Master Your Moves: A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming Titled in Chess

Have you ever wondered what it takes to become titled in chess? In the world of competitive chess, players can achieve different titles based on their skills and accomplishments. From Candidate Master to Grandmaster, each title represents a significant milestone in a player’s chess career.

But how exactly do you earn these titles? By earning rating points, achieving norms, and showcasing consistent performance in tournaments, players can work towards achieving their desired titles.

In this article, we will explore the requirements, benefits, and strategies for becoming titled in chess.

What Does it Mean to Become Titled in Chess?

Becoming titled in chess refers to earning a formal recognition degree such as GM, WGM, IM, FM. CM, or WCM (or any of the other 16 others that FIDE recognizes). Receiving a titled in chess comes from playing the game at a high and recognized level. Titled players are considered internationally strong players.

The Grandmaster of chess is the highest degree for every player, and it is given to some of the greatest active chess players in the world. There have been 1685 GMs in the history of chess, according to FIDE. WCM stands for Woman Candidate Master and WFM stands for Woman FIDE Master as part of the title system devised to elevate women in chess.

Women are allowed to apply for the normal title degrees that men do, with their own female set of degrees. FIDE has three general aspirations for the titled player system according to the ACP Study 2012:

  1. Show the ‘elite’ of our discipline, the true climbers of professional chess.
  2. Giving status to outstanding individual or team performances, because discipline requires recognition.
  3. Meet the requirements of national ratings, since rising to the top is based on ratings at certain levels according to FIDE’s own rating.

The easiest way to become titled in chess is to start out at an early age. FIDE’s titled player system μ= favor counting ups of any gender or level from a young age.

What Are the Different Chess Titles?

The most common chess titles are GM that is an abbreviation for Grandmaster, and IM that is an abbreviation for International Master. WGM and FM are titles for women competitors who do not meet the criteria for the GM or IM titles. Other than this there are categories such as IGM which is an abbreviation for International Grandmaster. This refers to the grandmaster title but under a different nomenclature.

Candidate Master (CM)

A Candidate Master (CM) is the first sporting title in chess to be awarded by FIDE. It depends on diplomatic approval from the member country’s national chess organization. Chess federations evaluate players’ overall playing records and the title is awarded if sufficient merit is established. The main requirement for getting the title is to earn 50 FIDE-rated games. In addition, you must get at least 33% of a score in a single individual competition that must be a minimum of 5 games in length. After meeting these requirements, players must send an application form to their national chess federation. Since the national federations only provide general guidelines, each is likely to expect slightly different things and costs. The cost is often in the range of 200 to 400 EUR + FIDE fee. Certainly the first title in chess, earning the FIDE Candidate Master (CM) title is an achievable goal within two years of entering competitive chess. Teenagers Suzubov of Azerbaijan and Andrey Kovalyov of Belarus both won the title as early as age 12. Achieving this title is a clear indication of an up-and-coming future with the opportunity to win higher accolades in the sport.

FIDE Master (FM)

FM is the third-highest title in FIDE. It is awarded at the discretion of the Executive Board based on one of the following three norms met in either FIDE-rated or nationally rated games they have played:

  • Win 66.7% of the games at the World Junior Championship and end the tournament in at least 13th place.
  • Win a minimum of 58.3% of games against players with a FM title.
  • Win 50% of the games in a tournament or simultaneous exhibition playing at least 3 former or current GMs or higher-ranking FIDE players with 2400+ rating. Only 2 games may be against the same player.

International Master (IM)

International Master (IM) is the second-highest of the FIDE title categories, below Grandmaster and above FIDE Master. Requiring a modest FIDE rating of 2400+ and performance levels not out of reach for determined players in many parts of the world, the IM title holds significant prestige as being the first of the higher levels of titles in the chess world.

To become an International Master (“Международный мастер”), there is additional written legislation requiring appearances in FIDE-rated tournaments, as well as ratings in at least 3 separate countries. 50-70% of one’s title and norms in the case of male and female players are to be achieved at events in which the top third of the male entrants and entrants in female round-robins have at least an average rating of 2400 for men and 2100 for women.

Grandmaster (GM)

A grandmaster (GM) is the highest title awarded by
the World Chess Federation (FIDE) who bestows the award on you once you earn at least 2500 Elo rating points. This is commonly awarded for winning prestigious competitions around the world, such as the World Chess Championship, although it can be earned by demonstrating skill against established grandmasters in international tournaments. Currently, FIDE recognizes 1,800 Grandmasters worldwide, meaning fewer persons have qualified for this honor in our history than have traveled to Antarctica.

