World Champions

by Bill Wall


Wilhelm (William) Steinitz played 27 chess matches from 1862 to 1896, and won 25 of the 27.    He won 160 games, lost 70, and drew 57.   For the fewest draws in a world championship match, there was only one draw in the 1889 World Championship match between Steinitz and Chigorin.  It was the last game.   For the greatest world championship comeback, Steinitz overcame a 1-4 deficit against Zukertort to win the world championship in 1886.  Wihelm Steinitz won 25 conssecutive games from 1873 to 1882, the most consecutive wins of any world champion. From 1873 to 1882, Steinitz won 25 games in a row without a loss or a draw.  He was undefeated for 9 years and 83 days.  The first “official” world championship match was in 1886 between Steinitz and Zuckertort.  Unofficially Steinitz was considered the champion as of 1866 when he beat Adolf Anderssen in an unofficial world championship title match.  Steinitz was considered the world champion for 28 years, from 1866 to 1894.


William Steinitz won 43, drew 29, and lost 43 world championship games, for a total of 57.5 points in 115 games. He was the official world champion for 8 years, despite winning every match of the best players in the world for 28 years. He played in 6 official world championship matches and died penniless. He played over 400 match and tournament games in his lifetime and won over 64 percent of his games. 


The largest age discrepancy in world championship matches is 32 years when Lasker, age 26, played Steinitz, age 58 (the oldest of any world champion).  Emanuel Lasker was world chess champion for 26 years and 337 days.   Lasker had 52 career wins in world championship play, the most career wins of any world chess champion.


The shortest world championship match was 10 games between Lasker and challenger Carl Schlecter in 1910. Some sources deny it was a WCH match and the circumstances surrounding it remain unclear. Leading +1 -0 =8 Schlecter "the drawing master" played for a win in the last game and lost the game as well as his shot at the title.


Lasker's winning percentage is the highest of any world chess champion: 66%. He won 52 games, drew 44, and lost 16 in world championship play. His calculated ELO rating is 2720.


Capablanca went undefeated for 8 years and 40 days, from 1916 to 1924.  In that time he played 63 games, winning 40 games and drawing 23 games.   Jose Capablanca had one of his games published when he was 4 years old.  Capablanca went eight years without a chess loss from 1916 to 1924.


Capablanca won 7, drew 35, and lost 6 world championship games, for a total score of 24 1/2 points out of 48 games played. He was world champion for 6 years and was never given a chance for a re-match. His historical Elo rating has been calculated to be 2725.   Capablanca played over 700 tournament games winning over 71 percent of the time. He only lost 36 games in his entire life. Capablanca played over 1,200 games that have been recorded.


In 1929, Alekhine had 11 wins in his world championship match with Bogoljubow, the most wins in a match in world championship play.  Alekhine was the first world champion to regain the world championship.  He lost in in 1935 to Euwe and gained it back in 1937 after defeating Euwe.


In world championship play, Alekhine won 43 games, drew 73 games, and lost 24 games for a total of 140 games, with a 56.8% win ratio. He was world champion for 17 years, playing in 5 world championship matches.   Alekhine played over 1000 tournament games, scoring 73 percent in his games. He played in 44 strong tournaments, taking 1st place in 25 tournaments and 2nd place in 8 tournaments. He took 1st place in 34 of 39 minor tournaments. His historical ELO rating has been calculated to be 2690.   Over 2,700 of Alekhine's games survive.   Alekhine played over 1,000 simultaneous exhibitions in his lifetime.


Vera Menchik-Stevenson (1906-1944) was World Women’s Chess Champion from 1927 to 1944.  She defended her title 6 times.  In world championship play, she won 78 games, drew 4 games, and only lost once.


Max Euwe was the only world champion to become president of FIDE (1970 to 1978).  In 2010, Karpov tried to become president of FIDE, but lost 95-55.  The 1935 match between Alekhine and Euwe was the first world championship match in which the players had seconds to help them with analysis during adjournments.


In 1937, Reuben Fine beat world champion Alekhine at Margate.  It took 45 years later before another American would beat a current world champion.   In 1982, Yasser Seirawan defeated Karpov at a London tournament.


