Can you earn a chess title online? (Fact checked)

A chess title is a ranking status that everyone who loves playing chess wants to acquire. However, there are limitations in its acquisition that make it inconvenient.

I am talking about the requirement of having to play over the board rather than online. But are there exceptions to this? Is there any way for a player to acquire a title by only playing chess online?

As someone who have been playing chess for years here is what I know:

It is not possible to acquire a chess title (National Master, Grandmaster, etc.) just by playing online. Online chess ratings are inflated and do not reflect over-the-board ratings. Arena.fide.com gives superficial online arena titles but is not recognized by the chess community.

It would be really encouraging if you can get a title from the comfort of your own home, where you don’t need to travel in order to participate in tournaments of long distances. 

But the reality is far different from what we would want. And this is for a good reason, a chess title is only rewarded for serious players who want to pursue it professionally. Without further ado, let’s get started. 

Online ratings are far different from over the board ratings

If you have been thinking that ratings can be acquired from playing online all the same, you couldn’t be further from the truth.

There are several platforms such as lichess.com and chess.com that give an artificial rating to their members, however, this is not indicative of over-the-board chess titles.

Yes, an elo rating threshold is a necessity in order to break in one of the title classifications. However, any rating that you could get from playing online is incredibly inflated.

In tournaments the population is much smaller, there wouldn’t be as many opponents that you can defeat where you can get your elo rating from. This is not the case online where there are so many people who are willing to play.

Online ratings simply cannot be served as a basis for a title acquisition since the ratings can be easily acquired. The difficulty to which you can boost your rating online is not even comparable.

Online ratings are not limited by geographical conditions

Acquiring ratings over the board is limited by the number of places you have to travel. You can’t just play a game on demand like what you can do with online platforms, there are a lot of travel costs and time in between.

All of that traveling and accommodation time wasted just to play 8-12 games that can be an opportunity to kick your rating up (if you do not lose). This condition makes it difficult to acquire ratings over the board.

Due to the difficulty of accumulating ratings over the board, fide can’t just give titles online where there is a lower standard. 

It is not possible at this moment but the bar has to be higher if it were to be made official.

Online ratings of elite players are much higher than over the board

If you notice from ratings of elite players, their online rating is much bigger than over the board. This is because it is easier to acquire ratings online. It would be unfair if titles can be given through this method.

2800 elo can be regularly witnessed on chess.com even among players who are only national masters in real life. This is insane, a reflection that online ratings really aren’t worth much.

3000+ elo can even be acquired by super grandmasters who can barely reach 2800 over the board. This is further testament that online ratings can’t be a basis for title endowment.

Fide gives superficial chess titles online

There are a couple of platforms hosted by authoritative federations of chess such as arena.fide.com (fide) and the pro chess league. All titles here are superficial and not official chess titles.

The titles that can be earned in arena.fide.com are not the same titles that can be granted to those who played over the board.

In online fide arena you can acquire four online superficial titles such as:

  • Arena candidate master (ACM/AC)
  • Arena fide master (AIM/AI)
  • Arena international master (AFM/AF)
  • Arena grandmaster (AGM/AG)

These titles are basically worthless if we are talking about the respect that you will get in the chess community. Almost no one recognizes these titles and really is just a label.

These titles wouldn’t be considered in over the board tournaments and you are just going to be treated as an unrated player. In contrast, a national master over the board would be recognized as a national master in online play.

Plus there is a lot of controversy surrounding this format since you have to pay a membership for it, some even claim that it is pay to play.

You wouldn’t have to defeat titled players in real life to earn these titles as well, which really puts a doubt on the validity of these labels.

There is a reason why the majority of the chess population hasn’t even heard of these titles, it isn’t respected or recognized by a lot of people.

Rated tournaments online cannot be a basis for a title

Now, there are rated tournaments online that are becoming popular lately. However those who participate in these tournaments as of the moment are already titled players.

One cannot earn a title online since they also have to earn norms (will be talked about later). As an unrated player, you cannot earn a title nor participate in these tournaments at the moment.

If a titled player performed at a higher level online, they still couldn’t transition into a higher title until the performance is expressed over the board.

Of course this may change in the future as online play becomes more developed. However, it is likely that title acquisition will still be focused on over the board since the conditions of competition are still different.

