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Kasparov Becomes GM

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acirce points out that Kasparov has received his Grandmaster title. Not only that, but Karpov is finally an IM. Here's the full list of new FIDE title holders. Still waiting for them to take the next step and give GM titles out in cereal boxes. Yes, yes, I know it's not easy the way watching TV is easy or the way Paris Hilton is easy, but it's a lot easier than it used to be. But as long as everyone benefits -- except the GMs themselves in the very long run as the title become increasingly meaningless -- it will only get easier. I'm not sure it really matters, honestly, but it greatly increases our dependence on the rating list and is just a general kick in the teeth to traditionalists of any stripe.

The term "Grandmaster" as one or two words has been around a long time in many languages. Asian healing arts and martial arts have used it, as have European orders such as the Maltese. Tsar Nicholas II was a latecomer. Some folks have made some handy Wikipedia pages on the title and lists of GMs. Beware that it apparently includes honorary GMs.


it's only a matter of time until someone starts using an inofficial system how to differentiate between the top layers of chess players. if sufficiently rational and consistent, such a system might just catch on. chess writers, promoters, tournament directors, fans, all could find it useful.
call everyone who ever reached top 5 a "world-class player", everyone who ever reached top 20 an "international class player", and eyeryone who ever reached top 100, a "master-class player". Or call it "1st level", "2nd level", "3rd level". maybe you could even get away with just calling them "grand master", "international master" and "master". fide won't sue for copyright infringement, would they?
and we all could stop using the titles fide gives away to merely strong players.

Why denigrate what is still an extraordinarily difficult title to obtain?

They are many who know a lot about chess and can't quite make it to GM. People like Ben Finegold and Andrew Martin. We admire their high level of chess knowledge and skill - but still they are IMs.

It doesn't denigrate a title to point out that standards have slipped. If today's PhD is only equivalent to yesterday's Masters degree, what's the problem with pointing that out--or bemoaning the fact that standards have slipped? No one is suggesting it's not a real achievement. It just isn't nearly as much of a differentiator anymore.

I think they should give me the GM title and then tighten things up severely

The ELO speaks for what chess players can do, why does there need to be *another* complicated system of rankings for these people?

I'm just saying it could be a lot easier by just looking at the ELO. I do and could really care less what "title" they have.

I do not believe that standards have slipped. A lower-end GM today is as least as good at chess as a lower-end GM of 20 years ago.

This is like the fantasy that 19th century high schools were producing vast numbers of highly educated and literary students, and that now everything is dumbed down.

Things just aren't what they used to be..

Dustin Allen is mistaken; the point of these titles is that they are for life, and in the case of older players they tell you what they achieved in the past. Say, Jacob Murey's, ELO hardly tells you the story.

There has always been a gap between top grandmasters and the run-of-the mill grandmasters. It's just that there are a lot more today.
Solits, in one of his books, tells the story about the newly minted GM Eduard Gufeld. Gufeld walks up to Viktor Korchnoi and announces, "Now I am your colleague."
Korchnoi looks around the room, and points to Mata Damjanovic, a much-lesser version of GM. "No, now you are HIS colleague," Korchnoi tells Gufeld.

Great story, tomz! Of course, Soltis himself is a GM, and though he's not exactly a Korchnoi-variety GM, still I respect his title.

I remember being near the registration table at a World Open about 20 years ago, and a player walked in and identified himself to the tournament director as Grandmaster Yudashin. Yudashin was a strong player then, and you could tell by the way he uttered the word "Grandmaster" that it really meant something.

Many of us don't feel that the GM title has diminished, and I've never seen anyone present any evidence that obtaining it is "a lot easier than it used to be" (quoting Mig's initial post).

Sure, the number of GMs in the world is at least an order of magnitude higher than 30 years ago. But the increase in the number of FIDE-rated chess players over the same period is even greater than that. So by the conventional definition of a performance elite as representing the top X % of a given activity, those of us who see no lowering of standards in the GM title are on firm ground.

It's also pretty well accepted that the level of play required of GMs is higher now than in the past. So in the sense of playing strength, too, getting the title is no easier than it was; indeed it's probably harder.

Mig and the others who see the GM title as degraded do have a point, though. Your problem is that you are just imprecise about how you state it. The top 10 individuals in the world today means something quite different from the top 0.1% (which is what the top 10 was when there were only 1000 FIDE-rated players.)

It's clear from the above posts that the "GM is meaningless" crowd feels that "GM" should properly mean something akin to, "plausible contender for the world championship." While there is nothing inherently illogical in that, you should accept the fact that many -- indeed, most of us -- will favor a different definition.

According to the links given in Mig's initial post, the term, "Grandmaster" when awarded first by Nicholas II (to 5 players early in the 20th century) and next by FIDE (to an initial group of 27 top players, in 1950) originally did equate pretty closely with a super-elite of world championship contenders.

