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The Chess Player Disease: Always Wanting More (Elo)
At the World Chess Championships in London, 2013. Photo: Andrew Testa/Panos

The Chess Player Disease: Always Wanting More (Elo)

Tamara
| 18

In the chess world, elo is not just a metric that shows your skill level. It’s also a status, an ego-boost or killer, and a source of comparison and motivation to keep doing more. No matter how small or big this number is, the person it’s attached to always desires… more. 

The Humble Beginnings 

If you’ve just started playing, every small gain seems like a huge achievement. Beginners will do a lot to try to get their rating over the 1000 threshold - mostly watch GothamChess videos, but only once this rating is crossed do they realize how meaningless it was. That’s when the pursuit of 1100 starts, and as the threshold keeps moving, the beginner realizes there is no ‘ceiling’, there can always be more improvement that leads to a higher elo.

The Average Player

After crossing 1400-1500 elo, most players will find themselves belonging in the 1400-1800 range with a lot of hardships to cross it. It’s a cut-off where the average is separated from the good, and the progress can take months or years. There are no easy wins, queen blunders, or backrank mates anymore… oh wait, that happens on every level. Never mind. 

Alexandra Botez & Robert Hess's Twitch stream - Magnus Carlsen blunders a rook.

Back to the point - the average player can outplay most of the world’s population in chess but will have a hard time moving forward without some serious studying, practice, and analysis. Often, these players feel like they've plateaued. 

You’ve made it - 2k+

Once the transition has been made from a ''measly'' 1800-1900 player to the glorious 2000 elo and above, the chess player starts to realize… They are still not a good chess player (their words, not mine). The desire for a higher elo seems to only become stronger, the more they gain. The goal keeps getting pushed higher and higher. Each game can change the player’s confidence in a second.

The Untouchables

Now, all we’ve mentioned so far has been us - mortal beings. But what about the masters? Surely, once achieved, any title of a chess master is carried with pride and humbleness… right? Well, it doesn’t seem so. The FIDE Masters of the world are so close to the International Master title - some are only missing the rating, some a norm or two.

Nakamura vs Carlsen, 2018. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Their grind is continuous, unrelenting, and constant, chess is the only thing on their mind. But, the International Master is in an even worse position - how can you get to 2400 in chess, and not be able to cross that tiny bridge to 2500 and a handful of norms?! That’s what they tell themselves - while chess consumes their life completely… Still, not as completely as the Grandmasters'.

Now, granted, once achieved, the status of a Grandmaster must be the only one that leaves a players in a constant state of satisfaction. Technically, it is the highest official title in chess. You’re an expert. You think, eat, and dream in chess terms. There’s nothing higher.

Except there is. Super-Grandmasters. The race to 2900. The next World Champion.

The search for more never stops.

Photo: James Austin.

The question arises - why is it so important for the chess player to always keep being better, beating yourself, and chasing an elusive magic number? 

It seems that such is the nature of the game - it is a simple game to learn, but a difficult one to become an expert at. Each level you’re on presents new challenges and nuances, all the way to the top where most people play so well, that neither one can win - a lot of the games end in draws. 

Every time a new elo threshold is passed, the player feels like they can move their limit higher. With enough studying, practice, and obsession - maybe I can be as good as the next one… 

Perhaps, the elo pursuit is about more than just chasing the number. It’s a path of self-improvement and growth. Whether you just started or you’re sitting across a GM in your next tournament, the search for more is the never-ending thing that keeps you playing.