Q: What is a “rating” and why do I need one?
A: A chess rating is a numerical estimate of a player’s strength and a statistical prediction of their performance among other players in the same rating community.
Ratings help players measure progress and seek appropriate competition. Tournament directors use ratings for making appropriate pairings in tournaments. Because each rating is a comparison between the player and everyone else in the rating pool, ratings can vary between different systems. In general, lichess ratings tend to be higher than chess.com, which tend to be higher than USCF, which tend to be higher than FIDE. A person rated 2000 on lichess may be rated 1500 on FIDE.
Q: There are a lot of different kinds of ratings: FIDE, USCF, NWSRS, lichess.org, chess.com., etc. What’s the difference?
A: FIDE is the international governing body of chess. FIDE awards titles ranging from Candidate Master (2200+) to Grandmaster (2500+), the highest honor in chess. FIDE also awards additional titles to female players, from Woman Candidate Master (2000+) to Woman Grandmaster (2300+) . FIDE also governs the World Championship. Although common in Europe, FIDE rated tournaments are rare in the United States and typically only open to very strong players.
USCF is the national governing body of chess in the United States and maintains the mostly widely recognized rating system in the country. USCF grants titles to players according to their tournament performance, from Class J (100-199) to Senior Master (2400+). USCF also maintains list of the Top 100 Players by Age. Players earn a USCF rating by purchasing an annual membership and then competing in USCF rated tournaments. In 2022, OSCF partnered with Rose City Chess to offer USCF scholastic memberships at a greatly discounted rate.
USCF publishes several ratings for each player, estimating their strength at different time controls (blitz, quick, and regular) and through different mediums (regular and online). USCF is highly automated, so rating reports typically appear within 24 hours of the completion of a tournament.
In addition to awarding titles to players, USCF also awards titles to tournament directors. The title “Club Tournament Director” is open to all USCF members and authorizes them to run USCF events with up to 50 players. As tournament directors accumulate experience and knowledge, they can apply for titles that certify them to run larger events, culminating in the title “National Tournament Director.”
NWSRS (Northwest Scholastic Rating System) is a volunteer-run rating service that requires no membership and no membership fees. The Northwest is the only region in the United States to maintain its own chess rating system. Due to the labor intensive nature of its database, ratings typically take one to two weeks to post. Players are assigned a NWSRS ID and rating upon completing their first NWSRS tournament. NWSRS primarily serves players in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia. It assigns players a single rating that combines their performance at in-person and online classical events (G/30 or longer).
NWSRS does not award titles or have requirements for knowledge and experience for its tournament directors, though they do urge them to apply for USCF certification. These low barriers to entry have made NWSRS by far the most common tournament rating system in Oregon and decreased the incentive to offer USCF rated events open to scholastic players. The consequence is that most students, especially outside large metro areas, have had few opportunities to earn USCF ratings and enter the USCF lists of Top 100 Players by Age.
OSCF strongly recommends tournament directors apply to become USCF Club Tournament Directors and offer more USCF rated events.
Online ratings (lichess.org, chess.com, chess24.com, for instance) can vary wildly from NWSRS and USCF ratings. However, there are a large number of online events that are NWSRS and USCF online-rated, so it is possible to earn a regionally or nationally recognized rating without leaving your home.
Q: What’s my Rating?
USCF members can look up their ratings here. If you played in an NWSRS-rated event, you can find your rating here.
Q: Why use NWSRS ratings at all? Why not just use USCF ratings exclusively?
A: In 2022, OSCF began investing heavily in helping organizers and players transition from NWSRS to USCF by providing subsidies and training. These investments included free or heavily discounted USCF memberships for players and tournament directors, invitations to join the OSCF affiliate rather than paying to start their own affiliate, and ongoing technical support.
When possible, OSCF will even send an experienced TD at no cost to help run a club’s first USCF first tournament or two. This makes it easy for chess parents and chess coaches to begin hosting USCF rated tournaments. In the first three months of this effort, many new tournament directors have begun offering USCF events and the number of players with USCF ratings has increased dramatically.
To reduce the labor and confusion inherent in maintaining two rating systems, OSCF plans to phase out NWSRS over the next few years. However, OSCF will endorse and accept NWSRS ratings for the state championship and all-star rankings at least through 2023.
Q: What is the difference between established and provisional ratings?
A: When a player has not played many rated games, there is not enough information to get a good measure of their playing strength, so new ratings are considered provisional. Provisional ratings are not very reliable. The ratings formulas have a built-in mechanism to dampen fluctuations as more games are played, so inevitably ratings settle down to a realistic level, then and gradually change as the player improves. Established ratings are those in which a minimum number of games have been rated and the wild fluctuations are strongly damped. In the NWSRS, the minimum is 15 games. In the US Chess Federation, the minimum number of rated games is 26.
Q: I already have a rating. Do I have to start “from scratch” when I play under another rating system?
A: NWSRS: Some Oregon players enter the NWSRS system with a previously established USCF rating. If you already have a USCF rating when you play in your first NWSRS rated tournament, give the tournament organizer your USCF member ID and rating; that will be your initial rating in the NWSRS. When an unrated player (both in USCF and NWSRS) competes in a NWSRS rated tournament, their baseline rating is based on age and performance at that first tournament. Thereafter the rating is based purely on performance.
USCF: Scholastic players who are new to the USCF start out as “unrated.” No other rating system rating is accepted as a starting point. When an unrated player competes in a USCF rated tournament, their baseline rating is based on age and performance at that first tournament. Thereafter the rating is based purely on performance.
Online ratings (except USCF online ratings) are not typically used as baselines, though a tournament director may choose to use online ratings for the purposes of placing a player in a section appropriate for their strength.
Q: Why does OSCF think ratings are beneficial to scholastic players?
A: Ratings provide many benefits to both players and organizers:
- Oregon State Champion and USCF Life Master Carl Haessler states, “Ratings provide a forum where kids of all ages and playing strengths are able to measure themselves, not by comparing themselves to others, but by evaluating their individual progress.”
- Ratings help players and organizers seek out appropriate competition.
- When appropriately used with computerized tournament pairing programs, ratings make for fairer and more exciting events. The winners are less likely to earn awards based on the “luck of the draw” in getting paired with less skilled players.
Q: My NWSRS and USCF ratings are very different. Why is that?
A: Oregon scholastic players have historically had very few opportunities to compete in USCF rated events. Thus, their NWSRS ratings tended to progress in a steady way, while their USCF ratings languished. Then when they finally got a chance to play an USCF event, they competed against other scholastic players whose USCF ratings had also languished, which depressed the tournament performance rating of the entire field. In 2022, OSCF took steps to fix this by increasing support for tournament directors to offer more USCF rated events.