Yet by the time I discovered chess, circa late 1960s, that was clearly not the case. GM then meant pretty much what it means now -- an upper stratum of players who have attained very high-level mastery and understanding and are elite in a statistical sense; but most of whose members will never be world championship contenders.

This could be a matter of the difference in perspectives between fan and a participant. This blog is read and operated from the "fan" angle; and fans of course prefer mainly to follow the doings of the top 10, or top 20, or at most the top 50 players in the world. Participants on the other hand are primarily interested in the activity itself, improving their mastery of it, and moving up the ladder.

So I would say that from a participant's perspective, the GM title is as meaningful as ever. Of course I can't say this with much authority, since I myself am a "participant" only in the sub-titled (amateur) sense. But my feeling is that a majority of titled players would agree; it would be interesting to see comments from them.

(A caveat to my main point: I am aware that some titles are rumored to be obtained through cheating -- "buying" games from opponents in norm events. I'm also aware that some titles, IM if not GM, are automatically awarded to winners of FIDE-sponsored youth and certain other events, which occasionally leads to undeserved title awards. These two phenomena may indeed degrade the FIDE titles; but I consider their occurrence too rare to drag down the title's worth overall.)

By the way on the national level, a somewhat analogous topic (the meaning of the "NM" and "LM" titles awarded by USCF) was debated at length recently on a USCF Forums thread. If you're a USCF member, you can access it (you'll need to register and get a special USCF password) at: http://www.uschess.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=1923.

No, the gap hasn't always been there.
In the beginning, there were 5 who were undisputedly worthy of being called great masters. According to the original standard, Korchnoi would be Grand Master, but Gufeld and Damjanovic not.

"This is like the fantasy that 19th century high schools were producing vast numbers of highly educated and literary students, and that now everything is dumbed down."

Unfortunately, reading literature from that period gives one that idea. I read an autobiography in which students played the game at a reunion where one would state a year and the others would have to state all the European rulers for the given year. This was apparently a common task for them in their high school days. Can you imagine something like that today?

Even talking to my parents, I am amazed as to how much more they were forced to memorize in schools and still remember. I am not saying that that makes them smarter or that we should remember the periodic table by heart.

But with memorization and tougher demands of students they were able to get them to acquire a lot more general knowledge.

Returning to the subject of chess, it's somewhat easier to settle. Once only the elite players, potential world title contenders were GMs. The list Mig links us to is a bunch of players nobody has even heard of.

Yuriy, please take a moment to read my above lengthy comment. It explains why -- although your point is not completely off-the-wall ("Once only the elite players, potential world title contenders were GMs. The list Mig links us to is a bunch of players nobody has even heard of.") -- it is nonetheless an unconventional and, to my mind and probably most people's, not terribly useful way of looking at how an elite should be defined.

Just instituionalize the now unofficial, but more and more used "Super GM" moniker as a title. If ratings are inflating, so should the titles as well.
Add another tier at let's say 2700.

Yes, but if Svidler and Morozevich are Super GMs, then Kramnik and Topalov would be Super Duper GMs. :)

"In the beginning, there were 5 who were undisputedly worthy of being called great masters. According to the original standard, Korchnoi would be Grand Master, but Gufeld and Damjanovic not."

Well, if in Gufeld's time there were only as few chess players as there were in the time of 5 original grandmasters, perhaps his title would not appear to be less than that of the original GMs.

If there are 100 000 chess players and there are 5 GMs, then it makes sense to have 500 GMs if there are 10 000 000 chess players. Whether there are more GMs than there should be - it is debatable .

If there are 100,000 chessplayers and one World Champion how many world Champions should we have for 10m players. Suddenly it's all making sense

This gets back to what the title should mean. Is it merely an indicator of achievement to a certain percentile of tournament/rated players or does it have significance beyond that? Or should it, since it clearly doesn't anymore. For example, players who aren't rated three hundred points below the world #1. The percentile argument doesn't take inflation into account and that the title is still based on rating performance. A mere 10 years ago 2700 was a gold standard, although it was already strange that an entire group of players were rated 200 points higher than the average GM. Now there are at least two classes represented within the GMs. Raising the minimum rating to 2600 as "adjusted for inflation" would make a lot of sense. So would raising it to 2650, or simply "must spend a year in the top 100."


First of all, I disagree with your conventional definition of the elite. Let's look for example at wealth. In some countries there may only be a handful of people who have managed to amass a rich estate. After that there is a huge gap to the thin middle class. In others, a lot more are at that point and not much separates them from the next group. If you define elite as X percentage you are going to end up with a ridiculous percentage of poor and middle class people in the first country's elite, or if you take a really low number for X, then in the second country you will leave out a portion of the elite.

