Magnus is already champion? No world champion ever recovered after -2 score.

After Magnus took a 4-2 lead over Anand, I've decided to look at the history of World Championship matches - who, if ever, managed to come back from two (or more) behind and at least equalize the score at some point?

The first official World Championship match was unique in many ways - there was no World Champion, after all, only two candidates. Johannes Zukertort led 4-1 after winning 4 games in a row, but Wilhelm Steinitz managed to equalize, and then even win convincingly with +5 score.

In all subsequent matches, there was a champion and a candidate. Let's see how the matches went after someone achieved +2 lead. Winner of the match is first in the pairs, not the incumbent champion.

Champion led +2:

1889, Steinitz - Chigorin. Steinitz led 6-4; Chigorin never managed to equalize, Steinitz won 10.5-6.5.

1891, Steinitz - Gunsberg. Steinitz led 6-4; Gunsberg never managed to equalize, Steinitz won 10.5-8.5.

1896/97, Lasker - Steinitz. Lasker led 2-0, eventually increasing the lead to 9-2 without any wins for Steinitz. Lasker went on to win 12.5-4.5, with Steinitz winning only 2 games.

1907, Lasker - Marshall. Lasker led 2-0, eventually increasing the lead to 11.5-3.5 without any wins for Marshall. Lasker won 8 games, drew 7 and lost none.

1908, Lasker - Tarrasch. Lasker led 2-0, Tarrasch won game 3, then Lasker led 3-1 and never let the lead drop below +2, eventually winning 10.5-3.5. Lasker won 8 games, drew 5 and lost 3.

1910, Lasker - Janowski. Lasker led 3-1, eventually increasing the lead to 9.5-1.5 without any wins for Janowski. Lasker won 8 games, drew 3 and lost none.

1929, Alekhine - Bogoljubov. Alekhine led 5-3, then increased the lead to 8-4. Bogoljubov never managed to get the lead below +2, Alekhine won 15.5-9.5.

1934, Alekhine - Bogoljubov. Alekhine led 3-1. Bogoljubov never managed to equalize, Alekhine won 15.5-10.5.

1954, Botvinnik - Smyslov. Botvinnik led 2-0, then increased the lead to 3.5-0.5. Smyslov managed to recover and even led 6-5 after game 11. Then Botvinnik led 9-7; the match eventually ended 12-12, Botvinnik retained his title.

1966, Petrosian - Spassky. Petrosian led 6-4, Spassky managed to equalize 9.5-9.5. Then Petrosian led 12-10 and won 12.5-11.5.

1978, Karpov - Korchnoi. Karpov led 8-6, then 10-7. Korchnoi managed to equalize 15.5-15.5, then Karpov won the last game and the match 16.5-15.5 (6 wins).

1981, Karpov - Korchnoi. Karpov led 2-0, then 3.5-0.5. Korchnoi never managed to get the lead below +2, Karpov won 11-7 (6 wins).

1984, Karpov - Kasparov. Karpov led 4-2, eventually increasing the lead to 16-11 (with no wins for Kasparov). Kasparov managed to decrease the lead to 25-23 at the game 48, after which the match was cancelled.

1986, Kasparov - Karpov. Kasparov led 8-6, then 9.5-6.5. Karpov equalized 9.5-9.5, then Kasparov led 11.5-10.5 and won the match 12.5-11.5.

1990, Kasparov - Karpov. Kasparov led 11-9, Karpov never managed to equalize, Kasparov won 12.5-11.5.

1993 (PCA), Kasparov - Short. Kasparov led 2.5-0.5, then eventually increased the lead to 10.5-4.5. Short never managed to recover, Kasparov won 12.5-7.5.

1993 (FIDE), Karpov - Timman. Karpov led 6-4, then eventually increased the lead to 10.5-5.5. Timman never managed to recover, Karpov won 12.5-8.5.

1995 (PCA), Kasparov - Anand. Kasparov led 7.5-5.5, then 8.5-5.5 and eventually won the match 10.5-7.5.

