What is a super grandmaster in chess? An explanation

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There are many titles in chess that can be awarded to those that reach the pinnacle of their strength, namely titles like fide master, international master, grandmaster, etc. There is a new term in town though that is becoming popular.

The term is super grandmaster, what is a super grandmaster in chess? Here is what I know:

Super grandmaster is an informal title usually given to players who have reached an elo rating beyond 2700 (most grandmasters are in the 2500 mark). These are players who are in the top 50 and have a shot of becoming a world champion in the future.

It is important to note that this term is relatively new and is not a formal title consideration for the international governing body (Fide). 

But there is a reason this term is coined which I will discuss here. Without further ado, let’s get started. 

The purpose of the super grandmaster term

This is the first thing that we should wonder about, international titles in chess are created so there is a level of status. What’s the point of adding a new title term if there are so many existing ones already?

The highest title achievement in chess is a grandmaster, however, we know that grandmasters are not equal and some are better than others. This prompts some to create a level beyond a regular grandmaster.

It’s not like grandmasters suddenly stop improving once they reach the highest level of the title system, some definitely excel more than the others despite being in the same grandmaster title.

The term super grandmaster is created to separate such elite grandmasters from your traditional ones, especially since the differences in skill are really noticeable in most cases.

However since the term is informal, there’s really no adequate definition of someone achieving such status.

Informality of the term super grandmaster

It is hard to describe when a regular grandmaster starts becoming a super grandmaster, the line is quite blurry. There are qualities shared by super grandmasters but it is not definite.

It is well-known when someone achieves the regular grandmaster title since the title is secured once certain qualifications are met, a super grandmaster definition can vary depending on the circumstance.

This is the problem with informal definitions, the description by which the criteria is set can be different from individual to individual. Two people can have different meanings even when sharing the same term.

Super grandmaster in chess is a loose term, there is no specific definition since it is a colloquial term that is used to describe a level beyond a regular grandmaster.

Difference between a grandmaster and a super grandmaster

The difference between someone who is considered a traditional grandmaster and a super grandmaster is quite apparent during the encounter of two players.

In basketball terms a star or all-star player is a very valuable player for the team, however, a star or all-star is still different from a superstar who can carry a franchise single-handedly.

In chess, a grandmaster is still a solid player that is better than at least 90% of people who play chess. But a super grandmaster is still way better than a regular grandmaster.

This game is between a grandmaster and a super grandmaster, you can see my point here:

Those that are considered as a super GM usually have more experience in high-stakes tournaments where they are battling the best of the best in the world.

Becoming a super grandmaster also requires more effort than being a regular grandmaster

They usually have a higher rating and have been through better competition resulting in a very apparent difference in strength whenever meeting someone of a traditional grandmaster level.

Super grandmasters are more popular than grandmasters

Another thing that separates a grandmaster from a super grandmaster is popularity, those who belong at the top are much more likely to receive coverage for their achievements much more than their peers.

Even though that definition can vary from individual to individual, most would agree about who is a super grandmaster or not based on the player’s popularity. Super grandmasters are usually well-known.

Whether it is Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, Levon Aronian, etc. All are popular names that even beginners should have heard about at some point.

If you know a player that is a grandmaster, most likely than not (not always) they are a super grandmaster since regular grandmasters do not get the same coverage.

Rating inflation popularized the super grandmaster title

The grandmaster title used to be the highest status that anyone could reach in chess; only a few individuals in the world could acquire it decades ago. With the rating inflation however, things changed.

Due to the game being more popular (having more participants to bleed elo) and the advancement in computers, we see kids breaking the 2500 elo mark routinely.

Rating inflation might be part of the reason why the term was created in the first place, a grandmaster status that was hard to achieve back then is not as special in modern standards.

The super grandmasters today can match the best players of the past. People often underestimate the top players of today, but they are all comparable to the best players of all time due to the amount of resources at their disposal.

We need to create an even more special term to account for the rating inflation, something that will hold the meaning that the grandmaster title used to fulfill. This might be the origin of this word.

A super grandmaster has an elo of 2700

It is really hard to determine when a player becomes a super grandmaster since again, the term is ambiguous. However some argue that this can be explicitly seen by the player’s elo points.

For most people, a super grandmaster is someone who has reached a rating of 2700 and above. You really can’t go wrong with this, since 2700 will at least be in the top 50 of the world.

Most people will agree with this since the description of most super grandmasters are usually found between players of 2700. There is a problem though, specifically about the boundary? Is a player that is rated 2690 not a super grandmaster?

2690 and 2700 seem to not be huge difference at all, which is why some think that the 2700 mark is useful, but does not set a fair boundary.

Some 2600 players can be considered a super grandmaster

There are those who consider the players who are beyond the 2600 mark to be super grandmasters already.