Mikhail Botvinnik, 3-time World Chess Champion, played 157 world championship games, the most of any world champion.  He played 7 world championship matches.  He won 36, lost 39, and drew 82.   Botvinnik played more world champions, 9, than any other world champion.  He played Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky and Fischer.  Botvinnik was the oldest player to win a world championship match when he regained the title from Tal in 1961 at the age of 50.

Botvinnik’s record is 50% or better against every former world chess champion except Petrosian.  Against Lasker, he won 1 and drew 3.   Against Capablanca, he won 1, drew 5, and lost 1.  Against Alekhine, he won 1 and drew 2.  Against Euwe, he won 2, drew 8, and lost 2.  Against Smyslov, he won 26, drew 48, and lost 22.   Against Petrosian, he won 4, drew 18, and lost 7.  Against Tal, he won 12, drew 20, and lost 12.  Against Fischer, he drew their only game together.


Paul Keres has beaten more world champions than any other player.  He has defeated 9 undisputed world champions.  He has beaten Capablanca (1 win, 5 draws), Alekhine (1 win, 8 draws, 5 losses), Euwe (11 wins, 9 draws, 7 losses), Botvinnik (3 wins, 9 draws, 8 losses), Smyslov (9 wins, 22 draws, 9 losses), Petrosian (3 wins, 28 draws, 3 losses), Tal (8 wins, 18 draws, 5 losses), Spassky (3 wins, 18 draws, 5 losses) and Fischer (3 wins, 3 draws, 4 losses).  He has played 10 world champions.  He never defeated Karpov and had two draws against him.


Vasily Smyslov was world champion for 1 year and 12 days (1957-58).  In world championship play, Smyslov won 24 games, drawn 44 games, and lost 21 games.  His peak rating was 2690.  Smyslov played over 1600 games, with a winning percentage of over 60 percent.  He had more 2600-plus performances than any other world champion.



Mikhail Tal was the briefest world champion from 1960 to 1961.  He was world chess champion for 1 year and 5 days.  Mikhail Tal played 95 consecutive tournament games without a loss (46 wins and 49 draws) in 1973-1974.  Between October 23, 1973, when he lost a game in a Soviet championship and October 16, 1974, when he lost to Kirov at the Novi Sad tournament, Mikhail Tal had a string of 95 tournament games without a loss (46 wins and 49 draws). Tal also has the second-longest unbeaten run in top-level competition. He went unbeaten in 86 games from July 1972, when he lost to Uusi in the tenth round at Viljandi, until April 1973, when he lost to Balashov in round two of the USSR Team Championship in Moscow. This streak included 47 wins and 39 draws.    Mikhail Tal won 11 games, drew 19 games, and lost 12 games in world championship play.  His highest Elo rating was 2700.


In 1966 Tigran Petrosian played Boris Spassky and became the first world champion since Steinitz to defeat his challenger to remain world champion. Petrosian had won 4 games, drew 17, and lost 3. He received $2,000 for his efforts.  Petrosian played over 2,500 games, winning over 62 percent of the time. His peak Elo rating was 2680. He drew more than half his total games, a higher fraction than any other world chess champion.   Petrosian won 13, drew 45, and lost 11 world championship games.   When Petrosian defeated Spassky in 1966, it was the first time since 1934 that a world champion won a title match defending his title.


Boris Spassky is oldest living world chess champion.  The Spassky-Fischer world chess championship match was the most widely covered chess match in history.


Bobby Fischer had the highest performance rating of any world champion.  His performance rating was 3080 when he defeated Bent Larsen by the score of 6-0 in 1971.   In 1972, Bobby Fischer’s highest USCF rating was 2825.   Bobby Fischer won the U.S. Chess Championship a record 8 times.  Bobby Fischer won 20 straight games from 1970 to 1971 at the very top level of grandmaster chess.  Bobby Fischer was the youngest national junior champion at the age of 13.   Bobby Fischer was the youngest American chess champion ever, at the age of 14.   Bobby Fischer was the youngest Candidate for the World Chess Championship at the age of 15.   Fischer never played a game of chess against a human after winning the title in 1972 until 1992, when he played Spassky.  Fischer never defeated a reigning world champion in a tournament game.  In 1972 Fischer was ranked #1 in the world with a 2785 rating, 125 pts higher than the #2 ranked Spassky's rating of 2660.  He lost 5 rating points after his match with Spassky.  Fischer is the only world champion to resign his title.  Fischer was the first native-born (USA) world champion.


