The title Grandmaster is awarded to strong chess players by the world chess organization FIDE. Apart from World Champion, Grandmaster is the highest title a chess player can attain. Once achieved, the title is held for life. In chess literature it is usually abbreviated to GM (similarly, FM stands for FIDE Master and IM for International Master). The abbreviation IGM for International Grandmaster can also sometimes be found, particularly in older literature.
GM, IM, and FM are open to both men and women. In 1978 Women's World Champion Nona Gaprindashvili became the first woman to receive the GM title, by a special decision of the international chess federation (FIDE). The first woman to qualify for the men's title through achievement in tournament play was Susan Polgar in 1991. Since about 2000, most of the top 10 women have held the GM title. A separate gender-segregated title, WGM for Woman Grandmaster, is also available, but is something of a misnomer. It is awarded to women who attain a level of skill between that of a FIDE Master and an International Master.
FIDE awards separate Grandmaster titles to composers and solvers of chess problems (see list of grandmasters for chess composition). The International Correspondence Chess Federation awards the title of International Correspondence Chess Grandmaster (ICCGM).
The first known use of the term grandmaster in connection with chess was in an 1838 issue of Bell's Life, in which a correspondent referred to William Lewis as "our past grandmaster". Lewis himself later referred to Philidor as a grandmaster, and the term was also applied to a few other players.
Early tournament use
In the Ostend tournament of 1907 the term grandmaster (Großmeister in German) was used. The tournament was divided into two sections: the Championship Tournament and the Masters' Tournament. The Championship section was for players who had previously won an international tournament. Siegbert Tarrasch won the Championship section, over Carl Schlechter, Dawid Janowski, Frank Marshall, Amos Burn, and Mikhail Chigorin, so these players were described as grandmasters for the purposes of the tournament.
The San Sebastián 1912 tournament won by Akiba Rubinstein was a designated grandmaster event. Rubinstein won with 121⁄2 points out of 19. Tied for second with 12 points were Aron Nimzowitsch and Rudolf Spielmann.
By some accounts, in the St. Petersburg 1914 chess tournament, the title "Grandmaster" was formally conferred by Russian Tsar Nicholas II, who had partially funded the tournament. The Tsar reportedly awarded the title to the five finalists: Emanuel Lasker, José Raúl Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, Siegbert Tarrasch, and Frank Marshall (respectively, the World Champion, the next two World Champions, and two players who had lost World Championship matches to Lasker). Chess historian Edward Winter has questioned this, stating that the earliest known sources that support this story are an article by Robert Lewis Taylor in the June 15, 1940, issue of The New Yorker and Marshall's autobiography My 50 Years of Chess (1942).
Non-standard and Soviet usage before 1950
Before 1950, the term grandmaster was sometimes informally applied to other world class players. The Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE, or World Chess Federation) was formed in Paris in 1924, but did not get around to formulating criteria on who should earn the title.
In 1927, the Soviet Union's Chess Federation established the title of Grandmaster of the Soviet Union, for their own players, since at that time Soviets were not competing outside their own country. This title was abolished in 1931, after having been awarded to Boris Verlinsky, who won the 1929 Soviet Championship. The title was brought back in 1935, and awarded to Mikhail Botvinnik, who thus became the first "official" Grandmaster of the USSR. Verlinsky did not get his title back.
When FIDE reorganized after World War II it adopted regulations concerning the award of international titles. Titles were awarded by a resolution of the FIDE General Assembly and the Qualification Committee. FIDE first awarded the Grandmaster title in 1950 to 27 players. These players were:
• The top players of the day: world champion Mikhail Botvinnik, and those who had qualified for (or been seeded into) the inaugural Candidates Tournament in 1950: Isaac Boleslavsky, Igor Bondarevsky, David Bronstein, Max Euwe, Reuben Fine, Salo Flohr, Paul Keres, Alexander Kotov, Andor Lilienthal, Miguel Najdorf, Samuel Reshevsky, Vasily Smyslov, Gideon Ståhlberg, and László Szabó.
• Players still living who, though past their best in 1950, were recognised as having been world class when at their peak: Ossip Bernstein, Oldrich Duras, Ernst Grünfeld, Borislav Kostić, Grigory Levenfish, Géza Maróczy, Jacques Mieses, Viacheslav Ragozin, Akiba Rubinstein, Friedrich Sämisch, Savielly Tartakower, and Milan Vidmar.
Since FIDE did not award the grandmaster title posthumously, world-class players who died prior to 1950, including World Champions Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, and Alekhine, never received the title.
Title awards under the original regulations were subject to political concerns. Efim Bogoljubov, who had emigrated from the Soviet Union to Germany, was not entered in the first class of Grandmasters, even though he had played two matches for the World Championship with Alekhine. He received the title in 1951, by a vote of thirteen to eight with five abstentions. Yugoslavia supported his application, but all other Communist countries opposed it. In 1953, FIDE abolished the old regulations, although a provision was maintained that allowed older masters who had been overlooked to be awarded titles. The new regulations awarded the title of International Grandmaster of the FIDE to players meeting any of the following criteria:
1. The world champion.
2. Masters who have the absolute right to play in the World Championship Candidates Tournament, or any player who replaces an absent contestant and earns at least a 50 percent score.
3. The winner of an international tournament meeting specified standards, and any player placing second in two such tournaments within a span of four years. The tournament must be at least eleven rounds with seven or more players, 80 percent or more being International Grandmasters or International Masters. Additionally, 30 percent of the players must be Grandmasters who have the absolute right to play in the next World Championship Candidates Tournament, or who have played in such a tournament in the previous ten years.
