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Modern History of the World Chess Championships

A polymath from humble beginnings, spiralling. Bit of a wretch.

Garry Kasparov broke away from FIDE to set up the PCA. The title was unified in 2006.

Garry Kasparov broke away from FIDE to set up the PCA. The title was unified in 2006.

Background: The End of Kasparov and the Move Towards Reunification

In the 1990s, reigning World Champion Garry Kasparov broke with chess' governing body, FIDE, and set up the Professional Chess Association (PCA). FIDE stripped Kasparov of the title, which led to two separate World Championships being held simultaneously: one by FIDE and the other by the PCA.

Kasparov would win against Nigel Short and Viswanathan Anand before losing the PCA title to his greatest nemesis, Vladimir Kramnik, in the year 2000. Kramnik later beat Peter Leko in 2004 to regain the PCA title before participating in the reunification match.

Vladimir Kramnik would beat Peter Leko to regain the PCA title in 2004.

Vladimir Kramnik would beat Peter Leko to regain the PCA title in 2004.

Meanwhile, under the FIDE cycle, Anatoly Karpov won in 1993, 1996, and 1998 to remain the FIDE World Champion. The 1998 win against Anand, however, cast doubts over the legitimacy and fairness of the title challenge, with Karpov having being awarded special privileges for the match.

Changes to the Tournament Format

The format of the tournament underwent a change, wherein a knockout component was instituted in the preliminary stages of the tournament. This led to a variety of winners, such as Alexander Khalifman in 1999, Viswanathan Anand in 2000, Ruslan Ponomariov in 2002, and Rustam Kasimzdhanov in 2004.

The tournament underwent a further format change with a double round-robin format instituted in the 2005 tournament, which was eventually won by Veselin Topalov.

Veselin Topalov would win the FIDE title in a double round-robin tournament in 2005.

Veselin Topalov would win the FIDE title in a double round-robin tournament in 2005.

Title Reunification: 2006 World Championship

Kramnik agreed to defend his title against the winner of the FIDE World Championship to unify both the chess titles in 2006. The match format consisted of 12 classical games with four rapid games to be played in case of a tie.

Kramnik took an early lead in the match, going up 2-0. However, the match was marred by the "Toiletgate" incident, wherein Team Topalov alleged that Kramnik was going to the bathroom too often and was receiving computer assistance. Kramnik forfeited the next game in protest, but he returned to play.

The match was tied at the end of 12 games, and a tie-breaker was required. Kramnik would eventually win the tie-break 2.5-1.5, after Topalov blundered in the final game, and become the 14th undisputed World Chess Champion. However, relations between the two players would be damaged irreparably, with the two refusing to shake hands before games for the best part of a decade before the ice thawed.

Topalov and Kramnik battled it out in the 2006 Championship. The match was marred by allegations of cheating and accusations of foul-play, and it led to a long-lasting acrimony between the two players.

Topalov and Kramnik battled it out in the 2006 Championship. The match was marred by allegations of cheating and accusations of foul-play, and it led to a long-lasting acrimony between the two players.

2007 World Championship

The format of the 2007 Championship in Mexico had already been decided by FIDE prior to the reunification match in 2006. After extensive negotiations, Kramnik accepted the legitimacy of the tournament and was given certain privileges for the next cycle.

The Championship would be decided in a double round-robin tournament format, and eight players would compete in the tournament. The format would be discontinued in future World Championships. A Candidates Tournament would be held to decide the challenger, who would play a match against the World Champion for the title.

Players and Results

The eight players to compete were:

  • Reigning World Champion Vladimir Kramnik
  • World No.1 Viswanathan Anand
  • Peter Svidler
  • Alexander Morozevich
  • Peter Leko
  • Boris Gelfand
  • Levon Aronian
  • Alexander Grischuk

Over 14 rounds, Anand established a clear lead over the field and showed why he was World No.1, winning four games and drawing 10 to win the tournament unbeaten.

Anand would remain unbeaten in Mexico and go on to win his second title.

Anand would remain unbeaten in Mexico and go on to win his second title.

World Champion Viswanathan Anand would battle Vladimir Kramnik for the 2008 Championship.

World Champion Viswanathan Anand would battle Vladimir Kramnik for the 2008 Championship.

2008 World Championship

Rivals since the 1990s, Kramnik and Anand had lived in the shadow of Garry Kasparov, settling to become the second- and third-best players in the world. Since Kasparov's retirement, however, both players had won the World Championship, both were in the prime of their careers, and—in contrast to the Kramnik-Topalov rivalry—both were friendly off the board, despite being serious rivals.

