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Want to know what it takes to become a chess grandmaster? This definitive guide on chess grandmasters will answer all your questions

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The title of a ‘Grandmaster’ or ‘GM’ is a highly celebrated position in chess, and this happens to be the highest title a chess player can achieve in their career.

Only the international governing body of global chess – the Federation Internationale des Echecs (FIDE), can grant a chess player the title of GM. Once awarded, a chess professional can use the title ‘GM’ for a lifetime.

In the chess hierarchy, only the title ‘World Champion’ stands on higher ground than GM. However, a person can remain a world champion for a limited time. But in the case of a GM, the title stays with the person as long as they live. Under the rarest circumstances, FIDE can cancel a GM title due to unfair practices undertaken by the chess professional.

Apart from GM, the other most notable chess titles include FIDE Master (FM) and International Master (IM). All these positions are open to people of all genders. The record books suggest that till now almost 2000 chess competitors have been able to earn the title of GM. In the history of the sport, only 39 women so far have been able to capture the title of GM.

The disparity between men and women GMs is apparent when we look at the statistics. On the positive side, the current top women players have all been conferred the title GM, mainly because many more women chess players are taking up the game and training to become world-class players. FIDE has also provided a ‘Woman Grandmaster’ title to confer on only women chess players and has different requirements.

In addition to these titles conferred by FIDE, the World Federation for Chess Composition (WFCC) is an association that reserves the right to award the title of a GM to persons who are engaged in solving or composing chess problems.

One more chess organization which goes by the name of the International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF), from time to time, gives away the title of International Correspondence Chess Grandmaster (ICCGM) to selected players. The WFCC and the ICCGM are independent bodies that work in collaboration with FIDE.

There is one more unofficial title called the ‘Super Grandmaster’ (super GM) in use these days. The super GMs are those chess contestants who are always in the offing to challenge the world chess championship title. Even though this title remains officially unrecognized to date, all those chess players who have ratings above the Elo mark of 2700 fall under this elite category.

Previously, any GM scoring above the Elo rating of 2600 would be considered a super GM. But in contemporary times, due to inflation in player ratings, the mark has increased from 2600 to 2700. It will not surprise anyone if the mark shifts to a higher range again. The so-called ‘super GMs’ happens to be the ‘superstars’ of the sport and regularly earn the highest prizes in competitive chess tournaments.

The foremost chess grandmasters in the world today make around a million dollars from each tournament. Simply participating in famous contests, GMs get paid between one to five million dollars. The current world chess champion Magnus Carlsen is worth a jaw-dropping nine million dollars.

Who Is The First Chess Grandmaster In The World?

It is not clear when the term ‘chess grandmaster’ was used for the first time. However, it is believed that the first time a chess player was referred to as a ‘grandmaster’ was way back in 1838.

The term is printed inside the February issue of the English weekly ‘Belle’s Life’. In this periodical newspaper, issued on February 18, 1838, a journalist used the term ‘grandmaster’ while writing about chess player William Lewis.

Sometime later in the nineteenth century, English chess player George Walker addressed another contemporary chess contestant – Francois-Andre Danican Philidor, as a ‘grandmaster’. It is widely believed that the term became part of chess parlance around the same time.

Various sources suggest that the title GM was used for the first time in a chess tournament in the early twentieth century, and this took place in the Ostend Tournament of 1907. To make the division of players into two groups – the Championship Tournament and the Masters’ Tournament, the term ‘grandmaster’ was used for previous senior-level chess competition winners such as Frank Marshall, Mikhail Chigorin, Carl Schlecter, Siegbert Tarrasch, and Amos Burn.

How Many Chess Grandmasters Are There?

For practical purposes, the title of ‘GM’ is conferred to only those chess players who have fulfilled specific criteria set by FIDE. Till now, FIDE has given the honour of being called a ‘GM’ to as many as 1983 chess professionals. It could have been 1986, but three titles were cancelled after cheating revelations.

Since 1988, FIDE has been allocating one unique identification number to all the registered grandmasters in its database. FIDE maintains the essential records of all the chess grandmasters in its database. Each grandmaster has a profile page displaying all the adequate details about the person. On a grandmaster’s profile page, you will find their date of birth and the year they were conferred the title of GM.

