We want to organize USCF chess tournaments valid to get the U.S. chess master title. Please answer the following questions:

  1. Do we need a minimum of 4 rounds, if we are organizing a swiss system?

  2. Do the following time controls work for that purpose?

  • a) 15+10
  • b) 15+15
  • c) 30+0
  • d) 30+20
  • e) 10+20
  • f) 5+25
  1. Are online tournaments valid to get the U.S. chess master title?

2 Answers 2


The USCF has three different titles that are all colloquially referred to as "national master".

First and most commonly, any player that achieves a rating of 2200 or higher receives the title of "national master"1.

If a player maintains a rating of at least 2200 for 300 games (which do not have to be consecutive), they receive the title of "original life master". This used to be called simply "life master", but the new title system introduced titles named "life master" and "senior master", so this lifetime achievement was renamed for clarification.

Finally, the USCF's title system, introduced in 2008, has performance based titles. A player can achieve these titles by having strong performances in five separate events. For the life master title and the senior master title, there is also a rating requirement of 2200 and 2400 respectively. The full title system is described by Mark Glickman on his website: http://www.glicko.net/ratings/titles.pdf

All of the time controls you listed are valid for regular rating. However, the most common time control in the US for games lasting approximately one hour is G/25 d5.

Only over the board games that affect standard rating are considered for norms and the rating that is used for the master title. If your goal is to achieve norms, one consideration is that players must score at least one full point above the expected score for a player rated exactly 2200. For that reason, tournaments with more rounds make it easier to achieve these norms. Depending on the ratings of the participants, 5 or 6 rounds might make more sense. Players trying to achieve norms must complete at least 4 games, so a shorter tournament will not help with norms.

To answer your final question, online games do not affect regular rating and so do not help in the quest for titles.

  • 1
    Thanks for the clarification of the ratings-based "National Master" title. Does that information exist anywhere other than in the web page you cited? I can't find anything about this in the rulebook, or in the document that describes the title system. I am assuming that this is also a lifetime title, and doesn't go away if a player's rating dips below 2200?
    – patbarron
    Mar 22, 2022 at 3:14
  • 2
    Correct, all three are lifetime titles. The information is only on the website and not in the rulebook itself. From the rulebook: "Technical information on lifetime titles is available on request from the US Chess office."
    – Andrew
    Mar 22, 2022 at 3:31
  • @Andrew Can you please expand your comment "Players trying to achieve norms must complete at least 4 games"? If a tournament has 4 rounds, how they cannot complete 4 games? I am guessing that you are talking about something else.
    – Beginner
    Mar 22, 2022 at 16:52
  • 1
    If a player receives a full point bye, or joins the tournament late, they won't be eligible for a norm. Almost every swiss tournament in the US allows players to take half point byes instead of playing a game (generally so they can arrive late or leave early). If a player does take a half point bye, they won't get to the four required games.
    – Andrew
    Mar 22, 2022 at 17:26
  • Please answer the following question: chess.stackexchange.com/questions/39503/…
    – Beginner
    Mar 22, 2022 at 17:34

The USCF awards a "National Master" title upon reaching a Regular over-the-board rating of 2200, as mentioned in another answer to this question. This doesn't require earning norms or anything like that, but it does only apply to a player's USCF Regular rating as earned via over-the-board play.

There are two ways to earn the USCF Life Master title (which is also recognized as "National Master", and lets you put the "NM" in front of your name):

  1. Under the current title system, you need to have (or have had at some point) an established USCF Regular rating of 2200 or higher, and 5 Master-level norms. You can earn the norms before your rating reaches 2200, but even if you earn 5 Master-level norms before reaching the 2200 rating, the title is not awarded until your established rating reaches 2200.

  2. It's still possible to earn the "Original Life Master" title, which is awarded after you start 300 games with an established USCF Regular rating of 2200 or higher. The 300 games need not be consecutive - if your established Regular rating drops below 2200 at any point, the count is "paused", and picks up again where it left off once your rating increases to 2200 again.

Norms are only awarded in events of 4 rounds or more. So if you expect your tournament participants to be able to earn Master-level norms, your tournaments must be at least 4 rounds.

USCF titles are only awarded for USCF Regular rated over-the-board play. Time controls of 30+0, 30+20, and 15+15 would be dual-rated (rated in both the USCF Regular and Quick rating systems - see USCF Rule 5C), so players in events with these time controls would be able to earn norms. The 15+10 time control would be USCF Quick rated only, and players in events with this time control would not earn any norms. For an event to be dual-rated, if the time control is G/mm with an increment of ss seconds, the event is dual-rated if 30 <= mm+ss <= 65; in all cases, the base number of minutes mm in the time control must be at least 5. Plus, of course, if mm+ss > 65, the event is Regular rated only, and players in Regular-rated events can earn norms too.

Since USCF titles are only awarded for over-the-board play, online tournaments will not count towards either the Life Master nor the Original Life Master titles.

You can find a description of the USCF title system here, which describes all of this.

  • 1
    The USCF actually does not have a title called "National Master" - that is a FIDE thing. It is how FIDE refers to players who have been awarded a "Master-level" designation by their own national federation.
    – patbarron
    Mar 21, 2022 at 23:42
  • 1
    Also, earning the "Original Life Master" title does not require any norms - but, it takes a long time to earn, because you need to start 300 games with an established rating of 2200 or higher.
    – patbarron
    Mar 21, 2022 at 23:46
  • 1
    I will update my answer to describe the general case.
    – patbarron
    Mar 21, 2022 at 23:59
  • 1
    No, you still need to keep score in a 5+25 event too (until one player's clock goes below 5 minutes) - though personally, I do not think that not being required to write the moves is an "advantage"... If you don't have an up to date scoresheet, you can't make any claims that require a scoresheet (such as claiming a draw by the 50 move rule, or triple-repetition of position).
    – patbarron
    Mar 22, 2022 at 0:08
  • 1
    That time control (5+25) would be dual-rated (so it would be rated in the Regular rating system as well as the Quick rating system, but the USCF rules), so it can earn norms. It is a very unusual time control, though. I have never seen an event that used a time control like that, where the base time control is so short, but the increment is so large (in comparison).
    – patbarron
    Mar 22, 2022 at 0:17

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