Although the first world chess champion was not officially designated until 1886
, there were masters
who clearly stood out above their peers long before then. (Unless otherwise noted, all given match
scores award a point for a win, a half-point for a draw
, and nothing for a loss.)
- Giochino Greco (Italy; 1620s-1634): Though just arguably the best of his contemporaries (such as Luis de Lucena, Ruy Lopez, and Giulio Cesare Polerio), Greco was certainly the best-recorded. With dozens of his wins and accounts of his exploits throughout southwestern Europe on record, Greco was probably the closest thing to a 'world champion' in the earliest days of modern chess.
- Francois Philidor (France; 1743-1795): Gained primacy in the known chess world by beating quasi-champion Sire de Légal at the Café de la Régence in Paris in 1743. Defeated virtually every opponent that he could find, often with some sort of handicap. Remained dominant in Europe until his death.
- Alexandre Deschapelles (France; late 1790s-1821): Took up residence as master of the Café; not as clearly powerful as Philidor, but managed to defeat most oncomers with the Pawn and Two Moves handicap. Retired soon after a 1-6 loss (St. Cloud, 1821) to Louis de la Bourdonnais.
- Louis de la Bourdonnais (France; 1821-1840): Generally considered to be the best active player after his victories (13 wins, 1 loss) over Alexandre Deschapelles and John Cochrane in 1821. Won 45 games, lost 27 and drew 13 against Alexander McDonnell (London, 1834). Waned in his later years, but stayed strong until his death.
- Howard Staunton (England; 1843-1851): Established his chess dominance with a 13-8 victory (Paris, 1843) over Pierre de Sant Amant, successor to la Bourdonnais in Paris. Created a "Great International Tournament" in 1851 to determine the world's best player, but placed fourth in it, losing in the semifinal to Adolf Anderssen.
- Paul Morphy (America; 1858-1862): While waiting to become old enough to practice law, sailed to Europe in 1858 and proceeded to defeat thoroughly every available opponent, including Adolf Anderssen (8-3, Paris, 1858). Was unable to face Staunton in direct competition, but did defeat in a match a team chaired by Staunton with a team of his own. Returned to New Orleans shortly thereafter and never played competitive chess again. Noteworthy as the first person recorded as being called 'The World Chess Champion'.
- Wilhelm Steinitz (Czechoslovakia; 1886-1894): Duelled first with Adolf Anderssen, then Johannes Zukertort throughout much of the mid-19th century. Finally conclusively defeated the latter 12.5-7.5 (New York/St. Louis/New Orleans, 1886) in what became the first match generally recognized to determine the champion of the chess world. Defeated Mikhail Chigorin 10.5-6.5 (Havana, 1889), Isidor Gunsberg 10.5-8.5 (New York, 1890-1), and Chigorin again 12.5-10.5 (Havana, 1892). Lost to Emanuel Lasker 7.0-12.0 (New York/Philadelphia/Montreal, 1894).
For a century after Steinitz, the title of world champion followed a straight, clear line. In the first few decades, though, the ability to challenge the title was solely up to the whims of the champion at the time. Nevertheless, money
and peer pressure helped the crown to still change hands often.
- Emanuel Lasker (Germany; 1894-1921): Earned the title by defeating Steinitz in 1894. Cemented his title's legitimacy by taking first in the St. Petersburg 1895 tournament, which was comprised of the world's five best players. Defeated Steinitz 12.5-4.5 (Moscow, 1896-7), Frank Marshall 11.5-3.5 (America, 1907), and Siegbert Tarrasch 10.5-5.5 (Germany, 1908). Drew Carl Schlecter 5.0-5.0 (Vienna/Berlin, 1910), retaining his title. Defeated David Janowski 9.5-1.5 (Berlin, 1910), and cancelled a planned match with Akiba Rubenstein after the outbreak of World War I. Resigned his title to José Raul Capablanca in 1920, but began a match with him in 1921 for posterity. After a 5.0-9.0 score following 14 games, resigned once more and never challenged for the championship again.
- José Raul Capablanca (Cuba; 1921-1927): Earned the title by defeating Lasker in 1921. Despite an overpowering skill that caused him to lose exactly one game between 1914 and 1924, was defeated by Alexander Alekhine 15.5-18.5 (Buenos Aires, 1927), the winner of a Capablanca-picked 'invitational tournament'.
- Alexander Alekhine (USSR; 1927-1935): Earned the title by defeating Capablanca in 1927. Defended successfully twice against Yefim Bogoljubov: 15.5-9.5 (Europe, 1929) and 15.5-10.5 (Germany, 1934). Managed to successfully avoid playing Capablanca, but instead lost in an upset by Max Euwe, 14.5-15.5 (Netherlands, 1935).
