What Is The Grandmaster Title In Chess And How To Achieve It?

The title of a ‘Grandmaster’ or ‘GM’ is a highly coveted position in chess and is the highest title a chess player can achieve in their career. In the chess world, only the title ‘World Champion’ is higher in the pecking order than the title of GM.

Only the Federation Internationale des Echecs (FIDE) – the body that governs global chess, can grant any player the title of GM. Once the title is awarded, it is held for life.

It was in 1950 that FIDE established the modern international ranking system and the qualifying criteria for earning them. Since its inception in 1950, the rating system has changed many times.  The FIDE website offers detailed guidelines on how to become a FIDE-accredited player.

Currently, FIDE has the following requirements for earning a Grandmaster title:

  • The GM aspirant has to achieve an Elo rating of at least 2500 sometime during their career.
  • The second criterion is to get at least three GM norms in internationally recognized tournaments.
  • The player must participate in at least nine games in each tournament.
  • The player must face off against at least two players from different federations.
  • At least 1/3 with a minimum of 3 opponents must hold the title of Grandmaster.
  • Half of the opponents should be titleholders, excluding that of Candidate Master.
  • The Elo rating of the players must be a minimum of 2600.
  • The opponent’s average rating Elo should be 2380.

The higher the rating, the greater the skill of the chess player. For example, Grandmasters usually have an Elo rating of 2500-2700, while novice players have an Elo rating of less than 1200.

Chess has moved from being a preserve of professionals to having a sizeable fan following outside it, and many amateurs also dabble in the game. Armchair chess players need not be disappointed if they don’t see themselves breaking into the elite FIDE rankings anytime soon. Should they fancy a round of chess, they can download chess game on their smartphone or get themselves a traditional chess board.

What is the ELO Rating?

The Elo rating system is used to measure ratings in international chess. The Elo system was created by the Hungarian-American mathematician Arpad Elo to standardize the way chess players across the world were ranked.

In all, there are four rankings within the chess fraternity. Aspiring Grandmasters must pass through three lower levels of the hierarchy before having a shot at the Grandmaster title. These are:

1.  Candidate Master (CM):

The title of Candidate Master is the least prestigious of the four rankings awarded by FIDE and is given to any player with a rating of 2200 or higher.

2.  FIDE Master (FM):

To qualify for the rating of Fide Master, the player must have an Elo rating of at least 2300. International junior tournaments also award this rank to winners, and the entry barrier isn’t as rigid as with the GM title. For instance, a player may earn the FM title by winning a section at the tournament, even if the rating requirement is not met.

3.  International Master (IM):

To pocket the IM title, a player must have a minimum Elo rating of 2400. Players must also prove their mettle over three gruelling tournaments. As this is just one level under the GM title, the player can expect the competition to be stiff and the requirements to be demanding.

4.  Grandmaster (GM):

Being awarded the Grandmaster title means the player has reached the pinnacle of the sport and has a place among the game’s greats. But it is easier said than done. To become a grandmaster, the player must have an ELO rating of at least 2500.

Further, they must also face the exact requirements for achieving the International Master title, but with much more stringent norms. Only some tournaments award a GM title outside of this FIDE ranking system.  Winning the World Senior or Junior Championships are two ways a player might qualify for the Grandmaster title, despite needing the requisite ranking.

Each of the three required GM norms is difficult to attain, and there are multiple rules for what constitutes a norm.

To begin with, you need a 2600+ ELO rating in a nine-round FIDE tournament. In addition, the opponents should be from federations/countries other than the player’s own and also sport the title of  Grandmaster.

It is fitting that reaching the highest echelons of the sport would have the highest entry barriers. According to FIDE, there are around 1700 holders of the Grandmaster title as of 2020, with Russia leading the pack. This is but a tiny fraction of active chess players under the FIDE umbrella.


Achieving the title of GM is a spectacular achievement requiring a lot of practice, grit, and perseverance in the face of many odds and setbacks. The path of the Grandmaster is highly competitive as many chess players seek this title and the accompanying glory for themselves.

The game’s future is bright thanks to chess lore that is replete with fascinating matches like Bobby Fischer’s unseating of Boris Spassky in 1972. Until then, the Soviets were enjoying a dominant run in world chess.

Recently the popular Netflix series ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ rekindled interest in the game of kings and sent the demand for chess sets through the roof.

Grandmasters are the most talented chess players in the world and are the personification of the success many upcoming chess players wish to emulate. So while we await for the next generation of Grandmasters to take center stage, let us enjoy a game of Chess!

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