Now that Carlsen has decided not to defend his title the next official world champion will not be the world number 1. According to this tweet from Welsh GM Nigel Davies :

I would estimate that for something like 30-40% of the history of the World Chess Championship, the official champion has not been the World's strongest player. And in the grand scheme of things it's really not a big deal...

The PCA years when Kasparov was world number one but played his own world championship matches rather than the official ones is one time when this was true.

Nigel Davies estimate of 30-40% seems high to me. What is the real figure?

  • 4
    How do you define number 1? FIDE rating? Does the player have to be active e.g, Fischer? What about time before FIDE rating?
    – Akavall
    Jul 20, 2022 at 21:20
  • @Akavall FIDE ratings only go back as far as 1970, so they can do the job back that far but before then the chess world still had an idea of who was or was not the best player. For instance Euwe was regarded as not being as good as Alekhine even when Euwe was World Champion. To demonstrate that you are the strongest you have to be active. Karpov was strongest in 1975 when he first won the title.
    – Brian Towers
    Jul 20, 2022 at 22:06
  • The question is ambiguous. How long does the official World Champion not be world number 1? Jul 26, 2022 at 5:12

1 Answer 1


Since the introduction of FIDE official rating in 1971 these periods undisputably include:

  • 1 year by Fischer in 1971-1972
  • 1 year by Kasparov in 1984,
  • 1/2 years by Karpov in 1985,
  • almost the entire period from 2000 to 2013, excluding two years in total in 2007-2008 and 2010-2011, when Anand had both the title and No 1 spot, and half a year for Topalov in 2006.

This makes it about 13 years in a 50-year span, or 26%. If you are a bit more stringent with your definitions, e.g., exclude the Kasparov period in 1993-2000 when he was not an undisputed WC, then of course the percentage would go up.

For the time before 1971, it is harder to agree on anything, but some periods where there seems to be a consensus include:

  • Steinitz was not No 1 in 1890 - 1894
  • Lasker was not No 1 in 1913 - 1921
  • Botvinnik was not No 1 for most of his tenure as a WC.
  • Petrosian was never No 1 in 1963 - 1969

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