I don't know how the numbers and percentages of players and GMs have changed through the years. I was actually expecting them at that Wikipedia link Mig had above--nope :( Perhaps you can provide it?

I am not suggesting that GM should refer to only potential title contenders. I am suggesting that the standard has slipped too low for the title to have the strong meaning it used to have.

It would be interesting to see the names of lowest-ranked GMs from that 60s era and compare them to the name of the lowest-ranked GMs from today.

One solution to the title inflation problem would be to require a "title defense" - i.e a GM norm scored - every 5 years. It may be waived for players age 50 and over.
Raising the rating requirement from 2500 to 2600 seems kind of steep. Then the norms should be raised too, say based on a 2700 performance instead of 2600.


Your first point, using wealth as an analogy, undermines your credibility.

It is so firmly established that both wealth and poverty are only definable relative to one's peer group -- in the case you cited, the nation that a person lives in -- that your conclusion that "you are going to end up with a ridiculous percentage of poor and middle class people in the first country's elite," is completely devoid of meaning. If they are above the wealth line, whatever percentile one puts it at, they are wealthy and will feel and be viewed as wealthy by their peers.

I learned this in Sociology 101 my freshman year of college back in 1972. Although I haven't kept up with social sciences since then, I greatly doubt this proposition has changed.

For instance, the "poverty line" income level in the US, in terms of absolute buying power, probably corresponds with middle-class (or even better) living standards in some other countries. Yet try telling a single mother in Chicago supporting 2 kids on $14,500 a year that she's not really poor because she'd be in the top half of the income ladder in Togo or Bangladesh.

As for the substance of your last comment, see my next: I'm going to make it a separate comment so it will be less likely to be overlooked.

Here's what one GM who earned his title in the "old days" (mid-1970s I think) said recently about this subject:

"Another complaint you hear these days is that there are dozens of obscure GMs making it a 'meaningless' title. It's true that more GM titles are being awarded....(But) the reality is there have been no significant changes in the qualification rules since the late 1970s.

"Believe it or not, the grandmaster club is much more exclusive today."

That writer, GM Andy Soltis, goes on to say that when FIDE first adopted an Elo-based rating system in 1970, the ratio of GMs was roughly one out of 5 regular international competitors (90 GMs at that time, to 500 or so "who competed in international events.") Today the ratio is 1 in 71 -- there are 1,000 GMs and more than 71,000 internationally rated players.

"What's happened," concludes Soltis, "is there's been an explosion in the number of people who play that allegedly doomed vocation called 'professional chess.'"

(Chess Life, November 2006)

You are all overlooking the most important thing: Tate is now an IM!

I think Mig is right that the heart of the matter is what the title is supposed to represent- a relative value(e.g top 0.01% of rated players) or an absolute value(e.g. a player with a level of knowledge/understanding/ability/skill that can, in principle, be measured without comparison with other players).

Titles are closely linked to ratings in this regard, and the question therefore relates to the issue of rating inflation more generally. To obtain the GM title, you need to achieve a certain rating(2500) and play at a certain level(2600) at least three times. Is achieving 2500 now the same as it was 20 years ago? In relative terms, no(there are far more players rated 2500 or above) but in absolute terms it might be(there are more strong players due to easy access to strong events and good information/computers).

I think it is clear that the GM title has been devalued, but any change to the system should be respectful to those who have worked hard to achieve it, should be fair to those who have been pursuing it for years, and should make some sense to the outside world too.

Here's what one GM who earned his title in the "old days" (mid-1970s I think) said recently about this subject:

"Another complaint you hear these days is that there are dozens of obscure GMs making it a 'meaningless' title. It's true that more GM titles are being awarded....(But) the reality is there have been no significant changes in the qualification rules since the late 1970s.

"Believe it or not, the grandmaster club is much more exclusive today."

That writer, GM Andy Soltis, goes on to say that when FIDE first adopted an Elo-based rating system in 1970, the ratio of GMs was roughly one out of 5 regular international competitors (90 GMs at that time, to 500 or so "who competed in international events.") Today the ratio is 1 in 71 -- there are 1,000 GMs and more than 71,000 internationally rated players.

"What's happened," concludes Soltis, "is there's been an explosion in the number of people who play that allegedly doomed vocation called 'professional chess.'"

(Chess Life, November 2006)

Excuse me, I've been having connection problems, my connection keeps going off and on by itself. I certainly did not intend to post the same comment multiple times.

Re the Soltis comment; the rating list now goes down further than it used to. I'm not sure that 71000 rated international players is a useful standard. And most international players below 2500 are not professionals. And one reason that there are so very many more GMs now is that in the 1970s there were so very many players in Russia who had the strength but couldn't get the norms because they couldn't get abroad.

