Nona Gaprindashvili, the first female Grandmaster

A chess GRANDMASTER (GM) is the highest title a player can attain, making those who obtain the rank the most outstanding chess players in the world. There are 3 lower-ranking open titles – International Master (IM), FIDE Master (FM), and Candidate Master (CM) – awarded to both men and women, as well as 4 women’s-only ranks (WGM, WIM, WFM, and WCM).

Under current FIDE (World Chess Federation) regulations, grandmasters must reach a skill level (“Elo rating”) of 2500, receive several favorable results (called “norms”) in at least 27 games, and/or obtain a Championship title. The youngest player to earn the grandmaster rank is Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine at just 12 years old. The first female grandmaster, Nona Gaprindashvili from Zugdidi, Georgia (formerly the Soviet Unionn) won in 1978.

A Male-Dominated Game: Uneven Gender Ratios

Xie Jun, a female GM from China.

Ironically, while the QUEEN chess piece is the most powerful on the board, there have only been 35 female grandmasters in the history of the game, compared to a whopping 1535 male grandmasters! Why are there so few female grandmasters?

While some have attempted to explain the male-dominance of the game through science (suggesting that women’s brains are essentially incapable of obtaining the complex skills and strategies needed to play chess at all), many others have pointed out the simple sociological reason for the extremely low number of female grandmasters: girls are not often raised to play strategy games, so there are simply fewer female chess players to begin with. Although the 4 women-only titles exist, the titles rank below the open titles (with lower Elo score requirements), and some women actually choose not to take on the women-only titles at all. Similarly overt forms of sexism exist in the video game industry, though the industry has been quicker to welcome female gamers, which are now said to make up half of the gaming population.

Chess Prodigies

28 chess players earned their GM titles before reaching their 15th birthdays. Several others became GMs at or before 18, including Bobby Fischer (at 15) Boris Spassky (at 18)!

At 26, Magnus Carlsen is considered the “Mozart of Chess.” He is the current World Chess Champion, having earned his grandmaster title at only 13 years old. Watch the Norwegian chess prodigy (when he was 21) in an interview on 60 minutes below.

More information about titles and regulations can be found in the FIDE online handbook and website at