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All The World Chess Champions

All The World Chess Champions

NathanielGreen
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69 | Chess Players

Only 20 players in the history of chess have held the official title of world champion, 16 of which held the "classical" title. With rare exception the classical champion has been decided in a match between the sitting champion and a challenger. It has had a linear progression, with each champion reigning until displaced.

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From 1993-2006, the title was split after the champion and challenger left the International Chess Federation, FIDE. In those 13 years, six players held the title of the FIDE World Champion. Two of the six were also classical champions.

Below the tables of champions you will find a picture and short paragraph of information on all of these all-time great players.

Classical World Champions

# Player Dates Wins Years Won
1 Wilhelm Steinitz 1886-94 4 1886, 1889, 1890, 1892
2 Emanuel Lasker 1894-1921 6 1894, 1896, 1907, 1908, 1910*, 1910
3 Jose Raul Capablanca 1921-27 1 1921
4 Alexander Alekhine 1927-35, 1937-46 4 1927, 1929, 1934, 1937
5 Max Euwe 1935-37 1 1935
6 Mikhail Botvinnik 1948-57, 1958-60, 1961-63 5 1948t, 1951*, 1954*, 1958, 1961
7 Vasily Smyslov 1957-58 1 1957
8 Mikhail Tal 1960-61 1 1960
9 Tigran V. Petrosian 1963-69 2 1963, 1966
10 Boris Spassky 1969-72 1 1969
11 Bobby Fischer 1972-75 1 1972
12 Anatoly Karpov 1975-85 3# 1975d, 1978, 1981, 1984#
13 Garry Kasparov 1985-2000 6 1985, 1986, 1987*, 1990, 1993, 1995
14 Vladimir Kramnik 2000-07 3 2000, 2004*, 2006
15 Viswanathan Anand 2007-13 4 2007t, 2008, 2010, 2012**
16 Magnus Carlsen 2013-present 4 2013, 2014, 2016**, 2018**

Notes: t - Tournament victory. * - Retained in drawn match. ** - Won in rapid/blitz tiebreaks. # - Leading match when canceled without official result. d - Default.

FIDE World Champions (1993-2006)

# Player Dates Wins Years Won
1 Anatoly Karpov 1993-99 3 1993, 1996, 1998
2 Alexander Khalifman 1999-2000 1 1999k
3 Viswanathan Anand 2000-02 1 2000k
4 Ruslan Ponomariov 2002-04 1 2002k
5 Rustam Kasimdzhanov 2004-05 1 2004k
6 Veselin Topalov 2005-06 1 2005t

Notes: k - Knockout tournament victory (64+ players). t - Standard tournament victory (<8 players).

Classical World Champions (1886-present)

Wilhelm Steinitz (1886-94)

Wilhelm Steinitz
Photo: Wikimedia.

Steinitz is often considered the "father of positional chess." He defeated Johannes Zukertort in the first-ever world championship, held in 1886.

Year Result Opponent
1886 W Johannes Zukertort
1889 W Mikhail Chigorin
1890 W Isidor Gunsberg
1892 W Mikhail Chigorin
1894 L Emanuel Lasker
1896 L Emanuel Lasker

Emanuel Lasker (1894-1921)

Emanuel Lasker
Photo: German Federal Archive.

Lasker, a highly practical player, was the longest-reigning world champion in chess history. He won the title from Steinitz in 1894 and held it all the way until 1921.

Year Result Opponent
1894 W Wilhelm Steinitz
1896 W Wilhelm Steinitz
1907 W Frank Marshall
1908 W Siegbert Tarrasch
1910 W* Carl Schlechter
1910 W David Janowsky
1921 L Jose Raul Capablanca

Jose Raul Capablanca (1921-27)

Jose Raul Capablanca
Photo: Wikimedia.

Capablanca, a chess prodigy and one of the best endgame players ever, defeated Lasker 4-0 in 1921 to become world champion. From 1916-24, Capablanca scored +40 =23 -0 in tournament games, a record time span without a loss.

Year Result Opponent
1921 W Emanuel Lasker
1927 L Alexander Alekhine

Alexander Alekhine (1927-35, 1937-46)

Alexander Alekhine
Photo: Wikimedia.

Alekhine, known for his attacking play and deep combinations, is the only world champion to die while holding the title. He won it in an upset over Capablanca in 1927 and held it until his death in 1946, except for a two-year interregnum from 1935-37.