[sighs] Back in the day when FIDE held regular match-based championship qualifiers, one could further distinguish a GM by his accomplishments--played in an Interzonal, WC Candidate, etc.

Now? Maybe it's me, but former FIDE World Champion (via knock-out) isn't even a guarantee of elite strength anymore...


You could argue that wealth is relative. It's a complex issue which not a thousand sociology professors could convince a thousand economists on or vice versa. That's irrelevant.

The point is that even in a situation in which each country's wealth is defined relative to that country's standards, you will not have the same percentage of people as "elite" or "rich" in each country.

To the second point you make, it seems to support the assertion that there are more weak players now--not that it's harder to make GMs. An era in which more people play chess will cause a greater increase in mediocre players than it will in prodigies, speaking percentage-wise of course.

Since someone asked for percentages and numbers, I looked up two ELO lists from 2001 and 2005.
(Older ones are hard to come by. Newer ones have more records than Open Calc allows.)
It may be a fluke but it seems that more and more players at any given level of elo rating become GMs. The over-all ratio of GMs to total rated players has dropped but only because the threshold for getting a FIDE rating has been lowered.
Now if someone who has older elo lists could calculate the numbers for 1975, 1985, 1995?

Jan. 2001
Rating #GMs #total GM/total
2600 or more: 98 98 100.00%
2400 or more: 699 2,159 32.38%
2200 or more: 740 17,999 4.11%
2000 or more: 740 36,978 2.00%
all: 740 36,978 2.00%
lowest-rated GM: 2220 (Lodewijk Prins NED)

Jan. 2005
Rating #GMs #total GM/total
2600 or more: 135 135 100.00%
2400 or more: 889 2,544 34.94%
2200 or more: 938 20,006 4.69%
2000 or more: 938 51,726 1.81%
all: 938 58,649 1.60%
lowest-rated GM: 2218 (Bukhuti Gurgenidze GEO)

It does not appear to me that today's 2500-rated GM is any weaker than the 2500-rated GM twenty or thirty years ago. Granted there are a lot more of them, but if you review their games carefully the knowledge and skill seem comparable. Thus (echoing Rowson's comments) we should be careful not to suggest anything that penalizes a truly noteworthy achievement - getting the GM title. It's terribly difficult even today, as many can testify.
At the same time, we need to do something to acknowledge the fact that there are many more really strong players today. The most constructive suggestion is not to change today's GM title, but rather to award a new title that is much more restrictive. The "Super GM" title, as others have noted, has become common when referring to the elite. That could be formalized at some level and actually become a new title.


There is a massive rating inflation, that makes it much easier to get a 2600+ performance.

Beliavsky (53) is rated 2639 nowadays, which is similar to the ratings he had when he was a regular at Linares, more than 10 years ago. I can't imagine he plays as strong as he did then. There are more examples like him.

Some of the causes of this inflation:

- FIDE giving all women (except for the Polgar family) 100 free elo points. These were divided quickly among the rest of the chess world.
- The (now abolished) rule that a tournament winner can't lose elo points. Which made life easy for Karpov and Kasparov, who could win a tournament even when they played below expectation. Their elos were inflated, which made it easier for people who played them to overperform.
- The (now abolished) rule about getting an elo by a good result at the Olympiad. I think 50% would give you 2205 in those days. If you are from a non-chess country, and play at the cellar, your adversaries are not even close to 2205. But making 50% did give you that elo, and of course you would lose those points later on when playing people who got their rating in a more "normal" way.
- The 2200 limit (or any other limit) for appearing on the elo-list. If you have 2100, and play 2100, you would not get a FIDE rating. But if you would overperform, say at 2250, you got one of 2250. And those points would be lost again later.

And, although Soltis claims the opposite, it has become far easier to make norms or get the title:

- There are more tournaments.
- You can make a norm in a national championship, or a team competition, even if you only play fellow country men. In the past those did not count.
- Sometimes the performance (e.g. 2601 or higher for a GM-norm) is high enough under the new rules, but under the old rules it would be no norm.
- You can make a norm playing in open tournaments only, whereas in the (far) past at least one norm should be at a round robin tournament.
- A performance in continental championships of 2601 or more (for GM) is enough for the title, if enough rounds are played. It does not matter if you played GM's or not, only the performance counts. So a kid winning the U12 somewhere with a massive score might claim the title. Or Mrs. Kosteniuk and Mrs. Peng (They got their GM-titles thanks to a misinterpretation of the rules, in my opinion, but still).
- If you did not play enough foreigners in a tournament, it is ok if at least enough of them played in the tournament (and a lot of them should have a title). An American who plays in a big open can play 9 players from the USA, and can still make the norm. It is also possible to write that enough of them played, even if this is not the case. One of the new grandmasters got his title that way.
- (I am not sure about this one) Around 1970 you would have to "reconfirm" your title by making at least 1 norm within ... years after being awarded the title. This rule does not exist anymore.
- The rating necessary for the title (e.g. 2500 for GM) can be a "virtual" one, in the middle of a tournament. It is not necessary that you are 2500+ on one of the quarterly lists. There are several titleholders that never had a published rating that was high enough.