Before achieving the grandmaster title, a player will usually earn the IM title. After obtaining the GM title, they often earn other titled described above such as WGM or WIM. FIDE confers both the general grandmaster title, which is applicable to chess grandmasters regardless of gender, and the women’s grandmaster title which despite its name is actually one of the lower-ranking titles for women in chess. As of June 2021, 1558 male players hold the GM title, 91 female players hold the GM title, 248 female players hold the WGM title, and approximately 6969 males and 889 females hold the IM title.

What Are the Requirements to Become Titled in Chess?

The requirements to becoming titled in chess are the following:

  • Have an account with a FIDE member federation.
  • Have an established rating and compete in certain number of games.
  • Earn norms in a certain number of games as applicable at their level.

Readers can find the specifics on the FIDE website at the time of reading and should verify with FIDE documents. Below are some links to the requirements at the time of writing as referenced from the FIDE website.

  1. General information: Detailed information about the path to the Chess titles and the FIDE rating regulations can be found in the FIDE Handbook, from the section ELO and Titles, and the ELO system.
  2. Qualification commission regulations: The specific conditions for each title, including the procedures for granting titles, can be found in the Qualification Commission Panel handbook.

The FIDE handbook and ELO system books are available on the FIDE website for free, and the Qualification commission handbook can be purchased from their Online Shop. A preview of the Qualification Commission Handbook is available on the FIDE website.

Earning Rating Points

To become titled in chess, earning rating points is the most important step. Earning international FIDE titles happens when during FIDE-rated tournaments the performance of a player falls within a set category of rating over a period of time. The titles require a certain minimal number of played games according to a specified time control, geographical restrictions, and game source (one’s own country or against foreigners).

Two direct entitlement norms out of a necessary three are sufficient to warrant the titles of IM (International Master) or WIM (Woman International Master). Three direct entitlement norms of which one is from a continental chess tournament lasting for at least nine rounds are required for the GM (Grandmaster) and WGM (Woman Grandmaster) titles. The fewer games needed to reach the next title clearly favor the most talented youngsters.

Achieving Norms

To become titled in chess, you can pursue titles that are based on norms. A norm entitles a player to receive a title if they already have played a minimum number of competitive games and achieves a performance rating that shows their performance is worthy of the title. There are three norms required for obtaining the IM, IA, and GM titles. To achieve the title of CWM (Correspondence Women’s Master), a player must achieve two norms. The requirements for obtaining norms for titled players are all covered by FIDE regulations.

Norms require that a minimum number of games be recorded for the titular player during specific time frames. The following are the norms and required ratings for a given title based on FIDE regulations. For Men’s titles, 27 or more titled male players from a minimum of at least three different countries must participate in the tournament to be considered a norm. For Women’s titles, there must be 11 or more titled female players rated at least 2000 or higher.

How Do You Earn Rating Points in Chess?

You earn rating points in chess by playing USCF or FIDE rated chess games. Your post-game rating is calculated by comparing your post-game rating and that of your opponent, called the Expected Score. Subtracting the Expected Score from the Actual Score gives your rating change. This is called your Rating Differences. Rating Change is multiplied by K-factor, which gives final score changes. In or Lichess ratings, you earn rating points in chess by simply playing games with people relatively close in rating to you, depending on the platform.

USCF Rating Points in Chess
The formula for calculating your expected score in a chess game is

Actual Outcome K-Factor
You win 0.4 + ((Opponent’s Rating – Your Rating) * .0013)
You draw 0.5
You lose 0.6 + ((Opponent’s Rating – Your Rating) * .0013)

The K-factor is a measure of uncertainty about a player’s skill to adjust ratings more quickly or slowly as circumstances warrant. It decreases as a player’s rating changes to a new level, indicating it takes longer to get to a new level than it does to bounce around within that level.

FIDE Rating Points in Chess
FIDE ratings have a more complex formula than USCF ratings. The FIDE rating change for the game is determined by subtracting A – C where A is the score, 1 for a win, 0.5 for a draw, and 0 for a loss, and C is defined as the expected score. The expected score (C) is calculated as 1 / (10^((ELO2 – ELO1)/400) + 1) for the winner and (1 / (10^((ELO1 – ELO2)/400) + 1) for the loser.

The FIDE K-factor starts at 40 and is adjusted after each tournament equal to (40 / sqrt(n)) where n is the number of games in a tournament.