Some skillful players who can match toe to toe with even the top 10 players in the world are not even in the 2700 mark, which technically shouldn’t make them count as a super grandmaster.

However, the fact that they can keep up with those that are super grandmasters means that they are around the same league or level. Another is again, the rating inflation.

Rating inflation makes reliance to elo less justifiable

Decades ago with computers not being around yet, reaching 2700 elo isn’t something that is as achievable as it is today. This does not mean that players of the past do not have the potential to reach such a rating with modern knowledge.

If great players of the past have access to moves and theories provided by contemporary engines, they might arguably be better than some modern players we see today that is 2700.

This notion that we should only look at the player’s elo rating to determine if they are a super grandmaster takes away from the talent of the past, the competitors that were not able to experience the rating inflation.

This is why some players of the old can be considered a super grandmaster even if they have not reached the 2700 elo mark.

Super grandmaster as top 10 players of the world

There are those who believe that reaching the 2700 elo mark does not necessarily put a player in the super grandmaster title, that it is much more than that. This is what they call “true super grandmasters”.

These are usually players that play the same openings as the world champion.

Some of the most elitist views of the super grandmaster definition only puts grandmasters who have reached the top 10 player (status in the world) as “true super grandmasters” Even without looking at the elo rating.

This also does justice to the players of the past, since the rating inflation is not a formula that depreciates the value of historical competitors. As long as you reach the top 10 you are considered as one.

However it cannot be denied that the top 11-50 spots on the top of the world are all far better than your traditional grandmasters, so I don’t agree with this. 

This elitist view assumes that below top 10 are all equal and thus being slapped in the same title, even though in reality some are stronger than the others.

Super grandmasters are those that can be world champion

Another elitist view is a super grandmaster having a shot in becoming the world champion in the future (or at least qualifying for the candidates) rather than with their elo rating.

This accounts for elo inflation as well since the rating of the player isn’t necessarily the main metric for someone to qualify in the grandmaster corner. And even below top 10 can be a potential world champion if they have the shot.

However this is more blurry in my opinion since those who can be the world champion can be subjected in nature. Some may think that a player is capable when others may not.

And there are world champions that are so dominating that you cannot think anyone (even in the top 10) can beat them, which makes the definition too narrow. A metric that can be measured is still better.

Super grandmasters that are 2500 rating

Some argue that 2500 is already a super grandmaster status for past players in history since the level at their time is different, adjusted for rating inflation this may seem to be the case.

It may seem weird since 2500 is the same rating as traditional grandmasters but we need to consider that the value of the title is much different than today. 

Without modern knowledge, a 2500 from the past can be considered as a 2700 since that can be the strength of current super grandmasters without assistance from modern computers.

Some believe that the value of 2500 elo today is the same as 2300 elo in the past. And a 2700 elo today is equivalent to a regular grandmaster in the past which is 2500 elo.

Super grandmaster and grandmasters are the same

There are those who claim that regular grandmasters today would have the same strength as super grandmasters if they have more opportunities to highlight their strengths.

Some argue that the distinction is not necessary, that anyone who can reach a 2500 rating (qualification to be a grandmaster) already has an equal amount of talent to those who reached the top 10 seats of the world.

The keyword there is talent, those who usually reach the top 10 are people who have the financial backing to travel all over the world and participate in competitions (resulting in higher elo.).

Some believe that anyone who is able to reach the grandmaster title will have the same potential if given the same privileges. That the distinction is unnecessary since talent-wise, they are all the same.

I find this false since there are traditional grandmasters who do have the same financial backing and are unable to reach the top. Plus, talent is not all there is to it, you have to work hard too.

Is the distinction between super gm and gm apparent?

If you watch games between a super grandmaster and grandmaster, you will see that one really is superior in strength. It is like an international master vs. a grandmaster in comparison.

It has been consistently shown that the level super grandmaster does exist, regular grandmasters are regularly beaten by those who are considered “super”.

This means that the level is at least justifiable, there are those who are in the same grandmaster title but excel so much that they deserve a higher status.

The distinction is definitely hard to draw, differentiating a traditional master from a super grandmaster can be quite subjective sometimes. But at least people are aware that grandmasters are not equal in strength.

Do you now know what a super grandmaster is in chess?

Titles are really an interesting mechanic in chess to indicate the status of those who have put in the work. Achieving any titles is worthy of recognition since the majority of chess players don’t even have any.

This is not just to present an elitist structure that makes fun of beginners, it is much more than that. It serves to incentivise talent and hardwork and recognize those who excel.

Calling someone a super grandmaster is a reminder that achieving something great takes a lot of skill and effort. We are appreciating players that we call this way, sleep well and play chess.

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