A complete guide to the Chess Grandmaster Title


One of the major factors that kept the game of chess alive throughout the centuries was its competitive nature. It is a game that provides little room for the element of luck or randomness, which means winning or losing all in your hands depending on your logical decisions. And once they taste the gratifying sense of victory, many chess players want to dive deeper into the world of competition and aim for higher achievements. One of the peak achievements one can have in chess, and that many chess players have always dreamed of, is becoming a chess grandmaster. To bring you one step closer in this journey, this article will cover the essential in-depth knowledge -mostly of its technical aspects- you need to know in order to become a grandmaster in chess.

Quick Summary

  • A chess grandmaster, recognized by FIDE, is a top-tier player who has met specific criteria, including achieving a high chess ELO. The title is lifelong but can be revoked for reasons like cheating.
  • Becoming a grandmaster requires intensive study, starting young, a comprehensive study plan, and coaching.
  • Requirements include scoring three GM norms and reaching a 2500 Elo rating.
  • There are about 1650 male and 41 female grandmasters, with the youngest record holders achieving the title in their early teens.

Who is a chess grandmaster?

When chess players master the game and have proven their strength consistently over a period of time by performing at a certain level in various tournaments, they are granted the title of chess grandmaster by FIDE (known as the International Chess Federation or World Chess Federation). The Grandmaster title serves as official recognition of a player’s exceptional expertise, signifying them as one of the strongest chess players globally. Achieving this title involves meeting specific criteria and attaining particular levels of chess ELO. Once earned, the title is held for life, independent of subsequent changes in a player’s performance or ratings. However, there are rare instances where the FIDE may choose to revoke the title, historically linked to cases of cheating.

David Bronstein in 1968

Former World Chess Champion Challenger David Bronstein was one of the earliest official grandmasters in chess. When he obtained the title in 1950, he was also the youngest player to earn the title at that time (26 years old).

How do I become a grandmaster in chess?

How do I become a grandmaster in chess

The path leading to the top of the chess world is, understandably, not a trivial task at all. Achieving the highest title in chess requires hours of dedication to the game of chess, disciplined study, and constant practice. Because it is a highly time intensive journey that may take many years for many players, it often means making sacrifices in other fields of life, e.g. career choices, an academic path, etc. Here are some of the factors that might play an essential role in reaching the level of a GM.

Utilize the power of Youth

Whereas learning the rules of the game of chess is relatively simple, mastering it takes years of dedicated and consistent work. Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the bestseller book “Outliners: The Story of Success”, for example, speaks of a ‘10.000-hour rule’, which states that to achieve a level of mastery in any skill, one needs to invest at least around 10.000 hours into this field. While this is an estimated number to orient oneself, most of the GMs have indeed spent at least this much time practicing and studying chess. One major factor that may prove advantageous for a player is to start playing chess as young as possible. The advantages are not only due to the fact that in later stages of life, one may struggle to find time for such time-intensive activity, but also because of the higher degree of neuroplasticity in younger ages, which allows the brain to absorb new knowledge, patterns, and skills at a much faster pace. The majority of today’s grandmasters started playing chess between the ages of 3 and 8. That being said, there are also adult improvers, such as Ben Finegold, who received his GM title at the age of 40.

An effective chess study plan

A well structured study plan is almost obligatory for any serious chess player. To get better at chess and reach the level of a GM, a study plan must cover all aspects of chess to obtain the necessary skills and knowledge of the game:

Having a solid opening repertoire: A profound comprehension of the opening you repeatedly play is pivotal because it will shape the structure of the game. By mastering openings, a player might gain an early advantage to capitalize on or obtain a position that is suited to the player’s style.

Mastering the middlegame: Chess GMs are familiar with incredible amounts of typical features of various middlegame positions, such as common pawn structures. To play a middle game like a master, not only positional and strategic knowledge is necessary, but also very strong tactical skills that allow the player to recognize patterns and tactical motifs to exploit.

Deep knowledge of endgame theory: knowing how to play accurately when there are fewer pieces left on the board—is crucial for being able to convert winning positions. Endgame is always a decisive stage of the game; therefore, mastering endgame theory will guarantee you many victories.