How Many Chess Grandmasters Are There In India?

The chess grandmaster list in India currently boasts of having a total of 75 GMs. This number is based on the official records released by FIDE in January 2021.

Out of a pool of 33,028 rated chess players in the country, 124 hold the title of International Masters (IMs), 18 of them have been awarded the title of Woman Grandmasters (WGMs), and another 42 are holders of the Woman International Masters (WIM) title.

The top 10 Indian male GMs still active in the chess circuit have an average Elo rating of 2670. This number places India in fourth place in world rankings, and it falls behind Russia, the United States of America, and China. On the other hand, the top women GMs from India have an average rating of 2405 points in the Elo rating chart, and they are ranked third in the world and behind China and Russia.

Out of all the Indian grandmasters, the legendary former five-time undisputed world chess champion is the most decorated player ever. Anand has won a host of prestigious chess competitions all over the world in various formats. For his numerous achievements and illustrious career, he has already been honored with India’s second-highest civilian award – the Padma Vibhushan Award.

In the latest world chess rankings, four Indian players find themselves in the top 100 of the men’s division. They are GMs Vishwanathan Anand, Pentala Harikrishna, Vidit Santosh Gujrathi, and Gukesh D. Among the top 100 female chess players in the world, seven Indian players have found themselves a spot. They are GMs Koneru Humpy and Harika Dronavalli, WGM Vaishali Rameshbabu, IMs/WGMs Tania Sachdev, Bhakti Kulkarni, and WGMs Vantika Agarwal and P.V. Nandhidhaa.

One more chess grandmaster list in India pertains to the junior division. The junior division in chess consists of all those chess players who are less than 20 years of age. In the list of the highest-rated 100 junior players in the world, 20 Indians are firmly placed. In fact, four of them are in the top 10 – Gukesh D in second place, Arjun Erigaisi in the fourth position, Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu in eighth place, and Nihal Sarin in the 10th place.

Likewise, there are 10 Indians on the world’s top 100 junior girl chess players’ list. They are Savitha Shri B. on the eighth, Vantika Agarwal on the 11th, Divya Deshmukh on the 17th, and Priyanka Nutakki on the 20th.

US Chess Grandmasters

The United States is a powerhouse when it comes to producing world-beaters in chess, and it has maintained its status as one of the strongest chess-playing nations for most of the last two centuries. 

The leading American chess players regularly participate in elite tournaments. Today, one of the foremost GMs, Fabiano Caruana, was the challenger to Magnus Carlsen’s world championship title in 2018.

It will be apt to find out which American chess grandmasters are considered the most remarkable the country has ever produced. We will take into account the overall chess prowess and impact that the chess players have been able to make on the game.

Paul Morphy

Rightly called ‘the father of American chess’, Paul Morphy was ahead of his time in many ways. Adored by millions of chess players even today, Morphy has left an enduring legacy. Chess great Bobby Fischer had said that Paul Morphy was ‘the most complete chess player of all time’. 

Hikaru Nakamura

GM Hikaru Nakamura is a modern master of the game. He is one of the strongest in the chess circuit today and is considered the best blitz player of the current generation. He has also made his mark on the online chess platform lately. Nakamura has made significant contributions to making chess popular on the social media platform ‘Twitch’. He has been victorious in two recent speed chess tournaments hosted by

Wesley So

Another exciting young American chess player, Wesley So, has become one of the top contenders to follow Magnus Carlsen as world champion in the near future. So plays a risk-free style of chess, and has consistently produced brilliant tactics to get the better of his opponents.

The brightest moment in his professional career came against Magnus Carlsen in 2019 at the first edition of the FIDE World Random Fischer Chess Championship. He stunned the audience at the venue by beating Carlsen most convincingly with a score of 13.5-2.5.

Fabiano Caruana

GM Fabiano Caruana has been a force to reckon with in recent memory. He was the world number two behind Magnus Carlsen for a long while, which culminated in the world championship showdown of 2018. In a closely fought battle, Carlsen had to take the help of tiebreaks in order to keep the world title with himself.