Women chess titles cannot be earned online

Some of you may think that even if general chess titles cannot be earned online, there must be a different set of conditions for women’s chess titles (woman grandmaster and such).

This is not true however, as similar to general chess titles, women’s chess titles cannot be acquired online since the requirement for acquiring them falls into similar difficulty.

Acquiring a chess title for women is still more difficult than online since the rating has to be earned over the board. 

Even if the bar is set lower in women’s titles compared to general chess titles, the titles are respectable enough that they wouldn’t fall into the same category as creating an account online and earning an artificial rating off of them.

No one respects online chess titles

Truth of the matter is, no one would respect a title that has been earned online since it is different from over-the-board struggles.

When you are in a tournament where the competition is more visible, there will be pressure in each game since you are able to observe the body language of your opponent.

Intimidation is a factor to overcome unlike online where you are not forced to sit face to face with the opposition.

Even if you can find a superficial rating that fide gives you (like the ones mentioned above) I doubt anyone would recognize or appreciate the efforts you have put in that.

Over the board titles are really the only type of title in chess that other people care about the most.

Titled players online earned their titles over the board

In chess.com and similar platforms, you might notice that they have a title besides their name. They have earned this over the board and not online.

There might be some of you out there that think lichess tournaments for example can give a title based on the performance of the player in the said tournament.

It is actually the opposite, players who have a title in over the board just need to complete several verification steps in order to be recognized online.

These titled online players did not earn their title online, rather they already have a title in the first place and were just being recognized for their over-the-board achievement.

Norms are a basis for the title, not just ratings

Chess titles are not only based on ratings, you need to have a specific number of norms (favorable results in a tournament) to acquire a title. Norms are not given online.

There are so many potential cheating online compared to over the board, that it makes it hard to verify if somebody is cheating the system. It is hard to verify a favorable result.

There are more ways to game the norms online, possibly intentionally losing since there are no arbiters to limit communications during tournaments, or the existence of a chess computer.

Since there really isn’t a reliable system on how to grant a norm in online tournaments, granting a title online is impossible for now since norms are necessary in order to acquire titles.

Elite players prove online rating inflation

People are much more likely to have higher ratings online than they would have in real life. The ratings of elite players (online) prove this.

We see players getting around 3000+ online when they couldn’t even get near the 2800 elo mark over the board. The fact that someone is even capable of 3000 elo online already shows the undeniable existence of inflation.

This means that ratings gained online couldn’t possibly compare to over-the-board achievements and should have a different standard. 

Using the same standard for giving a title (online) simply isn’t fair, it is clear that the path to a title is much easier online if this is the case.

In fact, it is possible to have a 2700+ rating on a chess-playing site such as lichess or chess.com and not have a title in over-the-board chess. Titles are awarded based on results and not strength.

Even if they have the capability to be a national master for example, if they couldn’t put in the effort to go overseas again and again and compete then this shouldn’t deserve the title.

If they can make the case that they are that good even without the capability of competing over the board then the difficulty of them achieving a title online should be increased (raising the standard).

In the future this might be possible, but is not the case as of the moment.

Strong players do not equal a chess title

This is a popular opinion that some people hold, that if someone is strong enough then they deserve a title even without competing. 

This is the reason why people argue that chess titles should be granted online.

It is pretty unfair though for those who have made the sacrifice and pursued the game professionally to get that elusive title that they are working their life for.

If people can get a title in the comfort of their own homes, it should be as difficult as traveling overseas and only competing in a limited number of games.

There are so many out there that have the potential to achieve a title in real life (not online) but chooses not to participate in any tournament over the board (like with strong untitled chess hustlers). 

But acquiring a rating over the board is just much more difficult than with online, there should be a rule in place if the acquisition of titles online is made possible in the future.

Final thoughts

You know I get it, you want to earn that title even without having the difficulty of traveling and having all these expenses. It is good to fight for a cause, but you still need to have empathy.

There are people who have faced the same challenges and decided to make the sacrifice, it devalues what they have earned if someone can just earn their titles online.

I am interested to see the development of the acquisition of titles since so many things can change in chess in such a short period of time. 

I am here to witness it if it were to happen, but for now you cannot get a chess title online. That is all, sleep well and play chess.

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