Playing in Rated Tournaments

The traditional way of becoming titled in chess is to play in US Chess Federation (USCF) or International Chess Federation (FIDE) rated tournaments. Each helps players gain initial ratings. FIDE assigns titles by the following progression of ratings and norms, based on performance in round robin grandmaster and International master tournaments.

For women, the titles are FIDE Master (FM) at 2100 with no performance rule, Women’s International Master (WIM) at 2200 and 2 norms, Women’s Grandmaster (WGM) at 2300-2400 and 2 norms of which 1 may be a continental title, Grandmaster (GM) at 2500 with 3 norms of which 1 and 2 may be category III, International Master (IM) at 2400 with 3 norms.

Playing Against Higher Rated Players

If you frequently play against players with a higher rating than yourself and regularly draw or win, alterations in initiative as well as tactics and overall quality of play will be noticeable. This sparks the initial steps toward obtaining a higher rating and a more titled position.

Here are some tips on how to improve your chances of winning against higher-rated players:

  1. Build on strengths: Improve on the specific strengths of higher-rated players that have worked against you, and master them to use against your opponent. This way your knowledge of their strenghts will help minimize their impact and you can better utilize your relative advantage.
  2. Be patient: Higher-rated players are less likely to make mistakes which you can capitalize on, and so it is more important to be patient and wait for an opening to exploit.
  3. Understand opponent’s M.O.: Know who your opponent is and which tactics they will use in the game. It is in all aspects of life, as well as chess, useful information for planning to know your opponents.
  4. Control center of the board: Winning control of the center of the board is one of the most fundamental tactics in chess, and it gives a strong advantage to players. They can then use this to develop pieces and create instances which are favorable to them. Higher-rated players use this tactic very well. It is advisable to control the center from the beginning and strengthen one’s game.

When you are attempting to earn an esteemed title in chess, these subtle changes in workout techniques and playing against higher-rated players will make a big difference, which you will notice in your performance on the board.

Winning Against Higher Rated Players

Another path toward a chess title is to consistently play well and win against higher-rated players. The USCF award of the initial expert title is usually to the 10% of Class A players who continue to perform well. For one USCF player, this included winning two entire classes above their nomenclature of “Class, which included 10 wins, 2 draws, and high placements in several subsequent tournaments that included players up to 2300 in elo.

What Are Norms in Chess?

In chess, norms are earned when players score a specified percentage in a tournament of a specific strength or performance. Titled players acquire norms either in the form of Grand Masters (GM), International Masters (IM), or international Arbiters, Trainers, or Organizers. There are three different types of norms, which differ by the type of tournament, how long the norm is valid, and how long it takes to establish a title:

  1. Direct title award norms.
  2. FIDE Presidential Board norms.

  3. FIDE Congress norms.
  4. Direct title award norms.

These norms have the lowest validity of six months and take is defined as a performance of 8 and 7.5 against older grandmasters to gain the grandmaster title and 8-6 and 501 IMs and older international masters, which normally involve 9 and 7 rounds respectively at a performance of over 2600 and 2450 respectively.


Performance is the average rating of the player’s opponents. The exact percentage needed varies based on the strength of one’s opponents (stronger opponents mean a lower percentage is required). One has 20 or fewer games to complete an older GM title norm in one tournament and 22 or fewer for an IM title (a norm is a performance, and until the event is complete, it is unknown how many games will count towards the norm).

FIDE does not require a tournament to be entirely completed to accept a performance. If an odd number of rounds are scheduled, at least 4 more than the norm requirement for that level must be played (played and not necessarily the final total). A player could have gained their final IM norm in a tournament in which after 8 games are still the FIDE Congress threshold (i.e. over 22 total games in the event), as those ratings are based on a top 40 average opponent rating at the start of the tournament.


For FIDE President Board norms, a player must enter a tour within 10 points of their required performance (10 to 20 points for lower levels and 5 to 10 for GM). Pre-established alternative conditions are not available for this tournament type, which consists of a single round robin or team bout (women’s titles can only be derived from women’s tournaments). Extra games are still played in this format, but the minimum a player can score requires a single game beyond the expected total.

FIDE Congress norms are exceptions to the more exacting thresholds and are meant to subserve the overall integrity of the norm system. If one of the players in the tournament causes an irregularity which would normally mean a disqualification, the FIDE congress can remove that term from the record without fully invalidating the records of all the other participants who had earned norms. It is worth noting that the vast majority of congress based norms are related to titling older grandmasters who held the title (or a super GM title) prior to the implementation of more rigorous record keeping practices in the 1970s and now wish to have the recently compiled data reflect their status.

FIDE Norms

International titles are awarded by the International Chess Federation (FIDE), the governing body for the sport of chess.