My solution would be to raise everything with 100 points. A norm at 2701 or more, a published rating of at least 2600.

The best solution would be to adjust the ratings for inflation, so that one can compare a rating of today with one of 20 years ago. But that is very hard, technically, if not impossible.

Ah, a change that was very nice for the nervous ones among us: nowadays, if after a certain number of rounds you have a norm, you can discard the rest of the tournament. This was different in the past.

A norm after 9 rounds? You can go party. Even if you lose all other games (assuming there are more rounds), your norm is safe. Previously you still had to play well in the rest of the tournament.

While some of Oscar's comparisons are accurate, the first one, which is the most important, is not correct:
"- You can make a norm in a national championship, or a team competition, even if you only play fellow country men. In the past those did not count."

Not true. I read the FIDE norm rules in detail on the FIDE site just weeks ago, and there is still a national 'distribution requirement' for norms.

Not only must any norm-eligible tournament have a specified portion of players from federations other than the applicant's own national federation; but the players' opponents likewise must represent a broad group of federations (I believe the minimum is 3 federations other than his own).

What's more, these national distribution requirements apply not just to the GM norm, but to the IM norm as well.

Also, while there are more-lenient rules for a small number of designated geographic events (Kirsan's form of affirmative action for "chess-developing countries"), the number of people attaining titles from such events must be minuscule in relation to the total number of titles awarded each year. Moreover, I think just about all those "affirmative action" titles are IM, not GM; there can't be more than 2 or 3 events each year, if even that many, where a person can win an automatic GM title from one event alone (i.e. Men's World Junior Championship).

It is true that in the old days not every World Junior Champion was GM strength -- off the top of my head I can cite Julio Kaplan, and Mark Diesen, who never became GMs. But, again, statistically speaking, this particular loophole is too rare to make a meaningful contribution to the title-inflation Oscar speaks of.

Oscar's final point does bring up a way in which title rules definitely were relaxed. In fact they were relaxed even more than Oscar states. Not only did GMs (and IMs too, I think), have to "renew" their title by making a fresh norm every few years; norms already in the "bank" could expire. (i.e. At that time one need only make 2 norms, not 3, to qualify for a title; but those 2 norms had to be achieved within a 3-year period -- much tougher than having an unlimited time to make 3 norms.)

It's said this was one reason Emory Tate failed to qualify as an IM for so long, despite proving again and again that he was stronger than most IMs, indeed stronger than a good many GMs.

I assume that the elimination of those two restrictions, during the 1970s, was among the changes Soltis cited as the last time that rules were relaxed.

Jon, the expiry of norms was still going into the mid-80's.

the reason that there are more GM's today than there used to be is simple - there are more strong players. times have changed. mig, if getting an international title is easy, then you should try to get yourself one. rating inflation is minimal. the reason there are 20+ 2700 players now is that they are strong. the game has changed. put Leko or Anand in a time machine and they would crush Alehkine. blasphemy, I know, whatever...

I agree with Fluffy's comment, but it's important to avoid the false assumption that rating can ever be an absolute measure of strength, as opposed to a relative measure.

Jeff Sonas has made the point any rating by definition measures performance solely against one's peers during one's own time. Rating comparisons can be made across time, but they can only be interpreted as reflecting degrees of dominance over each player's respective time-peers -- never as containing any information that player A in decade A played or understood chess better on some absolute level, than player B in decade B.

That is why Sonas is always careful to phrase his judgements among World Champions of different eras, such as Fischer vs Kasparov, in terms of who showed the greatest dominance over their respective peers -- never making any claims as to who played better chess.

I explicitly said it wasn't easy to avoid such facile distractions. I said it was easier now than before and that this is making the titles worth less and less as they proliferate. Of course there is no absolute measure of such worth, but when you have several classes of GMs the point is being lost. As others have pointed out, it's also a matter of opportunity. The rules now are well known and many events are designed with them in mind to facilitate the acquisition of norms.

That today's top five would or would not beat the top five of 1955 or 1925 is not the issue at hand. The point is that the #2000 of today would destroy the #200 of yesteryear. That we are even aware of the #2000 statistically is even closer to the point, in fact. The body of serious players has become much, much larger. I'm just not sure it's good to have the number of GMs grow correspondingly. So even if you think Stuart Conquest, say, would crush Boleslavsky in a match that's not what I'm arguing about.

