The great undisputed world chess champions

The game of chess which originated in 600ad from a strategy game called chaturanga, it fittingly had its own Olympiad which started officially in 1927 with The Soviet Union and then Russia as the most successful nation. Naturally, like in other sports, the top individuals competed to be called a chess king, a world champion across generations, emerging especially, when the winner of the title either in a tournament, knockout or challenger format. These legitimate winners are often times regarded as the best and strongest player in that era not just because of their results but for their original and enriching advancements in chess theory. Usually the contender emerges and challenges the incumbent for the title but occasionally, the champion is determined from a single event like the 1948 Avro tournament in Holland after the death of the incumbent Alekhine and in 2007 in Mexico. The official undisputed world champion was established during the reign of Steinitz until 1993 when kasparov was stripped of his title for leading the formation of a parallel body. The unification match between Kamnik and Topalov in 2006 ended the schism and continued a succession of undisputed world champions till date.

From Lasker to Alekhine and afterwards Botvinnik and until the Fisher-Karpov title match, the champions dethroned the incumbent during which the soviet school of chess started a domination from 1948 until 1975 when the enigmatic American Bobby Fisher temporarily broke the monopoly which was reinstated by arguably the two greatest players in history Kasparov and Karpov. the current undisputed champion Carlson and his predecessor Anand were the only non-Soviet Union (Russia) champions in recent times.

# NameYear of reigncountryTotal duration(in years)
1 Wilhelm Steinitz1886-1894Austria, Hungary, United States8
2 Emmanuel Lasker1894-1921Germany27
3 Jose  Raul Capablanca1921-1927Cuba6
4 Alexander Alekhine1927-1935Soviet Union and France*8
5 Max Euwe1935-1937Netherland2
  Alexander Alekhine1937-1946Soviet union and France*9
  No champion1946-1948  
6 Mikhail  Botvinnik1948-1957Soviet Union*9
7 Vasily Smslov1957-1958Soviet Union1
  Mikhail  Botvinnik1958-1960Soviet Union*2
8 Mikhail  Tal1960-1961Soviet Union1
  Mikhail  Botvinnik1961-1963Soviet Union*2
9 Tigran Petrosian1963-1969Soviet Union6
10 Boris Spassky1969-1972Soviet Union3
11 Bobby Fisher1972-1975United States3
12 Anatoly Karpov1975-1985Soviet Union10
13 Garry Kasparov1985-1993Soviet Union8
Undisputed champions

After Garry kasparov left FIDE and relinquished his title, as well as the challenger Nigel Short, who had earlier emerged from the candidate’s tournament knocking out Anatoly karpov in the semifinals (which marked the end of the eternal duel between kasparov and karpov for the chess title which was a titanic battle between 1984 until 1993) then beat Jan Timman in the finals. both the Russian and British grandmasters vied for the PCA title while FIDE provided the challengers for the vacant position, finalists Timman and Karpov with the winner becoming the new champion. Unsurprisingly Kasparov and Karpov defeated their opponents respectively. In 1995 Kasparov defended his title against the rising star fondly regarded as the tiger of madras, Visvanathan Anand. In his next defense five years later Kramnik took the title from Kasparov while Karpov defended his title successfully against Kamsky(1996) and Anand(1998) but declined and stepped down in protest of the changes of the seeding status of the defending champion in the next edition. The leading grandmasters were participating in both associations for the title of world champion but rightly regarded the PCA as the more prestigious of the titles for obvious reasons.

 NameYear of reignCountry NameYear of reignCountry
 Garry Kasparov1993-2000Russia Anatoly Karpov1993-1999Russia
 Vladimir Kramnik2000-2006Russia Alexander Khalifman1999-2000Russia
    FIDEVisvanathan Anand2000-2002India
PCA    Ruslan Ponomariov2002-2004Ukraine
     Rustam Kasimdzhanov2005-2006Uzbekistan
     Veselin Topalov2005-2006Bulgaria
 Unification ofPCA FIDE    
2006Vladimir Kramnik   Veselin Topalov  

The unification won by kramnik by 8.5 to 7.5 after the classical match ended 6-6, tiebreak decided their fate. It ended the reign of multiple champions at the same time usually found in boxing. it continued the undisputed world champion’s reign and established sanctity.

