The title of the World Chess Champion is the highest accolade a chess player can achieve. A number of chess players in the history have been able to climb the chess summit and write their name in the chess history books forever.
Since World Chess Championship’s tradition reaches almost 150 years in the past, its history has become quite rich, vast and hard to remember. The fact that there were two parallel World Championships running in the 1993-2006 period merely adds to the confusion.
The intention of this page is to make an overview of the history of the World Chess Championship. The index of all World Championship matches, their winners, together with the years and the venues they were held at, are given below. Those lists serve as an index of World Championship Matches; links with more details on every single match will be added until the whole list is complete.
Together with the Best Chess Games of the World Champions Series, this list will hopefully give the reader a brief idea of the influence and importance of the World Chess Championship title and its holders.
Until the second half of the 19th century, there was no such a thing as a World Chess Championship title. In the early stages of the chess development, there were many players who would become famous many centuries later, such as Gioachino Greco, Sire Kermur de Legal or Francois Andre Philidor.
Although they were unofficially recognized as the strongest players in the World, there was no formal confirmation of this claim. Many of them became famous for discovering the basic attacking and strategical principles (who doesn’t know about Greco’s sacrifice, Legal’s trap or Philidor’s immortal quote, “Pawns are the soul of chess”).
Only in the 19th century, the question about the strongest player on the Earth started to be solved in a concrete way. Starting from 1834, regular chess matches have been organized between the strongest players on the planet. the following matches were played in the first half of the 19th century:
– La Bourdonnais – McDonnell match in 1834
– Saint-Amant – Staunton match in 1843
– Staunton – Saint-Amant rematch in 1843
– Staunton – Horwitz match in 1846
In the 1850s, the hurricane under the name of Paul Morphy arrived. Morphy first gained recognition in the United States and profiled himself as the strongest American master. In 1858, he set sail across the Atlantic and played a series of matches against strongest European players. He won every match by a huge margin, including one against Adolf Anderssen, who was regarded as THE strongest European player at a time.
However, in 1962, Morphy returned back to the States and essentially retired from professional chess. Thus, the question about the strongest player on Earth was once again reopened. International tournaments in Vienna 1961 and London 1962 produced a surprising winner. A new face on the chess scene appeared, Bohemian Master Wilhelm Steinitz. After his tournament victories, he could legitimately claim that he is the strongest player on Earth. This claim was reinforced by match victories against Adolf Anderssen in 1866, Johannes Zukertort in 1872 and James Henry Blackburne in 1876 and by tournament victories in London in 1866 and 1872 and Vienna in 1873.
Still, after Johannes Zukertort won the London tournament in 1883, the debate was once again reinitiated. Negotiations regarding another Steinitz – Zukertort match ensued. After three long years, the players agreed to play the match in the United States in 1886. The match contract stated that players “agreed to play a match for the World Championship”. Thus, Steinitz – Zukertort match marked the beginning of the official World Championship era.
Era of the Classical Chess Champions
Between the official introduction title of the World Chess Champion in 1886 and the end of the World War II, a number of matches for the title were held. This period produced a total of five World Champions and is often referred to as the era of the Classical Chess Champions.
The term Classical stems from the character of the play typical for that era. Those giants employed only a handful of openings and they navigated under clear strategical guidelines. They are often called ‘the masters of the Queen’s Gambit’; only after Reti and Nimzowitsch introduced hypermodern ideas did chess thinking start to change. The culmination of the era is definitely Alekhine – Capablanca 1927 match.
Although International Chess Federation was found back in 1924, it had no influence on the organization of the match whatsoever. The right to choose the challenger remained in the hands of the Champion. This power was often abused to avoid the most unpleasant challenger. The champion could basically dictate the conditions of the match; the monetary side often became the stumbling block for pretenders on the throne. For instance, on the basis of the so-called ‘golden wall’, Alekhine never granted Capablanca the opportunity for a rematch and kept playing Bogoljubow instead.
However, the era of the Classical Chess Champions was abruptly interrupted by historical circumstances. World War II intervened. Alexander Alekhine found himself stuck in Nazi Germany; it was impossible to organize a World Championship match in those conditions. He even offered Paul Keres an opportunity to challenge him, but Keres, realizing that match organized in Nazi Germany would be highly compromising, refused.
Thus, it turned out that the return match with Euwe in 1937 would be the last match for the World title of Alekhine’s life. Shortly after the end of the war, in 1946, he passed away, leaving a considerable power vacuum behind.
The ‘Soviet School of Chess’ Era
After Alekhine’s death, the natural question of determining the next World Champion arose. Many believed that Max Euwe, as the last man to beat Alekhine in a match, should be proclaimed as the new/old world champion.
However, Soviet delegation, led by Mikhail Botvinnik, was firmly opposed to such a decision. Instead, they proposed the World Champion to be determined by a match tournament between strongest players on Earth.
In the end, mainly on the basis on the Groningen tournament 1946, which Botvinnik won half a point ahead of Euwe, FIDE decided to give in to Botvinnik’s wishes and decided to organize a World Championship tournament. The decision was declared in the assembly in 1947 and was rather controversial:
After the death of Alexander Alekhine in 1946, the World Chess Federation, FIDE, assembled in 1947 and the delegates decided the Euwe should become world champion pending the next championship match.