Three norms is a term referring to the international standards for awarding a title. According to FIDE, a norm is a predefined performance that must be achieved in a predefined number of games. It is a minimum level of performance that must be maintained during a specific number of authorized events to be awarded a qualifying norm. Three norms must be secured to merge into the Candidate Master title. Titles one rank higher, however, require more norms. Specifically, three norms are required for each of the following titles:

  1. Candidate Master
  2. Women’s Candidate Master
  3. FIDE Master
  4. Women’s FIDE Master
  5. International Master
  6. Women’s International Master

Five norms are required for the highest of the lower rank titles of National Master, three for Women’s National Master, and four for the Grandmaster title. Three years or when more than half the norm’s event’s FIDE rating data from one norm correlates, whichever is the lower time period, must elapse between the earning of the first and third norm. Each title has its specific performance rating standard and can have differing norm requirements according to the chess federation of the country where it is recognized. A significant proportion of the garnering of these norms must come from tournaments in different countries, usually at least 30%.

National Norms

The direct way for chess players to acquire a National Title is to accumulate National Norms of performance. A Norm in chess is a point level which participants in a Tournament are required to achieve to demonstrate their abilities.

However, the specific ways Norms are calculated varies by country. In the USA, the USCF often uses a player’s performance in the US Championship to determine if a Norm has been reached. The US also allows for Norms to be collected in Invitational Events and throughout the regular tournament season.

In France, a Norm can generally be fulfilled by meeting a level of play in a National Championship or in certain championship-related tournaments. In India, players must achieve Norms in updated tournaments the All India Chess Federation deems eligible.

How Do You Achieve Norms in Chess?

You achieve norms in chess by playing against titled and untitled players in tournaments around the world. In a norm tournament, you are competing for a performance of playing strength that exceeds the average field of players in the event. Over ordinary players, norms are used by the FIDE to differentiate who qualifies for official titles. To be counted as a player who is eligible for GM, WGM, IM, WIM, FM, WFM, CM, and Women’s CM titles respectively, the FIDE the International Chess Federation has established minimum performance levels against which players game results are compared. Norms of different kinds can be achieved including:

  1. Grandmaster (GM) norm: General Elite Player
  2. International Master (IM) norm: Available to most adult club players showing dedication to improvement
  3. FIDE Master (FM) norm: Typically these are achieved by junior or senior players showing talent
  4. Candidate Master (CM) norm: Available to most adult club level players showing dedication to improvement

Competition for chess norms unlike traditional chess competition often includes a large number of titled players. The role of these elite titled players in the competition for norms cannot be overstated. It is they who provide these opportunities for advancement for non-titled participants. To remain competitive, norms are generally region-based owing to differing levels of chess development and intensity among countries. While nearly all norms are established on a global performance level, precise requirements vary by country and region.

Playing in Tournaments with Norm Opportunities

To become titled in chess, a player must participate in official tournament games. This means there are a few requirements for becoming titled. They include the USCF (USA), the FIDE (international), and -4C (international) rating systems. The type of tournaments at which one can become titled in chess are FIDE rated tournaments.

FIDE maintains databases of the highest rated players around the globe. FIDE rated tournaments are carefully regulated and the games are recorded to ensure fair play. These tournaments join the best players on the continent and cover all ages, levels of experience, and stake levels. Chess players can also improve their international rating by playing in The Four Nations Chess League (4NCL) in Europe.

Winning Against Strong Opponents

A player can receive a title when winning against strong opponents. The point at which a player is considered to have defeated strong opponents is when they have accumulated 6 grandmasters’ worth of performances, as per FIDE’s rules. After a player has an established performance record, they can qualify for the title of international master or grandmaster. The following are examples of the level of performers a player might need to defeat to earn their title (Courtesy of and When wunderfizz from Scotland won the 77th Bullet Open with a 12-0 score against titled players, this was enough to earn them the CM title from FIDE. When Gilberto Milos was awarded the GM because he defeated reigning world champion Vladimir Kramnik for the first time in 2001. According to ratings in countries, there are minimum thresholds for players in an individual country (or region such as EU), which are described under individual section events of FIDE rules.

Consistent Performance in Tournaments

Similar to diplomas and degrees, the title International Grandmaster (GM) along with all other international titles including International Women`s Grandmaster (WGM) and International Master (IM) are academic titles. They are academically bestowed for performance in Academic Competitions (Tournaments). As such the foundation for titled awards is consistent performance in Academic Competitions (Tournaments).

What Are the Benefits of Becoming Titled in Chess?

