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21-Year-Old Greek Man Becomes Chess Grand Master


Nikola Theodorou Greek Grandmaster
From grammar school through to university, Nikola Theodorou has worked to become a Chess Grand Master. Image courtesy of Chania Chess Club

Chess is probably the last sport one might associate with Greece; nonetheless the nation can now boast another young Greek Chess Grandmaster as of early September.Nikolas Theodorou, a 21-year-old from Crete, is one of only 11 Greeks to hold the title.

The latest Greek Grandmaster won a competition in South Carolina this month to secure the impressive title.

Theodorou is an engineering major who studies in St. Louis Missouri, a mecca for the game. He went there on a chess scholarship. In the US, the collegiate chess power houses are Saint Louis University, where Theodorou attends classes, as well as Webster University, Washington University and Lindenwood University.

Greek Grandmaster Lands In St. Louis with Chess Scholarship

There is a huge initiative for recruiting and giving scholarships to strong Grandmasters who are interested in studying in America. This trend started with the University of Texas at Dallas and University of Maryland, Baltimore in the late 1990s.

The schools saw it as a win-win scenario: chess players on scholarship tend to earn some of the highest grade point averages and the schools are represented internationally in many different events, including the Chess Olympiad and World Cup.

Theodorou was raised in Rethymo, getting his start at the family’s kitchen table, where his parents, Fotini and Panos Theodorou, would compete with one another at the chess board. He joined the Rethymo Chess Club while he was still in grammar school and quickly made a name for himself locally, continuously winning competitions.

As his skill grew, the Greek Grandmaster branched out more competitively; however, the Rethymo club could no longer offer the support he needed. The Chania Chess Club, with greater resources, “adopted” Theodorou.

Grandmaster Attends Experimental High School

The young Cretan attended the Experimental High School of the University of Crete as  a teenager. The school’s principal, Giannis Makanades, said of the Greek Grandmaster, “Nikola’s superb abilities in all academic subjects are undeniable. He distinguished himself for the virtues of his character. He is social, friendly, polite and has a subtle sense of humor. He has exhibited a great sense of calm and rare maturity for his age.”

At 16, the Greek Grandmaster had already made a name for himself as only one of four individuals to rank worldwide in his category.

Nikolas Theodorou Learns From His Weaknesses

Theodorou stated on the Chania Chess Club’s website, “I have taken great pride in chess. I engaged with children in an intensely psychological game, which offered endless opportunities for me. I was able to analyze competitors characteristics, to discern weaknesses, to discover peculiarities and talents.”

He stated that he tried to limit his weaknesses by learning from them. “Chess is a unique world that, although you travel alone, power is given to you by the others around you, your teammates, your team. I used those skills in chess to succeed in my academic and personal life.”

Becoming a Grandmaster is no easy feat. And once you earn the title of Grandmaster, you earn it for life. Currently the youngest Grandmasters are age 13.

Grandmaster is a title awarded to chess players by the International Chess Federation (FIDE). Apart from World Champion, Grandmaster is the highest title a chess player can attain. They must receive an Elo rating of at least 2500 at any point in their career.  Favorable results are called norms, from a total of at least 27 games in tournaments.

Greek Chess Grandmaster Nikola Theodrou
Nikolas Theodorou is one of 11 Greek Chess Grandmasters. Credit: Kateryna Kulish Creative Commons Attribution 4

Nikolas Theodorou’s Current Standings as Greek Grandmaster

Theodorou’s current standings, according to the web site 365 Chess is Elo 2559 out of 169 competitions between 2015 and 2021. In the South Carolina Labor Day Tournament his Elo was 2456, and in July, on home turf on Crete for the Paleochora competition, his Elo was 2409.

The title of Grandmaster, along with the lesser titles of International Master and FIDE Master, is open to all players regardless of gender. The majority of grandmasters are men, but a number of women have also earned the title. Since 2000, most of the top 10 women have held the title.

The first official use of the term seems to be in the Ostend tournament of 1907. The tournament was divided into two sections: the Championship Tournament and the Masters’ Tournament. The Championship section was for players who had previously won an international tournament. Prior to 1950, the term grandmaster was sometimes informally applied to world class players. FIDE was formed in Paris in 1924, but at that time it did not award formal titles.

When FIDE reorganized after World War II it adopted regulations concerning international titles. FIDE first awarded the Grandmaster title in 1950 to 27 players.

The modern system for awarding FIDE titles evolved from proposals of Grandmaster Svetozar Gligorić and Professor Arpad Elo. Built on the work done by Elo, the Elo rating system was devised. The establishment of an updated list of players and their Elo rating enabled certain international chess tournaments to be allocated a category based on the average rating of the contestants.

For instance, it was decided that ‘Category 1’ status would apply to tournaments with an average Elo rating of participants falling within the range 2251–2275; similarly Category 2 would apply to the range 2276–2300 etc. The higher the tournament category, the stronger the tournament.

Another vital component involved the setting of meritorious norms for each category of tournament. Players must meet or surpass the relevant score to demonstrate that they had performed at Grandmaster or International Master level. Scores were expressed as percentages of a perfect maximum score and decreased as the tournament category increased, thereby reflecting the strength of a player’s opposition and the relative difficulty of the task.

Tournament organizers could then apply the percentages to their own tournament format and declare in advance the actual score that participants must achieve to attain the norm.

Netflix Series “Queen’s Gambit” Give Chess Popularity Boost

Competitive chess has gained greater popularity internationally during the past year as Netflix has featured “The Queen’s Gambit,” a 2020 American coming-of-age period television drama. The plot is based on Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel of the same name. The title refers to the “Queen’s Gambit,” a chess opening move.

Beginning in the mid-1950s and proceeding into the 1960s, the story follows the life of Beth Harmon, an orphaned chess prodigy on her rise to the top of the chess world while struggling with drug and alcohol dependency.

chess board
Chess Grandmasters, like Nikolas Theodorou, need an Elo of 2500 to qualify. Credit: Wtendo Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4

The history of chess can be traced back nearly 1,500 years, although its earliest origins are uncertain. The earliest form of the game probably originated in India from where it spread to Persia. Following the Arab invasion and conquest of Persia, chess was taken up by the Muslim world and subsequently spread to southern Europe. During the European Middle Ages, the game evolved roughly into its current form by the 15th century.

“Romantic” chess was the predominant playing style from the late 18th century to the 1880s. Chess games of this period emphasized quick, tactical maneuvers rather than long-term strategic planning. The Romantic era of play was followed by the Scientific, Hypermodern and New Dynamism eras.

In the second half of the 19th century, modern chess tournament play began and the first official World Chess Championship was held in 1886. The 20th century saw great leaps forward in chess theory and the establishment of the FIDE.

The first programmed chess games using artificial intelligence contributed to much of the development in chess theory and has become an important part of preparation in professional human chess playing. Later developments in the 21st century made the use of computer analysis far surpassing the ability of any human player accessible to the public.

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