If GM is to mean nothing more than a degree of aptitude the way black belt is in karate, there's no argument other than inflation. If it's to mean more than that, changes should be made. As for inflation, taking modern players with long careers is easier than exhuming poor Alekhine. 20 years is more than enough. I think we'd have a hard time making the case that Sasikiran today plays better chess than Karpov did in 1987. Or that Nigel Short reached the peak of his strength in 2004. Again the difference is increasing depth. Evgeny Bareev, BAREEV for Christ's sake, is 66th on the current list! This is a guy who could beat anyone in the world in a match with a tailwind.

Another culprit, if there is one at all, was the disappearance of the candidates cycle. Saying someone had been a candidate always meant something special. How else would we remember van der Sterren? Participants in San Luis and Mexico City will have something of that aura.

The fundametal question is whether the term Grandmaster is absolute or relative.

Well, at least the USA can't be blamed for contributing to the glut of GM titleholders. ;-)

--Just 3 US players earned high Titles, and they merely became IMs

"USA Bercys, Salvijus
USA Smith, Bryan G.
USA Tate, Emory"

It is great to see Emory Tate finally be awarded the IM Title, after all of the brilliancies that he's played over the years.

In the past one needed a certain number of foreign opponents for a valid norm. John Jacobs (19:29) seems to think this holds also for national team competitions. Well, there are some exceptions to the rule above, and this is one of them. If a German plays 15 Germans in the Bundesliga, he can still make a norm.


1.43 Federations of opponents.
At least two federations other than that of the title applicant must be included, except for 1.43a-1.43e.

1.43b National team championships. (GA `04)

Changing this rule had probably not a very large effect on the number of titleholders. Neither did most of the other changes. But all of those many little changes together did, thus making it far easier to get a title.

My apologies for misspelling (hmm... should that be with 2 or 3 s-es?) your name, Jon. It was not intentional.

Originally, there were just five Grandmasters - the finalists of the great tournament in Russia in 1914.

I would say that it was considerably harder to be amogst those 5 people in 1914 than to get an ordinary GM title today, so YES, obtaining GM title was much harder in the past, and yes, it doesn't have the same importance today.

Of course there were always two classes of grandmasters. Marshall was not in the same class as Lasker or Capablanca.

I too was pretty sure you didn't need to play any foreigners in a national league to make a norm, since I didn't and FIDE somehow accepted my claim.

The GM title now represents something which only a few amateurs can aspire to. Since these titles really mean more to amateurs than professionals anyway, perhaps that's a nice mark to shoot for. Of course it doesn't mean what it did in 1950, but I'm not convinced that matters much.

The real problem, as Mig pointed out, is the absence of a candidates cycle or some elite event that allows us to recognize the better players. The GM title is valuable to the amateur player as a mark to shoot for, but I can't imagine why SuperGMs would really care about it--they want to win championships. WC and WC contenders are the titles elite players care about, not SuperGM. Top players know who the better players are, and the way to recognize better players is to give them a venue to play--for the title!

In short, bring back match play and candidate matches. Please!

Maybe there are some good points to having so many GM's. After all a GM title will get you free entry into most tournaments and then you can win prize money for no entry fee.

I think it just shows that chess has become more popular. I am happy to leave things just as they are for now. At least today the computer has given everyone knowledge of the chess and the best moves. In the old days, it was private information. That the information was secret kept many players away. Now that the information is easily obtained many people acquire the knowledge.

If the title is earned fair and square then well and good. If someone is buying the title cheap then that should be stopped.

I think those with a GM title are very good chess players. I do not think the title should mean exclusiveness. Most people know who are the very top players.

this whole thing reminds me of a whiny letter to an advice columnist that I read years ago. The author had earned a Phi Beta Kappa key and had worn it proudly around her neck for years. (For those of you who don't know, this signifies strong academic achievement at the University level.) The woman's sister's boyfriend "borrowed" the key one afternoon to make a copy for himself.

Well, the woman was obviously troubled enough to write a letter to this columnist, who unfortunately did nothing to puncture her vanity-- railing instead about the fraud done, the diminution of the value of the key by the making of fake copies, and potential legal recourse both for the theft of the key and the potentially illegal copying done by the keymaker. Full commiseration by the advice columnist.

And the whole time I was thinking, lady, GET OVER YOURSELF. It's the achievement that counts-- YOUR achievement. If you think that can be taken away from you, you're confusing the symbol with the real.

Being a very good chessplayer should be its own reward.

Great thread. From what has been written it seems that much of the focus has been on the title of "GM" as a mark of practical playing strength. Many factors have been discussed: number of former socialist bloc players who now can play abroad, the increase in the sheer numbers of players, computer database training and preparation, etc. etc. Strangely not much has been written about the number of opportunities to gain norms which ultimately lead to titles. Some have written about how difficult it is for players in North America to gain titles in the past because of the requirement of having players from different countries.

