Tournaments and the Rating system

Paul J. Mulqueen, Ph.D.

This is the second in a series of short articles designed to help parents better understand what chess can do for their child.  These articles will not teach chess.  The focus is on understanding what your child will experience should they become “hooked” on chess.

Chess is a competitive game.  The idea is to try to win or at least draw.  After playing a number of casual games a player will begin to wonder how they compare to the universe of chess players.  The historical desire to estimate a player’s ability resulted in the creation of both chess tournaments and a chess strength ranking system.  As we will see in later articles, creating a chess ranking system not only allows a player to see where they stand but also to help them learn to become better players and better thinkers.

Chess tournaments are formal games.  The games are conducted under the rules of the US chess federation and the results are reported to the same.  Good sportsmanship is encouraged and enforced. Playing in a tournament is stressful.   Almost always tournaments have multiple games per day.  This is quite tiring.  As a parent, it is important to watch your child for signs of hunger, fatigue, and “burn-out”.  Burn-out frequently occurs during multi-day tournaments.  Over time your child will learn to become “tournament tough”.

Learning how to become “tournament tough” is a valuable life skill.  You and your child’s coach should discuss with your child that they need to become self-aware.  They need to learn how to pace themselves.  Over a series of tournaments they will realize how important it is to plan when, what, and how much they eat.  They need to learn when to engage in physical play and when to sleep.  They will learn how to utilize coaching between tournament games.  You can use this growth in their self-awareness to discuss with them that they will be faced with numerous challenges in life and that the lesson they are learning now, will help them achieve their future goals.

By playing in tournaments your child will acquire a USCF (United States Chess Federation) rating.  The rating will most likely be a number between 100 and 1,000.  The best players in the world have a rating just over 2,800.   The rating system works in 400 point intervals.  A player rated 800 should beat a 400 player every time.  A 1,200 player should beat the 800 player ever time, and so on.  Now when players with ratings closer together than 400 points play then sometimes one player will win and sometimes the other player will win.  Over a course of a number of games the higher rated player is expected to win more often.  Mathematically, we would expect two 800 players to each win 50% of the time.  A 1,200 player is expected to win 100% of the time against an 800 player.  A 1,000 player is expected to win 75% of the time (1,000 – 800 = 200 points higher).  A 900 player is expected to win 62.5% of the time (100 points / 400 points * 50% + 50%). 

The rating system is a good way to track the overall progress of your child’s thinking.  It is important to remember that they will not win every game against lower rated opponents.  You will have to help them to understand this.  Talking to your child’s coach will help you better understand why this is. 

The next article will be on the stages in chess growth.