The World Chess Championship is played to determine the World Champion in the board game, chess. As of early 2005, there was no consensus on who owns the title. Vladimir Kramnik is considered by many to be World Champion (having defeated the last undisputed World Champion Garry Kasparov as well as a challenger in 2004, ), but Rustam Kasimdzhanov is the official FIDE World Champion, having won a knockout tournament in 2004. The World Champion is not necessarily the highest-rated player in the world: Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand, and Veselin Topalov are the three highest-ranked players on the January 2005 FIDE rating list, but none of them currently hold any championship title.
While there has never been a female World Champion, women are eligible to hold the title. In addition, there is a separate world championship for women only, for the title of "Woman's World Champion", and separate competitions and titles for juniors, seniors and computers.
Reigns of the Champions
See also image gallery and List of chess world championship matches.
Unofficial World Champions
- Ruy L pez de Segura, ~1560, Spain
- Boi and Leonardo da Cutri, ~1575, Italy
- Alessandro Salvio, ~1600, Italy
- Gioacchino Greco, ~1620, Italy
- Legall de Kermeur, ~1730-1747, France
- Francois-Andr Philidor, ~1747-1795, France
- Alexandre Deschapelles, ~1800-1820, France
- Louis de la Bourdonnais, ~1820-1840, France
- Howard Staunton, 1843-1851, England
- Adolf Anderssen, 1851-1858, Germany
- Paul Morphy, 1858-1859, United States
- Adolf Anderssen, 1858-1866, Germany
- Wilhelm Steinitz, 1866-1886, Austria
Undisputed World Champions
- Wilhelm Steinitz, 1886-1894, Austria
- Emanuel Lasker, 1894-1921, Germany
- Jos l Capablanca, 1921-1927, Cuba
- Alexander Alekhine, 1927-1935, Soviet Union
- Max Euwe, 1935-1937, Netherlands
- Alexander Alekhine, 1937-1946, Soviet Union
- Mikhail Botvinnik, 1948-1957, Soviet Union
- Vasily Smyslov, 1957-1958, Soviet Union
- Mikhail Botvinnik, 1958-1960, Soviet Union
- Mikhail Tal, 1960-1961, Soviet Union
- Mikhail Botvinnik, 1961-1963, Soviet Union
- Tigran Petrosian, 1963-1969, Soviet Union
- Boris Spassky, 1969-1972, Soviet Union
- Bobby Fischer, 1972-1975, United States
- Anatoly Karpov, 1975-1985, Soviet Union
- Garry Kasparov, 1985-1993, Soviet Union/Russia
"Classical" World Champions
FIDE World Champions since 1993
- Anatoly Karpov, 1993-1999, Russia
- Alexander Khalifman, 1999-2000, Russia
- Viswanathan Anand, 2000-2002, India
- Ruslan Ponomariov, 2002-2004, Ukraine
- Rustam Kasimdzhanov, 2004-date, Uzbekistan
History of the World Chess Championship
Three Pioneering Titans
The first match proclaimed by the players as for the world championship was the match that Wilhelm Steinitz won against Johannes Zukertort in 1886. However, a line of players regarded as the strongest (or at least the most famous) in the world extends back hundreds of years beyond them, and these players are sometimes considered the world champions of their time. They include Ruy L pez de Segura around 1560, Boi and Leonardo da Cutri around 1575, Alessandro Salvio around 1600, and Gioacchino Greco around 1620.
In the 18th and early 19th century, French players dominated, with Legall de Kermeur (1730-1747), Francois-Andr Philidor (1747-1795), Alexandre Deschapelles (1800-1820) and Louis de la Bourdonnais (1820-1840) all widely regarded as the strongest players of their time. La Bourdonnais played a series of six matches - and 85 games - against the Irishman Alexander McDonnell, with many of the encounters having been annotated by the American Paul Morphy.
The Englishman Howard Staunton's match victory over another Frenchman, Pierre-Charles Fournier de Saint-Amant, in 1843 is considered to have established him as the world's strongest player (1840-1850). When he only finished third in the 1851 London tournament, he is considered to have relinquished the role to the tournament's winner, Adolf Anderssen (1851-1858). About the same time (1850), von der Lasa was considered Anderssen's equal.
