Everything you need to know about the chess titles

The motivation for the article?

Ever since I started playing chess, people all around me have approached people with letters in front of their names with deep respect.

From the very beginning, I had a dream that people will treat me in that manner once I gain that pair of letters myself.


The FM letters in front of the name mean that Matko Ognjen is the proud owner of the officia FIDE  Fide Master title

Generally speaking, there are two types of chess players; those who capture a chess title during their life, and those who don't (which is really a surprising statement).

All that remains to those who find themselves in the latter group is to pretend that they don't care about chess titles anyway.

And to write about them instead.

Guessing on which side of the spectre the author of these lines resides shouldn't be an insurmountable task.

What is a chess title?

A chess title is a title created by a chess association that honors a player who has reached a certain rank in chess.

Chess rating is usually the main criteria chess associations use to pinpoint the moment when a player has reached "a certain rank".

The titles are awarded for a lifetime; usually, no one can take your title away once you have satisfied all the prerequisites required (exceptions include players who were caught when cheating, such as former grandmaster Nigalidze).

Slikovni rezultat za gaoiz nigalidze

The arbiter at the Dubai Open 2015 discovered Nigalidze's mobile phone featuring the position from his game in the toilette

Different chess associations have different rules and names regarding chess titles. Almost every national association adheres to its own rules regarding awarding chess titles. For instance, in Croatia, the national chess association awards the following titles, based on the Croatian national rating:

17004th category
18003rd category
19002nd category
20001st category
2100Candidate Master
2250National Master

Most national associations have similar systems. The only positive side of attaining national titles is that they can cause some respect and even envy in the local tournaments (e.g. in Croatia there is a 1st category player Andrija Jergovic who gets upset whenever someone gains a Croatian Candidate Master title before him).

However, national chess titles have serious drawback of not being recognised at the international level.

The only exception are the titles awarded by the United States Chess Federation (USCF).

USCF chess titles

The USCF rating committee introduced the current system of USCF chess titles in the period between 1994 and 1996 (source: USCF Chess Titles).

Players playing under the auspice of the USCF can reach one of the seven available titles. The rating prerequisites and the names of the titles are as follows:

12004th category
14003rd category
16002nd category
18001st category
2000Candidate Master
2200Life Master
2400Life Senior Master

USCF chess titles are awarded for a lifetime.

In order to gain any of the titles, a player needs to secure the NORM for it.

Norms are gained with "impressive" performances in a single event (source: USCF Chess Titles). Impressive performance means gaining a performance rating equal or greater than the rating required for a certain norm. The performance rating is calculated on the basis of the player's results and the rating of his opposition in a single event.

Moreover, a play has to repeat that feat five times in order to win a title.

For example, in order to gain the 1st category title, a player has to play in five events with the performance rating 1800 or more.

A couple of words has to be said about the Life Master Title. Prior to 1996, in order to gain this title, a player had to play 300 consecutive games while keeping his USCF rating above the 2200 mark.

The 1996 document by USCF rating committee abolished that requirement and players who gained their Life Master Title in a hard way were renamed into 'Original Life Masters'.

Nowadays, this distinction is rarely made.

Slikovni rezultat za life master title

Source: Google images

Although USCF chess titles are well established and recognised all around the world, they are still only the titles of a national association (even if it's the most influential and the richest national association of them all).

On an international scale, titles awarded by International Chess Federation (FIDE) are much more relevant. We will take a closer look at them in the following section.

FIDE chess titles

As mentioned earlier, FIDE chess titles are acknowledged everywhere in the world. In any official FIDE event, the title bearer will have the abbreviation denoting the title next to his name on starting, pairing or final lists.

Also, FIDE titles may bring you some benefits. For instance, International Masters and Grandmasters often don't have to pay the entry fee to participate in a tournament.

FIDE awards titles separately for male and female players. I will not bother to enter a lengthy discussion about women chess and whether any distinction is justified or necessary. For the moment the system is as it is.

The official FIDE titles and minimal required ratings are given in the table below:

2400International MasterIM
2300Fide MasterFM
2200Candidate MasterCM
2300Woman GrandmasterWGM
2200Woman International MasterWIM
2100Woman Fide MasterWFM
2000Woman Candidate MasterWCM

FIDE chess titles are also awarded for a lifetime.