The Soviet delegates, arriving late the next day, had the decision annulled, and the title should be vacant until a match or tournament was played to decide a new world chess champion. (Source: Members Tripod: Max Euwe)
The world championship match-tournament held at The Hague and Moscow in 1948 was won by Mikhail Botvinnik, who became the 6th world champion. Max Euwe took the last place among Botvinnik, Smyslov, Keres, Reshevsky, and himself. He scored only 1 win, 6 draws, and 13 losses in this event.
Thus, the year of 1948 marked a beginning of the new era – the so-called Soviet School of Chess Era. Starting with Mikhail Botvinnik, the title of the World Chess Champion would remain firmly in the hands of the Soviet players for the next half of a century. The only exception would be the American sensation Robert James Fischer, who captured the title in 1972 and held it for three years before vanishing from the chess scene forever.
Although the organization of the World Chess Championship resided in hands of the FIDE, World Champions still enjoyed multiple benefits. From 1948 onward, World Chess Championship has been tightly connected to the political circumstances and communist regime. Champions who were considered as model Soviets, such as Botvinnik and later Karpov would always enjoy special treatment compared to their opponents. In the later stages of the Cold War, during Brezhnev’s tenure, the tensions were particularly high. Karpov’s battles against Korchnoi the defector were particularly controversial; as were his battles against the ‘problematic’ Kasparov in the 80s.
Nevertheless, such a situation lasted until the beginning of the 90s. Then history once again had it say; the fall of the USSR had major consequences on the chess world as well. The disappearance of the Iron Curtain removed the gap between the West and the East and the era of the chess professionalism had arrived.
PCA and Split of the Title
Regardless of the fall of the USSR, FIDE continued to organize its World Championship Matches in three -year cycles. Thus, after the fifth Kasparov – Karpov match, held in 1990, a surprising challenger emerged – the English prodigy Nigel Short. The beginning of the match was set in 1993.
However, discontent with the FIDE treatment of the players and the distribution of the match prize fund, Short and Kasparov decided to make a move with grave consequences. Before the match, they announced a historic decision to hold a World Championship match outside FIDE’s jurisdiction. A new organization, Professional Chess Association (PCA) was formed. The match was indeed played and Kasparov retained his title.
In response, FIDE decided to strip Short and Kasparov of the Challenger and Champion titles. Instead, they organized a match between the losers of the Candidates cycle, Timman and Karpov, for the title of the FIDE World Chess Champion. Thus, a unique situation in the chess world arose. Two world champions reigned simultaneously. And although the chess world regarded Kasparov as the true champion, FIDE continued to organize its World Championship Cycles separately.
This confusing situation would last over a decade and would be finally resolved only in the second half of the first decade of 21st century.
Unification of the Title
After Kramnik took the World Championship Title from Kasparov in 2000, the question of the unification of the chess title was opened. In 2002 the infamous Prague Agreement was signed, which envisioned the unification of the chess title. However throughout the years every negotiation about the unification match somehow failed and the status quo remained.
It all changed in the year 2005 when FIDE decided to organize the 2005 World Chess Championship Tournament. Initially, their intention was to declare the winner the unified World Champion. However, Kramnik refused to participate in the tournament. Luckily, instead of deepening the rift in the chess world, he agreed to play the „unification“ match for the World title with the winner of that tournament.
After Topalov’s dominant performance in the 2005 World Chess Championship, the stage was set for the Kramnik – Topalov 2006 match, which would result in chess world finally having an undisputed World Champion after 13 years.
FIDE would continue to organize the unified World Championship ever since. And although there has been some controversy, the cycle was never really interrupted, and the threat of the split of the title never reappeared.
In the remainder of the post, a list containing an index of all World Championship Matches, Rematches and Tournaments is given.
List of the Official World Chess Championships
List of Classical World Championships (1993 – 2005)
|1993||London||Kasparov - Short World Chess Championship Match||Garry Kasparov|
|1995||New York||Kasparov - Anand World Chess Championship Match||Garry Kasparov|
|2000||London||Kasparov - Kramnik World Chess Championship Match||Vladimir Kramnik|
|2004||Brissago||Kramnik - Leko World Chess Championship Match||Vladimir Kramnik|
List of Fide World Championships (1993 – 2005)
|1993||Netherlands / Indonesia||Karpov - Timman FIDE World Chess Championship Match||Anatoly Karpov|
|1996||Elista||Karpov - Kamsky FIDE World Chess Championship Match||Anatoly Karpov|
|1998||Groningen / Lausanne||FIDE World Championship||Anatoly Karpov|
|1999||Las Vegas||FIDE World Championship||Alexander Khalifman|
|2000||New Delhi / Teheran||FIDE World Championship||Viswanathan Anand|
|2001||Moscow||FIDE World Championship||Ruslan Ponomariov|
|2004||Tripoli||FIDE World Championship||Rustam Kasimdzhanov|
|2005||Argentina - various||FIDE World Championship||Veselin Topalov|
World Chess Championship after title unification
|2006||Elista||Kramnik - Topalov World Chess Championship Match||Vladimir Kramnik|
|2007||Mexico City||FIDE World Championship Tournament||Viswanathan Anand|
|2008||Bonn||Anand - Kramnik World Chess Championship Match||Viswanathan Anand|
|2010||Sofia||Anand - Topalov World Chess Championship Match||Viswanathan Anand|
|2012||Moscow||Anand - Gelfand World Chess Championship Match||Viswanathan Anand|
|2013||Chennai||Anand - Carlsen World Chess Championship Match||Magnus Carlsen|
|2014||Sochi||Carlsen - Anand World Championship Match||Magnus Carlsen|
|2016||New York||Carlsen - Karjakin World Championship Match||Magnus Carlsen|