To achieve the Grandmaster title in chess, you have to perform exceptionally in 3 very strong tournaments and you must obtain a FIDE rating of 2500 to be awarded the title. In the early and mid-20th century it was much more difficult to become a Grandmaster because there were far less tournaments and ratings were much lower. However, in the 21st century it is much easier to attain the GM title as strong tournaments are much more frequent and the FIDE rating system has experienced substantial inflation. Let´s look at the numbers: in 1972 there were 88 GMs and in 2012 there are now over 1200 GMs! However the vast majority (around 95%) of Grandmasters are rated between 2400 and 2699 FIDE. After the recent Chess Olympiad 2012 in Istanbul, there are now a total of 50 Super-GMs rated over 2700 FIDE.
Why Not Distinguish The Super-GMs?
Not only has the culture of chess changed incredibly over the last 50-100 years, the ratings are different now as well! Bobby Fischer hit his peak rating of 2785 back in 1972, placing him far and above his contemporaries. Now 2785 FIDE would put you at #5 in the world – still impressive but not exactly at clear world dominance status. In 1989 Nigel Short was rated 2650 and came in at #3 in the world – in today´s market he wouldn´t even make the cut for the top 100! So how to explain the differences in the rating system of 20 and 50 years ago with that of today? Without delving into sample populations growing and standard deviations becoming more extreme, the easy answer is that there are a LOT more people playing chess today so naturally a LOT more higher-rated players will emerge. But I don´t think that means the top players deserve less recognition. To achieve 2700+ means you are a legitimate contender for the world championship, that you dominate ALL other lesser Grandmasters and titled players in any event you play. It only seems natural that such fantastically talented players receive an official title of recognition – the Super-Grandmaster!