Are the number of opportunities to gain norms greater today than in 1980 or 1990?

Actually, the erosion of the GM title is fully in the spirit of our egalitarian, everyone-goes-to-college times. We are all grandmasters, each in our own special way.

Tate for GM!

The whole issue of title cheapening could be cleared up completely, if only the PCA would grow some balls(standards) and award the title of "professional" by regulating the number of titled players that can be called a playing professional. The Japanese Game of Go does this by holding a huge tournament and the top three scorers per year become pros. The PCA is in a unique position to carve out a niche, but they would rather concern thenmselves with hotels.

Interesting discussion. I find the comments by Jacobs, Soltis, Rowson and rdh valid (even when to some extent mutually contradictive). I don't regard the fairly large number of "unknown" GMs as a great problem. We all know that even these guys (and women) are fantastic chessplayers.
But OK -- if in some years there are dozens or hundreds of computer-trained 12-year-olds getting the title, then some revision would be needed. The risk of that happening I believe is small, however.
One way of tightening the system somewhat, without changing it substantially, would be to require one or two more norms for a title. That would adjust for the increased number of events, without being overly unfair to either older or newer players.

I have a friend who is personal friends with a quite famous IM. This IM claims that although the past greats such as Capablanca were revolutionary and far better than their peers, that they are decidedly weaker than today's players because of our historical experience. He went on to say that he was confident that he could beat WC Capablanca if he could time travel back. It sounds a bit too egotistical to me, but who knows if it's true...

Yes, the number of Title norm opportunities is much greater now than in in 1980 or 1990. Even in North America, "futurity" tournaments (aka "Norm mills") are regularly held in places like San Francisco, New York, Dallas, Montreal, etc. Plus, prodigies from well off families can go to to Bermuda or Budapest.There are more Norm opportunities, and each tournament provides relatively favorable conditions for generating Norms, as compared to before.

Yes, the number of Title norm opportunities is much greater now than in in 1980 or 1990. Even in North America, "futurity" tournaments (aka "Norm mills") are regularly held in places like San Francisco, New York, Dallas, Montreal, etc. Plus, prodigies from well off families can go to to Bermuda or Budapest.There are more Norm opportunities, and each tournament provides relatively favorable conditions for generating Norms, as compared to before.

I am not convinced that there has actually been an inflation in the rating, but simply that there are many more strong players. I think comparison to measurable sports will show why I think what I think. Take for instance the 100 meter race. The first world record of 10.0 seconds was set in 1960 by Armin Hary. Now if you set the grandmaster title for the 100 meter race at 10.0, in 1960 there would have been exactly 1 grandmaster in the world (since mister Hary was the first) and by the end of the sixties there were roughly 10 men who had run at 10.0. so, by around 1970 there would be 10 grandmasters. Compare this to todays results. In 2006 there was 7 men who ran under, in 2005 there was 8, and in 2004 there was 7. of course some of these were repeats, but all in all, 16 people ran under 10.0 in those 3 years (and that’s not even counting the men who ran 10.00 spot on). If we multiplied that up, so it added up to a decade we should theoretically have 45-50 men running faster than 10.0 in the decade of 2000-2010, ie we would have 50 ‘grandmasters’. Does this mean that the title of 100 meter grandmaster is a lot easier to obtain today than it was in the sixties? I think everybody will agree that the answer to that question would be a crystalclear no. It simply means that there are many more runners today that are capable af meeting the requirements of becoming a grandmaster.
Another example could be the polevault. In the eighties there was exactly 1 member of the ‘6 meter club’ (Sergei Bubka), but since 1995 no less than 11 men have joined that club. Again, does that mean that it is a lot easier clearing 6 meters today, compared to 20 years ago? Same answer as above.
You could take any sport in the world and today there would be many players capable of doing the same thing that only a few were capable of 20-30-40 years ago. I really don’t see why chess should be the exception to that rule. If anything I think it would be even more pronounced in chess with the massive improvement in training possibilities, more tournaments, computers, etc. The only way you could prove that the ‘rating inflation’ is real (so that it would in fact be easier to reach 2500 today than it was, say 30 years ago) would be to take every single player on the earth (and I do mean every single, not just the ones above a certain level) and then see what the average is compared to the same measurements from earlier times. If the average of all the worlds players today was 2000, while in 1970 it was 1950 you could indeed say that today it was easier to reach 2500, but if the average ratings were the same, well, you get the deal.
It is probably an impossible calculation but it would be interesting
To sum up, I don’t think you can deduct from the number of titled players that a title is easier to come by today than earlier, but simply that there are many more strong players.
Now, what you want the title of grandmaster to mean is of course something you can discuss, e.g. whether you want it to mean reaching a certain level, or be the top-100 or top-10, or what ever you think it should mean.

excellent analogies, lakejen. I agree completely - there are simply more strong players. I'm not sure if I'd beat Capablanca, but still...

