The World Chess Championship was first held in 1886, when two leading European players, William Steinitz and Johann Zukertort, played a match.
In 1993, the reigning world champion Garry Kasparov broke away from FIDE, the world chess federation, leading to the creation of two different world chess championships. When the title was unified in the 2006 World Chess Championship, the world finally received a sole undisputed world champion (Viswanathan Anand) again, and it has been like that for the last few years.
Below is a list of world champions:
1. Wilhelm “William” Steinitz, the picture on the homepage of this website, previously had an “all-out attacking style”, but in 1873, adopted a new positional style of play that served him very well.
2. Emanuel Lasker adopted an unusual “psychological” approach to chess, sometimes playing inferior moves simply to confuse his opponents. However, recent studies suggest that the style he used had a focus on flexibility and was ahead of its time.
3. José Raúl Capablanca suffered fewer than 40 losses in serious tournament games during his entire career. He was undefeated over a period of more than eight years with world-class competition from February, 1916. He is also known for the speed of his play.
4. Alexander Alekhine had good relations with numerous Jewish chess players and his fourth wife was Jewish, despite living in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II.
5. Max Euwe’s world championship match against Alekhine in 1935 was the first time where players employed “seconds” to help them during analysis during adjournments.
6. Mikhail Botvinnik’s pupils included World Champions Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik and Anatoly Karpov.
7. Vasily Smyslov is currently the oldest living World Chess Champion. He sometimes gave musical performances during chess tournaments (he was an opera singer for a period of time), often accompanied by fellow GM and concert pianist Mark Taimanov, who is also still alive.
8. Mikhail Tal holds the records for both the first and second longest unbeaten streaks in competitive chess history. He once made an interesting and somewhat cryptic quotation about chess: “You must take your opponent into a deep dark forest where 2+2=5, and the path leading out is only wide enough for one.”
9. Tigran Petrosian was arguably the hardest player to beat in the history of chess. Lev Polugaevsky once said, “In those years, it was easier to win the Soviet Championship than a game against ‘Iron Tigran’.”
10. Boris Spassky’s play was considered well-rounded and his “adaptable universal style” was utilised with great effect against many top grandmasters.
11. At the age of 13, Robert James “Bobby” Fischer played a brilliancy that is known as the Game of the Century.
12. Anatoly Karpov, the most successful tournament player of all time, has a “boa constrictor” playing style that focuses on minimising risk. His style is often compared to his idol, José Raúl Capablanca. Karpov displayed arguably the strongest ever tournament performance in the 1994 Linares tournament, winning with a score of 11/13, 2.5 points ahead of nearest rivals Kasparov and Shirov. In 2002, the 51-year-old Karpov surprised the world by defeating World No.1 (at the time) Garry Kasparov in a rapid match.
13. Garry Kasparov, widely considered to be the greatest chess player ever, held the No.1 ranking continuously from 1986 until his retirement in 2005. He also holds the record for the all-time highest rating of 2851. Kasparov is currently coaching the world’s highest ranked player, 19-year-old Norwegian Magnus Carlsen.
14. In the Classical World Championship in 2000, Vladimir Kramnik beat Kasparov in a 16-game match 8.5-6.5, making effective use of the Berlin Defence. This the first time that Kasparov has lost in a World Championship Match and it was the second time in history that a World Champion has lost a match without winning any games.
15. Viswanathan Anand has won three consecutive “advanced chess” tournaments in Spain after Garry Kasparov invented this form of chess in 1998. He is widely recognised as the world’s best advanced chess player.
Note: Several of the aforementioned players are studied in greater depth in my older favourite chess players article.