Ratings with a Twist
I've seen some comments in the forums to the effect of "anyone who says they don't really care about their rating, and the impact of a game on it, is lying".
Wrong. I'm one such person. Some people can't imagine there are others who believe or think differently than they do, like the sort of people who insist that, deep down, everyone believes in a god. They can't even comprehend the notion that it's possible someone might think otherwise. But we're out there. My specific rating, and especially the effect of one game or tournament on my rating, is not an obsession for me, and I think the logic employed by those who refuse to play people rated very far below them because "I've got nothing to gain and a lot to lose" is childish.
Not caring about my rating doesn't mean that I don't like to win, only that I don't do everything with an eye toward how it might affect my rating adjustment. I like to win games because that can be evidence of a certain level of understanding or improvement in my chess. At the same time, I don't mind losing games, because that's one of the methods of learning.
However, a recent game had a strange twist that had me looking at what sort of rating adjustment I might expect. I was in a rated tournament and one player in my group had a rating more than 700 points above mine. Obviously I wasn't expecting great results against this chap, and in the first game I was pummeled soundly until I gave up after 23 moves. The game was pretty short, moves-wise, but it had taken quite a while to play as far as the number of days. The reason was because my opponent had hundreds of games going simultaneously, and his routine was to make a move in one-third of his games each day. Thus, he always used almost all of his allotted 72 hours before I'd see a response to my move. That's fine with me.
The gap in our ratings was so large that my rating adjustment for my loss was actually 0 points, and I started our second game expecting the same result. But somewhere around move 15 or 20 of the second game, I noticed that his rating had suddenly dropped some 950 points and was now more than 200 points lower than mine! A quick check showed that he had timed out of more than 300 games over a span of a day or so. Presumably he had been unable to get to his chess games like normal, and all of his games that required a move on that day timed out one right after another. He was back to playing before my game timed out, though, so we were still good.
But then it occurred to me that I was now in the position of playing someone who was still playing with an ability 700 points above me, but who had a rating 200 points below me. When my inevitable defeat came about this time I wasn't going to have a rating adjustment of 0 points like for the first game, but rather a sizeable drop of more than 20 points because on paper I would be losing to a rating score quite a bit lower than mine.
There was nothing to be done, and it didn't especially bother me, but I thought it was an interesting situation. Certainly others among his remaining opponents had noticed the same thing, and I got a grin envisioning all of them suddenly reaching the same conclusion and all simultaneously switching to a slow-play strategy, each trying to delay his own defeat long enough that our common opponent would have time to win some games and get his score back up to a value more representative of his actual playing ability before their loss became a matter of record.
Then something happened that again prevented my opponent from playing and he went though another large series of timeouts, and this time my game was one of them. So on paper I've got a win against this guy, but his rating at the time I defeated him was nearly 300 points below mine and it netted me only +5 for my rating adjustment.
I checked just before posting this, and his timeout streak is still running strong. He's up to more than 800 games timed out and down to less than 100 games still in progress, but it looks as though he's selected a few of those to continue playing. That means there are still players out there who are going to get stomped by someone rated hundreds of points below them. It would be ironic if some of his victims were the type I described at the beginning who ordinarily refuse to play people with ratings much lower than their own!