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Chess Grandmasters
'GM' is the highest ranking and most prestigious chess title.

What Is a Chess Grandmaster?: The title 'Grandmaster' (GM) is the highest ranking and most prestigious chess title conferred by the World Chess Federation (FIDE). It is awarded for performance in competition and is held for life. Other chess titles that include the word grandmaster -- like correspondence grandmaster and women's grandmaster -- are considerably less prestigious than the FIDE title.

Early Uses of the Term 'Grandmaster': The term 'grandmaster' was in popular use long before it was adopted by FIDE as a formal title. A six-player event held at Ostend (Belgium) in 1907 was designated a grandmaster event to distinguish it from the corresponding master event. Chess lore holds that Czar Nicholas II conferred the title on the five finalists at the St.Petersburg 1914 event.

Becoming a Grandmaster: The level of play of a grandmaster is considerably superior to that of a chess master. On his way to the World Championship, Mikhail Botvinnik wrote that he had to learn 'to defeat players who are outstanding even among masters, in other words, to beat grandmasters'. His rival Paul Keres considered that his victory at Semmering 1937, ahead of Fine, Capablanca, and Reshevsky, 'placed me among the leading grandmasters'.

Soviet Grandmasters: In the 1920s, the Soviet chess federation began conferring master titles on its best players. In 1935, Botvinnik was awarded the first grandmaster title after tying with Flohr for first place in the strong Moscow event, ahead of Em.Lasker and Capablanca. In the following years the Soviet grandmaster title also went to Levenfish, Kotov, Smyslov, Liliental, and Keres. In 1957, the Soviet federation counted 110 masters, but only 19 grandmasters.

The First FIDE Grandmasters: At its 1949 Congress in Paris, FIDE created its International Grandmaster (IGM or GM) and International Master (IM) titles and proposed various criteria for the award. The GM award would go to inactive living players deemed worthy and to players competing in World Championship Candidates tournaments. In 1950 the GM title was awarded to 27 players, and the IM title to 72.

The F.A.V. System: At its 1954 Congress in Amsterdam, FIDE named a committee to consider the awarding of titles based on tournament performance. The proposal became known as the 'F.A.V. System' after the names of the three committee members Ferrantes, Alexander, and Dal Verme. It assigned coefficients to events based on the mix of titled players and required a certain percentage score for a particular title. The system was adopted in 1957 and strengthed in subsequent years based on experience.

The Elo Rating System: FIDE adopted the Elo rating system in 1970. With its introduction, tournaments could be compared using the average rating of their participants. The average pegged a tournament to a category (cat.1 2251-2275, cat.2 2276-2300, etc.). A minimum percentage score in a tournament of a certain category showed a GM result or IM result, e.g. a score of 76% in a cat.1 event was an IM result, while a 76% score in a cat.5 event was a GM result.

GM Titles Multiply: The 1970s saw almost the same number of new GM titles awarded as had been seen through the 1950s and 1960s. The average number of new GMs per year increased in the 1980s and 1990s, then exploded in the new millennium. Between the year 2000 and the year 2009, FIDE is on track to mint as many new GMs as were created during the first 50 years of title awards.

Over 1000 Grandmasters in 2008: As of January 2008, FIDE listed 1109 GMs, with 1002 counted as 'active'. The GMs represented 81 national federations, of which the top five were Russia with 174 GMs, Germany 67, the Ukraine 64, the USA 61, and Serbia 46. A total of 13 federations had 25 GMs or more. Of the other federations, 17 could boast having a single GM, and another 21 five or less GMs. If the goal of FIDE is to promote chess around the globe, the organization has certainly succeeded.