14 Vladimir Kramnik2006-2007Russia1
15 Visvanathan Anand2007-2013India6
16 Magnus Carlson2013-till dateNorway10
The undisputed champions after the schism

The sixteen undisputed champions are profiled independently in summary to highlight their greatness during their reign, Liren is the seventeenth and new world champion with time his exploits on the throne will define his reign.

Wilhelm Steinitz

He was the first official world champion. he and others had previously held claim to the title as a result of past tournament and match wins but by defeating Johannes Zukertort in 1886, which was the most important contest prepared in advance for the aim of picking a winner. he became a legitimate champion. Wilhelm advanced chess theory creating a modern and analytical framework for assessing various elements from a position and was supportive of recommendations regulating title matches including a candidates’ championship for the selection of a challenger which held in New York in 1889, he defended his title by defeating Isadore Ginsberg in 1890-1891, the leading contenders from the candidates Mikhail Chigorin and Max Weiss had withdrawn. He had also defeated Chigorin twice in 1889 his first title defense and in 1892. he lost to Emmanuel Lasker in 1894 and the rematch three years later.

Emmanuel Lasker

Laser’s 27 years as world champion is still the longest reign in chess. his longevity was as a result of his excellent tactical abilities which set him apart from his peers. He saw chess as a struggle, a clash between adversaries. he created strategies that imposed a game plan that is suited to exploit fully each opponent’s positional weaknesses.

he defended his title convincingly against frank Marshall, Siegbert Tarrasch and David Janowski with only Carl Schlechter offering a very stiff resistance in 1910, the match  ending  in a draw. He clearly lost to Jose Casablanca in 1921.

Jose Raul Capablanca

The Cuban master, a chess prodigy with a sound and deep positional ability rarely seen even till now. He played in a deceptively simple and effective style which produced outstanding results. He lost his crown to Alekhine.

Alexander Alekhine

Alexander richly contributed to chess theory.  He linked the three phases of the game which deepened the knowledge of chess positions with a concrete and tactical play which created an imbalance on the chess board and also having a harmony of the chess pieces that led to dynamism which gave him a competitive edge over his rivals including Capablanca, his research into the opening phase leading to advantages in the middle game phase was a milestone. He successfully defended his title twice against Bogoljubow. He surprisingly lost to Euwe but reclaimed the title which he held until his death.

Max Euwe

In 1935, Euwe an amateur and a mathematics teacher shocked the chess world by defeating Alekhine by a narrow margin winning nine, drawing thirteen and losing eight. He was the first world champion to introduce the use of seconds and trainers this novel approach to his preparations for the encounter led to an upset.  He is still the only Dutch champion. He lost the rematch two years later.

Mikhail Botvinnik

He was a great champion and was also famous for establishing a chess school which had produced great players and future world champions. He increased the scope of chess analysis in all phases of the game particularly in similar positions in different openings being assessed in a scientific and systematic manner to enhance knowledge and understanding. He also broadened the depth of applying psychology against opponents.

Vasily Smslov

Vasily was the seventh world champion, he won the candidates twice the only player to do so.He was the first to dethrone Botvinnik temporarily ending his nine-year reign. he was a very skillful and strong endgame player. He was part of the soviet grandmasters that dominated chess before the second world war until the nineties. He lost his title in a rematch Botvinnik.

Mikhail Tal

The second Mikhail in succession as world champion, at his best his tactical ability was without rival, like Smslov, He also lost the title to Botvinnik. if not for illness would had produced more masterpiece. He once held the record for unbeaten streak of 95 games with 46 wins until Ding Liren a Chinese grandmaster and current world champion`s streak of 100 games with 29 wins this record is now held by Carlson. Tal’s streak had a high winning rate which confirmed his attacking ability. He was a great chess writer.