Anderssen was himself decisively defeated in an 1858 match against the American Paul Morphy, after which Morphy was toasted across the chess-playing world as the world chess champion. A fast player (he took only minutes to decide on his moves, compared with some others who "were notorious not for out-thinking their opponents but out-sitting them", as Steinitz once said), and possessing fearsome talent, he defeated every major player of the time. Soon after, he offered pawn and move odds to anyone who would play him. Finding no takers, Morphy abruptly retired from chess the following year, but many, including Steinitz, considered him the world champion until his death in 1884. His sudden withdrawal from chess at his peak and subsequent mental illness led to his being known as "the pride and sorrow of chess".
This left Anderssen again as possibly the world's strongest active player, a reputation he re-enforced by winning the strong London tournament of 1862. He was narrowly defeated in an 1866 match against Wilhelm Steinitz, and some commentators regard this to be the first "official" world championship match. The match was not declared to be a world championship at the time, however. It was only after Morphy's death in 1884 that such a match was declared, a deference to Morphy's supreme dominance of the game (even though he had not played publicly for 25 years). This 1886 match between Steinitz and Johannes Zukertort, won by Steinitz, though not held under the aegis of any official body, is widely regarded as the first official World Chess Championship match, with Steinitz the game's first official World Champion.
The championship was conducted on a fairly informal basis through the remainder of the nineteenth century and in the first half of the twentieth: if a player thought he was strong enough, he would challenge the reigning world champion to a match. If he won, he would become the new champion. There was no formal system of qualification. However, it is generally regarded that the system did on the whole produce champions who were the strongest players of their day. The players who held the title up until World War II were Steinitz, Emanuel Lasker, Jose Raul Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, and Max Euwe, each of them defeating the previous incumbent in a match.
Rise of the Modern Grandmaster
Lasker was the first champion after Steinitz; though there were criticisms that he played infrequently, he did string together an impressive run of tournament victories and dominated his opponents. His success is largely due to the fact that he was an excellent practical player. He did not necessarily play the objectively best move, but instead the one that would upset his rival the most. In difficult or objectively lost positions he would complicate matters and use his extraordinary tactical abilities to save the game. He held the title from 1894 to 1921, a reign (27 years) unlikely even to be approached by any modern champion. In that period he defended the title succesfully 6 times, against Steinitz, Marshall, Tarrasch, Janowsky (twice) and Schlecter.
In 1921, he lost the title to a sensational young Cuban named Jose Raul Capablanca. Capablanca was the last and greatest of the "natural" players: he prepared little for his matches, but won them brilliantly. He possessed an astonishing insight into positions simply by glancing at them. Renowned for his ability to gradually convert the tiniest advantages into victory as well as his famous endgame skill, Capablanca was one of the most feared players in history. From 1916 to 1923 he was undefeated.
However, in 1927, he was shockingly upset by a new challenger, Alekhine. Before the match, no one gave Alekhine a chance against the dominant Cuban. However, Alekhine set a standard for future grandmasters by his incredible preparation. His hard work (especially deep opening analysis, which became a hallmark of all future grandmasters) and unmatched drive eventually overcame Capablanca's natural skill. The aggressive Alekhine was helped by his fearsome tactical skill, which complicated the game (Capablanca preferred simple positions). In 1935, he briefly lost the title to the Dutch mathematician Max Euwe. He is reputed to have been drinking heavily through this match. In 1937, a sober Alekhine won his title back. He then held the title until his death in 1946.
Alekhine's death threw the chess world into chaos. The previous informal system could not deal with this unlikely eventuality. Though Euwe could claim a moral right to the title, he graciously allowed the recently formed FIDE to step in. Though FIDE had existed since 1924, it lacked power because the strongest chess-playing nation, the Soviet Union, refused to participate. However, upon Alekhine's death, the Soviet Union joined FIDE in order to be a part of the process to select the next champion. FIDE organised a match tournament in 1948 between five of the world's strongest players: Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, Paul Keres, Samuel Reshevsky, and Max Euwe himself (Reuben Fine was also invited, but declined to take part due to his doctorate degree requirements). Botvinnik won the tournament, and thus the championship, and FIDE continued to organise the championship thereafter.