The longest world championship game is 124 moves in the 5th game of the 1978 Korchnoi-Karpov match in Baguio City, Philippines.  The game ended in a stalemate.   Karpov has won more chess tournaments than any other world champion.  He has won over 160 tournaments, including 120 classical chess tournaments.  Kasparov has won 63 tournaments.


The longest world championship match was the 1984-85 Karpov-Kasparov match.  It lasted 48 games and 159 days.  Karpov and Kasparov have played each other over 200 games.   The 1927 world championship was "open-ended" by requiring the winner to win 6 games, draws not counting. It took Alekhine 34 games to beat Capablanca +6 -3 =27. This record stood for 57 years before being broken in the 1984 world championship match played under the same rules by world champion Karpov and challeger Kasparov. With Karpov leading +5 -3 =40 FIDE President Campomanes called the match off by declaring it had become a contest of endurance not skill, which was lucky for Karpov who had just coincidentally lost the last 2 games and was hospitalized immediately after the match.


In 1990, Kasparov won $1.7 million for defeating Karpov, who took home $1.3 million in their world championship match.


In 1992, Fischer won $3,650,000 for defeating Spassky, who took home $1.35 million in their world championship match.


In 1999, Alexander Khalifman became the first world chess champion by knockout method.  The knockout tournament was held in Las Vegas.  He lost the title in the next knockout.  43 other chess players were rated higher than Khalifman.


In the July 1999 and the January 2000 FIDE rating list, Garry Kasparov had an Elo rating of 2851, the highest Elo rating ever.  Magnus Carlson may beat him some day.  His rating is 2847.  Kasparov was ranked #1 in the world for 263 months or over 21 years.


Viswanathan Anand was world champion from 2000 to 2002 (FIDE), and from 2007 to 2013..  He has won the world championship 5 times (2000, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012).  In 2012, he defeated Boris Gelfand in 17 moves, the shortest game in World Chess Championship history.


Magnus Carlsen is the current world chess champion in classical chess, rapid chess, and blitz chess.  His peak chess rating was 2882 in May 2014, the highest in history.  In November 2013, he defeated Anand in the world chess championship.  He defended his title against Anand in November 2014.


Ruslan Ponomariov, born October 11, 1983, became the youngest world chess champion on January 23, 2002 at the age of 18 years, 104 days.  Hou Yifan became the youngest ever women’s world champion at the age of 16 in 2010.


When Vladimir Kramnik defeated Veselin Topalov in 2006, Kramnik was the first undisputed world chess champion in 13 years.    Kramnik was the Classical World Chess Champion from 2000 to 2006, and the undisputed World Chess Champion from 2006 to 2007.  In 2000, Kramnik was the first player since 1935 to play a world championship match without qualifying.


For perfect scores, Emanuel Lasker went 13-0 at new York in 1893.  Capablanca went 13-0 at new York in 1913.  Alekhine went 11-0 in the Moscow Championship in 1919-1920.  Bobby Fischer went 11-0 in the US Championship in 1963-64.


World champions who were also world junior champions include Spassky (1955), Karpov (1969), Kasparov (1980) and Anand (1987).


Capablanca, Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, and Fischer never successfully defended their title.


Steinitz, Lasker, Alekhine, and Smyslov all died in poverty.


World championship tournaments (not matches): Botvinnik won in a match-tournament in 1948.  Alexander Khalifman took the title in 1999, Anand in 2000, Ruslan Ponomariov in 2002 and Rustam Kasimdzhanov won the event in 2004.   Khalifman was ranked #44 when he became world champion, Ponomariov #19 and  Kasimzhanov was ranked #19 in the world when they all became world champions.


World champions who were world blitz champions include Fischer (1970), Kasparov (1987), Tal (1988), and Anand (2000).


Lasker and Euwe had PhDs in mathematics.  Botvinnik had a PhD in Electrical Engineering.  Alekhine entered the Sorbonne Law School in 1925 and may have received a Doctor of Law degree.


Bobby Fischer and Magnus Carlsen are both high school drop-outs.