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  • GM Avetik Grigoryan GM Avetik Grigoryan

How to Become a Chess Grandmaster - Is it Easy?

What does it take to become a chess Grandmaster? What qualities you should possess? How should you invest in yourself? Find out in this article!

Improvement Hacks | 14 min read
How to Become a Chess Grandmaster - Is it Easy?

If you talk with kids who’ve started to play chess and you ask them what their goal is, 99% of the time their answer will be “to be a World Champion!” – right? 🙂

Well, do you know what happens when you ask most adults the same question?
I want to become a chess Grandmaster!

It’s cool to have dreams and it’s even cooler if your dreams are your goals.

However, it’s very important for you to be aware of the difficulty of your goal before starting. Otherwise, you’ll begin your journey, spend lots of time and effort, and in the end be left with nothing more than broken dreams.

It would be easy for me to write a motivational article telling you that anyone can become a Grandmaster, that it’s not hard, blah blah blah… But that’s not the reason why I write articles.

I write them for one purpose ONLY - to help you.

That’s why in this article, I’m going to open your eyes. I’m going to tell you all the things that others wouldn't dare to, and in the end, you’ll understand why the truth can be hard to find.

At the same time, I’m not trying to pour water on your inner flame or kill your enthusiasm –  I’m just going to tell you the truth. 

And if you know the truth and are still raring to go, I’ll be the first person to help you on your journey.

Unfortunately, about ​​the topic, "How easy or hard it is to become a chess Grandmaster", almost all the articles are written by people who have failed to become a Grandmaster or people who dream about it...
It's time for the truth about how hard and at the same time how easy it is to achieve the GM.  ​​

But before that, let me clarify the official requirements to become a GM.

The Official Regulations to Become a Chess Grandmaster

The chess grandmaster title is awarded by FIDE, which is the governing body of chess competitions in the world. You must meet 2 of the following conditions -

  • Have a FIDE rating of 2500 or more.

  • Score 3 GM norms, where your rating performance should be 2600 or more.

To complete a Grandmaster norm, there are some other minor conditions that you need to fulfill too. At the same time, one can also become a GM by winning certain tournaments (like the World Junior Championship). 

For more information, you can refer to this FIDE handbook and check all the rules and exceptions to achieve the Grandmaster title.
Now that we’ve covered the requirements, it’s time to dive into the meat of the matter.

Let’s go! 

So, how hard is it to get the Grandmaster title?

Let me start by saying that there’s no other pursuit where the difficulty is either underestimated or overestimated by so much.

On one hand, I’ve seen people that play the game for 2 years and think that after 2 more years they will become a chess GM (seriously!), and on the other hand, there are people with a 2400 FIDE rating at the age of 15, not realizing how close they are to getting their Grandmaster title.

The big lie  

Why do many people think that becoming a GM is easy? 

There are 2 main reasons.

1. Because there are lots of articles that say it is!

Lots of people write articles saying that it’s easy to become a GM because it keeps their readers motivated. Wouldn’t you rather read an article that reassures you and tells what you want to believe and what you want to hear?

2. Many coaches want you to believe it because then you will pay them.

Unfortunately, over and over again I hear of coaches who tell their students they’ll make them a GM in one year. That feeling of excitement means that many students don’t mind paying whatever amount they ask for their services. But the problem is that the same coach says that to everyone… 🙂

There’s an even stranger phenomenon. There are people who are not even close to becoming a Grandmaster but create YouTube videos or write articles about how to become a Grandmaster. And not just how to become one, but how to do it FAST!

Now I am writing this and I understand how many will try to attack this article to defend themselves, to protect the lie.
But I felt I MUST tell you the truth. No matter what.

Becoming a Grandmaster is hard. It’s not a joke. But at the same time it’s absolutely achievable. 

Why is it easy to believe?

The thing is many chess players start playing chess offline or online and from 0 rating they get to 1000 very fast. The next year they start reading some books or watching videos and get to 1500 rating.

Then they think something like this “Ok, if I raise 500 points each year, that means I need just 2 more years to get to 2500 level. Wow!  Let’s go to Google and see what level 2500 FIDE-rating is. OMG, it’s Grandmaster!! Super! I’ll be a Grandmaster in 2 years!” 

In this case, the FIDE rating math is tricky 

The problem is that raising +1500 points and getting from 500 to 2000 level is easier than raising +200 points and getting from 2300 to 2500. The problem is the more you grow, the tougher it becomes to move forward. 

The higher rating, the tougher it becomes to raise higher. 

Look approximately what happens. 

When you play against 0-1000 rating-level chess players, you mostly play against beginners or chess lovers who play for fun.
Getting from 0 to 1000 rating is quite simple. You may get there sometimes even without reading chess books or watching chess videos.

