From the dawn of recorded chess, to the establishment of the first chess organizations, the term master was simply one of opinion. 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. For example, in Germany, there arose an annual sponsored tournament, the Hauptturnier, the winners of which were awarded the title of National Master. Emanuel Lasker, who later became World Champion, first earned a master title in one such tournament.
The establishment of the world chess body, Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE), saw the creation of titles superior to the "national master" titles. FIDE created the titles "International Master" and "Grandmaster", awarded according to those achieving set requirements. FIDE eventually created the title of "FIDE Master", as the lowest master title it awarded.
In the correspondence chess field, the International Correspondence Chess Federation ICCF awards titles "International Master", Senior International Master and "Grandmaster". These titles are also recognized by Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE).
The United States Chess Federation (USCF) awards the Title of National Master to anyone who achieves a USCF rating of 2200, and the title of Senior Master to anyone who achieves a USCF rating of 2400. The USCF also awards the Life Master title to anyone who holds a 2200 rating for a total of 300 or more games in his or her lifetime.