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World Chess Championship – The History, Top Champions, and Interesting Facts

The World Chess Championship is an important event for all chess players as the title is the highest accolade a chess player can achieve. The competition determines the world champion in the games of chess.

It all started in 1886 when the first official world chess championship took place between two of the world’s leading chess players, Wilhelm Steinitz and Johannes Zukertort. The terms of the world championship, then, were set by the champion, which required a challenger to raise a stake and defeat the champion to become the new world chess champion. However, after 1946, the International Chess Federation (FIDE) took over the administration of the World Championship. In 1948, FIDE organized the first championship, and after a controversy several years later, FIDE continues to administer the World Chess Championship.

Currently, the World Chess Championship takes place once every two years since 2014. The next championship will take place in November 2021, having been postponed due to the pandemic. The world championship is open to all players; however, there are also separate world chess championships for under 20 players, women, seniors, lower age groups, and computers. There are also various world chess championships in blitz, rapid, problem solving, correspondence, and Fischer Random chess.

Also Read: Chess Board Game 101: A Guide to Chess Terms, Pieces, Point Values, and Opening Moves

The Intriguing History of World Chess Championship

The World Championship tradition, nearing 150 years, has a vast and somewhat complex history. 1993 to 2006 witnessed two World Championships running parallelly, making it difficult to keep track of the events. Here’s a more simplified version of understanding the history of the World Chess Championship.

Unofficial World Championships

For many years and centuries, there was no official world chess championship. In the early years, players such as Gioachino Greco, Francois Andre Philidor, and Sire Kermur de Legal were recognized as the strongest chess players in the world as they made significant contributions through their attacking principles, strategies, and successes. Although there was no formal confirmation about a player being the strongest chess player, some of the unofficial champions were:

Luis Ramirez de Lucena (1490 Spain)

Ruy Lopez de Segura (1560 Spain)

Gioachino Greco (1620 Italy)

Kermur Sire De Legal (1730-1747 France)

Francois-Andre Philidor (1747-1795 France)

Wilhelm Steinitz (1866-1878 Austria)

Official World Championships

The first official world chess championship started in 1886 with a match between Wilhelm Steinitz and Johannes Zukertort, considered the best chess players around the globe. The match was not held under the administration of an official organization; however, most chess historians consider the Steinitz-Zukertort match as the first official championship.

Although the championships were recognized, there were no standard terms and chess rules to administer the tournament. The following terms characterized the official championship:

  • A match of sufficient length to indicate one player’s supremacy over the other determines the title.
  • The title of the World Chess Champion goes to the challenger if he wins the match.
  • The title is treated as a physical object which only one player may possess at a time.
  • The reigning champion loses the title only when losing or forfeiting a match to a challenger, retiring, or by death.
  • The reigning champion is required to defend his title against other strong challengers from time to time.

FIDE Championships

With the passing of a reigning champion, Alexander Alekhine, in 1946, the chess world was forced to devise a solution. This is when a French chess organization, FIDE, originally founded in 1924 but had remained inactive since 1939, came into recognition. The Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE), also known as the Internation Chess Federation, proposed a title tournament where the world’s most prominent players would be invited. FIDE took over the championship administration, and in 1948, Mikhail Botvinnik won the prestigious title.

The formal system worked well until, in 1993, Garry Kasparov broke his allegiance to FIDE. As a result, for the next thirteen years, a rival claimed the title of World Champion. Kasparov played defense matches for the title outside FIDE under a newly created organization called Professional Chess Association, which created a split title. In the meantime, FIDE continued administering the World Championship cycle, which lost its legitimacy for most chess fans.

The split title continued for 13 years, and Kasparov also lost the title defense to Vladimir Kramnik during those years. The titles were unified in the 2006 Championship, and FIDE again administered the unified title.

List of World Chess Championships

When we talk about the list of world chess championships, you will come across several lists that include undisputed championships like FIDE World Chess Championships and World Chess Championships, Unofficial and disputed championships, FIDE title, Continuity title, etc. To keep it simple, here are the lists of the undisputed championships, FIDE championships, and World Chess Championships.

