Though there have been many great players in the history of chess, only a select few have been honored to hold the title of World Champion.
This article only mentions officially recognized World Chess Champions. However, it's worth noting that there were several unofficial champions previous to 1886, such as Paul Morphy.
Classical World Chess Champions
The classical line of World Chess Champions began with Wilhelm Steinitz's defeat of Johannes Zukertort in their 1886 match. Since that time, the World Championship has typically been contested in a match between the current champion and a challenger, though tournaments have been used on occasion for various reasons.
- Wilhelm Steinitz (1886-1894)
- Emanuel Lasker (1894-1921)
- Jose Raul Capablanca (1921-1927)
- Alexander Alekhine (1927-1935, 1937-1946)
- Max Euwe (1935-1937)
- Mikhail Botvinnik (1948-1957, 1958-1960, 1961-1963)
- Vasily Smyslov (1957-1958)
- Mikhail Tal (1960-1961)
- Tigran Petrosian (1963-1969)
- Boris Spassky (1969-1972)
- Robert James "Bobby" Fischer (1972-1975)
- Anatoly Karpov (1975-1985)
- Garry Kasparov (1985-2000)
- Vladimir Kramnik (2000-2007)
- Viswanathan Anand (2007-current)
FIDE World Chess Champions
When Garry Kasparov split with FIDE and organized his 1993 World Championship match with Nigel Short, FIDE declared that they still controlled the World Championship title and staged their own championships. While the FIDE title did not carry the prestige of the classical World Championship, these players are still worth noting for historical perspective.