- Max Euwe (Netherlands, 1935-1937): Earned the title by defeating Alekhine in 1935. The perfect gentleman, Euwe allowed Alekhine the courtesy of a 'return match', and promptly lost 9.5-15.5 (Netherlands, 1937). Later became chairman of FIDE (a group to be discussed shortly).
- Alexander Alekhine (1937-1946): Regained the title (the first man to do so) by defeating Euwe in 1937. Scheduled a defense against Mikhail Botvinnik, but postponed it during World War II. Resumed scheduling shortly after the war's end, but died in 1946 before a match could be played.
, the International Chess Federation
, or FIDE
, took control of determining the new World Chess Champion, and created a massive tournament to establish a new king (women have gained elite chess status only recently) in professional chess. From there, a series of 'Candidates
' tournaments would be held to establish this champion's challenger every three years. This system worked well enough... for a while.
- Mikhail Botvinnik (USSR, 1948-1957): Earned the title by winning FIDE's 1948 world championship tournament. Tied David Bronstein 12.0-12.0 (Moscow, 1951), as well as Vassily Smyslov by the same score (Moscow, 1954) to retain his position. Three years later, though, lost to Smyslov 8.5-12.5 (Moscow, 1957).
- Vassily Smyslov (USSR, 1957-1958): Earned the title by defeating Botvinnik in 1957. Unfortunately, FIDE gave defeated champions the right to a 'return match' shortly thereafter. Despite being one of the strongest players of the 1950s, Smyslov held the title a single year, losing to Botvinnik 10.5-12.5 (Moscow, 1958) in the return match.
- Mikhail Botvinnik (1958-1960): Regained the title by defeating Smyslov in 1958. Lost soon thereafter... again... to Mikhail Tal 8.5-12.5 (Moscow, 1960). Don't worry. He'll be back.
- Mikhail Tal (Latvia, 1960-1961): Earned the title by defeating Botvinnik in 1960. Suffered from kidney troubles during Botvinnik's return match and lost 8.0-13.0 (Moscow, 1961). FIDE soon after removed the 'return match' clause.
- Mikhail Botvinnik (1961-1963): Regained the title a final time by defeating Tal in 1961. Lost to Tigran Petrosian 9.5-12.5 (Moscow, 1963) and retired from championship competition thereafter.
- Tigran Petrosian (USSR, 1963-1969): Earned the title by defeating Botvinnik (for good) in 1963. Defeated Boris Spassky 12.5-11.5 (Moscow, 1966) once but later lost the title to him 10.5-12.5 (Moscow, 1969).
- Boris Spassky (USSR, 1969-1972): Earned the title by defeating Petrosian in 1969. A strong player in his own right, Spassky had the unfortunate luck of rising to kingship just in time to directly hit the buzzsaw of Bobby Fischer (an 8.5-12.5 loss, Reykjavik, 1972).
- Bobby Fischer (USA, 1972-1975): In a manner eerily reminiscent of his compatriot a century before, Fischer rose up out of nowhere during the 1960s and eventually won the right to challenge Spassky in 1972. After losing the first game and forfeiting one by default, Fischer took the crown with a 12.5-8.5 victory. Notoriously temperamental, Fischer played no chess whatsoever during his three-year reign and, citing inabilities to accept the conditions FIDE agreed on for the 1975 match, resigned his championship title. (A short summary of his championship seriously cannot do Fischer justice; I highly suggest you scan some of the available nodes for more information on this fascinating man.)
- Anatoly Karpov (USSR, 1975-1985): Earned the title by default after Fischer refused to defend his title in 1975. Defeated Viktor Korchnoi 16.5-15.5 (Baguio City, 1978)--in a match that, incidentally, the return match clause had been reinstated for--and again later 11.0-7.0 (Merano, 1981). Garry Kasparov won the right to challenge Karpov next in 1984; the two played 48 games in a single match, but Karpov could only muster five of the six wins needed to retain the title. Kasparov won three, including the 47th and 48th game. FIDE cancelled the match after the 48th game, citing its unforseen length. Kasparov was livid, but was forced to begin anew in 1985. Here, though, Kasparov finally won 13.0-11.0 (Moscow).
- Garry Kasparov (USSR, 1985-1993): Earned the title after defeating Karpov in 1985. Karpov challenged for a return match, got it, and lost 11.5-12.5 (London/Leningrad, 1986). Karpov won the right to challenge Kasparov in 1987, but could only earn a 12.0-12.0 draw (Seville), allowing Kasparov to retain his title. Karpov won the right to challenge Kasparov again in the next Candidates cycle, but ultimately lost 11.5-12.5 (New York/Lyon, 1990).
Then things got interesting.
defeated Jan Tinman
in the Candidates finals to challenge Garry Kasparov, and a match looked to be forthcoming. This not being the proper node to write up the entire history of chess, a long story is made short by saying that Kasparov and Short broke
from FIDE and scheduled their own championship match, citing irreconciliable differences concerning the lack of importance that the players' opinions seemed to have in the FIDE structure.