Tigran Petrosian

He defeated Botvinnik to become champion and then Spassky, in his first defense before losing to the young grandmaster. Tigran introduced a pragmatic and prophylactic style of play that made him invincible.

Boris Spassky

He took the title from Tigran in his second attempt, but lost it to the mercurial American in one of the most famous world championship matches in history billed as the match of the century. Spassky was the leading Russian grandmaster in that period and had a positive record against fischer before the title match. He had a universal playing style.

Bobby Fischer

great world champions
NEW YORK – AUGUST 10: Chess master Bobby Fischer poses for a portrait on August 10, 1971 in New York City, New York. (Photo by David Attie/Getty Images)

The American interrupted the soviet dominance that started with Alekhine`s second reign by stopping Spassky. His annihilation of his rivals and tournament victories were convincing and legendary. He had a universal playing style and popularized lots of openings that was regarded as insufficient by infusing grand and original ideas.

Anatoly Karpov

Anatoly was given the title when fischer refused to defend it but went on to become the most successful grandmaster in tournament history with 160 titles and held the world title for sixteen years the highest in the modern era, if both his reign as undisputed champion is added to during the schosm.he was the first chess millionaire and defended his title twice against Korchnoi and retained it as well against Kasparov when the match-the longest in history was aborted. As fide champion after the splitting up, he defeated Anand before refusing to continue in the following cycle. He won convincingly at linares with an unusually strong field, his playing style regarded as the boa constrictor whereby he squeezes his opponent`s position ensuing they cannot create counter attacking opportunities. he is also very apt at utilizing the least advantage available and converting them into victories.

Garry Kasparov

Garry often regarded as the greatest of all time, after taking the title from his major antagonist Karpov in 1985, defended his crown more times against him a world championship record Both adversaries dominated  the game as world champions starting from Karpov`s reign from the seventies  then kasparov  in the eighties,  during the nineties  both held the two available titles  and similarly  relinquished it before 2001,interestingly, both held the number one ranking  from 1976 until 2006 (karpov`s dominated  from 1976 until kasparov took over in 1984  they both traded places until kasparov`s record stranglehold  while kramnik had a  very brief stint in 1996 before kasparov  held on until his retirement) Garry’s playing style was the polar opposite of karpov`s boa constrictor –taking no prisoners, he loved the realms of complications  and his strategic  and tactical ideas were supremely  crafted which surpassed the brilliance  of Lasker, Alekhine,Tal and Fischer before him because of its pragmatic style.He peaked at the elo rating of 2851. he trained and mentored other super grandmasters notably the former world champion Carlson. He retired from chess in 2005 as the world number one. He popularized the beautiful game and promoted the chess computer age.

The schism

The eternal rivals Kasparov and Karpov source gaurdian

In chess championship history the champion had always lost the crown by dethronement. losing and relinquishing the crown on the chess board and never on the boardroom. Fischer set a precedence refusing to defend his crown against Karpov after negotiations broke down. then in 1993 Kasparov and Short left their championship decider after disagreement with the regulatory body. this led FIDE to make an alternative arrangement which changed the course of history. both contenders career had an unfavorable outcome as a result of this turbulence, for the rising British grandmaster, this was his best opportunity to become champion and he never reached these great heights, if kasparov was the only protagonist, like Karpov in 1975, Short would have been made a champion by default.  As for Kasparov `s action it had two consequences first his main rival Karpov won the FIDE title without beating the best grandmasters at that time(hardly Anatoly `s fault)increasing his tenure as champion which in hindsight was getting impossible to achieve, statistically, in each of their five Championship duels and subsequent elo ratings, age and form pointed to only one victor in any future contest second, although  he relinquished  the title  after disagreements with fide,  he was past his prime and was not a formidable force during that  period . for kasparov, his loss to kramnik in 2000 was untimely and this acrimony which started seven years ago expedited his dethronement and later hasty retirement. in a normal cycle Shirov who defeated Kramnik in the challenger match was the authentic contender for Kasparov, the title match and outcome would have been different based on history and head to head records against each other. It was a well-known fact that kramnik was arguably the only opponent that would have unseated Kasparov which was anticipated for the future but the political situation and fortune presented him with this opportunity and he grabbed it with both hands claiming victory without losing a single match, winning two and drawing thirteen from sixteen games. this fortune which later included the short time control also enabled Ponomariov, Kasimdzhanov and Khalifman to become champions without necessarily becoming the best or strongest players in the world at any time. The tournament process used by FIDE was also not convincing, leading Kasparov, Kramnik and recently Carlson to withdraw from the candidate’s event until FIDE introduced the format being used until today in 2005, won by Topalov. However, before the unification, Kramnik, Topalov and Anand who held either the PCA or FIDE were regarded as worthy champions because of their consistent results during their reign and also reaching the number one ranking. The new and rigorous format clearly assisted in producing the best.

