out of Erasmus Hall High School at the age of 16 in 1959 to play chess.  In 1956, his IQ was measured around 180, a very high genius, and he had an exceptional memory.  Fischer had no interest or capacity for schoolwork.  He did score 97% in geometry and 90% in Spanish in the New York State Regents examinations in 1959.


Anish Giri (1994- ) finished his ‘Middelbare School’ at Grotius College in Delft.  His favorite subjects included physics, mathematics, geography and history.


Robert Huebner (1948- ) earned a PhD in classical philology in 1973.  He is an expert on the deciphering of ancient papyri.  He is fluent in over a dozen languages.

Gata Kamsky (1974- ) graduated from Brooklyn College in 1999 with a premed degree in chemistry.  He attended medical school for a year.  He then attended and graduated from law school at Touro Law Center in New York.


Anatoly Karpov (1951- ) won a gold medal for academic excellence in high school.  In 1968 he entered the Mechanics and Mathematics Faculty of the Moscow State University to study mathematics.  In 1969, Karpov transferred to the Economics Faculty of the Leningrad State University, eventually graduating from there in economics.  His thesis was on leisure in a socialist society.   He also graduated as a reserve officer trained as an artillery officer and studied English and Spanish.  In 1978 he worked as a junior researcher in the social studies institution of the Leningrad State University.  In 1999-2003 he was chairman of the board at the Federal Industrial Bank.  In 2004, he became a member of the Presidential Council on Culture and in 2006 Anatoly Karpov was appointed Acting Chairman of the Ecologic Safety and Environmental Protection Commission.  He has a PhD in Economics.


Garry Kasparov (1963- ) entered the Azerbaijan Teaching Institute of Foreign Languages in 1982.  He graduated from there in 1986.  Kasparov is fluent in Russian and English.


Viktor Korchnoi (1931- ) graduated from Leningrad State University with a major in history.  He was given an honorary PhD.


Vladimir Kramnik (1975- ) said that he tried to receive higher education, but it was too difficult for him to combine chess with serious studies.  He dropped out of college after becoming world chess champion.  In 1996 he entered the University of Novgorod to study foreign languages.  He later transferred to the department of philosophy, but never got a diploma.


Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941) was sent to Berlin at the age of 11 to study mathematics.  Lasker displayed unusual mathematical abilities and wanted to become a mathematician.  He also studied the Talmud with his father and grandfather, a rabbi.   Lasker was accepted into one of Berlin’s best high schools and was advanced two class years ahead of his peers after scoring very high on all his exams.   Lasker was spending so much time studying and playing chess that is parents told Berthold to find another school for Emanuel. Berthold did find a new school for Emanuel, in the small town of Landsberg an der Warthe (now Gorzow Wielkopolski, Poland) in Prussia.  Lasker gained his abitur (high school graduation certificate) at Landsberg.  Lasker then studied mathematics and philosophy at the universities in Berlin, Gottingen and Heidelberg.  In late 1893, Lasker was a mathematics lecturer at Tulane University in New Orleans.  He lectured on differential equations.  In 1895 Lasker published two mathematical articles in Nature magazine (Metrical Relations of Plane Spaces if n Manifoldness and About a certain Class of Curved Lines in Space of n Manifoldness).  In 1897, Lasker entered Heidelberg University, and then transferred to Erlangen University, 150 miles east of Heidelberg.  Lasker registered for doctoral studies at Erlangen in 1900.  In 1901 he presented his doctoral thesis Uber Reihen auf der Convergenzgrenze (On Series at Convergence Boundaries) at Erlangen.  In 1901, Lasker was a mathematics lecturer at Victoria University in Manchester, England.  He was awarded a doctorate in mathematics in 1902.  He published three books on philosophy.  In 1905 he published a theorem (Zur Theorie der Modlin und Ideale) that was of fundamental importance to modern algebra and algebraic geometry.  He introduced the notion of a primary ideal.  He proved the primary decomposition theorem for an ideal of a polynomial ring in terms of primary ideals.  A commutative ring R is now called a ‘Lasker ring’ if every ideal of R can be represented as an intersection of a finite number of primary ideals.  In 1936, the Mathematical Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences selected Lasker as an honorary member.

Peter Leko (1979- ) dropped out of school at age 14 to concentrate on chess.  At age 14, he was the youngest GM in the world.  He says he has no other education except chess.

William Lombardy holds a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy, a master’s degree in ethics, and a master’s degree in divinity, all of which he obtained at St. Joseph’s Seminary College in Yonkers, New York.  He also attended CUNY and studied Educational Psychology at Saint Louis University.  He was ordained a priest in 1967.

Tony Miles (1955-2001) was a mathematics undergraduate of the University of Sheffield.  He did not complete his studies and became a professional chess player.  In 1975, he was awarded an MA by the University of Sheffield for his chess achievements.

