Grandmaster is the highest title or ranking that a chess player can achieve. The Grandmaster title — and other chess titles — has been awarded by the International Chess Federation, FIDE (acronym for its French name Fédération Internationale des Échecs), the Lausanne-Switzerland-based governing body of the international game.
The title is the badge of the game’s super elite, a recognition of the greatest chess talent on the planet, which has been tested and proven against a peer group of other similarly talented players in the world’s toughest competitions.
Other (lesser) titles
Besides Grandmaster, the Qualification Commission of FIDE recognizes and awards seven other titles: International Master (IM), FIDE Master (FM), Candidate Master (CM), Woman Grandmaster (WGM), Woman International Master (WIM), Woman FIDE Master ( WFM), and Woman Candidate Master (WCM).
Titles are for life
All the titles, including that of Grandmaster, are valid for life, unless a player is stripped of the title for a proven offense such as cheating.
Thus, the “use of a FIDE title or rating to subvert the ethical principles of the title or rating system may subject a person to revocation of his title”, and “in case it is found after a title has been awarded that the player was in breach of the Anti-Cheating Regulations in one or more of the tournaments on which the title application was based, then the title may be removed by the Qualification Commission”.
Grandmasters since 1950
The term grandmaster is about a century old, and was initially used as a generic expression to describe a player who was better than just a master. In 1950, FIDE started to formally designate the best players as Grandmasters, based on a set of laid-down criteria. Twenty-seven Grandmaster titles were awarded in the first batch in 1950, including to then world champion Mikhail Botvinnik of the erstwhile USSR, and several players who were greats of their time, but who were no longer competing then.
Qualifications for Grandmaster
Thereafter, the qualifications for Grandmaster were changed several times, including in 1957, 1965, and 1970. Currently, FIDE awards chess’s highest honor to a player who is able to achieve a FIDE Classical or Standard rating of 2,500, plus three Grandmaster norms.
Grandmaster norms are defined by a set of complex and rigorous rules regarding tournaments, games, and players, that are set out in the FIDE Title Regulations. (The current regulations were approved by the FIDE Council on October 27, 2021, and came into effect on January 1, 2022) [ https://handbook.fide.com/chapter/B012022 ]
Each norm is very difficult to attain. Broadly, a player must have a performance rating of 2,600 or higher in a FIDE tournament that has nine rounds, playing against several opponents from federations or countries other than the one to which the player belongs, and those opponents must be titled themselves.
Russia is on top
FIDE has so far recognized fewer than 2,000 Grandmasters out of the millions who play the game around the world. A vast majority of Grandmasters have been male. Russia (and the erstwhile USSR) has produced the most Grandmasters in the world, followed by the United States and Germany.
India became a chess powerhouse in the 2000s, and now has more than 70 Grandmasters.
The Indian prodigy Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu became the second youngest grandmaster in chess history at age 12 years, 10 months, and 13 days after getting his third grandmaster norm with a performance of 2,710 at the Gredine open in Ortisei, Italy in 2018. In 2016, Praggnanandhaa had become the world’s youngest IM at age 10 years, 10 months, and 19 days.
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