Caruana has been a US and Italian chess champion on more than one occasion. His sixth championship match against Carlsen in 2018 has attained legendary status due to the depth of its beauty and novelty. Chess great Garry Kasparov has praised Caruana for producing the absolute best in any world championship bout.

Bobby Fischer

Arguably the most significant chess champion the United States has ever produced, Bobby Fischer’s name is taken with the deepest of awe and admiration. Hailed by many as one of the greatest of all time, Bobby Fischer became world champion at a time when global chess was ruthlessly dominated by Russia (then the USSR).

Bobby Fischer is credited with the revival of chess in America. He almost single-handedly brought down the Russian chess juggernaut that was bullying other countries in chess competitions the world over in the middle decades of the twentieth century. His taking the world title away from Boris Spassky in 1972 in the most dramatic fashion is undoubtedly one of the most incredible chess feats of all ages. 

Having a brilliant mind, Bobby Fischer invented what is now known as ’Fischer Random Chess’ or ‘chess 960’. He also designed and patented a chess clock that many top players use today.

The Record Of The Youngest Chess Grandmaster

There have been several chess grandmasters who have held the title of being the ‘youngest chess grandmaster in history’. For the most prolonged period, the title was held by Russian grandmaster Sergey Karjakin.

The youngest chess grandmaster in the history of the game is American GM Abhimanyu Mishra. He achieved this incredible feat on June 30, 2021, at twelve years, four months, and twenty-five days. By scaling this peak, Abhi Mishra broke Sergey Karjakin’s record, which had stood since 2002.

To become a chess grandmaster, a player has to fulfil specific credentials as mandated by the international governing body of chess – the Federation Internationale des Echecs (FIDE). Having already crossed the 2500 Elo rating mark, Mishra took care of the third and final GM norm to confirm his status as a ‘GM’.

Sergey Karjakin became a grandmaster on August 12, 2002, and he was just 12 years and seven months at the time. Karjakin went on to become a serious contender for the world title, challenging for the same in 2016. Like Karjakin, whether or not Abhimanyu Mishra will become a world champion contender remains to be seen.

Interestingly, another standout chess player from India, Gukesh D, came very close to dethroning Sergey Karjakin in January 2019. He is presently the third youngest chess grandmaster of all time and the youngest from India. He, too, got to the title before turning thirteen, a feat he shares with four other chess grandmasters. Rising Indian chess superstar Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu is also part of the list of individuals conferred the title ‘GM’ before turning thirteen.

How To Become A Chess Grandmaster?

A person becomes a ‘chess grandmaster’ after fulfilling specific precedents set by the game’s governing body, FIDE. The first hurdle to be cleared is crossing the 2500 Elo chess rating mark. Once this is done, the player needs to win a couple of matches after competing in twenty-seven official games in prescribed tournaments.

Under exceptional circumstances, when someone has won the World Senior Championship, the World Junior Championship, or the Women’s World Championship, they get awarded the title of the GM without needing to undergo the standard procedures.

How Many Female Chess Grandmasters Are There?

As of yet, FIDE has recognised 39 female chess players as grandmasters in their own right. The first female player to be awarded the title of GM was Nora Gaprindashvili of the USSR in 1978.

The name that stands out in women’s competitive chess is that of Judit Polgar. Following in the footsteps of her elder sister, GM Susan Polgar, the younger Polgar sister went on to rewrite several records in the record books. 

Considered by many the most outstanding female chess player, the Hungarian Judit Polgar broke Bobby Fischer’s record as the youngest GM in 1991, and she was just fifteen years of age at that time. Judit Polgar also became the youngest person ever to get a place in the top 100 players list as determined by FIDE in 1989.

Final Thoughts

Chess grandmasters are the celebrities of the game, and their names resound in all corners of the chess world and contribute significantly to popularising the game. To take the example of Vishwanathan Anand, it was only after Anand started chess competitions worldwide in the late 1980s and early 1990s that chess got a mass following in India.

It is no wonder that the recently-concluded World Chess Olympiad got a resounding response following the participation of several GMs from all around the globe. To know more about the event, click on the link.