FIDE instantly stripped Kasparov of his 'official' title and proceeded to schedule Karpov against Tinman for the 'official' world champion title. Kasparov, of course, was still the world's strongest player and was respected as such, resulting in most of the chess universe
now realizing that there were going to be two simultaneous chess champions. Since, on the surface, Kasparov's trail is the less convoluted
, we'll pick up on it first.
- Garry Kasparov (Russia, 1993-2000): Formed the PCA (Professional Chess Association) in 1993 and under its auspices 'defended' his title against Nigel Short 12.5-7.5 (London, 1993). After some shenanigans during the PCA's Candidates matches, defeated Viswanathan Anand 10.5-7.5 (New York, 1995). Defeated IBM supercomputer Deep Blue 4.0-2.0 in an 'unofficial' match (Philadelphia, 1996), then lost to it 2.5-3.5 in another unofficial match (New York, 1997). Cancelled matches with Alexi Shirov and Anand, among others, and finally accepted a match versus Vladimir Kramnik organized by the Mind Sports Organization. Defeated 'The World' 1-0 in a very unofficial match (1999), but lost his title to Kramnik by a 6.5-8.5 score (London, 2000).
- Vladimir Kramnik (Russia, 2000-2006:): Earned the title by defeating Kasparov in 2000. Successfully defended his title against Peter Leko in 2004 with a 7-7 draw.
If you're not confused by this point, that means I oversimplified everything. That's good enough for now
. Now back to FIDE's line of champions:
- Anatoly Karpov (Russia, 1993-1999): Defeated Jan Tinman 12.5-8.5 (Europe/Jakarta, 1993). Finally obtained the chance to defend his title against Gata Kamsky; won 10.5-7.5 (Elista, 1996). Defended his title against Viswanathan Anand 5.0-3.0 (Lausanne, 1998). FIDE then decided to establish an annual knockout championship in 1999 to determine the next several champions; Karpov was eliminated in the 1999 quarterfinals.
- Alexander Khalifman (Russia, 1999-2000): Won the FIDE title by defeating Vladimir Akopian 3.5-2.5 in the final round of the FIDE World Championship (Las Vegas, 1999). Lost in 2000's champion-determining FIDE knockout matches.
- Viswanathan Anand (India, 2000-2002): Won the FIDE title by defeating Alexei Shirov 3.5-0.5 in the final round of the FIDE World Championship (Tehran, 2000). Lost in 2002's knockout matches.
- Ruslan Ponomariov (Russia, 2002-2004): Won the FIDE title by defeating Vasily Ivanchuk 4.5-2.5 in the final round of the FIDE World Championship (Moscow, 2002). Notable for being the only teenaged 'world champion' in chess history. Scheduled a match with Kasparov that was later cancelled due to deadline issues. Lost in 2004's knockout matches.
- Rustam Kasimdzhanov (Uzbekistan, 2004-2005): Won the FIDE title by defeating Michael Adams in the FIDE World Championship (Tripoli, 2004) in a tiebreaker after a 3-3 draw. Lost in 2005's knockout matches.
- Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria, 2005-2006): Won the FIDE title by winning the double-round-robin FIDE World Championship (San Luis, Argentina, 2005) by a 1.5-point margin of victory.
Meanwhile, title reunification efforts had been taking place for most of the early 2000s. One plan involving a 128-member knockout
tournament, with the winner facing Kasparov, came close to realization, but was scrapped in favor of a more simple solution: a headsup match between the 'classical' world champion, Kramnik, and the FIDE champion, Topalov.
Held in Elista, Kalmykia, the 12-game match ended in a 6-6 draw. (Kramnik, however, forfeited one game in protest to what he viewed as overreactions and bad arbitrations in response to his frequent bathroom visits.) A series of rapid-chess tiebreaker matches were then held; Kramnik emerged victorious, 2.5-1.5.
Kramnik is scheduled to his title at the eight-player, double-round-robin 2007 FIDE World Championship. Although the usual disputes and uncertainties are cropping up once again, Vladimir Kramnik remains the Unified World Chess Champion... at least for now.
Most pre-1886 information came from William Hartston's The Guinness Book Of World Chess Champions, much post-1886 information came from http://www.mark-weeks.com/chess/wcc-indx.htm; http://www.worldchessnetwork.com/English/chessHistory/chessHistory.php was used to verify information from all eras. Each are wonderful sources.
/msg me with any relevant corrections or updates that need to be made to this node. In the event that I leave E2
for an extended period of time, feel free to supercede this writeup and/or use information from it as necessary.
Thanks also to gitm
for fact verification and provoking me to keep this thing updated.