4. A player who demonstrates ability manifestly equal to that of (3) above in an international tournament or match. Such titles must be approved by the Qualification Committee with the support of at least five members.
After FIDE issued the 1953 title regulations, it was recognized that they were somewhat haphazard, and work began to revise the regulations. The FIDE Congress in Vienna in 1957 adopted new regulations, called the FAV system, in recognition of the work done by International Judge Giovanni Ferrantes (Italy), Alexander (probably Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander), and Giancarlo Dal Verme (Italy). Under the 1957 regulations, the title of International Grandmaster of the FIDE was automatically awarded to:
1. The world champion.
2. Any player qualifying from the Interzonal tournament to play in the Candidates Tournament, even if he did not play in the Candidates for any reason.
3. Any player who would qualify from the Interzonal to play in the Candidates but who was excluded because of a limitation on the number of participants from his Federation.
4. Any player who actually plays in a Candidates Tournament and scores at least 331⁄3 percent.
The regulations also allowed titles to be awarded by a FIDE Congress on recommendation by the Qualification Committee. Recommendations were based on performance in qualifying tournaments, with the required score depending on the percentage of Grandmasters and International Masters in the tournament.
Concerns were raised that the 1957 regulations were too lax. At the FIDE Congress in 1961, GM Milan Vidmar said that the regulations "made it possible to award international titles to players without sufficient merit". At the 1964 Congress in Tel Aviv, a subcommittee was formed to propose changes to the regulations. The subcommittee recommended that the automatic award of titles be abolished, criticized the methods used for awarding titles based on qualifying performances, and called for a change in the makeup of the Qualification Committee. Several delegates supported the subcommittee recommendations, including GM Miguel Najdorf who felt that existing regulations were leading to an inflation of international titles. At the 1965 Congress in Wiesbaden FIDE raised the standards required for international titles. The International Grandmaster title regulations were:
• 1. Any World Champion is automatically awarded the GM title
• 2a. Anyone who scores at least 40 percent in a quarter-final match in the Candidates Tournament
• 2b. Scores at least the number of points in a tournament corresponding to the total of a 55 percent score against grandmasters plus 75 percent against International Masters (IM) plus 85 percent against other players (a GM "norm").
To fulfill requirement 2b, the candidate must score one GM norm in a category 1a tournament or two norms within a three year period in two Category 1b tournaments, or one Category 2a tournament and one Category 1b tournament.
The categories of tournaments are:
• 1a—at least sixteen players, at least 50 percent are GMs, and 70 percent at least IMs
• 1b—at least twelve players, at least 331⁄3 percent GMs and 70 percent IMs
• 2a—at least fifteen players, at least 50 percent IMs
• 2b—ten to fourteen players, at least 50 percent IMs.
Since FIDE titles are for life, a GM or IM does not count for the purposes of this requirement if he had not had a GM or IM result in the five years prior to the tournament.
In addition, no more than 50 percent plus one of the players can be from the same country for tournaments of 10 to 12 players, or no more than 50 percent plus two for larger tournaments.
Seventy-four GM titles were awarded in 1951 through 1968. During that period, ten GM titles were awarded in 1965, but only one in 1966 and in 1968.
The requirements for becoming a Grandmaster are somewhat complex. A player must have an Elo rating of at least 2500 at one time (although they need not maintain this level to keep the title). A rating of 2400 or higher is required to become an International Master. In addition, at least two favorable results (called norms) in tournaments involving other Grandmasters, including some from countries other than the applicant's, are usually required before FIDE will confer the title on a player. There are other milestones a player can achieve to get the title, such as winning the Women's World Championship, the World Junior Championship, or the World Senior Championship. Current regulations may be found in the FIDE Handbook.
In 1972 there were only 88 GMs with 33 representing the USSR. The current FIDE ratings list includes over 1000 grandmasters; see list of chess grandmasters and the chess grandmasters category for some of them. According to one researcher, ratings inflated by about 100 points between 1985 and 2000, Nigel Short, a product of the era when computer chess technology was in its infancy, 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 50 or 60, with the third best player in the world usually rated around 2750. Other minor factors come into play: there are more tournaments worldwide and cheaper air travel makes them more accessible to globe-trotting chess professionals, who include many players from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe whose movements are no longer as restricted as they were before the 1990s. Additionally, players can make norms in tournaments that would have been previously considered too short for norms, making norms easier to get and allowing for more norm tournaments to be held.
The grandmaster title still retains some of its prestige because it represents a very high level of chess performance against other titled players. A chess master is typically in the top 2 percent of all tournament players. A grandmaster is typically in the top 0.02 percent at the time he or she earns the title.
However, only the top handful of current grandmasters are as dominant as the five original Grandmasters were in their day. Lasker, Capablanca and Alekhine were all World Champions, and both Tarrasch and Marshall were strong enough to play world title matches (both losing against Lasker).
In order to restore the full prestige of the GM title, it is sometimes suggested[by whom?] that it ought to be reserved for those who, at some time in their lives, become serious contenders for the World Championship, or who have actually held that title. December 2008 saw a record number of GMs (1,192) and IMs (2,916) causing some FIDE officials to suggest that FIDE should consider an "elite grandmaster" title. The proportion of titled players is actually growing smaller due to the rise in the number of all chess players worldwide who have FIDE ratings. In response, one member of the FIDE Titles & Ratings Committee observed that it is now more common for weaker players to get FIDE ratings, so the comparison of Grandmasters as a proportion of all rated players is not really helpful.
Nigel Short has suggested that the title should be abolished altogether since it no longer helps to distinguish between true championship contenders and much lower-rated players who have no serious chance of challenging for the world title.