Year Result Opponent
1927 W Jose Capablanca
1929 W Efim Bogoljubov
1934 W Efim Bogoljubov
1935 L Max Euwe
1937 W Max Euwe

GM Max Euwe (1935-37)

Max Euwe
Photo: Wikimedia.

Euwe beat Alekhine in an upset in 1935. He is to date the only Dutch world champion, and was also the only Dutch grandmaster when FIDE first awarded the title in 1950.

Year Result Opponent
1935 W Alexander Alekhine
1937 L Alexander Alekhine

GM Mikhail Botvinnik (1948-57, 1958-60, 1961-63)

Mikhail Botvinnik
Photo: Harry Pot/Dutch National Archives, CC.

The first great Soviet chess player and their leading competitor for about 30 years, Botvinnik later went on to coach three future world champions: Karpov, Kasparov, and Kramnik.

Botvinnik was the first player to win the world championship in a tournament, one FIDE organized in the aftermath of Alekhine's passing. In an odd twist of history, he never won outright a match in defense of his title: His 1951 match with GM David Bronstein and 1954 match with Smyslov both ended 12-12, but the rules of the time allowed the champion to keep his title in case of a tie. After losing his title in 1957 and 1960, a rematch clause gave Botvinnik the opportunity to regain the title in 1958 and 1961, which he did both times.

Year Result Opponent
1948 1st 5-player tournament field
1951 W* David Bronstein
1954 W* Vasily Smyslov
1957 L Vasily Smyslov
1958 W Vasily Smyslov
1960 L Mikhail Tal
1961 W Mikhail Tal
1963 L Tigran Petrosian

GM Vasily Smyslov (1957-58)

Vasily Smyslov
Photo: Harry Pot/Dutch National Archives, CC.

Smyslov was the first player to win the world championship after having lost an earlier title match. His very solid style made him extremely tough to beat, and despite only winning one of three championship matches against Botvinnik, had a winning score in those matches (34.5-33.5).

Year Result Opponent
1954 L* Mikhail Botvinnik
1957 W Mikhail Botvinnik
1958 L Mikhail Botvinnik

GM Mikhail Tal (1960-61)

Mikhail Tal
Photo: Harry Pot/Dutch National Archives, CC.

Tal was 23 when he became world champion, the youngest-ever at that point. Where Smyslov was solid, Tal was dynamic, known for highly complex sacrifices that required both calculation and intuition. Tal, like Smyslov, held the title for a year before Botvinnik took it back. Tal was often hospitalized due to complications from smoking and drinking, but remained a brilliant player until he passed away age 55 in 1992.

Year Result Opponent
1960 W Mikhail Botvinnik
1961 L Mikhail Botvinnik

GM Tigran Petrosian (1963-69)

Tigran Petrosian
Photo: Harry Pot/Dutch National Archives, CC.

Known for his stout prophylactic defense, Petrosian was the player who finally ended Botvinnik's championship reign for good. They were the only multiple-time champions between Alekhine and Karpov.

Year Result Opponent
1963 W Mikhail Botvinnik
1966 W Boris Spassky
1969 L Boris Spassky

GM Boris Spassky (1969-72)

Boris Spassky
Photo: Rob Croes/Dutch National Archives, CC.

Spassky was known as a universal player who could win in any type of position. He was the last world champion to use the King's Gambit, which he won multiple brilliant victories with. After failing to topple Petrosian in 1966, Spassky qualified again in 1969 and this time emerged victorious.

Year Result Opponent
1966 L Tigran Petrosian
1969 W Tigran Petrosian
1972 L Bobby Fischer

GM Bobby Fischer (1972-75)

Bobby Fischer
Photo: Dutch National Archives, CC.

Fischer had one of the greatest peaks in chess history from 1969-72, including 20 consecutive wins without even a draw: the last seven games of the 1970 Interzonal, 6-0 against GM Mark Taimanov in the Candidates quarterfinal, 6-0 against GM Bent Larsen in the semifinal, and his first game against Petrosian in the Candidates final. He won that match 6.5-2.5 before moving on to beat Spassky 12.5-8.5 to win the championship.

Three years later, he refused to defend his title, and he played just one serious match and zero tournaments in the last 36 years of his life before passing away in 2008, age 64.

Year Result Opponent
1972 W Boris Spassky
1975 L(f) Anatoly Karpov

GM Anatoly Karpov (1975-85)

Anatoly Karpov
Photo: R.C. Croes/Dutch National Archives, CC.

