The World Chess Championship – A Brief History

Anand Undisputed World Chess Champion


GM Anand, with his recent victory as World Chess Champion has opened a new chapter in Chess History.

This championship brings a significant accomplishment for the International Chess Federation “FIDE”, since, after the unification match between Kramnik and Topalov, in which Kramnik won the match, now we have an undisputed World Chess Champion.

The World Chess Championship is undoubtedly FIDE’s most prestigious event.

Throughout history, chess players have known who were the strongest (or at least the most famous) players of their day.

The World Chess Federation ( Federation Internationale des Echecs, known as FIDE , was founded in Paris on 20 July 1924, it is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as the supreme body, responsible for the organization of chess and its championships at global and continental levels.

Although efforts were made by the players in 1922, two years before the birth of FIDE, to establish regulations for the World Champions, it was not until 1948, when FIDE began playing a role in taking over the management and administration of the World Chess Championships.

From 1886 to 1946, the World Championship was conducted on an informal basis, with a challenger having to defeat the incumbent in a match to become the new World Champion. The following is the list of World Champions during this period:

World Chess Champions a History

  • Wilhelm Steinitz 1886-1894 Austria / United States
  • Emanuel Lasker 1894-1921 Prussia / Germany
  • Jose R. Capablanca 1921-1927 Cuba
  • Alexander Alekhine 1927-1935 Soviet Union (Russia) / France
  • Max Euwe 1935-1937 Netherlands
  • Alexander Alekhine 1937-1946 France

Following the death of World Champion Alexander Alekhine in 1946, FIDE went on to organize the World Championship Tournament among the leading players at the time. Grandmaster Mikhail Botvinnik became World Champion.

Since then, FIDE organized a series of qualifying tournaments, starting from the National Championships, Zonal Tournaments, played in the FIDE zones around the world, Interzonals for the winners of the Zonals, and Candidate Matches of the World Chess Championship. These series of qualifying tournaments and matches as instituted by FIDE, have seen the emergence of such great names in chess history as Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov.

The following is the list of undisputed World Champions from 1886-1993:

  • Wilhelm Steinitz 1886-1894 Austria / United States
  • Emanuel Lasker 1894-1921 Prussia / Germany
  • Jose R Capablanca 1921-1927 Cuba
  • Alexander Alekhine 1927-1935 Soviet Union (Russia) / France
  • Max Euwe 1935-1937 Netherlands
  • Alexander Alekhine 1937-1946 France
  • Mikhail Botvinnik 1948-1957 Soviet Union (Russia)
  • Vasily Smyslov 1957-1958 Soviet Union (Russia)
  • Mikhail Botvinnik 1958-1960 Soviet Union (Russia)
  • Mikhail Tal 1960-1961 Soviet Union (Latvia)
  • Mikhail Botvinnik 1961-1963 Soviet Union (Russia)
  • Tigran Petrosian 1963-1969 Soviet Union (Armenia)
  • Boris Spassky 1969-1972 Soviet Union (Russia)
  • Robert J. Fischer 1972-1975 United States
  • Anatoly Karpov 1975-1985 Soviet Union (Russia)
  • Garry Kasparov 1985-1993 Soviet Union / Russia

Out of the above list of World Champions, it’s important to mention that Robert J Fischer did not lose his title by playing a match, instead since FIDE refused to accept his conditions, Fischer did not accept playing. Therefore, Fischer’s World Champion Title was removed and given to Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov.

Bobby Fischer

Important Note: This was the beginning of a FIDE’s policy to remove a World Champion Title, if a champion refuses to defend his title.


A similar situation took place again in 1993, when GM Kasparov did not accept playing a match for the FIDE World Championship. So then, FIDE appointed GM Karpov and GM Timman to play.

This match, played in various cities in the Netherlands, took place in the shadows of the Kasparov-Short Classical World Championship.

FIDE continued their world championship cycle as if Kasparov’s departure had not even happened.

FIDE World Champions 1993-2006 which are not universally recognized.

  • Anatoly Karpov 1993-1999 Russia
  • Alexander Khalifman 1999-2000 Russia
  • Viswanathan Anand 2000-2002 India
  • Ruslan Ponomariov 2002-2004 Ukraine
  • Rustam Kasimdzhanov 2004-2005 Uzbekistan
  • Veselin Topalov 2005-2006 Bulgaria

Classical World Champions 1993-2006 (Not recognized by FIDE):

  • Garry Kasparov 1993-2000 Russia
  • Vladimir Kramnik 2000-2006 Russia

After the unification match between Bulgarian Champion, GM Veselin Topalov and Russian GM Vladimir Kramnik in October 2006, the International Chess Federation , FIDE decided to reintroduce a World Championship Tournament instead of the traditional World Championship Match.

So far, FIDE has organized three World Championship Tournaments:

1) The Hague, Moscow Year 1948: This was necessary since GM Alexander Alekhine died in 1946.

2) San Luis, Argentina Year 2005: This tournament produced a FIDE World Champion GM Topalov who later played a unification match with GM Kramnik.

3) Mexico City, Mexico Year 2007: Opening a new chapter in chess history – World Chess Champion GM Viswanathan Anand !

Undisputed World Champions 2006-present:

  • Vladimir Kramnik 2006-2007, Russia
  • Viswanathan Anand 2007-present, India

This is just a brief in World Chess Championship history. To delve into the fibers that have helped put together the cloth that wraps so many in Chess Fever, would be to turn this blog post into an invisible cloak with no end in site, one topic leads to another, so on and so forth.

1 Comment
  • jimeade

    The fact that Anand hadn’t had a shot at the title since 1995, is an indication of how broken the system had become. Let’s hope that the player’s will now continue to have an opportunity to win the title in fair and open competitions.

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