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On Chess: Becoming a grandmaster

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 15, 2012 - People frequently ask me what it takes to become a grandmaster. This question, however, is not an easy one to answer. In fact, sometimes I am not sure myself! One thing I do know is that chess has seen a spike in popularity in the U.S. as of late, and many American players are trying to become grandmasters.

FIDE (The World Chess Federation) is the governing body of chess worldwide and is responsible for awarding grandmaster titles. To earn the title, one must have three grandmaster "norms,” which is a strong performance at an international tournament, and obtain an International rating of 2500+ at some point. A "GM" norm is a performance of 2600+ (rating) in a tournament of at least nine rounds. Also, the tournament field must be comprised of at least four players who hail from a federation or country that is different from your own. And there may not be more than two games played per day.

There are other technical rules as well, like what the time control (chess clock) must be set at, but knowing all the technical rules is the responsibility of the international arbiters, who are responsible for ensuring all of the rules are be followed throughout the tournament.

Currently, I am following two tournaments where Americans can try to earn a norm. One is taking place in Reykjavik, Iceland, and it has about seven Americans competing in the field. It does not look like any of them will earn a norm there, as there is one round left, and nobody is doing particularly outstanding. The other tournament I am following is in Skokie, Ill. There are two "GM norm” events there, and they are both at the halfway point. The best bet there to earn a GM norm is International Master Mac Molner.

The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis is holding a GM norm tournament next month, April 9-13, right before the St. Louis Open. The tournament will be a 10-player round-robin (all-play-all) and along with the three grandmasters (including me!) there will be seven international masters trying to get the coveted GM norm. The aforementioned Molner and strong International master Marc Arnold are among the favorites to achieve a norm. 

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