Chess Worldchampions

Unofficial World Champions

The world champion of chess is always very fascinating, because he is coming closest to claiming who is the brightest man on earth. In modern history the first man who could claim that title was the Ruy Lopez of Spain in 1560. In 1575 he lost a match in Spain against Leonardo, which can be considered the first match for the world championship.

For many centuries, there was no formal world chess championship, but there were nonetheless a select few who achieved fame for their ideas and successes over the chess board, and sometimes even for their writings. In the 1850s, America's foremost chess player was a young man from Louisiana named Paul Morphy.

In 1858, Morphy traveled overseas to play against the finest competition that Europe had to offer. Morphy annihilated the opposition, including the German attacking genius Adolf Anderssen, who was widely regarded as the strongest player of the day. Morphy had proven himself in every way a World Chess Champion. After his European tour, Morphy returned to the states, and announced his retirement from chess. Morphy's retirement in 1862 left a vacuum in the chess world, and the simple question, "Who is the best?" lacked a definitive answer. Anderssen was a likely choice, but it wasn't long before people turned their attention to an Austrian chess sensation named Wilhelm Steinitz, whose daring attacking style had earned him the nickname "The Austrian Morphy". When Steinitz defeated Anderssen in 1866, Steinitz was widely regarded as the world's best, and would be for decades to come.

Official World Championships

In the 1870s, a Polish immigrant to the United Kingdom named Johannes Zukertort wasgaining worldwide attention. By the 1880s many believed that he had surpassed Steinitz, which was further confirmed when Zukertort won the London tournament of 1883, defeating nearly every leading player in the world, finishing three points above second-place Steinitz.

The stage was finally set for the first official World Chess Championship. So who was better, really? In 1886 these two masters settled the question in the only acceptable way: they played a long chess match. Although not held under the aegis of any official organization, most chess historians regard the Steinitz-Zukertort match as the first official World Chess Championship, because it started a grand tradition. This tradition is characterized by several components, chief among which are: The title is determined by a match of sufficient length to demonstrate a superiority of one player over the other. The winner of the match becomes heir to the title of World Chess Champion, the highest title there is. The title, although intangible, is treated for all purposes like a physical object which may be possessed by only one person at a time. The reigning champion can only relinquish the title by losing a subsequent match to a competitor, or by retiring, or by death. From time to time, the reigning champion is obligated to defend his title against the strongest challengers. Starting with Steinitz, the title of World Chess Champion has been handed down through the generations from one player to another, like an Olympic torch.

Amateur World Championships

The World Amateur Chess Championship was a tournament organized by the World Chess Federation, FIDE. FIDE intended to promote amateur chess play by holding championship tournaments linked to the Olympic Games, but only two events were held.

The first championship was held the year that FIDE was founded, at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.

This is considered the unofficial first Chess Olympiad, and is the only Olympiad that was an individual event. The second championship was held at the 1928 Summer Olympics in The Hague, in conjunction with the 2nd Chess Olympiad.

Chess has never been an official part of the Olympic Games, and since the chess community does not make any essential distinction between amateur and professional the championship was discontinued after 1928.

Fide World Championships

In 1948, Alexander Alekhine passed away, and forced the chess world to resolve a novel dilemma: the death of a reigning champion. Due to this problematic interregnum, a French chess organization founded in 1924, inactive since 1939, suddenly rocketed to prominence. Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) proposed a solution that a title tournament take place inviting the world's most prominent players. The plan was successful, and led to the 1948 FIDE World Chess Championship Tournament which crowned Mikhail Botvinnik as World Chess Champion and established a more formal system of selecting candidates for the future. This system worked reasonably well, until 1993, when World Champion Garry Kasparov made the historic decision to break his allegiance to FIDE. Unhappy with the bidding process to select the site for the match, FIDE's lack of consultation with the players, and the 20% cut of the prize fund going to FIDE, Kasparov declared that he would defend the title outside of the auspices of FIDE. This created a split title, in which Kasparov played title defense matches under a newly created organization called the PCA (Professional Chess Association), while FIDE continued to manage a World Championship cycle that was stripped of legitimacy in the eyes of most chess fans. The uncomfortable situation of a split title persisted for 13 years, during which time Kasparov lost a title defense to Vladimir Kramnik. In order to end the chaos of the split title, and for FIDE to retain legitimacy, it was necessary to pit Kramnik (the rightful heir of Kasparov's throne) against the FIDE World Champion. The title was reunified in 2006 when FIDE Champion Veselin Topalov lost to Kramnik in the 2006 FIDE World Championship Match in Elista.

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