Boris Gelfand has just won the 7th of 12 games (all previous drawn) in the FIDE World Championship match against the current holder of the title Viswanathan Anand. This puts him in a good position to take the title. Gelfand is currently ranked 20th in the world; over the past decade he has averaged approximately 13th in the world (FIDE rankings).

If Gelfand does win, will his low ranking be without precedent or is this a common match-play aberration? Who has been the lowest ranked on the FIDE rankings list at the time of taking the title of World Chess Champion?

  • The match was very close. Tiebreaks were necessary, and Anand won by a hairs' breadth in only one of the four tie-breakers, the rest drawn. – Daniel May 31 '12 at 14:44
  • the low ebb of chess is evident from the fact that anand plays gelfand for the crown.are these guys in the same league as alekhine, kasparov and fischer or even morphy or capablanca(i don't intend to say that morphy and capa were weaker).there no towering genius in chess today. don't go by fide ratings or by the remarks that morphy's opponents were weak.can anand write the same fables as morphy is similar positions against morphy's opponents?i remember how anand was blown away by kasparov always something he could not do to karpov.great players, great rivalry. – user541 Aug 28 '12 at 14:04
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    @debjitbanerjee, to answer the two questions you ask in your comment: Yes, Yes. Is Anand as great a player as Kasparov or Fischer? I'd agree that he's probably not. But that is an absurdly high standard for what counts as a "worthy" champion. – ETD Aug 29 '12 at 4:48
  • Another interesting question is how many challengers were higher rated, like Bobby Fischer, than the champion during the match. – Mike Jones May 2 at 20:58

To answer my own question, numbers shown in bold below are the FIDE ranking of the player at the time they were crowned World Champion. Before 1964 there was no ranking system as far as I know. Ranking taken from FIDE rankings site and this chess USA education webpage.

Undisputed world champions 1886–1993
?? Wilhelm Steinitz (1886–1894)
?? Emanuel Lasker (1894–1921)
?? José Raúl 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)
01 Tigran Petrosian (1963–1969) (first unofficial rankings list 1964)
02 Boris Spassky (1969–1972)
01 Bobby Fischer (1972–1975)
02 Anatoly Karpov (1975–1985)
02 Garry Kasparov (1985–1993)

Classical (PCA/Braingames) world champions 1993–2006
01 Garry Kasparov (1993–2000)
03 Vladimir Kramnik (2000–2006)

FIDE world champions 1993–2006
02 Anatoly Karpov (1993–1999)
44 Alexander Khalifman (1999–2000)
02 Viswanathan Anand (2000–2002)
07 Ruslan Ponomariov (2002–2004)
54 Rustam Kasimdzhanov (2004–2005)
03 Veselin Topalov (2005–2006)

Undisputed world champions 2006–present
09 Vladimir Kramnik (2006–2007)
01 Viswanathan Anand (2007–present)

Next undisputed world champion ?
04 Viswanathan Anand
20 Boris Gelfand

And as I write this Anand has won game 8.

Also, an interesting quote from Alexander Khalifman responding to his very low ranking at the time of his crowning FIDE world champion in 1999:

"Rating systems work perfectly for players who play only in round robin closed events. I think most of them are overrated. Organizers invite the same people over and over because they have the same rating and their rating stays high."

Of course he would say that but perhaps some truth there.

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According to this page, the weakest world champions would be Euwe and Steinitz. The list is old, but we've had nothing but powerhouses since 1978.

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    Thx. I'm actually after how they were ranked (1st or 3rd or 10th, for example) compared to the other top players of their time. I guess when the FIDE ranking system was introduced would be relevant (as far as I know it was late 70's). I'm currently trawling the net looking for ranking positions of the World Chess Champions the year they were crowned. I'm pretty sure Kasparov and Karpov were ranked 1st and 2nd when they had their epic World Championship matches. – b1_ May 21 '12 at 7:39
  • @Euwe was a surprise world champion. First, because he got to play Alekhine, and second, because Alekhine was apparently drinking during their first match and lost an early lead in games. – Tom Au Aug 3 '12 at 22:13
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    @TomAu Let's not forget that Euwe had a whole hired team of grandmasters who would do analysis for him, while Alekhine did that himself. – AnonymousLurker Aug 30 '12 at 9:05
  • The rating difference between Euwe and Alekhine was the greatest in the championship, so I would say that this put Euwe, referred to as an amateur, as also being the lowest rated. – Mike Jones May 2 at 20:56

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