World Chess Champions
In 1886, a match was held between Wilhelm Steinitz from Prague (now the capital of the Czech Republic) and Johann Zukertort from Poland. The match was held to specifically decide who could legitimately claim the title of world chess champion. Each man had achieved great success in previous tournaments and matches. Steinitz had defeated Zukertort in an 1872 match, but Zukertort won the great London tournament of 1883 ahead of Steinitz. Steinitz won the 1886 match decisively with ten wins, five losses, and five draws, thus becoming the first official world chess champion. (Although Anderssen and Morphy were both considered at times to be the world's strongest player, neither was given an official title.)
Lasker to FIDE
Emanuel Lasker, a twenty-five-year-old German player, took the world champion title from Steinitz in 1894. Lasker held it a record twenty-seven years and was deposed as champion in 1921 by Cuban master Jose Raul Capablanca. Russian-born Alexander Alekhine of France dethroned Capablanca in 1927. Alekhine lost the championship to Dutch player Machegielis (Max) Euwe in 1935, but was able to regain it in a rematch just two years later. When Alekhine died in 1946, he was still the reigning champion, so FIDE set out to find a new champion. In 1948, FIDE organized a special competition among the world's five best players. Mikhail Botvinnik of the USSR won the title.
FIDE had been founded in 1924, but it wasn't until Alekhine's death in 1946 that the organization was able to take control of the world championship.
Since 1948, FIDE championship matches have been held every few years. Botvinnik reigned as world champion for almost fifteen years, even though he lost world championship matches to two Soviet players—to Vassily Smyslov in 1957, and in 1960 to Latvian Mikhail Tal, who was then twenty-two. But each time he lost a world championship match, Botvinnik exercised his right to a return match, and each time he convincingly won the return match. He defeated Smyslov in 1958 and Tal in 1961 to recapture the world championship. Then, after Botvinnik lost to the Armenian Tigran Petrosian in 1963, FIDE announced that the rematch clause was revoked. Botvinnik promptly announced his retirement from championship play.
A Six-Month-Long Match
The Russian Boris Spassky defeated Petrosian for the world championship in 1969, but then in 1972, Bobby Fischer defeated Spassky. Fischer was the first American world champion and the first non-Soviet to win a world championship under the FIDE rules adopted after 1945.
When Fischer declined to defend his title in 1975, Anatoly Karpov began a ten-year reign as world champion. The first title match between Karpov and Garry Kasparov in 1984 to 1985 was halted after it had lasted six months without producing a winner. Karpov had won five games, Kasparov had won three, including the last two in a row, and there were forty draws. Thus the score of the match was twenty-five to twenty-three when the match was halted.
The world championship matches had traditionally been played over a limited number of games, usually twenty-four, with a winner declared after scoring 12½ points. If the match was drawn, the champion retained the title. Largely because of protests by Bobby Fischer, the rules were changed for the 1975 match, with the champion now decided by the first player to win six games. Therefore, a match could go on quite a long time if many games ended in draws.
Points are scored in chess tournaments or matches by winning or drawing games. A win counts as 1 point, a loss counts as 0 points. A draw counts as ½ a point for each player. Thus, in order to gain 12½ points in a match, a player has to score some combination of wins and draws that add up to 12½, such as 6 wins and 13 draws.
Fischer refused to defend his title in 1975 despite the rule changes. But the biggest reason the rules were finally switched back was because of the six-month-long 1984 match between Karpov and Kasparov.
Then-president of FIDE, Florencio Campomanes, said at the time he was trying to protect the health of the players, whom he said “looked exhausted.” But Kasparov said he felt that Campomanes wanted to save the title for his friend Karpov. In their next match in 1985, Kasparov defeated Karpov for the title and subsequently defended the title against him three times.
Professional Chess Association
However, the controversy was not yet over and resulted in Kasparov and Nigel Short separating from FIDE. In 1993, Kasparov and his official challenger, Nigel Short of England, rejected FIDE's proposed arrangements for their world championship match. They set up a rival organization, the Professional Chess Association (PCA), and hoped to gain commercial sponsorship and television coverage on a much larger scale than FIDE was able to accomplish.
In May 2002, in the city of Prague, FIDE reached an agreement with the world's top-ranked players for a reunification of the world chess championship. Braingames World Champion Vladimir Kramnik will play a match against the winner of the Dortmund candidates’ tournament, Grandmaster Peter Leko. Simultaneously, FIDE World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov will play a match with the world's top-rated player, Garry Kasparov. The winners of each of these matches will play a match for the undisputed World Chess Championship title.
Kasparov defeated Short under the auspices of the PCA and claimed the title of world champion. But Karpov had remained loyal to FIDE and also claimed the title after winning a FIDE-sanctioned match against Jan Timman of the Netherlands, despite the fact that he had earned this right because he had lost matches to both Short and Kasparov over the previous two years.
The split remained for the rest of the 1990s, and Kasparov successfully defended his PCA title against Viswanathan Anand of India in 1995. However, Kasparov resigned as president of the PCA, and it quickly fell apart without his leadership. FIDE once again took the reigns and sanctioned a new world championship in a new “knockout” format. Participants were seeded in a large draw and had to advance through a number of rounds in a short time.
Karpov won the first title under this format, after getting seeded into the final match, but later was unhappy with the tournament arrangements when he lost the special privilege of being seeded into the finals. In 1999 he refused to participate, and Alexander Khalifman of Russia took the FIDE title. In 2001 another knockout world championship was held, and the eighteen-year-old Ukrainian grandmaster Ruslan Ponomariov won the event.
After five years without holding a title challenge, Kasparov was finally able to secure sponsorship for a world championship contest of his own in 2000. (The sponsorship Kasparov got for this championship was provided by BrainGames. Thus the 2000 championship was billed as the BrainGames World Chess Championship.) But he lost the match to his former student, twenty-five-year-old Vladimir Kramnik of Russia. Kramnik was chosen as the challenger because he was the second-highest-rated player in the world at the time.