The 2008 World Championship was held in Bonn and is considered one of the most iconic match-ups in chess history. Anand, who was considered inferior in a match format due to his losses to Kasparov and Karpov previously, mounted a serious challenge. He was ably supported by his seconds Peter Heine Nielsen, Rustam Kasimzdhanov, Radoslaw Wojtaszek, and Surya Ganguly.

Known for his incredible opening preparation, Kramnik relied on a team different from the Topalov match, choosing Rublevsky, Fressinet, and Peter Leko as his supporting cast.

Result of the Match

Anand dominated the match by blunting Kramnik's pet lines and choosing to use the d4 opening, which had a significant bearing on the outcome of the match. Anand would wrap up the match by Game 11, winning by a score of 6.5-4.5. The results of the match ensured that Anand and Kramnik would be tied on three World Championship titles each.

Viswanathan Anand would defend his title against former World Champion Veselin Topalov in 2010.

Viswanathan Anand would defend his title against former World Champion Veselin Topalov in 2010.

2010 World Championship

As he did not participate in the 2007 cycle, Topalov was awarded a challenger match versus the winner of the 2007 Chess World Cup, Gata Kamsky, for the right to challenge Anand for the title. Topalov won the contest 4.5-2.5, and the World Championship match was confirmed to be held in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 2010.

Assistance From Many World Champions

This match is considered to be a special match because it created circumstances seen extremely rarely in chess. Kramnik, a bitter rival of Topalov, approached the Anand team to provide assistance and played a crucial role in strengthening Anand's opening preparation. Additionally, former World Champion Garry Kasparov, who had a fractious relationship with Anand, also unexpectedly offered some help and advice.

In addition to FIDE World Champion Rustam Kasimzdhanov being Anand's second, future World Champion Magnus Carlsen also trained with Anand. This meant that four World Champions helped Anand in his bid to regain his title against Topalov. Topalov, for his part, was supported by Ivan Cheparinov, Erwin L'ami, Jan Smeets, and Jiri Dufek.

Travel Difficulties

The match was marred by the volcanic ash cloud in Iceland, which disrupted transport. Anand's team requested a delay, which was rejected by Topalov's team; this meant that Anand and his team took a 40-hour road journey to reach Sofia for the tournament.

Result of the Match

The match lived up to its hype and went down to the wire, with the score tied at 5.5-5.5 after 11 games. Anand won the last game after Topalov tried to push for a win, hoping to avoid a rapid play-off where Anand would have been considered the favourite. This meant that Anand would win his fourth title and move ahead of Kramnik in terms of titles won.

Boris Gelfand would win the 2011 Candidates tournament to challenge Anand in 2012.

Boris Gelfand would win the 2011 Candidates tournament to challenge Anand in 2012.

2012 World Championship

Israeli Grandmaster Boris Gelfand won the Candidates tournament in 2011, beating players like Gata Kamsky and Alexander Grischuk to challenge Anand for the title. Anand retained the same team for this match, whereas Gelfand chose Alexander Huzman, Pavel Eljanov, Maxim Rodshtein, Evgeny Tomashevsky, and Michael Roiz. He also refused the offer by Garry Kasparov to be his second, on principle, since Kasparov had intimate knowledge about Anand's preparation from previous matches.

Result of the Match

The match was held in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, and it was hotly contested. Gelfand, considered the underdog, sprung a massive surprise that rattled Anand during the opening games, and Gelfand took a 4-3 lead after seven games.

However, Anand managed to claw back in the next game, and after a string a draws, he forced a rapid tie-break. Anand would win the rapid tie-break 2.5-1.5 and defend his title for the third consecutive time. (If you'd like to take an inside look at the strategies Anand used during his three championship wins, I recommend the book The Anand Files.)

Magnus Carlsen won the the Candidates Tournament in 2012 to challenge Anand in 2013.

Magnus Carlsen won the the Candidates Tournament in 2012 to challenge Anand in 2013.

2013 World Championship

Magnus Carlsen, the reigning World No.1 in the early 2010s, narrowly won the Candidates Tournament in 2012, beating Vladimir Kramnik on tie-breaks to qualify for the title match. The match was held in Anand's hometown, Chennai, in India.

Anand chose a new team since former team-member Peter Heine Nielsen was hired by Magnus but did not participate in this Championship. Anand's new team consisted of Peter Leko, Krishnan Sasikiran, and Sandipan Chanda, along with old hands Surya Ganguly and Radoslaw Wojtaszek. Carlsen was tight-lipped about his team during the match, but he later revealed that Jon Ludvig-Hammer, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Pavel Eljanov, and Laurent Fressinet were part of his team.

Result of the Match

The match turned out to less dramatic than the previous ones, with Carlsen winning comfortably with a score of 6.5-3.5. This meant that Carlsen would become the 16th undisputed World Chess Champion.