Undisputed Championships (1886 – 1993) & (2006 – Present)

YearWorld ChampionHost Country
1986Wilhelm SteinitzUnited States
1889Wilhelm SteinitzSpain
1891Wilhelm SteinitzUnited States
1892Wilhelm SteinitzSpain
1894Emanuel LaskerUnited States and Canada
1897Emanuel LaskerRussian Empire
1907Emanuel LaskerUnited States
1908Emanuel LaskerGerman Empire
1910Emanuel LaskerAustria-Hungary and German Empire
1910Emanuel LaskerGerman Empire
1921Jose Raul CapablancaCuba
1927Alexander AlekhineArgentina
1929Alexander AlekhineGermany and Netherlands
1934Alexander AlekhineNazi Germany
1935Max EuweNetherlands
1937Alexander AlekhineNetherlands

FIDE World Chess Championships 1948 – 1993

YearWorld ChampionHost Country
1948Mikhail BotvinnikNetherlands and Soviet Union
1951Mikhail BotvinnikSoviet Union
1954Mikhail BotvinnikSoviet Union
1957Vasily SmyslovSoviet Union
1958Mikhail BotvinnikSoviet Union
1960Mikhail TalSoviet Union
1961Mikhail BotvinnikSoviet Union
1963Tigran PetrosianSoviet Union
1966Tigran PetrosianSoviet Union
1969Boris SpasskySoviet Union
1972Bobby FischerIceland
1975Anatoly KarpovPhilippines
1978Anatoly KarpovPhilippines
1981Anatoly KarpovItaly
1984Anatoly KarpovSoviet Union
1985Garry KasparovSoviet Union
1986Garry KasparovUnited Kingdom and Soviet Union
1987Garry KasparovSpain
1990Garry KasparovUnited States and France

FIDE World Chess Championships 1993 – 2006

YearWorld ChampionHost Country
1993Anatoly KarpovNetherlands and Indonesia
1996Anatoly KarpovRussia
1998Anatoly KarpovNetherlands and Switzerland
1999Alexander KhalifmanUnited States
2000Viswanathan AnandIndia and Iran
2002Ruslan PonomariovRussia
2004Rustam KasimdzhanovLibya
2005Veselin TopalovArgentina

World Chess Championships 2006 to present

YearWorld ChampionHost Country
2006Vladimir Kramnik Russia
2007Viswanathan Anand Mexico
2008Viswanathan Anand Germany
2010Viswanathan Anand Bulgaria
2012Viswanathan Anand Russia
2013Magnus CarlsenIndia
2014Magnus CarlsenRussia
2016Magnus CarlsenUnited States
2018Magnus CarlsenUnited Kingdom
2021Magnus Carlsen vs Ian NepomniachtchiUnited Arab Emirates

Who is the current World Chess Champion?

The current World Chess Champion is Grand Master Magnus Carlsen. Born in 1990 in Norway, Carlsen is one of the world’s best chess players. He has a peak classical rating of 2882, which is the highest in history, and also holds the longest unbeaten run record in classical chess.

At the age of 13, he defeated GM Anatoly Karpov and Kasparov in the same event in 2004 and became the second-youngest GM in history a month later. In 2009, he broke the 2800-rating threshold and became the youngest person to set a new high.

Carlsen achieved the number one ranking in the world by 2011 and has stayed stable in that position. He successfully defended his world title thrice and won multiple titles such as two world titles in rapid chess, four titles in blitz time controls, achieved the highest rating ever, and won other elite tournaments like Norway Chess (twice) and Wijk aan Zee (four times).

In October 2020, Carlsen set another world record with an undefeated 125-game streak, including 42 wins and 83 draws. So far, Carlsen’s legendary records have got him way ahead of his opposition, and there’s no doubt about the fact that he truly is the current champion.

Who has won the Most World Chess Championship Titles?

Undoubtedly, the longest-reigning World Champion, Emanuel Lasker, won the most number of World Championship. Lasker was the World Champion for 27 consecutive years from 1894 to 1921. During this period, he played seven World Championship matches.

Lasker’s winning streak started in 1894 when he defeated Wilhelm Steinitz and successfully defended his title until 1921 when Jose Raul Capablanca defeated him. Lasker continued performing in the elite tournaments in the 1930s.

An interesting detail to note about Lasker’s reign was that it got extended due to World War 1 which postponed championship matches with Capablanca and Rubinstein. However, his reign still remains longer than any other World Champion, even when the uncontested years are accounted for.

After Lasker, the other honorable mentions for the most World Championship titles are Garry Kasparov, who reigned for 15 years from 1985 to 2000, and World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik, who reigned 13 years (non-consecutively) from 1948 to 1963.

Multiple Times World Chess Champions

Emanuel Lasker (German Empire)

Emanuel Lasker won six undisputed world championship titles during his 27 years of reign as the world champion.

Anatoly Karpov (Soviet Union Russia)

Anatoly Kasparov won six titles which are split as three undisputed and three FIDE world titles during his 16 years of reign as the world champion and 10 years of reign as an undisputed world champion.

Garry Kasparov (Soviet Union Russia)

Gary Kasparov won a total of six titles which include four undisputed titles and 2 Classical. He was a World Champion for 15 years and an undisputed world champion for 8 years.

Mikhail Botvinnik (Soviet Union)

Mikhail Botvinnik bagged five World Championship titles in total in the undisputed championship category. He reigned for 13 years as a world champion and undisputed world champion.