When you improve and play against 1000-1500 level players, they are not beginners anymore. Many of them have read books, some of them have coaches.
The competition becomes tougher. By simply playing more and more it’ll be possible, but not easy to beat this level.

1500-2000 level players have done something else rather than just play chess. On this level, more people have read books, watched videos, or have coaches. 
To beat this level, you need to work seriously.

Playing just 1 hour a day will not be enough at all.  

When you reach the 2000-2300 level, it becomes even tougher. Most of the chess players here have opening preparation, know chess concepts well, have experience.
Just 1 hour of work a day will not be enough to get from 2000 to 2300 level. 

Now about getting from 2300 level to 2400.

How are you going to beat people who are either talented kids or people with experience? Most of them have or had coaches. Their openings are strong. They are prepared tactically and strategically. Most of them spend a few hours a day on chess.

If you ALSO spend a few hours a day on chess, it will be enough for staying on the 2300 level(FIDE Master level) but not for getting to 2400.  

And when you get to 2400 level, you get an IM title, you start facing mostly professionals who spend most of their day on chess trying to get to GM or people who have been professionals and have big experience. 

It becomes much tougher…

Now just working for 8 hours a day is not enough for getting to the GM level. You should have a good coach/coaches, have a good study plan, work productively. Also, you’ll need to have a strong character, be a fighter inside.
Just playing good chess will not be enough for getting to the GM level. 

Just an example

Have you ever seen a Grandmaster’s opening files?
When you scroll, scroll and its end can’t be seen?

I’ll show you.

This is my analysis of JUST ONE variation: French Defense, Winawer variation. And on my computer I have a few hundreds of analysis like this.
(Don’t even think of stealing my computer 😀)

Well, now you think: “Wow?! It’s a lot of work?!”
Nope! 🙂 You don’t know how much that “a lot of work” actually is!

I haven’t been playing professional chess already for many years. I have switched to professional coaching.
Can you imagine what kind of analyses those Grandmasters have who play chess professionally?  

Again. I am just trying to open your eyes to the fact that becoming a GM isn’t a joke. And if you think: “Ok, I’ll work very hard”, it’s not enough. They work as well 🙂

How are you going to beat them?

They are very well prepared, they are professionals.

When they play chess, they don’t resign easily, they don’t agree to draw easily in better positions. They have lots of knowledge in their heads and they are fighters

Your competition becomes much tougher than when you were getting from 1800 to 2000 level.   

Exceptions

Of course, there are some Grandmaster chess players who are exceptions. People who get to the 2000 level without knowing any openings, without having ever worked with coaches or watched any video courses.
People who have become Grandmasters just by playing 1.Nf3, 2.g3, 3.Bg2 like our GM Hovhannes Gabuzyan.

Or people who get to 2700 level without working too much on chess, like a super-strong GM Jobava Baadur. But do you know HOW talented these guys are?!
If you have never played against them or have never seen how they analyze a chess game, you can’t imagine.

If you think you are not less talented than them… Well, I advise you to find sponsors and coaches, to work 8 hours a day and be one of the best chess players in the world.

 

The challenges on the road to the chess Grandmaster title

On the path to becoming a GM, you are going to face certain obstacles.

Investment Issue

Another problem is the budget. You might get to the IM level by just working on your own. 

There is less than 1% chance, but it’s still possible.

But to become a GM without a chess coach — no way. You will need someone who will work on your games, fix your mistakes, and work on your weaknesses.

When I was an IM at 18, I decided to become a Grandmaster in just one year. 

Not only to play at GM-level but to get all 3 norms and pass the 2500 FIDE elo (a requirement for getting the GM title).

Can you guess what I did first? No, I didn’t start my next chess book.
I started looking for a coach. But not just a coach. For the one who will believe in me. Believe that I can do it in just 1 year.

Eventually, I met my future coach, GM Artur Chibukhchyan, who believed in my dream. Without his help, there was a 0% chance I would've achieved the Grandmaster title in 1 year.
And there was little chance that I would be a Grandmaster ever. 

The problems 

The thing is that hiring a good chess coach is an expensive pleasure.
It costs 100$/h on average. Another problem is that you should participate in different international chess tournaments. Which isn’t also cheap… (traveling and accommodation expenses, participation fees, etc...)

If the budget isn’t a problem for you, that’s very cool.

But for many chess Grandmaster title dreamers, it’s a problem. And there is even a bigger problem - they don’t realize that it’s totally impossible without investing in themselves.

I don’t know any GM who has got there without spending thousands of dollars or without having good sponsors. 

Strong Character 

To become a Grandmaster you should have a very strong character. Just being a strong chess player is not enough.

During your chess career, you will get hard punches in your face that you can’t even imagine.

You will have painful defeats… You’ll have horrible tournaments when the first thing you would love to do will be to stop playing chess and give up on your dream.

