The Requirements for Becoming a Chess Grandmaster: Explained

Estimates of all chess players in the whole wide world have an astonishing amount of around 800 million to 1 billion. Out of all of those players, there are only about 1,500 grandmasters registered to Fide which is about 0.02% or lower.

A player has to accomplish a rating of 2500 at some point in his/her career in order to become a chess grandmaster. Other prerequisite includes a total of three grandmaster norms awarded by Fide from three tournaments that have met the norm’s standards.

Types of Chess Grandmasters

It is important to note that chess Grandmaster talked in this context would be masters of the ratings. These are players that become grandmasters through chess norms and not in any other way.

There exist other grandmasters like that of chess compositions. Chess compositions are the creation of problems to be used in chess exercises. Honorary grandmaster awards are also a title used for prolific composers.

That of course is a different title with its own unique set of requirements. That is different from becoming a grandmaster solely by playing chess. Other similar status also exists in the past.

Players back then undergo different processes from what is practiced today. They have different requirements and such. Well, that’s not what we’re going to talk today! Modern grandmasters have a very hard and explicit portfolio to fill different from others.

Things to get for the grandmaster title

In order to become a modern grandmaster, a player has to acquire the following:

2500 Rating is necessary for a grandmaster title

Grandmaster is the highest title in all of the chess statuses. There are other lower titles like that of candidate master, international master, and even woman grandmaster.

Those are all different hurdle that has a bit easier standard. Typically a rating of 2400 and below. Becoming a grandmaster is the next level, in which the player has to reach the next 2500.

2500 is an Elo rating, basically a number a player gets from previous matches calculated through a system.

Reaching at least 2500 in the official fide elo rating list is is the very first requirement. A player cannot be a grandmaster without first fulfilling this one.

Later the title can be enacted when the said rating is reached. There are however specific situations we have to address in this first section.

Few can become a grandmaster even without reaching 2500

We have said that a player has to at least reach 2500 at some point. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get grandmaster norms (which we will talk about later) by not being 2500.

You need three grandmaster norms in total. In rare occasions where a player initially entered the tournament with the rating below that, a special case might happen.

What if in your third tournament to pursue the third norm you actually got it? In the tournament, you manage to surpass the standard rating. But initially, you were a rating below 2500.

So does your hard-earned grandmaster norm be revoked or delayed? What do you think? Of course not! that would be ridiculous. The player would still get to be awarded the official title even without being able to reach the rating prior.

The Grandmaster title cannot be lost drom a rating drop

Another similar question would be what if an official grandmaster drops in rating below 2500? Would the title be lost? No again!

There are special cases where a grandmaster title could be lost, a drop in ratings is not one of them. Once a player achieves the grandmaster title, the status is held for life separate from the conditions of the rating.

This means you could be a grandmaster even below 1900! I mean, a player wouldn’t allow that since it’s kinda embarrassing. Retirement may be an option before then.

But it is definitely possible. That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t lose it. It definitely is possible for reasons that will be explained later. On the other hand, you could have a rating beyond 2500 and still not be a grandmaster.

If you didn’t get the right amount of norms. Now, I keep talking about grandmaster norms. What are they exactly? How do you get a norm?

3 Grandmaster Norms for the Grandmaster title

A norm is a sort of test perpetrated to prove the strength of a player. Special titles need to acquire several of them before being granted. There are only four titles that include that.

Namely international master, woman international master, grandmaster, and women grandmaster. There are many chess titles just like this that could be acquired before then.

And since these four are the pinnacles of their own categories they have the most strict ones. The other statuses today only rely on the metric of ratings. You could be a candidate master for example once passed a specific number point.

And all of them have other ways to be crowned apart from the rating. Gaining a norm follows a very rigid setting for both the tournament and the player. Take note that this is only for one norm.

A player has to amass three to get the actual title. The tournament and the player has to obtain the following performance on a tournament that has passed the standard to be awarded one norm.

Rating performance of at least 2600 for the grandmaster norm

A rating performance is a metric used to measure up players conduct in a particular tournament. It is important to note that this is a completely different number from an actual rating.

An actual rating is calculated based from the player’s previous results and its addition made on victories. A player after all does not have a static performance, but rather a seasonal thing that varies tournament upon tournament.

The performance rating is an estimate of the player’s strength to how are the players of the said ratings would’ve performed. A player with only 2400 for example can have a rating performance of 2600.

Doesn’t mean that the player is actually 2600. But it does mean that the quality of performance is almost as if it was played by someone of 2600. This metric is discretely handled by Fide separate from all other numbers in chess.

Side note: Performance rating is the average of all opponent rating plus the overall win rate, where a table indicates how much is added based on the win rate.

A player must reach this 2600 bar before qualifying for the norm. Even if all the other requirements are met, the player has to fulfill this. In other words, the player has to perform phenomenally well. Only then will the norm be possible.

33.33% of players are grandmasters for one to get a GM norm

In other words, the tournament must host at least three grandmasters. Two or below doesn’t count This is to ensure that the level of competition is fairly high. Making every norm something to be earned with diligence.

The player would have to play well against these grandmasters too. Hence the performance rating requirement.

50% of players hold a Fide title for one to get a GM norm

This is created for the same reason as above. To make sure that the competition is high enough worthy of the norm. This would range to a number of different titles.

Such includes candidate masters, international masters, woman international masters, woman grandmasters, etc. All of them count. As long as it is within the sphere of Fide. Other titles granted outside of the international body are not inclusive.

This includes the USCF title system, The expert, class A, class B, class C, etc. This is not considered an international title. Rather they are only statuses within the USCF (United States) not outside the country.