John Nunn (1955- ), at the age of 15, went to Oriel college, Oxford to study mathematics.  His IQ was measured near 200.  At the time, he was Oxford’s youngest undergraduate since Cardinal Wolsey in 1520.  He graduated in 1973, specializing in algebraic topology, which has links with atomic physics.  He gained a doctorate in 1978 with a dissertation on finite H-spaces.  Nunn remained at Oxford University as a mathematics lecturer until 1981, when he became a professional chess player.

Tigran Petrosian (1929-1984), as a young boy, was an excellent student and enjoyed studying.  He was orphaned during World War II and was forced to sweep streets to earn a living, leaving little time for an education.  In 1968 Petrosian received a Master of Philosophical Science from Erevan State University.  His thesis was entitled, 'Chess Logic. Some Problems of the Logic of Chess Thought.'

Alejandro Ramirez, a chess grandmaster from Costa Rica, graduated from the University of Texas in Dallas with a Masters Degree in Arts & Technology/Design and Production of Videogames.

Samuel Reshevsky graduated from the University of Chicago in 1934 with a degree in accounting.  He supported himself and his family by working as an accountant.

Nigel Short (1965- ) went to St. Philip’s Primary School in Atherton and studied at Bolton School and Leigh College.  He has an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Bolton.

Yuri Shulman (1975- ) completed undergraduate studies from the State Academy of Sports in Belarus.  He has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and an MBA specializing in Finance from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Amon Simutowe (1982- ) is a grandmaster from Zambia.  He holds a B.S. in Economics and Finance from the University of Texas at Dallas and a M.S in Economics for Development from the University of Oxford.

Vasily Smyslov (1921-2010) was a student at the Moscow Institute of Aviation from 1938 to 1940 and studied aviation science.  He wanted to become a professional baritone singer and took singing and music lessons in 1948.  In 1950 he failed an audition with the Bolshoi Theatre, and only then decided to make chess a career.  At the age of 75 he produced his first CD of Russian romances.

Boris Spassky (1937- ) graduated from high school with honors and attended Leningrad State University and studied journalism, graduating in 1959.  His studies were in the history-philology department, but the subject for his diploma thesis was chess in the central press.

Wilhelm (later William) Steinitz (1836-1900) started out as a Talmudic scholar like his father.  But then he left Prague to study mathematics at the Vienna Polytechnic in 1858.  He eventually dropped out of the Polytechnic to play chess professionally.  He may have had financial problems and poor health which forced him to drop out of school.

Mikhail Tal (1936-1992) learned to read at the age of three.  At the age of five, he was able to multiply three-figure numbers in his head.  From his early days, Tal had brilliant mathematical ability, an exceptional memory, and perfect musical ear.  Tal finished high school at age 15 and applied to law school, but later entered the Philological Faculty at Riga University because he loved literature more than law, and the sciences would interfere with chess.  He started university studies (Russian language and literature) at the age of 15.  In the spring of 1957, Tal graduated in history and literature from the Philology Department at Riga University, writing his thesis on Russian humorists (the satirical works of Ilf and Petrov and Mikhail Bulgakov).  His thesis was entitled, 'Satire in the novel Twelve Chairs by Ilf and Petrov.'  Tal taught school in Riga when in his early 20s.  Tal was fluent in Latvian, Russian, English, German, Spanish, and Serbian.

Veselin Topalov (1975- ) attended special classes in chess at Vazrazhdane Secondary General Educational School.  He has been mostly coached and managed by International Master S. Danailov.

Patrick Wolff (1968) attended Yale and graduated from Harvard in 1996 with a B.A. degree in philosophy.

Here is a list of grandmasters with a PhD or MD.

Dr. Maria Albulet Pogorevici (1932-2005); Woman Grandmaster from Romania.  Polish women's champion in 1984.   She was a pediatrician.

Dr. Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946); former world champion.  PhD in jurisprudence from Sorbonne in 1925, who did his dissertation on the prison system in China.  Some sources say he failed to get his PhD.  He completed two of the four stages required for the PhD degree.

Dr. Bolat Asanov (1961- ); Kazakh Grandmaster.  PhD in history.

Dr. Jill Barber; Ladies Correspondence Grandmaster.  PhD in bio-organic chemistry from Cambridge University in 1980.

Dr. Friedrich Baumbach (1935- ); Former world correspondence champion and Correspondence GM.  PhD in chemistry.

Dr. Jana Malypetrova Hartston Miles Bellin (1947- ); Woman Grandmaster.  Medical doctor specializing in anesthesiology.

Dr. Volf Bergasser (1904-1986); Correspondence Grandmaster and French champion;  Medical doctor.

Dr. Hans Berliner (1929- ); Former world correspondence champion and correspondence GM.  PhD in computer science from Cargenie-Mellon University.  His dissertation was entitled, "Chess Computers as Problem Solving."