Almost all the GMs have faced such situations during their chess career. The difference is - they didn’t quit…

Myself I had a few super painful cases when I couldn’t even touch my chessboard for months. But then I came back. And if you speak with other Grandmasters, you will see that almost everyone had similar stories.
And many players, more talented than us, have quit. Because they couldn’t handle that hard punch… 

4 qualities that'll help you become a Grandmaster

To sum up, for becoming a GM you need to have these 4 qualities:
1. Be talented
2. Work very hard
3. Have a strong character
4. Invest in yourself smartly. 

If you are less talented, then you need to push on the other qualities harder. If you don’t have a big budget, then you need to outwork others.

That’s it. 

A few numbers 

Researchers have found that there are around 700 million people playing chess.

Let’s say it’s wrong. And there are just 50 million. For becoming a Grandmaster, as already mentioned, you need to make 3 norms and pass the 2500 FIDE rating. If you pass 2500 rating you’ll be in the top 1000 players.
In the best 0.002 % …

Can you imagine how small number 0.002 is?! 

Now about the positive 😊

If after reading all this you still believe in your goal, you still believe that you can become a Grandmaster and nothing will stop you, I am shaking your hand.

There is a big chance that you’ll make it. And if you need my help, a piece of advice or anything, let me know.

In the link below you can answer a few questions, and I'll see how can I help you the most.
https://forms.gle/uHeekD4guR18BjN66

If I could, you can too

Seriously 🙂
When I say that I was not very talented in chess, many laugh and think that I’m joking. Or they say  “How could you become a 2600+ FIDE-rated Grandmaster without talent?”.
But it’s the truth.

My friends, with whom I’ve worked on chess, can prove how bad my memory is. 

When we analyzed some variations together, very often the next day I could remember no more than 10% of that.

Before the game, when I needed to revise my analysis, it took me 3x more time, than from the others…

I’ll tell you one funny thing. But promise me not to laugh hard 😀

One period of my chess career I was solving lots of compositions.

Then I was saving the best ones in a special file. Not because I knew that after some period I would become a coach and I would need it, but because my memory was so bad that after some months I would solve them again. Because all of them seemed to me to be new ones. And it felt like I’ve never seen or solved them before.

I was not good at blitz. My mind was not as fast as my friends’ who also became Grandmasters. So how did I become one?

I just outworked everyone.

My family, coaches and my friends know how much I dedicated to chess and my dream. Often full weeks without day-offs, 8 hours a day.
But I had no other choice.

As we have already spoken, if you miss one of the 4 important qualities, you need to outperform the other ones.

It’ll be easier for you

So, I eventually became a Grandmaster and then passed 2600 as well. Many of you, who are reading this now, maybe much more talented than me…
And if you work as much as I did, then even 2700 Grandmaster is achievable.  

Yeah, and probably I was investing in myself smartly (despite my Mercedez story 😆)

I was not buying all the books, but the ones I really needed.
I was not hiring the best coaches. I couldn’t afford it. I was hiring the best ones based on my budget.
I always try to be humble. But now let me skip it and tell you, that probably I would have become a Grandmaster even earlier if that time there were educational platforms, like ours - ChessMood or quality video courses recorded by Grandmasters.

So, actually, you even have an advantage! Lucky you 🙂

I am not very young. Can I still become a GM?  

Well, here I have good news too.

There is a stereotype that if you haven’t started playing chess early, you can no longer become a GM That’s only partially true.

If you are 30-years-old and have 2000 rating, for you it will be much tougher to become a Grandmaster than for an 8-year-old who plays at the same level.

The only big difference here is that you are not a kid, you probably have a job and need to take care of your family. Maybe you are also married and have kids? Then you’ll have less time to invest in chess. 

But if you are free and can invest your time in chess without limits, then an 8-year-old kid has no competitive advantage.

You just need one thing - the most important one!  

The most important thing 

Ask yourself a question: Why do you want to become a Grandmaster? Try to find a strong answer. If your answer is strong enough, nothing can stop you…  

 Last notes 

Once again… The purpose of this article was not to pour water on your flame, on your dreams. It was just to open your eyes. To help you become aware of upcoming difficulties. And at the same time, I am the first person who will encourage you to believe in your dreams, fight for them, chase them and not give up.

And I’ll be the first person who will give his hand if after reading all this you still want to become a Grandmaster. 

Being brave when you lack proper information is stupidity.
Being brave while also informed is heroism. 

For the heroes whom this article will not stop from chasing their dreams and becoming a GM…
And for all bright people in my life who helped me to get there…

Thank you! 

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P.P.S. If you believe in yourself, that you'll become a Grandmaster no matter what, answer these few questions given in this form. I'll try to guide you :)
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Originally published Apr 28, 2020

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