Viswanathan Anand (India)

The best World Chess Champion in India, Viswanathan Anand, won five titles, split as four undisputed and one FIDE championship title. His reign includes 8 years as a world champion and 6 years as an undisputed world champion.

Also Read: Who are the Top 10 Indian Chess Players?

Wilhelm Steinitz (Austro-Hungarian Empire & United States)

Wilhelm Steinitz won a total of four undisputed titles and reigned for a period of 8 years as a world champion and undisputed world champion.

Alexander Alekhine (France)

Alexander Alekhine from France also won four undisputed titles but reigned as a world champion and undisputed world champion for a period of 17 years.

Magnus Carlsen (Norway)

The current World Chess Champion, Magnus Carlsen, has won four undisputed titles. He reigned for seven years as a champion and undisputed champion.

Vladimir Kramnik (Russia)

Vladimir Kramnik bagged three titles, including one title in the undisputed category and two in the classical category. As a champion, he reigned for seven years and one year as an undisputed champion.

Tigran Petrosian (Soviet Union)

Tigran Petrosian has won the world chess championship title twice in the undisputed category. He reigned for six years as a champion and undisputed champion.

Interesting Chess Records

Records are what make a chess player stand out from a pool of chess players. People who love to play chess find such records very inspiring. Here are some of the most intriguing chess records in the chess world that have been etched into history:

Youngest Chess Player to Become Grand Master

Abhimanyu Mishra became the youngest chess player to become a Grandmaster at the age of 12. GM Abhimanyu Mishra is an American chess prodigy of Indian origin. On the 30th of June 2021, he defeated Sergey Karjakin’s record that stood for 19 years and bagged the GM title. This feat is more intriguing because Mishra broke the record despite the lack of available norm tournaments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Longest Undefeated Streak

The chess player to set a record of the longest undefeated streak is none other than Magnus Carlsen. On 31st July 2018, the world champion lost to GM Shakriyar Mamedyarov, after which he remained undefeated for 125 matches. On October 9, 2020, he lost to Jan-Krzysztof Duda during Norway Chess. His streak spanned over two years and shattered all previous marks.

Longest Winning Streak

World Champion Bobby Fischer set the longest winning streak record when he won 20 games against an elite chess competition. His run began in 1970 during the Palma de Mallorca Interzonal competition, where he won seven consecutive games and finished the tournament. However, some chess historians discount this game as Oscar Panno had forfeited his game. This was followed by the Candidates’ matches held in 1971, where Fischer defeated Bent Larsen and Mark Taimanov with a perfect 6-0 score. The next match also led to a win for Fischer against Tigran Petrosian, but the streak finally ended when he lost the next game.

World Champion with the Longest Reign

The chess player with the most world championship titles, Emanuel Lasker, has a record for the longest reign of 27 years in chess. He defeated Wilhelm Steinitz in 1894 to become the second world champion and continued to defend his title until 1921 when Jose Raul Capablanca defeated him. As mentioned earlier, Lasker’s reign extended due to World War 1 that postponed the intended matches with Capablanca and Rubinstein. However, he still holds the record for the longest reign even when the uncontested years are accounted for.

Highest Elo To Date

The feat of the highest Elo ever recorded was achieved by Magnus Carlsen in May 2014 on the FIDE championship lists of official world chess. He also reached a mark of 2889 on the unofficial live rating list. To date, only 12 chess players have achieved a rating of 2800, and Carlsen is the only chess player to have reached 2900.

Most Simultaneous Games

Simultaneous games imply a set of chess games against multiple opponents at a time. In such games, all the chess players are seated in a circle or row, and the master rotates the players who are required to make moves against each opponent before moving to the next opponent.

GM Ehsan Ghaem Maghamu set the chess record of the most simultaneous games with 604 games. He is a nine-time Iranian champion, who won 580 games, lost 8, and drew 16 games in a simultaneous chess exhibition in Tehran held in February 2011.

Most Simultaneous Blindfold Games

Perhaps, one of the most challenging games in professional chess is the blindfold category. Emerging as the winner in a blindfold game is remarkable in itself. GM Timur Gareyev holds this impressive record of the most simultaneous blindfold games.

In a blindfold game, the players cannot look at the board. They have to memorize the moves and positions of each piece in their head as communicated by chess notation.

Impressively, Timur Gareyev set a record in this category of chess in December 2016, where he played against 48 players at a time. Securing 35 wins, 7 draws, and 6 losses, he set a massive record.

Also Read: Important lessons to learn from World Sudoku Championship

Vijaya Bharti
A postgraduate in accounting and finance, she embraced content writing as her full-time profession. She is a Gaming Writer but her endless desire to learn new things enables her to write about just anything that intrigues her. She enjoys learning in the process as she believes there is no end to gaining knowledge.

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