In place of the previous informal system, a new system of qualifying tournaments and matches was arranged. The world's strongest players were seeded into "Interzonal tournaments", where they were joined by players who had qualified from "Zonal tournaments". The leading finishers in these Interzonals would go on the "Candidates" stage, which was initially a tournament, later a series of knock-out matches. The winner of the Candidates would then play a match against the reigning champion (who did not have to qualify through this process) for the championship. If a champion was defeated, he had a right to play a rematch one year after his loss. This system worked on a three-year cycle.
The winner of the 1948 tournament, Mikhail Botvinnik, would end up being a constant presence in championship matches for over ten years. His marked longevity at the top is generally explained by the fact that he was a tireless worker. It is said he perfected the game as a science, not a sport, through his emphasis on technique over tactics. This longevity is even more remarkable considering he had hit his peak during World War II, during which international chess was suspended, and he was the first champion who was forced to play all his challengers. Perhaps most remarkably, he was not a professional chess player, but a decorated engineer by trade.
Botvinnik first successfully defended his title twice over his first six years, beating off both David Bronstein in 1951 and Vasily Smyslov in 1954. Both the matches were drawn 12-12 but Botvinnik retained the title by virtue of being defending champion. Smyslov, however, won the title in 1957 by a score of 12.5 - 9.5, only to lose it once more to Botvinnik in 1958 by a score of 12.5 - 10.5. At the time, Smyslov had the dubious pleasure of being the shortest-reigning world champion; but this 'honour' soon switched hands, to the 'Magician from Riga', Mikhail Tal.
Tal's daring, sacrificial style had brought him success in 1960, overcoming Botvinnik by a score of 12.5 - 8.5. But once more, Botvinnik was not content, and won back his title the following year in a rematch, by the score of 13 - 8, after Tal fell ill. Botvinnik has said: "If Tal would learn to program himself properly, he would have been impossible to play." Unfortunately, he did not, and thus much of his ferocious tactical skill was wasted. Tal remains to this day the shortest-lived champion.
Botvinnik would play just one more world championship match, against the Armenian Tigran Petrosian, losing it 12.5 - 9.5. There was no rematch, because FIDE abolished the rematch rule. Botvinnik retired from chess and occupied himself with computer chess and the creation of his famous chess school. Petrosian successfully defended his title in 1966 against Boris Spassky, winning by the narrowest of margins (12.5 - 11.5) in Moscow. Three years later, however, (once more in Moscow) he lost 12.5 - 10.5 to the same challenger.
A Second American Sorrow and the K-K Arch-Rivalry
The next championship, held in Reykjav k (Iceland) in 1972, saw the first non-Soviet finalist since before World War II (the first under FIDE), the young American, Bobby Fischer. Having annihilated his Candidates opponents Bent Larsen, Mark Taimanov, and Tigran Petrosian by scores of 6-0, 6-0, and 6.5-2.5, respectively, Fischer was easily qualified to challenge Spassky. The so-called Match of the Century, possibly the most famous in chess history, had a shaky start: having lost the first game, Fischer defaulted the second after he failed to turn up, complaining about playing conditions. There was concern he would default the whole match rather than play, but he duly turned up for the third game and won it brilliantly. Spassky won only one more game in the rest of the match and was eventually crushed by Fischer by a score of 12.5 - 8.5. Fischer's dominance drew many parallels to the other famed American chess champion, Morphy. Unfortunately, this similarity became all too close three years later.
A line of unbroken FIDE champions had thus been established from 1948 to 1972, with each champion gaining his title by beating the previous incumbent. This came to an end in 1975, however, when reigning champion Fischer refused to defend his title against Soviet Anatoly Karpov when Fischer's demands were not met. Fischer abandoned his FIDE title, but maintained that he was still World Champion. He went into seclusion and did not play chess in public again until 1992, when he offered Spassky a rematch, again for the World Championship. The general chess public did not take this claim to the championship seriously, since both of them were well past their prime, shadows of their former selves.