The withdrawal of Fischer especially, from chess from a purely sporting consideration alone was counterproductive diminishing the quality of the competition thereby depriving chess enthusiasts the opportunity of enjoying great moments beyond what had existed previously based on their great achievements,  for clarity, Fisher`s absence from 1975 could have provided a triumvirate rivalry of Fischer/Karpov/Kasparov, which would had been more compelling  than the battle  of  Karpov and Kasparov, it would  have  been likened to the Federer/Nadal/Djokovic rivalries  that had captivated sports in general and would have extended into the late eighties at least. The unification in 2007 reestablished the undisputed champion heritage produced by the strongest competition and have left the credibility of chess intact until this moment. Carlson has controversially declined to defend his title which most probably he would have retained extending his reign to more than ten years. the schism of the past was avoided but he still remains the number one ranked player.

Vladimir Kramnik

The first undisputed champion after the schism. he was among the few players that defeated kasparov in his prime. He contributed so much to chess strategy even breathing new life into the obsolete berlin defense. As Kasparov`s successor, he retained his title by defeating Leko and then won the unification duel against the great Topalov the last man to defeat Kasparov.

Visvanathan Anand

The fifteenth champion was a multiple champion-challenger, knockout, tournaments format, his great ability highlighted in the fact that he also became champion during the schism whereby the selection process can best be described as a lottery favoring form and luck rather than strength, consistency and ability. He was adept in a wide range of openings and have remained within the top of the ranking for three decades. He defended his crown against the best duo at that time Kramnik and Topalov and then Gelfand before losing to Carlson, he won the candidates but lost the rematch.

Magnus Carlson

Magnus Carlsen of Norway competes during the FIDE World Championship at Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

The sixteenth world champion Magnus, he held world titles in blitz, rapid and classical at the same time. the only player to achieve such feat and remarkably he has done it twice (2014 and 2019). Since he dethroned Anand in 2013 he has defended his title successfully with victories over Anand 2014, Karjakin 2016 and Caruana 2018 and recently against Nepomniachtchi. he has been world number one in different categories Carlson is not renowned for opening theory but one of the greatest ever endgame specialist, his colossal and natural ability made him formidable against opponent`s middlegame preparations. his elo rating of 2882 is the highest in human history. His positional play is often compared to Smyslov, Fischer and Karpov and some chess engine has compared his analytical ability amongst the world champions and other grandmasters as the best. Remarkably in his relatively nascent career he is only second behind Kasparov in recent times as the longest reign as world number one. He declined to defend his title and it created an opportunity for Liren the runner up in the candidates tournament to compete for the world title which he won.


He is the first Chinese man and the second Asian world champion, he was very fortunate, he was invited to the candidates as a replacement for Karjakin and finished runner up which was good enough to challenge for the crown because of the withdrawal of Carlson. Liren competed with Russian Nepomniachtchi, the winner of the candidates and previous challenger to Carlson

It became one of the most exciting matches and provided Liren, ranked 3 in the world with the title won in the fourth rapid game after three draws with the classical encounter at 7-7. He is regarded as a true champion because of his great past achievement,he has reached the 2800 elo rating, had defeated Carlson in a play off, the first since 2007 and has won several strong chess tournaments.

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