Anand and Magnus would meet again in 2014.

Anand and Magnus would meet again in 2014.

2014 World Championship

Already considered past his prime, Anand surprised the chess world by becoming the second-oldest player to win a Candidates tournament, beating players like Vladimir Kramnik, Veselin Topalov, and Levon Aronian. This set up a repeat of the 2013 match, with Anand facing off against Carlsen and hoping to exact some revenge for the previous loss.

Anand's team included Sasikiran, Wojtaszek, and Gajewski, whereas Carlsen's team included Peter Heine Nielsen, Hammer, Fressinet, and Michael Adams. Garry Kasparov also provided advice to Team Magnus during the match.

Result of the Match

The match was closer than the 2013 match; however, the result remained the same with Carlsen winning by a score of 6.5-4.5, netting him the title for the second time.

Sergey Karjakin won the 2016 Candidates Tournament to challenge Carlsen.

Sergey Karjakin won the 2016 Candidates Tournament to challenge Carlsen.

2016 World Championship

Russian Grandmaster Sergey Karjakin won the 2016 Candidates Tournament and the right to challenge Magnus for the World title in 2016. Karjakin beat players like Viswanathan Anand, Fabiano Caruana, and Levon Aronian on his way to victory. It was a tense affair, as both Karjakin and Caruana were tied for the lead before the last round. They faced off against each other, and Karjakin managed to capitalize on Caruana's errors to ensure his tournament victory.

Carlsen was supported by his old team, and players such as Nils Grandelius, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Jan Gustafsson were added. For training games, Sam Shankland and Richard Rapport were also part of the Magnus training camp. Karjakin also selected an elaborate team for the occasion, enlisting the support of Vladimir Potkin, Alexander Motylev, Yury Dokhoian, and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, amongst others.

Result of the Match

The match was a tense affair and marked the first time that Carlsen trailed in a World Championship match when Karjakin took the lead in Game 8. Carlsen, however, managed to bounce back in Game 10 to level the scores, and after 12 games the score was tied.

In the rapid tie-breaks, Carlsen managed to overpower Karjakin, winning two games and drawing two, to retain his World title. This would be Carlsen's second consecutive title defence and third title overall.

Fabiano Caruana won the Candidates tournament in 2018 to challenge Magnus for the 2018 World championship.

Fabiano Caruana won the Candidates tournament in 2018 to challenge Magnus for the 2018 World championship.

2018 World Championship

The third-highest ELO-rated player in the history of chess and long-time World Championship contender, Fabiano Caruana, won the 2018 Candidates tournament, beating players like Ding Liren, Levon Aronian, Sergey Karjakin, and Vladimir Kramnik. After having narrowly lost the 2016 Candidates tournament, Caruana won the 2018 tournament comfortably, with a point to spare.

Talented Russian Grandmaster Daniil Dubov joined Carlsen's old team, whereas Caruana was supported by Alejandro Ramirez, Cristian Chirila, Lenier Dominguez, and former FIDE Champion Rustam Kasimzdhanov.

Result of the Match

The Championship match was held in London, and it became the only Championship to have no victories for either side in regulation time. Across 12 games, Carlsen managed to recover from multiple sub-par positions to force 12 draws. Considered the favourite in the rapid tie-break, Carlsen managed to win easily, winning three games on the trot, and successfully defended his title for the third consecutive time.

Ian Nepomniachtchi won the 2021 Candidates tournament to challenge Magnus for the 2021 match.

Ian Nepomniachtchi won the 2021 Candidates tournament to challenge Magnus for the 2021 match.

2021 World Championship

Russian Grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi, who had also assisted Magnus during the 2013 match against Anand, won the Candidates tournament in 2021 and challenged Carlsen for the World Championship title. Considered one of the trickiest players to face, Nepomniachtchi won the coronavirus-marred Candidates tournament across two phases, beating players like Caruana, Ding Liren, and Sergey Karjakin.

Carlsen's support team remained largely unchanged, with Jorden Van Foreest replacing Nils Grandelius, while Nepomniachtchi enlisted the support of Peter Leko, Sergey Karjakin, Segey Yanowski, and Vladimir Potkin.

Result of the Match

The match was hotly contested, starting with five closely fought draws. The sixth game, however, would be the decider, as Carlsen won a marathon 8-hour game to take a lead in the match that would not be challenged. Carlsen would go on to win three of the next five games, winning the match by a score of 7.5 to 3.5.

This victory was Carlsen's fifth championship; however, there won't be another title defence given Carlsen's decision to abdicate. (You can look back on Carlsen's career and analyse some of his best games by reading Magnus Carlsen: 60 Memorable Games.) The next Championship match will happen in 2023 between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren.

Who Will Be the Next World Champion?

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