Karpov is one of the great positional geniuses in chess history. Although he is the only player to become world champion by forfeit, he was an extremely active tournament player while he was champion and won several major events, solidifying his claim. He also twice defended his crown against a player many consider the best-ever who did not become world champion, GM Viktor Korchnoi.

Year Result Opponent
1975 W(d) Bobby Fischer
1978 W Viktor Korchnoi
1981 W Viktor Korchnoi
1984 N/A Garry Kasparov
1985 L Garry Kasparov
1986 L Garry Kasparov
1987 L* Garry Kasparov
1990 L Garry Kasparov

Karpov was also FIDE champion from the beginning of the split era in 1993, when he defeated GM Jan Timman, until 1999, when he refused to participate in FIDE's new championship format. (More on that below.)

GM Garry Kasparov (1985-2000)

Garry Kasparov
Photo: Rob Croes/Dutch National Archives, CC.

Kasparov, who was named the best chess player in history by Chess.com in 2020, broke Tal's record for youngest world champion. He is also tied with Lasker for most world championship matches won, with six. The last two of these came outside of FIDE, after he and GM Nigel Short left in 1993, leading to the split title.

Year Result Opponent
1984 N/A Anatoly Karpov
1985 W Anatoly Karpov
1986 W Anatoly Karpov
1987 W* Anatoly Karpov
1990 W Anatoly Karpov
1993 W Nigel Short
1995 W Viswanathan Anand
2000 L Vladimir Kramnik

GM Vladimir Kramnik (2000-07)

Vladimir Kramnik
Photo: Peter Doggers/Chess.com.

Like Alekhine in 1927 and Euwe in 1935, Kramnik's title came as a shock when he wrested it from Kasparov in 2000. Kramnik defended against GM Peter Leko in 2004. Then, in 2006, he defeated FIDE's champion Topalov to reunite the title.

Year Result Opponent
2000 W Garry Kasparov
2004 W* Peter Leko
2006 W Veselin Topalov
2007 2nd 8-player tournament field
2008 L Viswanathan Anand

GM Viswanathan Anand (2007-13)

Viswanathan Anand
Photo: Peter Doggers/Chess.com.

Anand, known for his speed of play, took the title in a tournament instead of a match vs. Kramnik. It is the only time a living world champion lost the title without a match, so they played the next year Anand also won that, finally recementing the undisputed nature of the classical line.

Thanks to Anand, interest in chess exploded in his nation of India, home to more than a billion people and now one of the best chess-playing countries in the world.

Year Result Opponent
1995 L Garry Kasparov
2007 1st 8-player tournament field
2008 W Vladimir Kramnik
2010 W Veselin Topalov
2012 W** Boris Gelfand
2013 L Magnus Carlsen
2014 L Magnus Carlsen

GM Magnus Carlsen (2013-present)

Magnus Carlsen
Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Some already consider Carlsen the best player in chess history. His strength at faster time controls has allowed him to win multiple rapid tiebreaks to keep his title.

Year Result Opponent
2013 W Viswanathan Anand
2014 W Viswanathan Anand
2016 W** Sergey Karjakin
2018 W** Fabiano Caruana
2021 TBD Ian Nepomniachtchi

FIDE World Champions (1993-2006)

Karpov (1993, 1996, 1998)

After Kasparov and Short left FIDE, Karpov defeated GM Jan Timman in a match. He defended the FIDE title twice but withdrew from the cycle in 1999, essentially giving up the title, when FIDE would only give him a one-round bye in its new 100-player format.

Year Result Opponent
1993 W Jan Timman
1996 W Gata Kamsky
1998 W Viswanathan Anand
1999 N/A did not play

GM Alexander Khalifman (1999t)

Alexander Khalifman
Photo: Mikel Larreategi/Wikimedia, CC.

Khalifman won the 1999 FIDE World Championship, a 100-player knockout tournament.

Anand (2000t)

Seven years before becoming classical world champion, Anand won the 2000 FIDE World Championship, a 100-player knockout tournament.

GM Ruslan Ponomariov (2002t)

Ruslan Ponomariov
Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Ponomariov won the 2002 FIDE World Championship, a 128-player knockout tournament.

GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov (2004t)

Rustam Kasimdzhanov
Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Kasimdzhanov won the 2004 FIDE World Championship, a 128-player knockout tournament.

GM Veselin Topalov (2005t)

Veselin Topalov
Photo: Wikimedia.

In 2005, the FIDE World Championship was an eight-player field. Topalov won to become FIDE World Champion. The next year, he lost a match to Kramnik that reunified the title.

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