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Wikipedia's article on chess grandmasters indicates that the requirements to become a GM is complicated, and has always been complicated. For example right now, to become a GM, one needs to have had a rating of at least 2500 at some point in one's career, and one needs "two favorable results (called norms) from a total of at least 27 games in tournaments", with the rules for what qualifies as "norm" occupying several more bullet points (quotes from the WIkipedia article).

Why does it need to be so? If the aim is to award the title only to world class players, I can think of some much easier system to select them, e.g. you must have been rated in the top 100 of the world at one point. This would tie the title to a single, easily-understood number. I notice some of the lower titles already use this criterion (e.g. Candidate Master), so it begs the question of why the higher ones have more complicated requirements.

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    Traditionally the GM title has more "prestige" than mere rating numbers, and the title is international grandmaster so it's going to depend on other things than rating, and depend on playing people from different countries. But I don't have the sources to turn this into an answer. – RemcoGerlich Aug 25 at 9:42
  • seeing as the system is ELO based it seems reasonable to rank players based of a percentile; eg; top 1% International GM's; this would require all national bodies feeding data into a central international standard though. That said; kinda like the messed up requirements. – David Bateman Aug 25 at 12:49
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If the aim is to award the title only to world class players, I can think of some much easier system to select them, e.g. you must have been rated in the top 100 of the world at one point. This would tie the title to a single, easily-understood number. I notice some of the lower titles already use this criterion (e.g. Candidate Master)

The comparison with the Candidate Master title is a telling one. The CM title is not highly regarded. This has been covered in two previous questions here - How respectable is the CM title? and Is a candidate master considered a master?

Why are the requirements for becoming a GM so complicated?

They are indeed complicated. Here is the link for the FIDE Title Regulations effective from 1 July 2017. One additional requirement, which I don't see listed here, is that the tournament organizer must send a file with the PGNs of all the games for the tournament.

The reasons they are so complicated is that they have evolved over time to deal with the corrupting influences of money, politics, rating manipulation and cheating.

Money

One of the ways of getting the GM title is to be World Champion. Here is what Wikipedia says about the early period of world championships:

From 1886 to 1946, the champion set the terms, requiring any challenger to raise a sizable stake and defeat the champion in a match in order to become the new world champion.

So, no money - no match. As the article says, this had a profound effect on who got to play for the title:

This requirement makes arranging world championship matches more difficult, for example: Marshall challenged Lasker in 1904 but could not raise the money until 1907;[37] in 1911 Lasker and Rubinstein agreed in principle to a world championship match, but this was never played as Rubinstein could not raise the money.[38][39] In the early 1920s, Alekhine, Rubinstein and Nimzowitsch all challenged Capablanca, but only Alekhine was able to raise the US$10,000 that Capablanca demanded, and not until 1927

OK, you might be thinking, those kinds of considerations belong to a bygone age. Well, try telling that to Shirov who, perhaps, should have been World Champion in 2000 instead of Kramnik:

Soon after the 1995 championship, the PCA folded, and Kasparov had no organisation to choose his next challenger. In 1998 he formed the World Chess Council, which organised a candidates match between Alexei Shirov and Vladimir Kramnik. Shirov won the match, but negotiations for a Kasparov–Shirov match broke down, and Shirov was subsequently omitted from negotiations, much to his disgust. Plans for a 1999 or 2000 Kasparov–Anand match also broke down, and Kasparov organised a match with Kramnik in late 2000

Politics

This is what the Wikipedia article has to say on this:

Title awards under the original regulations were subject to political concerns. Efim Bogoljubov, who had emigrated from the Soviet Union to Germany, was not entered in the first class of Grandmasters, even though he had played two matches for the World Championship with Alekhine. He received the title in 1951, by a vote of thirteen to eight with five abstentions. Yugoslavia supported his application, but all other Communist countries opposed it. In 1953, FIDE abolished the old regulations, although a provision was maintained that allowed older masters who had been overlooked to be awarded titles

There was more political interference in the 1962 Candidates tournament which selected the challenger for the 1963 World Championships. Here is what the article says:

What makes this tournament famous and often-discussed is the allegations of Soviet collusion. The three top finishers (Petrosian, Geller and Keres) drew all twelve of their games against each other, in an average of only 19 moves.[15]

Soon after the tournament, Fischer publicly alleged that the Soviets had colluded to prevent any non-Soviet – specifically him – from winning. His allegations were twofold: first, that Petrosian, Geller and Keres had pre-arranged to draw all their games; and second, that Korchnoi had been part of the drawing pact in the first half of the tournament, and been instructed to lose some games to them in the second half.[16][17][18] (In the first two cycles Korchnoi drew all his games with Petrosian, Geller and Keres; in the third cycle he lost to all of them; and in the final cycle he lost to Petrosian but drew with Keres and Geller).

