As I read both English and Russian chess literature I run into the term 'master'. It is clear from the context that is below grandmaster but is somehow given much respect. I never know what it actually means because it could be any of the three or even something else: FIDE Master, International Master, National Master (whose meaning depends on the country).

This site has many questions about 'master strength' so it is part of everybody's jargon. But I really don't know what it means.

  • Are you asking for definitions of all the above terms, or are you asking what people mean when they say "master"? The answers to the former are easy to find on the net, and the answer to the latter is "it depends". In US writing it means National Master (2200+ USCF rating) 95% of the time. Outside of the US I just take it to mean "strong player" and I never feel like it causes me to misunderstand something.
    – dfan
    Jun 1, 2016 at 17:10
  • I ask about the jargon. The same jargon in English and in Russian but never explained. Jun 1, 2016 at 17:13

3 Answers 3


There are several reasons why someone would use the term 'master', but without a specific reference to work from all I can suggest is that the term is generally synonymous with the phrase 'top player'. The two examples that come to mind are:

  • Historical: Many of the great early players did not have actual titles (either because the titles had not been invented or because the systems for reliably attaining them had not been introduced). In this case, one might refer to Morphy or Philidor as a 'master', simply because calling them a GM/IM would be inaccurate. Also consider that when the title 'Grand Master' was first conferred, it was not just a title to hand out to players but a real statement that those five players were some of the best ever.
  • Cultural: As you noted in the question, many foreign (esp. Russian) books up until the 1980s or so use the term. I cannot say exactly why, but the usage is certainly meant to indicate that those people are deserving of respect as top-calibre players. Perhaps part of this is due to the fact that some top theoreticians were not acknowledged as being among the best practical players, and so this allowed them to be given the same level of respect as determined by the author. Hopefully someone more knowledgable in soviet chess culture can fill us in on this one.

This is in contrast to the modern USCF system where a range of various master titles are (by comparison to earlier times and other areas of the world) given out like candy. This is not to say that the achievements are not still somewhat impressive, but they ultimately mean something much less than the term does in those other contexts.

  • What about the contemporary term as used in books? For example, Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner to Master. The material is grouped according to level of strength with master being the final step. Also, there are questions here at this site about master level games or about achieving master strength. If there is no distinction between the various titles then perhaps it is just an indication of how far the goal lies for those people using it. For me it makes sense to ask what is meant when an online opponent claims that I play at master strength because I don't have any title. Jun 2, 2016 at 5:56
  • @user3456 I believe in those cases 'master' is used to mean something similar to the US master level (above A-rank), which equates to 2000-2200 if I remember correctly.
    – DTR
    Jun 2, 2016 at 6:09
  • 2
    In US writing, "master" almost always means National Master (2200+ USCF rating). 2000-2199 is Expert. Silman certainly means USCF National Master in his book (and even refers to a 2200 rating explicitly if I recall correctly).
    – dfan
    Jun 2, 2016 at 11:32
  • @dfan Thanks for the clarification - I'm not US so I was just guessing at the actual number.
    – DTR
    Jun 3, 2016 at 4:29

A USCF master has a chess rating of at least 2200. You used to be able to become a Life Master by playing 300 games where the rating you achieved was over 2200. In subsequent years the requirements for Life Master have continually changed. You can achieve a 2200 rating by playing in USCF tournaments. Other countries have different systems.

There are also International Tournaments sponsored by FIDE. One is considered a FIDE master if one's rating is over 2300 for at least 21 games.


Master is usually 2000 ELO, kind of national level player, who knows the game in much depth. Its consider below IM - international maser and Grand Master.

  • 1
    I'd say they're expert or advanced players. I wouldn't say a 2000 rated player a master.
    – SmallChess
    Jun 4, 2016 at 10:14

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