In addition, Karpov dominated the 1970s and 1980s with an incredible string of tournament successes. He convincingly demonstrated that he was the strongest player in the world by defending his title twice against ex-Soviet Viktor Korchnoi, first in Baguio City in 1978 and then in Merano in 1981. His "boa constrictor" style frustrated opponents, often causing them to lash out and err. This allowed him to bring the full force of his Botvinnik-learned dry technique (both Karpov and Kasparov were students at Botvinnik's school) against them, grinding his way to victory.
He eventually lost his title to a fiery, aggressive, tactical player who was equally convincing over the board: Garry Kasparov. The two of them fought five incredibly close world championship matches, in 1984 (which was controversially terminated without result when Karpov was leading 5-3, see Anatoly Karpov's article for details), 1985 (which Kasparov won 13-11), 1986 (which Kasparov squeaked by with a victory 12.5-11.5), 1987 (which was drawn 12-12 and Kasparov kept the title), and 1990 (which Kasparov narrowly won 12.5-11.5). The two of them fought numerous titanic battles, and though Karpov dominated at first, Kasparov took over soon after. As of May 2004, according to ChessGames (http://www.chessgames.com), in their 235 formal games played, Karpov has 23 wins, Kasparov has 33 wins, and they share 179 draws.
Not long after Kasparov became champion, the Soviet Union collapsed, freeing Kasparov from the grip of the Soviet state. This set the stage for a more lasting set-back to FIDE's system when in 1993, Kasparov and challenger Nigel Short complained of corruption and a lack of professionalism within FIDE and split from FIDE to set up the Professional Chess Association (PCA), under whose auspices they held their match. The event was orchestrated largely by Raymond Keene, who has been at the centre of much off-the-board chess activity for a long time now. Keene brought the event to London (FIDE had planned it for Manchester), and England was whipped up into something of a chess fever: Channel Four broadcast some 81 programmes on the match, the BBC also had coverage, and Short appeared in television beer commercials. However, Kasparov crushed Short by five points, and interest in chess in the UK soon died down.
At the same time, FIDE held a championship match between Karpov (who had been champion before Kasparov) and Jan Timman (who had been defeated by Short in the Candidates final) in the Netherlands and Jakarta, Indonesia. Karpov emerged victorious. Ever since that time there have been two simultaneous World Champions and World Championships.
Kasparov went on to defend his PCA title against Viswanathan Anand, who had qualified through a series of events similar to those in the old FIDE system. It seemed his next challenger would be Alexei Shirov, who won a match against Vladimir Kramnik to apparently secure his place. However, plans for a match with Shirov never materialised, and he was subsequently omitted from negotiations, much to his disgust. Instead, Anand was lined up to play Kasparov once more, but here too, plans fell through (in somewhat disputed circumstances). Instead, Vladimir Kramnik was given the chance to play Kasparov in 2000. Against all expectations, Kramnik won.
FIDE, meanwhile, after one more traditional championship cycle which resulted in Karpov successfully defending his title against Gata Kamsky in 1996, largely scrapped the old system, instead having a large knock-out event in which a large number of players contested short matches against each other over just a few weeks. In the first of these events, champion Karpov was seeded straight into the final (as in previous championships), but subsequently the champion had to qualify like other players. Karpov defended his title in the first of these championships in 1998, but resigned his title in anger at the new rules in 1999. Alexander Khalifman took the title in 1999, Anand in 2000 and Ruslan Ponomariov in 2002.
This left a chess world with two distinct championships: one extending the Steinitzian lineage in which the current champion plays a challenger in match format (a series of many games); the other following FIDE's new format of a tennis-style elimination--or "Knockout"--tournament with dozens of players competing.
In May 2002, under the terms of the so-called "Prague Agreement" masterminded by Yasser Seirawan, several leaders in the chess world met in Prague and signed a unity agreement which intended to ensure the crowning of an undisputed world champion before the end of 2003, and restore the traditional cycle of qualifying matches by 2005.
Leko (left) and Kramnik (right) discuss their game
The semifinalists for the 2003 championship were to be Ruslan Ponomariov vs. Garry Kasparov, and Vladimir Kramnik vs. Switzerland from September 25 to October 18, 2004 and billed as the Classic World Chess Championship sponsored by the cigar company Dannemann. The match was drawn after Kramnik won the last game when a point behind, which meant that Kramnik retained the title.
