Throughout chess’ history, there was no shortage of books and online guides for aspirants. The world’s best players, dubbed as ‘grandmasters,’ had their game states recorded and explained through countless board illustrations for people to learn from.
It’s easy to say that these brainiacs earned their limelight by performing phenomenally within the officiated competitive stages. However, who are they, how did they qualify, and how many chess grandmasters are there now?
How Can a Chess Player Become a Grandmaster?
The International Chess Federation, abbreviated as FIDE (Federation Internationale Des Echecs), awards this title globally to the highest-rated players, and it can be retained for a lifetime—second only to the World Champion title.
As with any sport, the road to greatness is steep and daunting. To be at the grandmaster level, one must have the following criteria met under FIDE’s 2022 rating regulations:
- Reach a minimum rating of 2600 based on Elo’s matchmaking system (elo rating) at any period in a player’s professional run. The players get to keep the title even if they drop into a lower elo bracket.
- Achieve high-standard game results (norms) for a minimum of 27 matches in tournaments against at least 33% of players with the grandmaster title and average rating of 2380. Opposing players should also be from 3 or more chess federations.
- Secure a minimum of one norm in a Swiss-system tournament having 40+ players rated above the 2000 elo bracket.
For anyone interested in the latest regulations, you can check the 2022-updated FIDE handbook.
What Is This ‘Elo Rating’?
Arpad Elo, a Hungarian-American physics professor, worked with his colleague and fellow master Kenneth Harkness in the US Chess Federation (USCF). Together, they improved the fair but inaccurate Harkness System into the Elo Rating System—both systems having the goal of tracking player progress using a numeric algorithm.
Players within a specific rating bracket are matched with others of similar skill levels, resulting in higher-quality games. You climb higher in tiers the more you win matches, while you drop lower or break even the more you lose.
Eventually, FIDE recognized the system and adopted it in the 1970 Regulations, becoming a staple basis for the years after. As of the most recent amendments of 2022, FIDE has the following elo rating brackets to correspond with a chess player’s skill level:
|100 to 200||Class J|
|201 to 400||Class I|
|401 to 600||Class H|
|601 to 800||Class G|
|801 to 1000||Class F|
|1001 to 1200||Class E|
|1201 to 1400||Class D|
|1401 to 1600||Class C|
|1601 to 1800||Class B|
|1801 to 2000||Class A|
|2001 to 2200||Expert|
|2201 to 2300||National Masters, FIDE Candidate Masters|
|2301 to 2400||FIDE Masters|
|2401 to 2600||Grandmasters, Senior Masters, and International Grandmasters/Masters|
|2600+||World Championship Candidates and Super Grandmasters|
So How Many Chess Grandmasters Are There Now?
From FIDE’s 1970 Regulations until their December 2022 database, the list of recorded grandmasters (including honorary) was at 1779 and is still growing.
The exclusive club of chess grandmasters remains a small fraction, but even FIDE realizes how the rise in qualified members nudged the grandeur of the title downward.
Bartłomiej Macieja, a Polish grandmaster, presented a report discussed within the FIDE 2008 Congress that the number of title-holders had significantly increased from 1972 to 2008—eclipsed by the number of registered competitors with elo ratings of 2200 and above (with 40 recorded players able to earn it before 18 years of age)—hinting that the title may be losing some of its perceived value in exchange for a secure future of the sport.
As for the number of active grandmasters, their headcount was 1315 in November 2021. It might have been just a couple more if they didn’t get caught committing illegal activities during an official tournament.
Whoa, You Mean Some Chess Grandmasters Have Been Caught Cheating?
Yes, like in any competitive field, cheating is a taboo that’s easier to commit than ever with all our technological advancements, and FIDE made sure to disallow anyone of said action from carrying the title once proven guilty.
Here are the two players stripped of the title due to said unsportsmanlike conduct in their respective competitions:
- Gaioz Nigalidze (Georgia) 2015 Dubai Open
- Igors Rausis (Czech Republic) 2019 Strasbourg Open
Both players had the same modus operandi: requesting a toilet break during crucial board positions, then returning minutes after with a swift counter.
Upon inspection, the officials found the cubicles they repeatedly used—where they stored their headsets and mobile phones containing the same board state they got stuck with. Since then, FIDE has banned both from official tournaments.
What Is A Super Grandmaster?’
A super grandmaster, not to be confused with either the commonly-obtained international grandmaster or the rarer honorary grandmaster, is not an official FIDE title. However, people crowned such by the community were the cream of the chess crop— boasting elo ratings of 2700 and above.
Most of them competed in world championship tournaments and other prestigious exhibitions. As of March 2023, the current top 16 players that met this standard, along with their respective federations and elo ratings, are as follows:
|14||Leinier Dominguez Perez||USA)||2743|
Wrapping Things Up
Like any chess match, all things come to a close. Here’s a quick rundown of the key points we discussed:
- FIDE recognizes all registered players and grants appropriate titles following the Elo Rating System.
- A chess grandmaster is a player with a 2600+ matchmaking rating. They must keep participating in tournaments with the same bracket or higher.
- There have been 1779 total grandmasters, with 1315 as active competitors.
I hope this article provided the necessary pieces about the prestigious chess grandmaster title!