Not that it really matters, but the Wikipedia list of GMs is incomplete.

I agree with a lot of points that lakejen made (great posts, btw!), except the one about comparing the average ratings from now and 1970. That would NOT prove the rating inflation is real.

But I strongly agree in a sense that I am not convinced that rating inflation indeed took place. And when I say inflation, I mean not that having 2700 rating is as elite as it was 20 years ago (as it is obviously not the case), but that 2700 player now may not be weaker than player with such a rating was 20 years ago. I think there has been a lot of great developments in chess that have improved the quality of the game on many levels, and the number of GMs or people rated 2700 are just results of these great developments. I mean, we now have computers, easy access to databases, access to great books, better training methods, so it would be strange that people today would not be stronger than their predecessors - not just on the top level, but on every level. Today may be the best time ever to be a chess player, simply because you have access to such great chess materials that it is as easy as ever to become a grandmaster - and this does not mean that the title somehow lost its value, but it means we have more people playing chess who use better training tools and better training methods. A parallel between chess title (or rating) and 100 meter dash is not a bad one. Now is probably the time it is as easy as ever to run 100 meters in under 10 seconds - because we have the experience, the knowledge, the training, the diets that people simply didn't have access to 20 years ago. But does that mean that NOW it is EASIER to run 100 m in 10 seconds in absolute sense? I don't think so.

Surely rating has nothing whatsoever to do with absolute strength? If everyone presently playing chess were suddenly to play far more weakly, the same number of points would remain in the rating system, and (assuming the players' relative strengths remained constant) everyone's ratings would stay about the same.

It surely is at least a tiny bit easier to run 100 metres in ten seconds today. Try doing it on a cinder track. But anyway these comparisons with sports where there is an absolute measure of performance seem a bit beside the point to me.

It's a hardy perennial whether the likes of stendec's friend's friend would have much chance against Capablanca. As it goes I played through Lasker-Capablanca St Petersburg 1914, on the tube this morning, and you've got to say that Capa played like a bit of a schmuck and even a weak modern GM would seldom lose quite like that. On the other hand it's easy to point to modern games lost by GMs or even famous IMs where one feels Capablanca might have done rather better. My instinct is that Stendec's friend's friend is overrating himself quite a bit, but who knows?

While I endorse the sentiment stated by Russianbear and several preceding commenters that there are more strong players today and the wide availability of chess books, training, software, and good competitive opportunities have improved the overall level of play, still it's a fallacy to claim that ratings are higher because players have gotten stronger in an absolute sense.

rdh is in essence accurately quoting an argument I have seen stated here awhile back by Jeff Sonas. I don't think I'd be exaggerating if I called Sonas the Kasparov of ratings science -- so anyone who quotes him correctly on this subject should be regarded as absolutely authoritative.

The point is that a 2700 rating or a 2800 rating represents a certain statstical level of dominance over the mass of strong players at a given time. If the overall level of chess is weaker or stronger (in some unknowable "absolute" sense) at one time than another time, then the absolute level of chess played by a 2700 or a 2800 rated player at that time will be weaker or stronger as well. In other words, ratings always measure strength relative to one's peers; never absolute strength.

If anyone wants to dispute this, they should go to Chessmetrics and see if I am correctly reflecting Sonas' views. If not, then feel free to dispute or correct me. If I am correctly interpreting Sonas, then there is no argument. Period.

As for today's IMs being able to beat Capablanca, that may or may not be true -- but it isn't as relevant as it might seem on first glance.

When this question came up on another thread some months back, people pointed out that the meaningful test would be to give the old-time champion 6 months to prepare, to "book up" with modern opening (and other) knowledge. I think most of us would say under those conditions, Capablanca or Alekhine vs. Kramnik or Anand would be a good match -- rather than vs an IM. However, since the answer to this question rests heavily on one's level of chess knowledge, I will defer to the opinion or rdh or other titled players.

On another subject, Futurity tournaments in the US are hardly "norm mills" as an earlier commenter claimed. They are mainly there to help players attain their first FIDE ratings -- NOT norms.

I played in two such events in the past two years, and the only FIDE title available from them was FM, which does not require norms. I'm referring to the annual New York Fall Futurity, held each November at the Marshall Chess Club. There weren't enough foreign-registered players to be norm-eligible.

FIDE title norms ARE available in the US from a number of large open tournaments including the World Open; and from a small number of invitational tournaments that usually have the word, "International", as part of their name.

US players have vastly more norm opportunities than those in most of the rest of the world. Mainly because most everybody in the US can afford to go play in western Europe or Hungary and such places.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on February 1, 2007 12:34 AM.

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