Rustam Kasimdzhanov stares at Michael Adams as they begin to play their championship match
The other semifinal suffered greater problems. Organised by FIDE, it was scheduled for September 2003, but called off when Ponomariov refused to sign his contract for it in disputed circumstances. Instead it was suggested that Kasparov play the winner of the FIDE World Chess Championship, 2004, a knockout event held in June-July 2004 in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, a controversial event in a controversial venue which saw several prominent players withdraw and no Israelis take part. The winner turned out to be Rustam Kasimdzhanov, but a match between him and Kasparov planned to be held in the United Arab Emirates in January 2005 was called off when promisied funding failed to materialise. Efforts to rearrange the match in Turkey also came to nothing. The result is that the Prague Agreement has failed to reunify the title.
There have been several alternative proposals to revive the reunification process (Kramnik, for example, has suggested he play a match against the winner of a match tournment involving Kasparov, Ponomariov, Kasimdzhanov and Anand  (http://www.chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=1979)), but, as of early 2005, it is not clear what the next chapter in the history of the World Championship will be.
The greatest of all time
There is no consensus on who is the greatest player of all time. Strictly from FIDE ratings, Kasparov is far and away the top player in all of history. FIDE ratings, however, have become inflated over time, so that a rating of 2700 does not mean as much as it once did. Moreover many great players lived and died before there were any FIDE ratings, and projecting ratings backward is a rather speculative proposition.
It is generally agreed that if Anderssen (or someone of his era) came back to play Kasparov (or any modern champion) without preparation, Anderssen would be crushed because chess understanding has advanced over time, and modern grandmasters analyze openings much more deeply than ever before. These considerations alone, however, do not mean that Anderssen was not as great a player as Kasparov, they only mean that Kasparov has advantages due to living later. Perhaps Anderssen would be able to quickly absorb modern theory and rise to the top again.
One possible criterion for all-time greatness is the amount by which a player exceeded his contemporaries. For example, Morphy was head and shoulders above the competition of his day in a way that Botvinnik never was. But should Botvinnik be considered less great a player for having worthy rivals? And by another criterion, namely length of time at the top of the chess world, Botvinnik's achievements must be considered far greater than Morphy's. In particular, Lasker was the undisupted champion for 27 years, a reign no other player has even approached. However, he played infrequently, and there was no standardized system for championship matches: champions played challengers whenever both agreed to a match. Especially in today's world, with hundreds of possible challengers to the championship, longevity is a poor determinant of skill.
Yet another complication in determining who was the greatest is the dichotomy between talent and hard work. Capablanca's natural gift for chess was arguably unrivaled, but he lost his title to Alekhine because Alekhine prepared much more diligently for their match. Is this evidence that Capablanca was in fact a better player who lost due to laziness, or evidence that due to his laziness Capablanca was in fact the inferior player?
Hence, it is extremely unclear which single player truly is "the best", but nearly all lists of the best players include at least the following ten (in chronological order):
Women's World Championship
Reigns of the Women's World Champions
- Vera Menchik, 1927-1944, United Kingdom
- Ludmilla Rudenko, 1950-1953, Soviet Union
- Elisabeth Bikova, 1953-1956, Soviet Union
- Olga Rubzowa, 1956-1958, Soviet Union
- Elisabeth Bikova, 1958-1962, Soviet Union
- Nona Gaprindashvili, 1962-1978, Georgia
- Maya Chiburdanidze, 1978-1991, Georgia
- Xie Jun, 1991-1996, China
- Susan Polgar, 1996-1999, Hungary
- Xie Jun, 1999-2001, China
- Zhu Chen, 2001-2004, China
- Antoaneta Stefanova, 2004-present, Bulgaria
Era of Menchik
The Women's World Championship was established by FIDE in 1927 as a single tournament held alongside the Chess Olympiad. The winner of that tournament, Vera Menchik, did not have any special rights as the men's champion did - instead she had to defend her title by playing as many games as all the challengers. She did this successfully in every other championship in her lifetime (1930, 1931, 1933, 1935, 1937 and 1939).
