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Greg on Chess: For My Birthday, Stop Asking About Norms! Print E-mail
By IM Greg Shahade   
December 24, 2011
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A common question I get at tournaments, or on my Facebook wall or even from people I’d consider friends is: "So are you going after your norms?" Right before my latest tournament in Saint Louis, it was “good luck getting a norm!”
 
In an earlier CLO piece, I explained the dangerous obsession with norms over young talents. Even though I'm not 13-years-old, I share the same feelings for my own game. To be clear: I don’t care even in the slightest about getting a norm. Why not? Because I’m not good enough to be a grandmaster yet, and I’m not good enough to get a norm unless I get very lucky, and this should be very obvious to everyone who can see that my FIDE rating is just 2460.
 
There are so many pretty good chess players out there obsessed with making a norm, as though it’s going to help them in some way. Here’s another newsflash….unless you are 2500 FIDE, you aren’t getting the Grandmaster title, so if you are hanging around 2400-2440 all the time, making a GM norm isn’t going to help you very much. However if you get your rating to a consistent 2500 level, and you don’t have an especially draw happy style of chess, you are going to make GM norms in your sleep. You sure won’t make them in every tournament you play, but probably one out of every 4 or 5, and then you are well on your way to becoming a Grandmaster.
 
In order to make a performance of 2600 FIDE, you need to do a bit better than your rating would indicate. If you are truly a 2500 FIDE player, the best way to make norms is to have lots of 2600+ performance tournaments, combined with lots of 2400- performance tournaments. Meanwhile the best way to maintain a solid and steady 2500 type of performance from event to event is to consistently take a lot of short draws and play a very solid style of chess. Note that the first method results in plenty of norms, and the second method results in fewer.   
 
In my U.S. Chess School camps there are a lot of students who tell me that their goal is to make IM norms as quickly as possible. I always find this ridiculous, because usually while it’s clear to me these kids have talent, they are certainly not IM level players at the moment. Meanwhile I see them play in tournaments, and go through all kinds of weird contortions to improve their chances of making IM norms, and they sometimes seem to think that the only point of playing these events is to make IM norms. The way for these kids to make norms is extremely simple. All they have to do is just get a little better at chess, show up to play in the chess tournament, play normally, and the norms will come. 

So please, for my birthday (just passed on December 22nd)  and holiday present, stop asking me about norms. Also stop pretending that lifelong 2450-2475 FIDE players should be thinking about making norms (what they should be doing is figuring out how to be a legitimate 2500 FIDE player).
 
I basically haven’t played chess in eight years,  I’m not even slightly focused on making a norm, I care only about getting better at chess, and it’s certainly at least a little bit twisted when I am the one competing, yet it seems that fans/well-wishers (whom I appreciate very much!) are the only ones who are actually focused on whether or not I make a norm. When I deserve to be a Grandmaster, I will still not be even remotely focused on making a norm, because once I get strong enough, I don’t have to focus on it at all. If at some point I see a 2500 next to my FIDE rating, I will then expect to have the title within a year. Until that time, I’m just playing to get some experience. 
 
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Greg at the Saint Louis Chess Club, Photo 2010
I was recently invited to the Saint Louis Chess Club for the GM Norm Invitational though I called it the St. Louis Invitational on my scoresheets, on my videos and in every other mention of the tournament. To me the tournament was about having nine tough games against strong players, and had nothing to do with making a norm.

Major props to St. Louis for their first ever closed tournament, it was a real honor to be invited, to play at such an amazing club and I was very happy to not get completely crushed against all the geniuses. Here are a couple of games from my event there:
 
 
 
On another note, closed tournaments that are interested in producing norms should invite Conrad Holt to play, because he is clearly destined to be a Grandmaster very shortly (and I wrote this before he made a norm a few days ago at the University of Texas at Dallas Invitational!!). Probably the other "closest to GM" candidate is IM Robert Hungaski, even though I can destroy him in blitz.

Also see Greg Shahade's latest CLO article on the King's Island Open and look for an upcoming piece on the next edition of the US Chess School, to be held in Tucson in conjunction with 9 Queens.
 
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