1996 (FIDE), Karpov - Kamsky. Karpov led 4-2, then 5-2 and 6.5-2.5. Kamsky never managed to get the lead below +2, Karpov won 10.5-7.5.

2006, Kramnik - Topalov. Kramnik led 2-0, then Topalov equalized 4-4 and led 5-4, Kramnik drew the classical match 6-6 and then won the tie breaks.

2008, Anand - Kramnik. Anand led 3.5-1.5, then 4.5-1.5. Kramnik never managed to get the lead below +2, Anand won 6.5-4.5.

Candidate led +2:

1892, Steinitz - Chigorin. Chigorin led 6-4; Steinitz then equalized 7-7, then Chigorin and Steinitz repeatedly won their respective games with White to tie 10-10, and then Steinitz won the tie-break to emerge as winner with score 12.5-10.5 (wins 10-8).

1894, Lasker - Steinitz. Lasker led 5-3, then won three more games in a row. Steinitz never managed to equalize, Lasker won 12-7.

1921, Capablanca - Lasker. Capablanca led 6-4, eventually increasing the lead to 9-5. After the 14th game, Lasker forfeited the match.

1927, Alekhine - Capablanca. Alekhine led 11.5-9.5. Capablanca never managed to equalize, Alekhine won 18.5-15.5 (6 wins)

1937, Alekhine - Euwe. Alekhine led 5-3, then increased the lead to 6.5-3.5. Euwe never managed to get the lead below +2, Alekhine won 15.5-9.5.

1957, Smyslov - Botvinnik. Smyslov led 5-3, then increased the lead to 7-5. Botvinnik never managed to equalize, Smyslov won 12.5-9.5.

1958, Botvinnik - Smyslov. Botvinnik led 2-0, then 3-0. Smyslov never managed to get the lead below +2, Botvinnik won 12.5-10.5.

1960, Tal - Botvinnik. Tal led 4-2, then 5-2. Botvinnik never managed to equalize, Tal won 12.5-8.5.

1961, Botvinnik - Tal. Botvinnik led 4.5-2.5. Tal never managed to equalize, Botvinnik won 13-8.

1963, Petrosian - Botvinnik. Petrosian led 10-8, then 11-8 and eventually won 12.5-9.5.

1969, Spassky - Petrosian. Spassky led 5-3, Petrosian equalized 5.5-5.5. Then Spassky led 10.5-8.5 and eventually won 12.5-10.5.

1985, Kasparov - Karpov. Kasparov led 10.5-8.5, Karpov never managed to equalize, Kasparov won 13-11.

2000 (Classical), Kramnik - Kasparov. Kramnik led 6-4, all following games were drawn, and Kramnik won 8.5-6.5.

Nobody led +2:

1910, Lasker - Schlechter. Schlechter led 3-2, and then Lasker managed to win the very last game to draw the match 5-5.

1951, Botvinnik - Bronstein. A very equally matched contest where both players had +1 leads. The match ended 12-12, Botvinnik retained the title.

1987, Kasparov - Karpov. Karpov actually took the +1 lead three times while Kasparov led only once. Kasparov managed to win the very last game to draw the match 12-12.

2004 (Classical), Kramnik - Leko. Leko led 4.5-3.5, and then Kramnik managed to win the very last game to draw the match 7-7.

2010, Anand - Topalov. An evenly matched contest when both Anand and Topalov had +1 leads. Anand won the last classical game to win the match cleanly 6.5-5.5.

2012, Anand - Gelfand. Gelfand led 4-3, Anand immediately equalized, drew the classical match and then won tie breaks.

Both players led +2:

1935, Euwe - Alekhine. Alekhine led 3-1, then increased the lead to 5-2. Euwe equalized 7-7. Alekhine then led 10.5-8.5, but Euwe again equalized 10.5-10.5. Then Euwe led 14-12, Alekhine never managed to equalize and lost 15.5-14.5.

1972, Spassky - Fischer. Spassky led 2-0. Fischer equalized 2.5-2.5, then led 5-3 and increased the lead to 6.5-3.5. Spassky never managed to get the lead below +2 and lost 12.5-8.5.