Menchik died as champion in 1944 by a German air raid. The next championship was another round-robin tournament in 1949-50 and was won by Ludmilla Rudenko. Thereafter a system similar to that of the men's championship was established, with a cycle of Candidates events (and later Interzonals) to pick a challenger to face the reigning champion.
The first such Candidates tournament was held in Moscow, 1952. Elizaveta Bikova won and proceeded to defeat Rudenko with seven wins, five losses, and two draws to become the second champion. The next Candidates tournament was won by Olga Rubzowa. Instead of directly playing Bikova, however, FIDE decided that the championship should be held between the three top players in the world. Rubzomwa won at Moscow in 1956, one-half point ahead of Bikova, who finished five points ahead of Rudenko. Bikova regained the title in 1958 and defended it against Kira Zvorikina, winner of a Candidates tournament, in 1959.
The fourth Candidates tournament was held in 1961 in Vrnjacka Banja, and was utterly dominated by Nona Gaprindashvili of Georgia, who won with ten wins, zero losses, and six draws. She then decisively defeated Bikova with seven wins, no losses, and four draws in Moscow, 1962 to become champion. Gaprindashvili defended her title against Alla Kushnir of Russia at Riga 1965 and Tbilisi/Moscow 1969. In 1972, FIDE introduced the same system for the women's championship as with the men's: a series of Interzonal tournaments, followed by the Candidates matches. Kushnir won again, only to be defeated by Gaprindashvili at Riga 1972. Gaprindashvili defended the title one last time against Nana Alexandria of Georgia at Pitsounda/Tbilisi 1975.
In 1976-1978 Candidates cycle, 17-year-old Maya Chiburdanidze of Georgia ended up the surprise star, defeating Nana Alexandria, Elena Akhmilovskaya, and Alla Kushnir to face Gaprindashvili in the 1978 finals at Tbilisi. Chiburdanidze proceeded to soundly defeat Gaprindashvili, marking the end of one Georgian's domination and the beginning of another's. Chiburdanidze defended her title against Alexandria at Borsomi/Tbilisi 1981 and Irina Levitina at Volgograd 1984. Following this, FIDE reintroduced the Candidates tournament system. Akhmilovskaya, who had earlier lost to Chiburdanidze in the Candidates matches, won the tournament was but was still defeated by Chiburdanidze at Sofia 1986. Chiburdanidze's final title defense came against Nana Ioseliani at Telavi 1988.
Rise of the Chinese and Hungarians
Her domination ended at Manila 1991, where the young Chinese star Xie Jun defeated Chiburdanidze, after finishing second to the still-active Gaprindashvili in an Interzonal, tying with Alisa Maric in the Candidates tournament, and then beating Maric in a tie-breaker match.
It was during this time that the three Polgar sisters Susan (also known as Zsuzsa), Sofia, and Judit emerged as dominant players. The family decided that Judit, as the strongest of the three, should concentrate on the men's championship, while Susan and Sofia should go for the women's.
Susan Polgar dominated the 1992 Candidates tournament at Shanghai. However, FIDE stipulated that the top two finishers would need to play a final 8-game match to determine the challenger. Instead of easily defeating her opponent, Ioseliani, the match ended in a draw, even after two tiebreaks. FIDE decreed that the match would simply be decided by a lottery, upon which Ioseliani won. She was then promptly crushed by Xie Jun in the championship at Monaco 1993.
The next cycle was dominated by Polgar. She tied with Chiburdanidze in the Candidates tournament, defeated her easily in the match, and then decisively defeated Xie Jun at Jaen 1996 for the championship.
In 1997, Alisa Galliamova and Xie Jun finished first and second, but Galliamova refused to play the final match entirely in China. FIDE eventually awarded the match to Xie Jun by default.
However, by the time all these delays were sorted out, Polgar had given birth to her first child. She requested that the match be postponed. FIDE refused, and eventually set up the championship to be between Galliamova and Xie Jun! The championship was held in Kazan, Tatarstan and Shenyang, China, and Xie Jun won with five wins, three losses, and seven draws.
In 2000 a knock-out event, simila