World Chess Champions

Chess Immortals: The World Champions of Chess

The first World Chess Champion, Wilhelm Steinitz (right) plays challenger Mikhail Chigorin. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Though there have been many great players in the history of chess, only a select few have been honored to hold the title of World Champion.

This article only mentions officially recognized World Chess Champions. However, it's worth noting that there were several unofficial champions previous to 1886, such as Paul Morphy. The concept of a world chess champion started to emerge in the first half of the 19th century, and the phrase "world champion" appeared in 1845.


Classical World Chess Champions

The classical line of World Chess Champions began with Wilhelm Steinitz's defeat of Johannes Zukertort in their 1886 match. Since that time, the World Championship has typically been contested in a match between the current champion and a challenger, though tournaments have been used on occasion for various reasons.

  • Wilhelm Steinitz (1886-1894)
  • Emanuel Lasker (1894-1921)

  • Jose Raul Capablanca (1921-1927)
  • Alexander Alekhine (1927-1935, 1937-1946)
  • Max Euwe (1935-1937)
  • Mikhail Botvinnik (1948-1957, 1958-1960, 1961-1963)
  • Vasily Smyslov (1957-1958)
  • Mikhail Tal (1960-1961)
  • Tigran Petrosian (1963-1969)
  • Boris Spassky (1969-1972)
  • Robert James "Bobby" Fischer (1972-1975)
  • Anatoly Karpov (1975-1985)
  • Garry Kasparov (1985-2000)
  • Vladimir Kramnik (2000-2007)
  • Viswanathan Anand (2007-2013)
  • Magnus Carlsen (2013-current)

FIDE World Chess Champions

When Garry Kasparov split with the World Chess Federation ( FIDE) and organized his 1993 World Championship match with Nigel Short, FIDE declared that they still controlled the World Championship title and staged their own championships.

While the FIDE title did not carry the prestige of the classical World Championship, these players are still worth noting for historical perspective.

  • Anatoly Karpov (1993-1999)
  • Alexander Khalifman (1999-2000)
  • Viswanathan Anand (2000-2002)
  • Ruslan Ponomariov (2002-2004)
  • Rustam Kasimdzhanov (2004-2005)
  • Veselin Topalov (2005-2006)

    In 2006, the two titles were united when Classical World Champion Vladimir Kramnik defeated FIDE Champion Veselin Topalov in a reunification match.

    World Chess Championship

    The World Chess Championship (sometimes abbreviated WCC) is played to determine the World Champion in chess.

    Until 1948 world championship contests were matches arranged privately between the players. The champion set the terms, requiring any challenger to raise a sizable stake and defeat the champion in a match in order to become the new world champion. ​​From 1948 to 1993, the championship was administered by FIDE. In 1993, the reigning champion (Garry Kasparov) broke away from FIDE, which led to the creation of the rival PCA championship. The titles were unified at the World Chess Championship 2006.

    Current world champion Magnus Carlsen won the World Chess Championship 2013 against Viswanathan Anand and successfully defended his title against Anand in the World Chess Championship 2014.

    Other separate events and titles are the Women's World Chess Championship, the World Junior Chess Championship (for players under 20 years of age), and the World Senior Chess Championship (for men above 60 years of age, and women above 50).

    There is also a World Computer Chess Championship, which is the only event computers may participate in.