That said, as long as the player has to 2200 or above then it should count. Since the requirement for the lowest title (Candidate Master) is 2200. Average oppositional rating of at least 2380

Now, all the previous requirements focuses on the higher-end players of the tournament. All of it centers among the Grandmasters and titled players. That is to ensure that there is actual great competition in the tournament.

However, there will be times where the disparity on the higher end and the lower end is just so great. Meaning some players would have a really high rating while others would have really low.

So aspiring grandmasters could then game the system by defeating the weaker players and perhaps drawing with the stronger ones. This hole needs a patch. And indeed the hole did get one The average rating covers all of the player’s opponents’s not just one.

This is so that there is a lot of opposition from stronger players, but still have some on the weaker ones. This is just another burden to overcome for being a grandmaster.

3 Federations for one t get a Grandmaster norm

Federations are individual communities designated to represent a nation to Fide. Basically they are the local bodies for chess tournaments and related activities.

If the executives are the central governing body (Fide), then the individual local/federal states have their own rulings as well (federations). This is to ensure that all events are organized properly. There are so many nations in the world after all.

One organization cannot handle multiple engagements simultaneously. One of the requirements for being a grandmaster involves facing at least players from three federations.

It is important to note that the player’s own federation would be counted on this requirement.

For example, if I was to play from the USCF federation (United States), maybe I could play one. The United States, one Norway, and the other from the Philippines. This would still count as three federations.

This is of course dealing with the opponents though. If I were to face players only from Norway and the Philippines while being from the USCF (United States) myself.

This wouldn’t count as three federations. As my opponents would still come from only two excluding my own.

Games with predetermined results are the worst.


Predetermined results have always been a problem in all of sports. This issue gets addressed by this rule. By having the opponents come from three different federations, it makes it harder for players to communicate a rigged result.

Being a grandmaster of all is a very huge effort that takes a lot of time and talent. Intentionally losing to make a friend or family member be able to qualify is a possibility.

Making sure that a lot of opponents come from different places helps to decrease the likelihood of this exact scenario.

Of course it can still happen. But the efforts and resources to need are just so much larger that there are many more opportunities to mess up and get caught.

That is all the requirements to get a grandmaster norm. When a player hits all the prerequisites, then he/she is rightful of the norm. But, do you know that there is a way to receive the title without norms and even a rating lower than 2500?.

Exceptions for the grandmaster title

As with most titles, there is actually a shortcut way of achieving the desired status. This is true even for the grandmaster title. Doesn’t mean is easy, but it’s definitely way faster.

It involves finishing first place in two of the most recognize chess tournaments:

Winners of the World Junior Chess Championship becomes a grandmaster

The world Junior Chess Championship is basically just like the world championship title. However, instead of becoming world champion, you became the junior world champion (Under 20).

This tournament has a long history organized by a lot of very prominent figures in chess. Each Fide chess nation can only select one representative from their federation excluding the host country that can select two.

The tournament format has changed over time from swiss (non-elimination), to sectional (group stages), into Swiss again. Originally, becoming a world junior champion only warrants an international master title.

With revisions in 2004, the current junior champions are now titled grandmasters. Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, and Vishwanathan Anand are the juniors chess champions that have become actual world champions.

Winners of the World Senior Championship becomes a grandmaster

The world senior championship is almost like the junior championship, except it’s for the old people. Players must at least be 50 or 65 years old to participate. It is operated by two categories, gender & age.

An open tournament is separated from a female-only tournament. Consequently, there are 50 + only tournament (not reaching 65) and 65+ only tournament (65 and beyond). The competition is also formatted in a swiss system (non-elimination).

Unlike the junior championship, the federation can send as many players as they choose to have. The winners of the open category (both age formats) are granted the grandmaster status while the female-only gets the woman grandmaster title.

Vasily Smyslov is the only World Champion that has become a world senior champion. Winning in one of these two tournaments, the title would be more easily conceived. But after the ways of gaining it, can you lose the title?

Grandmaster title revocation

Fide is the governing body that has the prestige of granting the grandmaster title By having this power, it also has the ability to revoke the status via the violation of simple chess ethics. I’m talking about cheating.

Being caught cheating in some form could ultimately lead a player banned from chess in a period of time as well as stripped of the title. The amount of punishment is strictly within the Fide’s discretion.

It’s important to note that rating is not one of the ways to be revoked of the status. No matter how long the numbers declined the grandmaster name is held for life. Unless of course, caught cheating. Let me provide one example.

Gaoiz Nigalidze

Gaoiz Nigalidze is a former grandmaster. “Former” now after being associated with a huge chess scandal. He was accused to have hidden a smartphone in the toilet where there is no surveillance.

This is a form of cheating since every smartphone can access chess engines on hand. Getting help after forgetting a prepared line, for example, is one way to utilize this underhanded play.

Most of the time, weaker players are the ones to be involved in such activities.

However, the grandmaster which should be the model for aspirants has brought disgrace to the community. He was convicted guilty after some investigation by the officials.

His punishment involves a 3-year ban and being stripped of the grandmaster title. You can read about the whole incident here. This is one of the legit ways of losing the title. The so-called revocation by unworthiness.

And frankly is a fair way to lose the status. It is a very good punishment to combat the rising era of chess engines waiting to be taken advantage by malicious players.

Closing Statement

Being a grandmaster is a very extensive and incredible achievement. One must not only put on tons of effort and time but also perform with skill and consistency.

So if you see a grandmaster make sure to appreciate their achievements! Know well and play chess.