chess ladder rules


I'm looking for suggestions for how to run a chess "ladder" (basically, a club ranking system, to encourage friendly competition) in the club I teach at my son's elementary school.   If you've used a system that you think has worked well, I'd appreciate hearing about it.  Thank you.


At the end of this post I'll paste a copy of the system I used last year.  The problem with the system is that I had a group of students who were always at the bottom, which they found very discouraging.


The Chess Club Ladder

1.         Initial positions on the ladder are determined randomly.  New members of the Club are added to the bottom of the ladder.

2.         You may challenge anyone who is one, two, three, or four spots above you on the ladder.  If you are challenged to a ladder game, and you are not already in a game, and if there are at least 30 minutes available to play, you must play.  (A refusal to play is treated as a loss.)   Ladder games must be played with a clock.

3.         The player making the challenge plays White.  The person being challenged plays Black.

4.         If the lower-ranked player wins, the lower-ranked player takes the higher-ranked player’s spot on the ladder, and the higher-ranked player moves down one spot.

5.         If the higher-ranked player wins, there is no change in the players’ rankings.

6.         If the game ends in a draw, the lower-ranked player takes the spot just below the higher-ranked player.  Draws by agreement must be approved by a coach.

7.         After a ladder game is played, at least one of the players must play a ladder game against someone else before they are allowed to play each other again.



That seems sensible.  Were the kids at the bottom there because they were not very good at chess?  If so I am not sure there is much of a solution. 


Thanks for your note, niceforkinmove.  Yes, the kids at the bottom stayed there because they were not very good.  But a number of them dropped out during the year, despite the fact that they had the potential for getting better.  One of the ideas I've been considering is having the bottom half of the ladder be in an undifferentiated "pool" of some sort (to avoid identifying the true bottom dwellers) and then to create a system in which members of the pool could compete for moving into the top tier.  Any thoughts about how I might accomplish that?


Well maybe if you did it by grade generally.   It doesn't need to be one ladder per grade it could be be 1 ladder per 2 or 3 grades.   

But allow kids to challenge on higher grades.  But they can only be on one ladder. The younger kids who move up will be proud to be on the higher level ladders and they will allow some room on the younger kids ladder.

Maybe even have an "open" ladder that you and some other adults are on.  There may be special rules of how you can challenge coaches but it might work and be fun.  


Don´t you have a fix number of people every day? I mean, you could try to do a "tournament" during the year, everyone vs everyone system. 


I am thinking about doing a ladder and thought about the bottom dwellers and discouragement.  Could a solution be to have a relegation style.  Division one and division two ladder?  If at the bottom of division one you are in danger of relegation to division two. Division two can celebrate their arrival at division one.


@ ApproachingHoofbeats:  I now do what you suggested.  I have two ladders, Bishops and Knights.  The person at the top of the Knights ladder can challenge the person at the bottom of the Bishops ladder to become a Bishop.

FS5998 wrote:

I have two ladders, Bishops and Knights.  The person at the top of the Knights ladder can challenge the person at the bottom of the Bishops ladder to become a Bishop.

I'd be very interested to know how this is working for you!  We are thinking about rolling out the same system at our club (with the idea that knights and bishops are worth the same material).  I'm was thinking of setting it up so that when someone gets to the top of either ladder, they automatically go to the bottom of the other one.  With our current one ladder system, the weakest players only ever play the weakest and they do not get opportunities to learn from stronger players.  


edit: In other words, we want to use this system encourage the strongest players to help teach the weakest.  


I think your idea of bishops and knights ladder is fantastic.  Thank you.

I probably would stick with the concept that when you reach the top of knights ladder that you can challenge the bottom two at bishops ladder to get out of tier two relegation.  They would then need to switch with the victor.  

The only caution I may have 'bjohnd' with the top going to the bottom is that I know my kids covet that top seat and would not want to go to the bottom after the achievement. 


Seemed like last year, my group plateaued.  The bottom stayed at the bottom and the top stayed near the top.  I like this idea because for some at the bottom it was untouchable to be at the top ladder with their development.  Cool - thanks for this advice. 


I get the concern about the risk of someone feeling like they are being demote by going all the way to the bottom of the 1st division.  I'm thinking that we will emphsize that it is an advance (which it is), by putting a "Queen" or "King" sticker on that student's ladder ID to signify the promotion.  


Good idea - medals of honor.

Take a look at the ladder in use at It works off the USCF approach. We average 50-60 active players on the ladder and it is the focus of attention every meeting. It uses Microsoft excel and the add-in is free

After using this system for several years, I think our Knights and Bishops ladder arrangement works pretty well.  If anyone is interested in seeing the written rules that I developed, let me know.

FS5998 wrote:

After using this system for several years, I think our Knights and Bishops ladder arrangement works pretty well.  If anyone is interested in seeing the written rules that I developed, let me know.

I would love more information. Starting an elementary level chess club this year and would like guidance on how to encourage and keep them engaged in the competition. I have no idea what the turn out will be. Thanks for any help FS5998!


I developed some rules that I've used for a dozen years. They are almost identical to those posted by FS5998, except with respect to draws. I also do not start with random sorting. I run a club tournament and use the placings, including tie-breaks, to set up the initial ladder. Occasionally those at the bottom have been discouraged. Once this discouragement led to criticism from a school teacher concerning the competitive aspects of chess club.


I think that a world without competition is idyllic nonsense and about as appealing as visions of an afterlife as an eternity of church music. There's not much that can be done about those who prefer fantasy to reality.


I didn't read the thread carefully before posting. My rules are substantially like those in the second post. I like the idea of dividing a large group into tow ladders. There will still be some at the bottom and they may be discouraged.

It's kinda funny how life turns. Some of those who knew in high school that they were at the bottom academically, now think they have a better grasp of politics than those of us who were not only nearer the top, but who have spent the intervening decades focused on history and politics. I don't need to tell you how they are voting.

The point is: the world is cruel and there are long term benefits to those at the bottom understanding that they are at the bottom. When they revolt, chaos ensues.


My comment sounds kinda cruel. I wish it wouldn't. I'm just a little tired of people who think that every kid is a winner, on the one hand, and those who want kids to have a world without winners and losers, on the other. 

Being at the bottom should motivate working harder so as to climb up. Healthy competition teaches children how to lose with grace, as well as how to win without gloating. It thus prepares them for the real world. Ideally, they also learn that some people are simply much better at certain things. Everything in real life has people who are much better than others. We call these people experts. They should be respected, not scorned as is the habit in American culture.



# FS5998 

Thanks for the guidance on chess ladders.  I have been using it successfully at my chess clubs.  Please do share any further rules developed for the Knights and Bishops ladders.


I realize this thread is a few years old, but I am about to use a ladder system for our chess club.  I would like to have a board displaying the names of each player and their position on the ladder.  I will have two ladders; one for 10 minute games and one for 1 hour games.  Has anyone built such a display board for a ladder rating system? If so, I would appreciate hearing about it.

Oh yes, I need a board that is easy to take down and store.  Thanks in advance for any ideas you might have.