A chess rating is a measure of a person's current chess ability. You get a rating by playing in a chess tournament which is sanctioned by the US Chess Federation (USCF). When the tournament is finished, the director submits the results to the USCF. Their computer then uses statistical formulas to calculate the ratings of each participant, based on their performance in the tournament.

Ratings can be provisional or established. Until you have completed 25 tournament games, your rating is called provisional, and is not considered completely reliable. After 25 games, your rating is established, and considered fairly reliable. Established ratings still change with each tournament, but are unlikely to fluctuate more than 100 points or so unless your playing ability changes significantly.

Ratings can be used to predict future performance. If one player is rated 100 points more than another, he will probably win about 6 games out of every 10 they play. As the difference in ratings between 2 players increases, the higher rated player's probability of winning in any given game increases. If one player is rated 400 points higher than another, he will probably win approximately 9 out of every ten games they play. Ratings can also be used to divide people up into different skill levels. Here at the Pittsburgh Chess Club, we use the following rough categories to approximate where kids are at, skill wise:

Kid's Rating Classes/Skill Levels
(Note - we have recently revised these skills levels, and will probably continue
to do so as the use of the rating system in our area evolves)

Over 1100 indicates Premier

900 - 1100 indicates Advanced

700 - 900 indicates Intermediate

500 - 700 indicates Advanced Beginner

Under 500 indicates Beginner

A player's first rating is calculated in the following way: 1) list the ratings of their opponents in their first tournament (if they played someone unrated, use 1000 for that rating), 2) add 400 points to the rating of each opponent they beat, and subtract 400 points from the rating of each opponent who beats them, 3) sum up this adjusted list of opponent's ratings, and find the average. This average will approximate your first rating.

For the first 25 rated games you play, the USCF will keep the ratings of all your opponents on file, plus or minus the 400 point adjustments described above, and will recalculate your rating after you play in a new tournament using the above the procedure for all the rated games you have played. Thus, if you have played 8 rated games previously, and you just finished a 4 round tournament, the USCF will take all 12 games you've played to date, adjust them for win or losses, and assign you the average as your new rating.

After 25 games, your rating is considered established, and the rules change somewhat. From then on, you gain between 2 to 32 points for each win, depending on the rating of the person you beat. If you beat someone with the same rating as yourself, you gain 16 points. If you beat someone 400 or more points higher than yourself, you gain 32 points. If you beat someone 400 or more points lower than you, you only win 2 points. If their rating difference is somewhere in between these ranges, the amount of points you win will be proportionally in between. The idea is it is harder (or statistically rarer) to beat a higher rated player, so you should get more points for beating them then for beating a much lower rated player. The same principles apply for losses. A loss will cost you anywhere from 2 to 32 points, depending on the rating of the person you played. You don't lose many points for losing to someone rated way above you (since they were expected to beat you most of the time), but you do lose a lot of points if you lose to someone rated way below you (since you were expected to beat them most of the time).

To get better, practice and study. Your first rating may well be several hundred points off target. After your rating becomes established, it will usually continue to fluctuate down or up within a 100 point range. Don't worry to much about your rating. Keep focused on your game, on doing your best, on challenging yourself, and having fun. For more information, contact Jerry Meyers, Scholastic Director, Pittsburgh Chess Club: (412) 422-1770.

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Last Modified: 5/26/11
Maintained By/Send Comments to: Jerry Meyers