Analyze every single game you play. While the advice to analyze every game may seem like a no-brainer, its profound benefits often outweigh other training methods. Despite being a well-known recommendation, many players neglect this crucial step due to laziness. Yet, the process of scrutinizing each game, meticulously noting mistakes and insightful ideas for future use, is a practice that has been embraced by Soviet trainers for an extensive period. Notably, Anatoly Bykhovsky, who coached former World Champions like Karpov, Kramnik, and Kasparov, assigned a young Alexander Grischuk the task of analyzing his own games as homework. Within a short period, the young Grischuk’s analysis expanded to almost 15 pages and Grischuk’s dedication to this practice played a pivotal role in his journey to becoming a Super GM and three-time world chess champion.

Yet, adhering to a meticulously crafted study plan alone is insufficient. Acquired knowledge must be actively applied and put into practice. In this symbiotic relationship, theory and practice complement each other.

Training with an experienced Coach

It is almost unheard of for anyone to achieve the title of chess GM without the guidance of a coach at some point in their career. A seasoned coach has the ability to pinpoint weaknesses in a player’s game, create a tailored training program, and impart deeper knowledge, significantly accelerating the player’s progress. For those truly committed to the path of becoming a GM, it is well worth considering the investment in a high-quality trainer.

How do you obtain the grandmaster title?

How do you obtain the grandmaster title

For any proficient player approaching the title, it is crucial to acquaint them with the procedural aspects of title acquisition. The technical requirements for earning a Grandmaster title, according to the FIDE HANDBOOK regulations, can be summarized as follows:

– The player has to score three GM norms in tournaments. A norm means a high level of performance in a chess tournament. For GrandMaster norm in particular, in a given tournament, your performance rating (which is different from your actual chess elo rating) must be equal to 2600 or more. Each such tournament has to have a minimum of nine rounds, and around ⅓ of the participants must be GMs. The tournament must also feature players from diverse chess federations.

– Reaching an Elo rating of at least 2500. It is enough to cross the rating mark even for a brief time,e.g.,. during a tournament. The status of live rating is sufficient to fulfill this criteria, and there is no need to wait for the monthly published FIDE Elo list.

Grandmaster Records

The battle for the grandmaster records has always been fierce. As chess federations vie for the highest count of GM’s, individual players are often focused on attaining the title at the youngest possible age.

The First Chess Grandmaster in the World

The earliest usages of the term grandmaster date back to as early as 1838. Until 1950, the title was granted in various unofficial ways based on players exceptional achievements. In 1950, FIDE started giving official titles. Unlike today, the very first titles given by the FIDE General Assembly and the Qualification Committee in that year were not based on formal criteria. The list of the very first 27 GMs in the world included big names like Paul Keres, Max Euwe, David Bronstein, and Mikhail Botvinnik.

The Youngest Chess Grandmaster

Since FIDE officially introduced the GM title, the record for the youngest age to achieve the title has consistently decreased to increasingly younger ages. While the youngest GM, David Bronstein, achieved the title at 26 years old in 1950, the age record was halved to 13 years old in 1999 with Bu Xiangzhi. In 2002, Sergey Karjakin broke the record at an astonishingly young age of 12 years and 7 months. Another 19 years later, Abhimanyu Mishra surpassed this record at 12 years, 4 months, and 25 days, which is still the current record.

How many male chess Grandmasters are there?

The grandmaster title has predominantly been bestowed upon male players, with around 1650 individuals holding the esteemed rank of male chess grandmasters. The unofficial term “Super-Grandmasters” is applied to players with a rating of 2700 and above, and all 36 Super GMs are currently male chess players.

How many female chess Grandmasters are there?

The number of female chess players holding the prestigious title of Grandmaster has seen a notable increase in recent years, with a total of 41 women currently achieving this distinguished status. Among them is Judit Polgar, who is considered a child prodigy and also to be the greatest female chess player of all time. She reached a rating as high as 2735 in 2005, thus being the only female player to cross the 2700 mark. She has been consistently ranked in the top 10, with the peak ranking being 8th place in 2004.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, The Grandmaster title stands as the zenith in the realm of chess, representing the highest echelon of mastery in the game and a level of skill attained by only a select few. The fact that only a tiny fraction of millions of chess players have achieved the GM title underscores the difficulty and prestige associated with this remarkable accomplishment. Embarking on the path to Grandmasterhood is not merely a pursuit of a title but a testament to the enduring passion, thousands of hours of diligence, and outstanding prowess that define the chess elite.

Written by
Deniz Tasdelen, National Master
National Master with over 20 years of experience. He has participated in many prestigious tournaments, including the European and World Youth Chess Championships.
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