The World Chess Championship has quite a back story. Chess has been a part of our lives for many centuries. It was already an ancient game when it reached southern Europe in the Middle Ages. From that time it quickly became popular in high society as a game of great strategic acumen.
Everyone among the great and good fancied themselves as gifted would be generals blessed with military genius. The game also transcended all levels of society right down to the ordinary people. A good chess player was clearly someone who would command respect in the locality. Great chess players played famous chess games and were held in high esteem.
And so it was right up until the 19th Century when people were increasingly referring to whoever was deemed the best player on the planet as the World Champion or the Champion of the World. As yet however there was no such official title. It became inevitable that one would be formed. Finally in 1886 William Steinitz organized terms and conditions for a World Championship match. Chess was entering a new era. You can now enter your own World Ch. stories and games if you would like.
Steinitz had picked up the mantle of Unofficial World Champion in 1866 when he beat Adolf Anderssen in London. From the 1870's onwards there was much speculation as to whether the sometimes inactive Steinitz was still the strongest player.
Many people were suggesting that perhaps Johannes Zukertort had overtaken him. Steinitz had beaten Zukertort in a match in 1872 which his supporters claimed as proof of supremacy. But Zukertort began to out-perform Steinitz in tournament play. His supporters said this showed he was now superior.
Steinitz's controversial new positional style introduced in 1873 created an ugly back-drop to the dispute. The chess world was divided between the old philosophy and the new. His positional disciples supported his claim while the Romanticists rowed in behind their hero Zukertort. A World Chess Championship match organized in 1886 would be the only way to settle it. Steinitz prevailed becoming the first official World Champion.
For sixty years the World Championship was conducted on an informal Champion vs Challenger basis. There was no official protocol to decide when a Championship decider would be played.
Whenever a credible challenger would emerge, speculation would grow as to when, where or if a match would be arranged. If the idea that the challenger was comparable to the champion began to gain traction, then the match would become inevitable provided financial backing for the challenge was available.
In the early days the Champion would be able to name his terms for the match and decide how much money the challenger would need to raise for stakes. As a result some matches that should have been played never were. Rubinstein, Nimzowitsch and Reti were among big names that never got the chance to play for the World Chess Championship when talks broke down over money. Players grew frustrated with the situation and it was decided that change was required.
The Federation International des Echecs (FIDE) (World Chess Federation) was founded in Paris, France on July 20, 1924. It's original purpose was to act as a players union so that they could make decisions on how to run chess as an official body.
FIDE was not very powerful in the early years due to under funding and a lack of recognition. The World Championship match between Capablanca and Alekhine in 1927 was played under the 'London Rules' drafted by Capa.
As FIDE grew in power and prestige over the next few years more and more players came round to it's desire to take charge of the World Chess Championship. When Alekhine became the first man to die while still the champion in 1946, the old Champion vs Challenger model was not possible. FIDE assumed responsibility for organizing all World Championships from that time. All players recognized it as the world governing body of chess.
In 1993 Garry Kasparov, the then World Champion broke away from FIDE accusing the organization of corruption and a lack of professionalism. Along with Nigel Short he set up a rival body, the PCA (Professional Chess Association).
Kasparov beat Short to become the first PCA champion. In response FIDE stripped Kasparov of the FIDE title, organizing a decider between the former champion Anatoly Karpov and Jan Timman. Karpov won the match to take the FIDE title.
When the PCA went bust Kasparov set up the World Chess Council. The holder of this title would be known as the Classical World Chess Champion. In 2000, Vladimir Kramnik took this title from Kasparov beating him 2-0 with 13 draws.
Kasparov was still performing well in tournaments and ranked World No.1 with the highest Elo Ranking. But now he held neither of the two existing titles. People were realizing that in order to protect the credibility of the World Championship, the titles had to be reunified and the best players needed to be competing for a single title.
The Prague Agreement was made in May 2002 to reunify the titles. On the Classical side Kramnik drew with Leko in 2004 to qualify as still Classical Champion. FIDE organized tournaments every couple of years for it's title.
A FIDE World Chess Championship reunification match was finally agreed for 2006 between Classical Champion Vladimir Kramnik and the new FIDE champion, Veselin Topalov. The match was drawn 6-6 with Topalov winning game 5 by forfeit in controversial circumstances. The match then went into sudden death rapid games. The first 3 games were drawn but Kramnik won the fourth to claim the title.
Pre-FIDE Champions (1886-1946)
William Steinitz (1886-94)
Emanuel Lasker (1894-1921)
Jose Raul Capablanca (1921-27)
Alexander Alekhine (1927-35)
Max Euwe (1935-37)
Alexander Alekhine (1937-46)
Classical Champions (1993-2006)
Garry Kasparov (1993-2000)
Vladimir Kramnik (2000-2006)
FIDE Champions (1948-2006)
Mikhail Botvinnik (1948-57)
Vasily Smyslov (1957-58)
Mikhail Botvinnik (1958-60)
Mikhail Tal (1960-61)
Mikhail Botvinnik (1961-63)
Tigran Petrosian (1963-69)
Boris Spassky (1969-72)
Robert J Fischer (1972-75)
Anatoly Karpov (1975-85)
Garry Kasparov (1985-93)
Anatoly Karpov (1993-99)
Alexander Khalifman (1999-2000)
Viswanathan Anand (2000-02)
Ruslan Ponomariov (2002-04)
Rustam Kasimdzhanov (2004-05)
Veselin Topalov (2005-06)
FIDE Champions (Reunified Title) (2006- )
Vladimir Kramnik (2006-07)
Viswanathan Anand (2007-14)
Magnus Carlsen (2014-)
Since the first World Championship showdown between Steinitz and Zuckertort back in 1886, there has been no shortage of drama and intrigue on and off the board in the World Chess Championship. Stand offs and disputes between national and international governing bodies, between the organizations and financial backers, between backers and players, between organizations and players and between players themselves. With all sorts of political and business considerations swirling around in the mix with strong personalities, there has been much intrigue over the years. And let's not forget there was some chess played too! Some of the finest games in chess history. If you would like to tell us an interesting story from the history of the World Championship or you want to annotate your favorite World Ch. game you can do so here. Share Your World Championship stories and games.
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Steinitz - Lasker Not rated yet
This classic game is played by Wilhelm Steinitz of Austria and Emanuel Lasker of Germany, in the World Chess Championship, New York (1894). This game …
Mikhail Tal Tricks Not rated yet
Mikhail Botvinnik had long held the World Chess Championship. He was challenged by a young Latvian, Mikhail Tal. Tal has many times sacrificed his pieces, …
Unofficial World Chess Champions Not rated yet
The first official world chess championship was in 1886 in which Wilhelm Steinitz defeated Johannes Zukertort. But, before 1886 there were some of the …
Kramnik vs Anand - 2008 Not rated yet
The following is a wonderful game played in the World Chess Championship 2008 by the two great chess masters, Kramnik and Anand. This particular game marked …
The World Chess Championship has a rich and turbulent history. Great players have not just shaped the way chess is played on the board but have also developed the structures that organize chess across the world.
Aside from all of the intrigue, rows and drama over the World title, some great chess has been played in pursuit of it's capture. The format for deciding who holds the title has changed many times over the years. Now it seems we have come full circle. Every 2 years the winner of the Candidate's Tournament will challenge the incumbent champion. The reigning World Champion Vishy Anand successfully defended his title last time round against the winning Candidate Boris Gelfand.
Many players over the years have been World Chess Champion of one version or another. You can see them above in the Roll of Honor.
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