February 15, 2017

On Chess: How to earn a chess title

By Tony Rich

Many readers may be familiar with such titles as Grandmaster (GM) and International Master (IM), but what do they mean? Why are they important? How does an aspiring player earn them?

Tsar Nicholas II first awarded the title of Grandmaster to the five finalists of the 1914 St. Petersburg tournament: Emanuel Lasker (World Champion 1894-1921), Jose Capablanca (World Champion 1921–27), Alexander Alekhine (World Champion 1927–35, 1937–46), Siegbert Tarrasch and Frank Marshall. However, it wasn’t until 1950 that the International Chess Federation (FIDE) began awarding both the GM and IM titles.

Aspiring chess players earn titles through a combination of rating (Elo) and performance benchmarks earned in tournaments with other titled competitors (norms). For example, a player hoping to earn the Grandmaster title must achieve a rating of at least 2500 and perform as a GM would across three different events. In so doing, and upon confirmation by FIDE, the Grandmaster title is conferred for life.

Becoming a GM or IM is no easy feat. Players rated over 2500 comprise less than 1 percent of all chess players. Since 1950, FIDE has awarded just over 1,500 GM and 3,500 IM titles. Considering the millions of chess players, both casual and professional around the world, the GM/IM titles really have meaning: the best of the best. Earning one of these two titles isn’t just an ego boost, either. They garner players more invitations to events, better conditions in those tournaments, and more students for private lessons.

Most players these days who earn the GM title are between 15 and 25 years old. A combination of youthful exuberance, sharp mind and hard work motivate these students of the game to travel the world, seeking their place among the chess greats.

There are roughly a dozen “norm tournaments” in the U.S. each year; the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis hosts one in the spring and another in the fall. Organizers are careful to select the field of players so that the event meets with all regulations as set by FIDE. For example, there are requirements on how many titled players a norm-seeker must play, as well as the number of foreign players in an event. Furthermore, organizers are keen to find players that have a real shot at earning a norm.

The Winter Norm Invitational kicks off today at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Over the next five days, 20 players will compete, and hopefully we will be able to award more norms to more players. For more details and to follow the games live, visit

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