Who was the First World Chess Champion?

Chess is an intense game of logic and passion that often goes down to the wire. As an untitled 16-year-old who entered the adult Chinese championship untitled in 2009, becoming China’s inaugural world chess champion seemed unlikely. Yet his astounding run undefeated earned him top-ten world ranking and FIDE grandmaster title status – something no one predicted would happen!

Ding Liren - 17th World Chess Champion

After Carlsen gave up the crown, Chinese Grandmaster Ding Liren successfully secured the 17th world title after an intense rapid playoff with Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi in Astana, Kazakhstan on 30 April. You may be wondering, who was the first world chess champion? The following takes you to see the first world chess champion – Wilhelm Steinitz.

Wilhelm Steinitz was the first official World Chess Champion, having won the title in 1886. He was a pioneer in the development of modern chess, and his legacy continues to influence the game today. In this article, we will explore the life and achievements of Wilhelm Steinitz, as well as his impact on the world of chess.

The First World Chess Champion – Wilhelm Steinitz

Wilhelm Steinitz - First World Chess Champion

Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900), the first official world chess champion, reigned supreme for decades in competitive chess competition. A brilliant player himself, as well as an influential theorist and writer he persuaded chess masters to move away from dramatic attacking play toward more strategic planning and positional principles-based methods of play.

Known for his aggressive attacking style, full of romantic sacrifice and superb defensive games, Wilhelm also introduced positional play into chess. He pioneered positional play, pioneered opening innovations which still stand today – ideas which greatly impacted future chess masters such as Emanuel Lasker.

Early Life

Wilhelm Steinitz was born on May 17, 1836, in Prague, which was then part of the Austrian Empire. His father was a tailor, and his mother was a homemaker. From a young age, Wilhelm showed an aptitude for chess. Wilhelm Steinitz began learning chess as a teenager, quickly improving in his twenties to take first place at Vienna city championships averaging thirty wins to one loss over the course of two seasons (1859 and 1861).

Chess Career

Wilhelm Steinitz’s chess career spanned several decades, and he was known for his aggressive and innovative playing style. In 1866, he won the first ever international chess tournament in London, and he went on to win several other major tournaments in Europe and the United States.

Steinitz is often criticized by modern players for his aggressive style, yet he was an outstanding theorist. He popularized the theory that small advantages must be accrued gradually to formulate winning attacks; Steinitz excelled at creating weak squares for his pieces and using space effectively.

Steinitz was raised during the Romantic era of chess, when elaborate attacks with costly sacrifices were the norm. While he could competently master these types of tactics, his effectiveness increased significantly when he introduced his innovative positional style at a Vienna tournament in 1873. Steinitz employed this approach to easily dominate a series of high level matches, including one against Johannes Zukertort – later to become world champion himself.

World Chess Champion

Steinitz successfully defended his championship through strong tournament performances and in 1886 defeated Zukertort by a score of 12.5-7.5 (10 wins, 5 losses and 5 draws). Wilhelm Steinitz won the first ever official World Chess Championship. After defeating Zukertort, Steinitz was challenged for the world championship by Isidor Gunsberg and won in 20 games.

Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship Match (1886)

Wilhelm Steinitz became the inaugural world chess champion in 1886 and is widely considered to be its father. Steinitz successfully defended his title against several challengers, including Emanuel Lasker, who would go on to become the second World Chess Champion.


Wilhelm Steinitz is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking work on chess theory. He believed that chess was a science, and he developed a number of important ideas that are still used by chess players today. For example, he emphasized the importance of controlling the center of the board, and he was the first to develop the concept of positional play.

Steinitz distinguished himself from other players at his time by appraising opponents’ positions carefully before planning a series of calculated moves to win games. This technique earned him the title “father of positional play.” Steinitz’s ideas on strategy helped define chess. A prolific writer for various chess journals, Steinitz vigorously defended his new theories – leading to what became known as the Ink War debates.

Steinitz and Morphy’s early observations and theories revolutionized chess by providing players with more concrete understandings for why certain moves are better than others. His ideas helped make chess more analytical and scientific; his match against Capablanca is often seen as marking the start of modern chess.

Wilhelm Steinitz’s contributions to the game of chess cannot be overstated. He was a pioneer in the development of modern chess theory, and his ideas continue to influence players at all levels of the game. In addition, his success as the first World Chess Champion helped to raise the profile of chess as a serious sport, paving the way for future generations of chess players.

To further illustrate Wilhelm Steinitz’s impact on the world of chess, the following table lists some of his key contributions:

Positional playWilhelm Steinitz emphasized the importance of controlling the center of the board and playing strategically.
Pawn structureSteinitz was the first to develop the concept of pawn structure, which refers to the arrangement of pawns on the chess board.
Chess notationSteinitz helped to develop the standard system of chess notation that is still used today.
World Chess ChampionshipSteinitz was the first ever World Chess Champion, and his success helped to establish chess as a serious sport.


Wilhelm Steinitz was a true pioneer in the world of chess, and his legacy continues to influence the game today. His contributions to chess theory and strategy have helped to shape the way that the game is played, and his success as the first World Chess Champion helped to establish chess as a respected and competitive sport. Chess enthusiasts around the world owe a debt of gratitude to Wilhelm Steinitz, the first official World Chess Champion.

Also Read : How to Be a Chess Grandmaster :The Highest Title in Chess