One thing is clear after studying this data. Since 1894, if a challenger achieves +2 lead at any stage of a World Championship, he wins the match. No exceptions. So, basically, we can declare Magnus Carlsen the new champion already.


  • 3 jaar geleden



    In 1935 and 1972, both players had +2 leads at different stages of the match. But while candidates caught up from that lead, incumbent champions were unable to do so.

    If you were unable to read what was clearly and repeatedly stated, that's not exactly my problem.

  • 3 jaar geleden


    Anand has to play more aggresive as white.

  • 3 jaar geleden


    All champions and all challengers who were ahead after the final game won the match.  My research confirms this simple truth.

  • 3 jaar geleden


    Yes! I did the same research by my own, I was wondering if anyone else did the same. Thank you for organizing it, and writing it here.

    I like that Fischer was the only one to recover from -2 (even if he forfeited the game, a two point deficit is a two point deficit) in the modern era. And I was surprised to see that Euwe in 1935 managed to recover not from a -2, but a -3 deficit to win the match by one point and become World Champion!

  • 3 jaar geleden



    In 1935 Euwe wasn't the World Champion. Nor was Fischer in 1972. They were both candidates, and after they took +2 lead, they won their respective matches.

    No incumbent champion since Steinitz has ever won or even drawn a World Championship match after a -2 score at any point of the match.

  • 3 jaar geleden



    I wrote that if a challenger takes the lead against a champion, he eventually wins. Even added that it was "since 1894" - after Steinitz - Chigorin. If Anand didn't suddenly resign the title, but still agreed to do the match (Lasker-1921 style), then Magnus is a challenger, and any challenger to take +2 lead (Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe, Alekhine again, Smyslov, Botvinnik, Tal, Botvinnik again, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, Kasparov, Kramnik) eventually won the match.

  • 3 jaar geleden


    Those who followed the recent America's Cup might know this already. The US Team was down 8 races to 1. It was a race to 9. Lost cause? Yeah right. The US Team came back and won 8 races ina row to win the Americas Cup 9-8. Anand's got better odds than that. And even stranger things have happened...

  • 3 jaar geleden




    You wrote in there that Spassky was originally +2 on Fischer then lost. Your justification is that Fisher was +2 later. The same for Alekhine, who was the first to go +2 in his match, but still lost.

    How do we know Anand won't go +2 later?

    With the first WC, that's now 3 exceptions. It's statistically likely that a player up by 2 at some point will win, but not guaranteed. I've found three exceptions to your "rule"

    Your analysis is flawed.

  • 3 jaar geleden


    Never say never, although Magnus becoming the WC is extremely likely now

  • 3 jaar geleden



    Anand still has a chance to pull "a 1969 Petrosian", nevertheless. Spassky had a +2 lead after 8 games, and Petrosian managed to win two in a row and equalize in game 11.

  • 3 jaar geleden


    Thanks for the research, always nice to look at the history.

    Also worth keeping in mind that with only 12 games, comebacks are even less likely. 

  • 3 jaar geleden


    magnus has i I think

  • 3 jaar geleden


    I am getting an appreciation for Carlsen in this match; humble, and a very strong warrior. I hope Anand gets his mojo back and finds the confidence he needs to fight this warrior. 

  • 3 jaar geleden


    Thanks for the research and article! I would think that Vishy has to climb a chessic Mount Everest or we have a new champion in the making.

  • 3 jaar geleden


    It's all over!
    chess cartoon Mikhail Zhilkin 1991
  • 3 jaar geleden


    Nice research. Thanks for sharing!

  • 3 jaar geleden


    Though if Anand would be able to pull "a Steinitz", that'd be one of the most impressive thing in the history of World Championships.

  • 3 jaar geleden


    brilliant piece of logic. they should stop playing

  • 3 jaar geleden


    Anands chance is that Magnus is relaxing to much when in the lead, just as he did in the candidate tournament. I don't think that that chance is very big though. Anand has to play more agressive and complicated.

  • 3 jaar geleden


    Nice analysis! I hope it isnt over yet though

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