How to Become a Titled Player? (part-1)

Comments: 137

Would you like to become a titled player (FM, IM, GM)? Most chess players would answer “Yes, it would be cool!”

This can be pretty nice indeed. Titled players have more possibilities to play in strong tournaments, better financial conditions, free access to Internet resources (game zones, etc.), more respect, higher self-confidence during a game, and the list can go on…


Getting a chess title is more important for professional players, but even if you are an amateur you’ll still find some useful ideas for raising your chess level.

So, how to become a titled player? You may be thinking the answer is obvious: one needs to train intensively and play in tournaments. Although this is certainly correct, there are some other important things as well.

I know some players who study chess for 8-hours a day during many years, and they are not even International Masters. On the other hand we know quite a lot of very young players with 2300-2600 rating. They could not study chess for many years, simple because their overall age is too small. :)

Thus it’s not just a matter of intensive training. So what helps some players achieve FM/IM/GM titles quicker than others?


Those who don’t know the answer to this question can say: “It’s because of their talent.” 

This reminds me of ancient people who explained lightning by saying “These are God’s arrows.” :) This is a good way to sidestep the question, but certainly we can provide a lot more precise and clear answer.

Perhaps you’ve heard about a chess school of the former USSR. It ALWAYS produced a lot of strong players. Does this mean they all have that specific “God talent”? Of course it does not, and of course we can give a more rational explanation.


By the way, I became International Master at 13 years old; and I’ll be glad to share some “secrets” of young titled players with you! :) On a serious note, I’ll now give you some practical advice that will help you to become a titled player faster and easier.


You need to interact with TITLED PLAYERS regularly.

Imitation is the most natural (and effective) learning method for us. When you play or communicate with strong players, you adopt their strengths and adapt to their level.

It’s important to emphasize that you need to have such interaction REGULARLY. Only then will you be able to develop necessary skills and correct habits.

Let me strengthen this idea even more: it’s IMPOSSIBLE to get to the next level in chess if you do not interact with players on that level. Unfortunately this is the reason why some people with big aspirations for chess can’t achieve any significant results. Often they live in small cities and don’t have strong players around.


Nevertheless, nowadays you have some great opportunities. So how can you get in touch with titled players? There are a few main ways.

  • Play in strong tournaments.
  • Play on Internet game zones, and try to choose stronger opponents.
  • Find a good chess coach. You can read my article about coaches here: LINK
  • Join your local chess club (if you have one, and if there are strong players there).



Play in ROUND tournaments.

In order to get a FM (Fide Master) title you only need to reach 2300 rating. Here my main advice is to play in strong tournaments.


If the average rating of your opponents is 2100, you’ll have to obtain 101% of the scores (:)) for reaching 2300 rating. It’s gonna be difficult.

On the other hand, if your opponents are rated 2350 on average, you may make a couple of draws and maybe even lose a game or two. Practically this is a much easier task.


If your goals are higher, and you want to become an IM or a GM, the situation is more complex. In addition to raising your rating, you need to obtain a few IM/GM “norms”. Here I recommend that you play in round tournaments with IM/GM norms availability.

Below I’ll provide some ideas from my student IM Jose Gascón Del Nogal.


A round-robin tournament (or all-play-all tournament) is a competition “in which each contestant meets all other contestants in turn”. In chess, playing round-robin tournaments can have advantages if you know how to prepare for that.

Advantages of the round-robin format

1. Know your opponents: In round-robin tournaments, normally you should know what players you are going to face before the competition starts. That allows you to prepare some opening variations and to analyze your opponent’s playing style, his strengths and weaknesses. In the course “the Grandmaster Secrets” (link), GM Igor Smirnov explains very nicely how we can do that.

2. It’s easier to raise your FIDE rating than in Swiss tournaments.

There is a very simple explanation for this. In a Swiss tournament, you play against players that have a score similar to yours. Hence you play against equal level opponents.

In a round-robin tournament, you will meet all players anyway, with the clear advantage that you also have to play against those players that are playing badly. This can help you to raise your rating.

NOTE: This is only an advantage if you are in a good shape; because if you aren’t, it can happen to the contrary – you can be in last place and in the next round you should play against the player that is top of the table. Thus you need to prepare for the tournament very well.

3. The round-robin tournaments are better for obtaining IM and GM norms.

This is because, before the tournament starts, you already know that, for example, with 7 points out of a possible 9 you will make an IM norm. Thus in the last 2-3 rounds you know if it’s fine for you to make draws or you must play for a win.


Let’s stop for today, and in the next part of this lesson I’ll provide further advice. In the meanwhile, you may test your chess skills in some of the cool positions below.

Leko – Wang


Black’s turn

White installed a deadly pin on Black’s knight. Is there any way for Black to escape?


Short – Fier


White’s turn

White has a very strong attacking position and a lot of tempting continuations. Nevertheless, Black has somewhat covered his weaknesses. Can White still breakthrough?

After you find a solution in both positions, please download the whole games and check your solutions for yourself: LINK

Comments: 137

Comments 26

  1. In Leko-Wang we can start with a material and imbalance count: Six pawns on each side, kingside majority vs. queenside, isolated white e-pawn, but it’s hard to attack and serving some important functions, bishop vs.knight, white has strong pressure down the d-file, and the e-pawn gives additional support to the rook. Meanwhile black has the worse king for the endgame being tucked away on h8, and this is the transitional phase between middle and endgame so already we have some points in white’s favor due to said king, g6-Kg7 may later rectify that, though if the e-pawn stays where it is that would make it that much tougher for the black king to march toward the center. Judging from king positions black doesn’t want to enter the endgame. The pressure against the Nd7 looks to be too much, white is clearly better here. Any tactics? 1…Nc5 2.Rxd7,Nb6+ exploiting the pin against the king and recapturing with check as Kb1 is forced, but white isn’t obligated to take the knight so I have to find a refutation if any before deciding. 2.Kb1,Ne4 is a fork 2.Qg5, with pressure against the rook and threatening to win the f-pawn, which would be a great support to a Ne4 2…Rc8 3.Qxf5 primary variation white is better, but at least black keeps his pieces 2.Qc3 also looks strong, can’t play a knight to a strong e4 square supported by an f5 pawn if it loses the queen after all, though Rc8 again saves black here with maybe a queen exchange at worse. 1…Nc5 pushes clock.

  2. it’s IMPOSSIBLE to get to the next level in chess if you do not interact with players on that level…(that’s it)..thanks so much our Super GM Igor Smirnov……

  3. Good advice but in India there are no Round robin tournaments and also they did not allowing to participate Round Robin Tourneys at out of country’s

  4. Igor is so great he always answer questions , I did ask before a question about this topic , also I was wondering about to take is a mistake , (then when you should take) , I’m so glad he explain and answer this in the course calculate till mate 🙂

    I hope that soon the new opening course will came out , I will buy it then GM Igor Smirnov course are still the best ever !

  5. Thank you very much Igor for this great article. It contains precious advices that we all need in order to progress quickly. At the moment my Elo Is between 1550-1600 on It is hard to learn chess alone because you need someone who asked your questions. I watch videos on youtube in order to find an answer to my questions. When I analyse my chess games I have questions. My opponent make moves that GM don’t play and I try to find how to exploit these inacuracies but sometimes I don’t have answer.

  6. I’m curious to know what interactions with titled players had Carlsen… We should agree that talent exist anyway. And the talent is your base rating without any professional training at all. I have seen players without any training with a rating like 2100. After some years of training they became titled players. One of them is already GM, the other is IM.
    But if your natural rating is something like 1200, you will have no chance to be rated more then 2000, no matter what training and for how long you will get.

  7. Спасибо, Игорь. Вообще-то я Fide Master, и легко нашла правильные ходы в обеих позициях. К сожалению, турниры по круговой системе в Америке почти невозможно найти. Но я иногда играю в турнирах по швейцарской системе. Хотелось бы просто повысить свой рейтинг и думаю, некоторые из ваших советов, действительно, очень полезны, Спасибо еще раз.

  8. Hi Serafima! These positions are easy for FM (although it’s still good that you’ve done them quickly). You may try these puzzles:

    I know some round tournaments in US, for instance Sinquefield Cup 🙂 On a serious note, if you don’t pursue IM title, swiss tournaments are totally fine. Good luck in your competitions!

    P.S. I write comments in English so that everybody can understand our conversation.

  9. Hi Igor. Always top quality tips and lessons from you. I want to know what is the way forward for 1200 rated players?? Do they have a future at all?? I am talking about 7 or 8 year olds who have big ambition but ended up with this rating.

    1. Hi Kumaraswamy. Thanks for your nice words!
      I guess you are talking about your children. They certainly can have good future in chess. A lot of kids learn chess in 7; I went to a chess club at 8 – it’s still a good age to start.

      I’m pretty sure your kids just never had a normal coaching. Very often the problem is not in a lack of talent, but in a lack of good coaches 🙂
      Let me bring up a little warning. “big ambition” sometimes can be harmful (at this age). Let those kids have JOY from playing chess. Then everything will go smoothly in the future.

  10. Hi Renis,

    Thanks for your comment.

    As far as I know, Carlsen was trained by a titled player (GM Simen Agdestein) when he was a kid, so even
    the best players need some help and interaction to improve their play!

    Secondly, I am not sure what a
    natural rating is. Each case can be different. For example, even the great Mikhail Botvinnik stated that Anatoly Karpov had no future in chess when he was a kid!

    Kind regards,

    Manuel / Student Support Officer

  11. Hi Adithya,
    That’s a difficult question to answer without knowing you. Have you ever analyzed any of your games? Where do you feel like your weakness is? If you would like, go to our support site and create a ticket. That way I might be able to assist you a little more personally.
    Paul | Student Support Officer

  12. I think one of my main weaknesses is when it comes to positional play. I’ve learned most of the principles in positional play, but I don’t use them as much, and don’t find a good increase in my strength since I learnt positional principles. I also am not too familiar with openings, though I am able to play book moves without knowing them, which consumes some of my game time.

  13. Adithya,
    From the sound of your reply, I might suggest that you try to develop a plan in which you focus your moves. Usually a plan is developed at or near the end of the opening phase. I use a single opening when I play white and 2 when I play black. From these 3 openings I have a fair idea how the board will look at the end of the opening phase. From there I develop my attacking plan. Perhaps for you, one of the Opening Courses to gain positional understanding of the openings or possibly the “Winning Plan” to gain an strategy for attacking plans. I believe that with a practical plan for your games you will have better results. Good luck on your game play.
    Paul | Student Support Officer

    1. Hello,

      Yes, I would recommend that you begin with The Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding course as it contains the most essential information and will provide a good base for your quick future progress.

      Paul | Student Support Officer

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