Ratings Don't Matter: An Official Tournament Player
I've completed my first year of playing chess as an adult by getting a 4.5/6 in the U1400 section of the MN open. With these six games I will have played 28 tournament games and thus my rating will become official (somewhere between 1320-1340). Naturally I think I should be higher, but I started pretty low as I wasn't ready for tournament play and obviously had a lot to learn about playing chess. Below are some of the things I've discovered playing OTB.
Ratings don't matter! For any single game I've found that ratings are not that indicative for the type of game that will ensue. Part of this, I believe, is that ratings measure an ability to play consistently not just for a whole game, but a whole series of games. So a 1000 player may play two games at 1400 strength and then taper off to playing worse. Some people react badly to a loss, some people get tired (I haven't won a 4th game in a day yet). I've outplayed a 1650 and almost lost to a 785. I try not to even look at the rating of my opponent before the game, I just try to play my best each game.
Another thing I've learned is that OTB chess is hard, physically and menatlly. Even with relatively short time controls of G/120 after 3-4 games in a day it is very difficult to focus. I had one coaching session and was told to do to two things, try to ignore threats and predict my opponents move. Even knowing this it was very hard to do the latter. Winning early makes it easy to fall into old patterns and I was used to just calculating my opponents response to my plans, not so much their own plans. Finally this Sunday I made an extra effort to change my thinking and it definitely helped. But after 9 hours of chess playing at your personal best isn't as easy as it sounds. The 4th game syndrome I have is that I want to go home! I still haven't figured out a way to psyche myself up for those games.
Lastly, I think OTB chess is definitely great if you want to improve. Not necessary, but very helpful. It will really measure what areas are in need of the most improvement. I was blowing a lot of endgames, I've focused a lot more on the endgames and this last tournament I did let one advantage slip into a draw (with 23 secods left) but I also won an opposite colored bishop endgame and I easily improved my position in two other games into easily won engames. If you have the time and really want to test your chess and find your weaknesses then OTB chess is a great way to apply pressure and find out exactly where you stand. Just remember for any given game, the ratings don't matter.