Grandmaster: a fancy title for a fancy rank.
The world chess organization FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs or World Chess Federation) awards the title of Grandmaster out to master chess players, and no other title is higher except for World Champion. A Grandmaster, or GM, holds their title for life, so once a Grandmaster, always a Grandmaster. Men and women both are eligible for the title, and quite a few women have been able to secure it, starting with Nona Gaprindashvili in 1978. As of the June 2016 FIDE rating list, there are 1522 grandmasters, of which 1489 are male and 33 are female.
Grandmasters occupy a special place of prestige in the world of chess. They are acknowledged as players with an advanced level of understanding of chess, and what ideas and plays are the most appropriate given the situation at hand. They are ideal models that players look up to and whom they try to emulate.
The term was first known to be used in a magazine called Bell’s Life back in 1838 to refer to William Lewis, but not until 1907 was it used in a tournament. FIDE, which came into existence in 1924, did not formulate criteria for the title until after World War II. In 1950, FIDE first started recognizing players as Grandmasters. These players were either the top contemporary champions of the time, like Mikhail Botvinnik and Alexander Kotov, or still living players who were recognized as having been world class during their peak like Milan Vidmar and Savielly Tartakower.
FIDE has revised the regulations on the criteria of holding the Grandmaster title 4 times since it started giving it out. The last time was in 1970, and the revision covered topics like eligibility of participants and tournament formats. The requirements are a tad complex and include attaining an Elo rating of 2500 as well as at least two favorable results from at least 27 games in tournaments with other Grandmasters.
As difficult as the requirements can be, many Grandmasters have been able to secure the title at very young ages! Here’s a small list of such prodigies:
From Ukraine, former child prodigy Sergey holds the record for youngest ever chess Grandmaster, having attained it in 2002 at the age of 12 years and 7 months. Sergey adopted Russian citizenship later in his life, and considers himself to be more Russian than Ukrainian.
The Indian born Parimarjan is the second youngest chess Grandmaster ever, and the youngest Indian Grandmaster at 13 years and 142 days. Apart from this, his home country awarded him the Arjuna Award in 2010 for his achievements in the game.
The current World Chess Champion was a former child prodigy who is now the third youngest Grandmaster ever, having received the title at the age of 13 years and 148 days. Carlsen is a popular figure, and a bit of a celebrity even beyond the world of chess. His style of play has sparked interest in the game as well as invited comparison to such greats as Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov. In addition to the Grandmaster title, he holds all three world championship titles as well – he was World Champion in 2013, and he won the World Rapid Championship and the World Blitz Championship in 2014. He has also been honored by the Chess Oscars in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. In 2013, he was named one of the 100 most influential people by Time Magazine. His looks and profile have also generated modeling contracts for him.
Born in 1999, Wei Yi is a chess prodigy and also the 4th youngest Grandmaster in history, having attained the title at 13 years, 8 months and 23 days. He also holds the record for the youngest player ever to reach a rating of 2700. Currently #38 worldwide, he is still the youngest player to be among the FIDE top 100 players.
Bu Xiangzhi was a member of the Chinese team that won gold at the 2015 World Team Chess Championship. He is China’s 10th Grandmaster, and was the youngest in history at the time he attained the title. At 13 years, 10 months and 13 days, he is now the fifth youngest Grandmaster.
Born to Armenian-born parents, Samuel Sevian is an American chess prodigy who holds the record for youngest ever United States Grandmaster, having secured the title at the age of 13 years, 10 months and 27 days (only two weeks behind Bu Xiangzhi!) He has broken other age records too, being the youngest ever US International Master when he was 12 years and 10 months, and when he attained the National Expert and Master titles.
The youngest ever Hungarian Grandmaster, Rapport snatched that honor away from his predecessor Péter Lékó, at the tender age of 13 years, 11 months and 6 days. This makes him the seventh youngest Grandmaster.
As you may infer from this list, men still dominate as recipients of the title of Grandmaster. However, women have been making their mark on the game as well, and many of them have been able to receive the title on their own terms. Read on to find a short list of female Grandmasters.
The Georgian Nona is the sixth women’s world chess champion, and the first woman to become Grandmaster. Widely considered to be the strongest player of her generation, she was awarded the Order of Excellence in 2015 by the President of Georgia for her outstanding contribution to the country and for internationally representing Georgia.
Another Georgian player, this Grandmaster is the only chess player in history to have won 9 Chess Olympiads. She was the youngest Women’s Chess Champion until her record was broken in 2010. Maia has won multiple gold medals in various tournaments and championships. She is regarded as a national treasure in Georgia with movie star levels of popularity, and has even has postage stamps designed after her to celebrate her achievements in chess.
The oldest of the four famous Polgar sisters, the Hungarian-born Susan is an American chess Grandmaster who is hailed as a pioneer for women in chess. An Olympic and World chess champion, she is credited for breaking down gender barriers in the vastly male dominated field. She is especially given credit for being the first woman to achieve the Grandmaster title in the conventional way by getting three GM norms and a rating over 2500. When she was 15, she became the top-ranked woman player in the world. In 1992, she also won both the Women’s World Blitz and the Women’s World Rapid Championship.