The vast majority of chess titles today are fundamentally competitive. To be a "master" of any kind according to bodies like FIDE is defined in terms of being able to beat others rather than mastering a specified body of chess knowledge, theory, or skills. In educational theory, such chess titles are norm-based rather than criterion-based.

A recent question establishes that there are criterion-based curricula that an aspiring chess player may self-study, but it appears that none of them lead to any sort of recognized title, certification, degree, or other formal designation.

Are there criterion-based titles or other designations in the world of chess? For example, is there a "GED" type qualification that doesn't represent any particular competitive rating but represents basic competency in all of the basic techniques of chess? Are there specialty skill certifications, e.g. for openings or skewers, that are obtained by passing skills tests rather than by obtaining a specified tournament rating?

I'm mentally comparing this somewhat to martial arts, which typically award color belts based on passing tests (criterion-based) but also have a separate system of trophies and titles that can be earned by winning tournaments (norm-based).

Other common educational terms strongly associated with criterion testing are mastery learning, learning standards, competency-based education, and outcome-based education.

As to the "why", these sorts of titles could appeal to people who see chess as more of a form of mental exercise for themselves than an opportunity to pwn noobs.


3 Answers 3


The short answer is "No".

The kind of certification you describe serves three purposes:

  1. It serves as a gate for a job. For instance in the UK police and nursing are graduate only professions despite the fact that a degree has no useful benefit for a nurse or policeman/woman.
  2. An academic form of qualification. For instance The ABRSM and Trinity School of music have a grade system of music achievement. When I was growing up Grade 5 equated to an "O" level (qualification taken at age 16) and a grade 8 to an "A" level (qualification taken at age 18). If you want to study music at university then you will generally require a grade 8 qualification in your instrument.
  3. As motivational devices for young children, a bit like scout badges or girl guide badges.

The problem is that none of these really work in the world of competitive chess. Tournament results and ratings are a much better measurement of achievement and ability. I know the old saying "There's a sucker born every minute" has an element of truth but given the choice between paying for a certificate that says you've mastered skewers and playing real chess in a competition most people are going to choose the latter every time.

Of course there are two areas of the chess world where certification and qualifications are important and those are in the fields of arbiting and training and FIDE has arbiter qualifications and trainer qualifications which require courses and passing exams but they are for people who want to be arbiters or trainers, not chess players.


Picking up on part 3 by Brian, indeed there are such things as "Bauerndiplom" for (not exclusively!) kids in Germany. The questionnaire is built by the national federation, the test usually done by the clubs. Naturally, it's more like a decorative diploma landing in some drawer, but then, my official FM title can't buy me anything either...


The answer is 'yes', but it might not be the answer you're looking for.

FIDE awards criterion-based titles for achievement in chess. Here for example are the requirements to become a Grandmaster (which is the highest title except World Champion):

  • An Elo rating of at least 2500 at any point in their career (although they need not maintain this level to obtain or keep the title).
  • Two favorable results (called norms) from a total of at least 27 games in tournaments. With some exceptions, to receive a norm in a tournament:
  • The player's rating performance at the end of the tournament must be at least 2600. (Tournaments are no longer classified in categories.)
  • At least 33% of the player's opponents must be Grandmasters.
  • At least 50% of the player's opponents must hold a FIDE title.
  • The player's opponents must have an average rating of at least 2380.
  • The player's opponents must come from at least 3 different chess federations, which can include the player's own federation. A maximum of 60% of a player's opponents can come from the player's own federation. A maximum of 66% of a player's opponents can come from a single federation.

But being a grandmaster doesn't mean you are, e.g., able to execute a bishop and knight mate.

  • No, this is inherently a norm-based title because it requires a rating. If I could earn a title by passing an exam in bishop-and-knight mating without having to have a specific rating, that would could as criterion-based. Commented May 31, 2022 at 17:43
  • @RobertColumbia if that's your concern, you can also become a GM by winning the world championship, without regard for rating.
    – Allure
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 23:48

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