In general, a chess master is a player of such skill that he or she can usually beat most amateurs. Among chess players, the term is often abbreviated to master, the meaning being clear from context.
The establishment of the world chess body, Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE), saw the creation of titles superior to the "national master" titles. In 1950, FIDE created the titles "Grandmaster" and "International Master", the requirements for which were increasingly formalized over the years. In 1978 FIDE created the lesser title of "FIDE Master".
From the beginning of recorded chess, to the establishment of the first chess organizations, the term master was applied informally, being simply a matter of popular acclaim. Strong players demonstrated their strength in play, and gained the informal reputation of being chess masters.
As chess became more widespread in the latter half of the 19th century, the term began to be given out by organizations. One of the most prestigious events of the time was the DSB Congress, first organised by the Deutscher Schachbund (German Chess Federation) in 1876. The DSB's standard for the title of Master was the Meisterdrittel, i.e. to win at least one third of the games in the premiere tournament at a DSB Congress. The winner of the Hauptturnier or "reserve" event was entitled to compete in the premiere event in the next congress, with a chance to achieve the Meisterdrittel.
All the titles listed above are open to men and women. Separate women-only titles, such as Woman Grandmaster (WGM), are also available. Beginning with Nona Gaprindashvili in 1978, many women have also earned the unsegregated GM title.