Apart from rating requirement, in order to gain the IM, GM, WIM and WGM titles a player also has to secure three norms.

However, in contrast to the USCF titles, the prerequisites for gaining norms are much more complicated and go beyond the scope of this post. The official FIDE handbook explains them in great detail; we will mention only the basic principles of gaining FIDE norms:

  • Rating performance - A player has to achieve predetermined rating performance during a single event in order to gain a certain title (for instance, rating performance prerequisite for GM norm is 2600)
  • Federation of opponents - A certain number of opponents has to belong to different national chess associations than player going after the norm
  • Titles of opponents- A certain number of opponents has to have a FIDE title of their own.

There are also ways of gaining a title directly, summed up nicely here.

Most titled players I personally know have lamented that securing the norms proved to be much more difficult than crossing the rating barrier for the title.

Oh, I almost forgot. In order to gain a title, you also have to pay a symbolic sum.

Shut Up And Take My Money Fry Meme | SHUT UP AND GIVE ME THE TITLE | image tagged in memes,shut up and take my money fry | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

Created via imgflip

'Did you know' of the FIDE titles

There is a number of interesting statistical facts about FIDE titles that definitely deserve to be a part of this article.

Did you know:

  • That Sergey Karjakin, the Challenger in the last World Championship match, is the youngest grandmaster in history. He captured his title at the age of 12 years and 7 months (!!!)
  • That 22 players captured the grandmaster title before their 15th birthday.  World Number one Magnus Carlsen, World Number two Wesley So, and members of top 10 Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri belong to this group, among others.

Probably already grandmasters and future friends and foes. Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin

  • That there is currently 1619 grandmasters in the World (source: FIDE titled players by country). For comparison, in 1950, when FIDE first invented the GM title, only 27 players had the honour to become one.
  • That the number of female grandmasters (GMs, not WGMs) is significantly lower. According to this article, there were only 20 in 2010.
  • That Yifan Hou is the youngest female ever to capture the GM title. With 14 years and 6 months, she also belongs to the under-15 club.

Hou Yifan, the Queen of Chess

  • That there are 3748 International Masters in the world (source: FIDE titled players by country)
  • That Rameshabu Praggnanandhaa is currently the youngest international master in the world. He gained his title at the astonishing age of 10 years and 7 months of age (and what are you doing with your life).

I can't resist making an inappropriate joke that he must have gained his title by winning on time because his opponents were unable to write his name on the scoresheet in the allotted time (if you didn't laugh, try saying his name fast three times).

Future of the FIDE titles - Super grandmaster title?

In the previous section, we have already hinted that the grandmaster title has somewhat lost its value compared to the past. The simple comparison of the number of grandmasters today with the number of grandmasters some 60 years ago reveals that nowadays "anyone can become a grandmaster."

Although the fact that knowledge is much more available has some merit in the explanation of this phenomenon, there is something of much greater importance.

The problem is that ELO rating's constant inflation has reached soaring heights in the 21st century.

From Wikipedia article:

" Nigel Short was rated the third best player in the world in 1989 with a rating of 2650; in the 21st century such a rating would only be good enough for a player to reach the top 100 or so, with the third best player in the world usually rated around 2800."

Therefore, nowadays there is an equal rating gap between a strong and an average grandmaster (say, 2800 vs 2600) as between an average grandmaster and an international master (2600 vs 2400).

The disproportion in rating (and consequently strength) has induced some FIDE officials to consider introducing the new, "Super Grandmaster" title.

The chess connoisseurs sometimes informally refer to the elite chess players with this pair of words anyway.

In my personal opinion, this title would make a lot of sense, although it's opponents might argue that it would make much harder to someone outside of the elite circle to compete in the top tournaments.

The SuperGelfand 😀 (taken from pinterest)

With this glance at the future, we have reached the end of this post. Now you know everything you need to do to get the title of your own. So resign that bullet game immediately and start improving your chess immediately.

Unless you are older than 15. Considering the trend, there is no hope for you then anyway.

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