The first allegation, of the drawing pact, is generally assumed to be correct.[18] All of the three players involved have since died, but Yuri Averbakh, who was head of the Soviet team, confirmed it in a 2002 interview.[10] He offered the rationale that Keres was the oldest competitor and wanted to conserve energy, and that Petrosian and Geller were good friends with a history of drawing with each other.

The second allegation, of Korchnoi throwing games, is more doubtful.[18] Korchnoi defected from the USSR in 1976, and never alleged he was forced to throw games. Dominic Lawson calls the allegation "preposterous", noting that the main beneficiary of Korchnoi's losses was Petrosian, whom Korchnoi detested

Rating Manipulation and Cheating

There is an interesting Wikipedia article on this. For those who like their chess dripping with blood there is the story of infamous mother-killer Claude Bloodgood:

Bloodgood organized chess games within Powhatan Correctional Center in Powhatan, Virginia, which were by necessity with fellow inmates.3 Many of these inmates were taught the game by Bloodgood, and thus began as unrated and inexperienced players. Bloodgood obtained USCF memberships for them. Some accused Bloodgood, with his intimate knowledge of the rating system, of rigging their ratings. The accusation was that he arranged for new prisoners to play rated games against other prisoners, who would deliberately lose, thus giving the new inmate an inflated USCF rating. Bloodgood, it is further alleged, then played rated games against the new highly rated prisoner, and each time he won, gained a few more rating points. This continued for several years, and by 1997 his rating rose to 2759, making the 59-year-old Bloodgood the second highest rated player in the nation, only behind Gata Kamsky.

OK, but that was USCF rating not FIDE. That could never happen with FIDE ratings, surely? And certianly not for titles? Well, check out this article from TWIC (The Week in Chess) from 8th March 1999. Here is an extract:

Respected Grandmaster and chess journalist Ian Rogers also felt moved to comment on the event in the Canberra Times Chess Column for March 7th. He too was almost breathtaken by the number of norms scored in the event and the calculated level of planning required for titles and rating fraud on this scale. I quote, with permission, at length below.

"The Grandmaster tournament which took place in Rangoon in the first two weeks of February took months of planning but succeeded in creating six Grandmaster results and eight IM results, an astonishing success rate. (Two or three title 'norms' are needed for a player to be awarded the GM or IM title.) Some of those scoring Grandmaster results had struggled to score 50% in the South-East Asian zonal tournament only a month earlier! Corruption extended not only to the tournament itself - with seven highly rated locals losing all their games to their compatriots - but also to a series of events held in 1998 which provided extremely high world rankings for all those required to be 'victims' in the February tournament. All seven of the no-hopers in February were unrated in January 1998, yet on the January 1999 FIDE list had rankings higher than Australian Grandmaster Darryl Johansen."

"The following game is not atypical of their play, with the heavily 'outrated' Mas winning one of the easiest games of his career: Rangoon 1999 White: H.Mas Black: Thein Dan Oo 1.e4 c5 2.f4 d6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Bb5 g6 5.0-0 Bg7 6.Bxc6+ bxc6 7.d3 Rb8?! 8.Nc3 Nf6 9.Qe1 0-0 10.b3 d5? 11.e5 Nd7 12.Ba3 Re8?! 13.Na4 Rb5 14.e6 Nf6? 15.c4 Ra5? 16.exf7+ Kxf7 17.Ne5+ Kg8 18.Nxc6 1-0 Mas, the honourable Malaysian IM who performed so creditably in Sydney in January, was not one of the favoured many who scored title results. His opponent, rated 2539 - a near-GM ranking, managed only 4 points from 14 games. There is no suggestion that any of the foreign visitors were involved in anything other than pre-arranged draws - they simply took advantage of the extraordinarily overrated opposition. However the local players in Rangoon probably knew the results of many of their games before the event began and if an 'accident' occurred to one of those destined to score a title norm

  • e.g. a loss to a foreign player - their compatriots pitched in and provided some extra points or half points. Unusually for a corrupt tournament, the foreign invitees were not needed to help out the locals, since the enormous rankings of the weakest players meant that the scores required for title results were relatively low."

"From the point of view of the organisers, the event was so successful that it is likely to be repeated in a few months time, before the ratings of the tailenders are adjusted on the July FIDE rating list. After one more such tournament, Burma could have 4 Grandmasters and half a dozen IMs; after a few more such tournaments they could have more Grandmasters than any country in Asia! Publicity may encourage the Burmese to become more discreet in future but FIDE is highly unlikely to take any action. Their actions in past cases would indicate that the world body tacitly approves of a 'developing' chess nation acquiring titled players, whatever the ethics involved."

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    +1 but why not just use some other simple criterion if elo is easily manipulated, e.g. "to become a grandmaster you need to qualify for a candidates tournament"? – Allure Aug 25 at 14:00
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    @Allure: that's exactly the kind of simple rule that led to the current situation. If FIDE were to introduce it, it'd be in addition to what we already have. – RemcoGerlich Aug 25 at 14:24

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