Dr. Ossip Bernstein (1882-1962); Grandmaster.  PhD in jurisprudence from Heidelberg University.  Lawyer.

Lars Bo Hansen is a GM living in Florida. He has an MBA and a PhD in Strategic Sport Management.

Dr. Viorel Bologan (1971- ); Grandmaster from Moldavia.  PhD in pedagogy from the Sport Academy, Moscow, in 1996.  His dissertation was entitled, "Structure of Special Preparation of High-Level Chess Players."

Dr. Mikhail Botvinnik (1911-1995); former world champion; PhD in electrical engineering in 1951.

Dr. Ian Brooks; US Correspondence Grandmaster.  PhD in biochemistry and is a computational biophysicist at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

Dr. Stefan Busemann; Correspondence GM from Germany.  PhD in computer science.

Dr. Noam Elkies (1966- ); world chess solving champion and world solving GM; PhD in mathematics from Harvard at age 20.

Dr. Thomas Ernst (1960- ); GM from Sweden.  PhD in mathematics.

Dr. Max Euwe (1901-1981); former world champion; PhD in mathematics from Amsterdam University in 1926.

Dr. Miroslav Filip (1928- ); Grandmaster from Czechoslovakia.  PhD in jusrisprudence and lawyer.

Dr. Reuben Fine (1914-1993); US Grandmaster.  PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Southern California.

Dr. Robert Huebner (1948- ); GM from Germany.  PhD in papyrology.  World leading expert on Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Dr. Anatoly Karpov (1951- ); former world champion; PhD in economics from Leningrad State University.

Dr. Yona Kosashvili (1970- ); Grandmaster from Israel and husband of Sofia Polgar.  Medical doctor.

Dr. Jesse Kraai; Grandmaster from the USA; PhD in philosophy from the University of Heidelberg.

Dr. Martin Kreuzer (1962- ); Correspondence Grandmaster.  PhD in mathematics with a specialty in computational commutative algebra and applications.

Dr. Jana Krivec is a Woman GM and 7-time woman’s champion of Slovenia. She has a PhD in psychology.

Dr. Nikolai Krogius (1930- ); Russian GM.  PhD in psychology, specializing in sports ppsychology.

Dr. Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941); former world champion; PhD in mathematics from Erlangen University in 1902.  His dissertation was on geometrical calculus and ideal numbers.

Dr. Alisa Maric (1970- ); Woman Grandmaster.  PhD in economics.

Dr. Jonathan Mestel (1957- ); GM from the UK.  PhD in mathematics from Cambridge University, specializing in magnetohydrodynamics and biological  fluid mechanics.  His dissertation was entitled, "Magnetic Levitation of Liquid Metals."

Dr. Karsten Mueller (1970- ); Grandmaster from Germany.  PhD in mathematics from the Univeristy of Hamburg in 2002.

Dr. John Nunn (1955- ); Grandmaster from the UK.  PhD in mathematics at age 23 from Oxford in 1978.  His dissertation was on Algebraic Topology and Finite H-Spaces.

Sam Palatnik is a GM from Odessa. He is working on a PhD in economics of industry.

Dr. Victor Palciuskas (1941- ); former world correspondence champion and correspondence GM.  PhD in theoretical physics and professor of geophysics.

Dr. Helmut Pfleger (1943- ); GM from Germany.  Medical doctor.

Dr. Ken Rogoff (1953- ); winner of the US Junior Championship three times and a GM. PhD in economics from MIT.

Dr. Jonathan Rowson is a Scottish GM. He earned a PhD in Philosophy at Bristol University.  He also has degrees from Oxford and Harvard.

Tal Shaked is an American GM. He is working on his PhD in computer science.

Dr. Jon Speelman (1956- ); English Grandmaster. PhD in mathematics from Oxford.

Daniel Stellwagen is a Dutch chess GM. He is currently working on his PhD in organic chemistry and catalysis.

Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch (1862-1934); One of the top players in the world.  Medical doctor specializing in hypnosis.

Dr. Saviely Tartakower (1887-1956); Grandmaster from France.  PhD in jurisprudence.

Dr. Petar Trifunovic (1910-1980) was a GM from Yugoslavia. He had a PhD in jurisprudence.

Dr. Irina Mikhailova Umanskayal (1963- ); Woman Grandmaster from Russia.  PhD in pedagogy.  Her dissertation was "Developing of advanced junior chess-players with the help of chess software and Internet resources."

Dr. Diego Valerga is a grandmaster from Argentina. He is also a pediatrician.

Dr. Milan Vidmar (1885-1962); Yugoslavia's first GM.  PhD in electrical engineering.

Dr. Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888).  One of the leading world players in the 1870s and 1880s.  Medical doctor (he enrolled in medical school but may not have graduated).