Chess Rankings & Ratings - What do they mean?

| 65 | For Beginners

Someone recently achieved a 1200 rating playing against Fritz and posted a thread asking what that means. I wrote a (rather long) reply but, since this subject crops up occasionally, I thought I'd post it here as well. I hope it will be of interest to community as a whole or at least to those who don't understand the rating system.

Ratings in the USCF, at least about 20 years ago, went something like this:

  • 1200-1399 = 'D' player - usually a beginner;
  • 1400-1599 = 'C' player - average club or tournament player, most people can achieve this level if they work at it;
  •  1600 - 1799 = 'B' player - consistently above average;
  • 1800-1999 = 'A' player - strong club player, takes the game far too seriously!, has lots of opening knowledge;
  • 2000-2199 = 'Expert' - extremely strong, consistent player with the possibility of achieving Master rating, may have real talent;
  •  2200-2399 = 'Master' - strongest amateur rank, hasn't quite got the hang of things yet but maybe one day he/she will wake up.

International professional players have two ranks:

  • 2400-2499 = 'International Master' - weakest professional rank; strong, experienced international player, eats Masters for breakfast;
  • 2500+ = 'Grandmaster' - eats IMs for breakfast, lunch and dinner, a star in the firmament of Caissa, a chess genius who thinks nothing of playing 20 and 30 board simuls against Experts and Masters and is disappointed if he/she doesn't win every game, capable of playing 10-20 blindfold games at the same time, and winning, etc. etc, in short, an all around bricks and mortar, brass bound b*st*rd of a player, but they do lose on occasion, sometimes to players with a much lower rating and computers are better than that these days.

Note that IMs can be rated above 2500 if they haven't yet achieved the results necessary for the title of Grandmaster.

As you can see, most of us have got a long way to go!

The ranks of International Master and Grandmaster can only be gained through participation in international tournaments and the achievement of 'norms', that is consistently drawing with and beating other professional players. You can get a rating of 350,000,000 by playing in local tournaments but you still wouldn't be an IM or a GM. Of course if you do get a rating of 350,000,000 drop me a line and tell me how you did it!

It's important to remember that a rating is a measure of consistency so don't be put off playing higher rated players. Anybody under the rating of 2000 can play like an absolute idiot in a particular game and you'll find that you will sometimes play far beyond your own rating.

The great thing about chess is that it's fun to play. Players rated 1200 and below probably have a lot more fun playing than professionals. I think it was Gary Kasparov who said, "Chess is mental torture!", which doesn't sound to me like he's enjoying his games very much. After all, chess is a pass-time and, unless you're trying to be a professional, treat it as such and don't worry too much about your rating.