The benefits of becoming titled in chess include greater respect and recognition among the global chess community, the ability to compete for prize money in professional tournaments, increased educational and work opportunities, and, for those who make it to the top, high compensation and sponsorship opportunities.

You expand the benefits of becoming titled in chess as illustrated by this example. It took Chess International Master Mio Ristic approximately three years to get the following requirements and costs in becoming a Grandmaster based on global averages.

  1. Travel: $29,000 to obtain three GM norms by playing in at least three GM tournaments abroad
  2. Education: 5,620 hours (c. 15 3-hour sessions per week for 2 years)
  3. Time Practice: 6,000-9,000 hours total (10 30 minute rapid games per week for 3 years)
  4. Cost: $270,000-405,000 total (depending whether Ristic’s salary expectation of whom he trains and the costs of the other items)

Recognition and Prestige

Becoming titled in chess provides players with attention, respect, prestige, visibility, and recognition. All the tension and effort required to be perfectly consistent and strong during games will be worth it. Below are some of the benefits for players who desire to be awarded chess titles because of recognition and prestige.

In his article titled ChessBrahism is Changing Professional Chess, author IM Andrei Botez points out that not all titled players earn sponsors. FM’s and WFM’s, being middle-tier players along with WIM’s, generally get the most benefit. They are close to GM status but are easier to contact and are usually livelier on camera which is good for their public image and the image of their sponsor company. The presenter is the “stunning Maria Emelianova” who is known for her chess commentary, the titles she has won, and her fashion and career choices. The additional funds allow her to travel to more tournaments to grind for the higher titles. Oisi Sazon was helpful in getting more knowledge about NM Orbe’s game with Dubus. Other players are specialists or coaches off the board by providing help with openings, offering chess lessons, or volunteering as chess arbiters.

Opportunities for Sponsorship and Travel

One way to become titled in chess is to use the sponsorship of a company or government to defray the cost of playing at the international level. Titles provide a better chance to get sponsors ready to support player participation. Based on the needs of the player and sponsor, each International Chess Federation (FIDE) title is set at a unique level. Monetary rewards and sponsorships of liqors and electronic devices provide many players early means for managing training, travel, and competition expenses.

Additionally, titling often allows players (kids in particular) to have access to selected local and international academies where they can receive close personal training from experienced administrators and trainers.

Invitation to High-Level Tournaments

High-level international, national, or regional chess tournaments are invitation-only and easily become titled tournaments. The world to become titled in chess drastically increases the complexity of winrate in such a small number of games. It is not uncommon to hear of new Grandmasters from Africa who win three of five games in their national championships and then are invited to the African Individual Chess Championships, where they fulfill their title requirements.

Regional championships can be restricted to neighboring counties, neighboring cities, or a particular age group, such as the Uzbekistan Women’s Championship or the Isle of Man Open, which may prefer international players as it has become the title classics. There are no requirements a tournament must meet to become titled IT and does not require approval from the World Chess Federation beyond the organizers committing a satisfactory number of titled players to the event.

Potential for Coaching and Teaching Opportunities

Another reason to become titled in chess is the possibility of new coaching and teaching opportunities that still exist for titled chess players. 2,800 plus chess coaches provide 9 million hours of chess/year. Title-holders who start their coaching businesses at a younger age can build long-term relationships with students and earn a stable living. With the advent of online teaching platforms and remote coaching apps, it is no longer necessary to be based in highly populated areas to be a successful coach/trainer.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to Become Titled in Chess?

To become titled in chess, one must achieve certain performance levels in chess tournaments recognized by a national or international chess federation.

How do I earn a title in chess?

A player must achieve a set number of norms, or performances, in tournaments, and also achieve a minimum rating, to earn a title in chess.

What are the different titles in chess?

The most common titles in chess are Grandmaster (GM), International Master (IM), FIDE Master (FM), Candidate Master (CM), and Woman Grandmaster (WGM). There are also titles specific to age categories, such as International Master for Juniors (IMJ) and Woman International Master for Juniors (WIMJ).

How many norms do I need to become a Grandmaster?

To become a Grandmaster, a player must achieve three Grandmaster norms in international tournaments, and have a minimum rating of 2500.

Can I become titled in chess without playing in international tournaments?

No, to become titled in chess, a player must participate in international tournaments recognized by a national or international chess federation.

Is there an age limit to become titled in chess?

No, there is no age limit to become titled in chess. However, some titles have age requirements, such as International Master for Juniors (IMJ) and Woman International Master for Juniors (WIMJ).

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *