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Anyone interested in chess will know the top possible title is Grandmaster, even if they don’t know the other open titles that are open to anyone to be awarded. However few know about the exclusive Women’s only club of titles including the WGM, WIM, WFM, and WCM titles.
If you have arrived looking for what wfm in chess means, read on. You are about to find out, and a lot more besides, but just to answer your question quickly.
A WFM in chess is a Woman FIDE Master, it is the third-highest women’s title after Woman Grandmaster and Woman International Master, but sits above Woman Candidate Master in the hierarchy of womens’ chess titles.
Let’s dig into this entire world of just 64 squares.
Why Are There Separate Titles For Women in Chess?
The generally accepted reason as to why women have additional titles available to them is because chess was, and still is, dominated by a larger pool of male players than females so separate titles for women were introduced from 1950 to encourage more women to the competitive game.
We are seeing more and more individual competitive sports feature both men and women in open competition in the last 5-10 years these include Golf, Snooker, Darts, and even Motor Racing, but as you can see they are very much playing catch up in terms of the timeline.
To be correct, there are no ‘mens’ and womens’ titles in chess, there are only separate titles for women.
Titles such as Grandmaster and International Master etc are not reserved for men but are open titles that anyone can be awarded.
When Where Womens’ Chess Titles Introduced?
You may be forgiven for thinking all four titles were introduced at the same time, but in fact, there are 52 years separating the Woman International Master title being launched in 1950 right through to 2002 for the first Woman Candidate Master.
It must have been a well-considered process given the timeline
- 1950 – Woman International Master WIM introduced
- 1976 – Woman Grandmaster WGM introduced
- 1980 – Woman FIDE Master WFM introduced
- 2002 – Woman Candidate Master WCM introduced
Women’s Chess Titles
There are 4 major official FIDE titles specifically for women players awarded by FIDE. In FIDE rating order:
- Woman Grandmaster (WGM)
- Woman International Master (WIM)
- Woman FIDE Master (WFM)
- Woman Candidate Master (WCM)
1. WGM Chess (2300+ Rating)
A chess WGM (Woman Grandmaster) is the highest-ranking chess title available only to female chess players.
Female chess grandmasters used to be few and far between and still are in terms of comparison between men and women there are relatively few.
Whilst a rating of 2500 is required [along with other criteria], to become a grandmaster, 2300 is the target for women grandmasters. The winner of the girl’s world championship is awarded the WGM title automatically
The title was introduced by FIDE in 1976, some 26 years after the first womens’ title of Woman International Master in 1950
When checking the FIDE rankings you will note many women with the GM title and not the WGM, as you will see later in this article, the wgm in chess is sometimes rejected by women preferring to be titled on a level playing field with their male counterparts.
2. WIM Chess (2200+ Rating)
The Woman International Master was the first title created exclusively for women and introduced as far back as 1950. It was a further 26 years before a dedicated woman grandmaster title was added.
Women can accept this title if they wish, the open equivalent of International master come at a rating some 200 points higher at 2400
3. WFM Chess (2100+ Rating)
Reaching a rating of 2100 and above is a minimum requirement of the wfm in chess.
wfm is the third-highest title specifically created for females in chess and sits 100 points ahead of the candidate master.
Adding a further 100 ranking points will qualify a woman for the Woman International Master title, although the same score is enough to gain the open to men and women ‘Candidate Master’ Title.
Creating this title in 1978 FIDE added this title very quickly after the WGM title was added 2 years earlier in 1976
Sometimes there is confusion wondering if a wfm is better than wgm
Having read the above classifications, a Woman FIDE Master is only third behind Woman Grandmaster and is a lower title requiring only 2100 against wgm Elo rating of 2300.
4. WCM Chess (2000+ Rating)
A more recent addition to FIDE titles exclusively for female chess players is the Woman Candidate Master which was introduced only in 2002, some 52 years after the WIM was launched.
Following the trend of being 200 Elo points lower than the open version of the title.
Gaining an Elo of 2000+ is a requirement, although this award can also be won by winning international and continental tournaments
All FIDE Rankings and Open Titles and Women Only
|Rating||OPEN Titles||Women Only Titles|
|2400||(IM) International Master||n/a|
|2300||(FM) FIDE Master||(WGM) Woman Grandmaster|
|2200||(CM) Candidate Master||(WIM) Woman International Master|
|2100||n/a||(WFM) Woman FIDE Master|
|2000||n/a||(WCM) Woman Candidate Master|
Why do Woman Titles Require Lower Elo Scores
Let’s not forget that to gain any of these titles, in most cases, you have to be very good indeed at playing chess, and also are required to gain FIDE norms too.
In terms of why the scores required at 200 points lower, for all my searching I can not find an absolute answer. But one of the best answers I have found comes from a member on StackExchange by the name of Brian Towers, for whom I credit the following
However, WFM Rodrigo also mentions “cultural” reasons. Translated into mathematical terms I think she is suggesting that females have a lower mean (average) FIDE rating than males. This we can check by loading the latest FIDE rating data into a database and doing some SQL queries.
Doing that gives us:
Female – Mean = 1505, standard deviation = 339
Male – Mean = 1675, standard deviation = 346
We see that there is little difference between male and female standard deviation but the mean female ELO is 170 points lower than the mean male ELO. This is half a standard deviation which is a lot. It looks to me that WFM Rodrigo is right about this too.
Comparing these figures with the rating differences between the open (there are no male-only titles) titles and the female-only titles it looks like FIDE are being generous to the females by a margin of 30 points. Perhaps they rounded the difference up to the nearest hundred?Brian Towers replying on StackExchange
Why Can Women Get Both Men’s and Women’s Titles
Women can be awarded both the woman-specific titles of WGM, WIM, WFM, and WCM, but also qualify for GM, IM, FM, and CM titles which are open to anyone but are 200 points above the women-only awards and thus tougher to achieve in relative terms.
Don’t forget that it is not just the ranking score that counts but also norms gained in high-level chess tournaments play into the requirement to achieve a title too.
Change may be on the horizon though as the average age of female players, and in particular, those gaining awards and titles, and winning championships both domestically, continentally, and internationally are getting younger and younger.
WGM Controversy – Women Do Not Have to Accept Titles and Have Rebuked Them Previously
It is not unknown for a woman to be awarded a women-only official title and rebuke the award and refuse it, wishing to be awarded on a level basis with the male counterparts.
This still happens in rare cases today but the woman titles are more generally accepted in the 21st century