FAQs About Ratings

Q: What is a “rating” and why do I need one?
A: A chess rating is a numerical grading that indicates the history of a player’s performance – and a statistical prediction of his/her near-future performance among other players in the same rating community

A rating helps players to measure individual progress and seek out appropriate competition. Tournament directors use ratings for making appropriate pairings in tournaments.

Q: There are a lot of different kinds of ratings: NWSRS, USCF, FIDE, ICC, Chessmaster, chess.com., etc. What’s the difference?
A:
The most widespread rating system in the United States is managed by the US Chess Federation (USCF). To get a USCF rating, a player must join the USCF and play in a USCF-rated tournament. There are scores of USCF tournaments in Oregon every year, and hundreds of Oregon players are USCF members with ratings.  However, because the cost of USCF membership is a deterrent for many young Oregonian novices to go to their first tournaments, OSCF also endorses Northwest Scholastic Rating System (NWSRS). No membership is required and no membership fees. To get an NWSRS rating, simply play in an NWSRS tournament, and you will automatically earn a rating. OSCF endorses and uses both USCF and NWSRS ratings.

FIDE ratings are for international events. Although very common in Europe, there are very few FIDE rated tournaments in the US. There are many websites (ICC, playchess.com, chess.com, World Chess Live, etc.) that host rated internet chess games, but these ratings have little relationship to over-the-board ratings and are not used by OSCF. Some chess-playing computer software packages also assign ratings. The ratings given by these programs can be vastly different from NWSRS and USCF ratings. E.g., Chessmaster ratings tend to be hundreds of points higher than USCF ratings.

Q: What’s my Rating?
A: The OSCF supports and endorses two rating systems. If you are a USCF member, you can look up your rating here:  USCF. If you have played in an NWSRS-rated event, you can find your rating here: NWSRS.

Q: Why use NWSRS ratings at all? Why not just use USCF ratings exclusively?
A: The short answer is that NWSRS gives the benefits of ratings without membership fees. This makes it much easier for parents to bring their young novices to their first tournaments. As a result the number of active scholastic chess players has undergone phenomenal growth since OSCF started using the NWSRS.

In addition, OSCF and NWSRS give great support to parents and teachers who want to organize rated tournaments. A new, would-be USCF tournament director must be a USCF member (about $40 per year for an adult), must have a USCF affiliate (another $40 per year), must get official USCF certification (no charge), and must pay $20-40 per event for ratings fees. For a new tournament director to run his or her first NWSRS tournament, there are no membership fees, no affiliate fees, no ratings fees, and no official certification required. Instead, OSCF will send an experienced TD at no cost to help run that first tournament or two. This friendly, helpful, and economical environment makes it easy for chess parents and chess coaches to host tournaments. As a result of the OSCF’s efforts, many chess parents have stepped into organizing NWSRS tournaments, and the opportunities for Oregon juniors to play competitive chess have expanded enormously since OSCF adopted NWSRS.

For more on NWSRS and USCF ratings, click here.

Q: What’s a “good” rating for a scholastic player?
A: USCF ratings range from 100 to about 2800, and NWSRS scholastic ratings range from 400 to about 2000 (but higher ratings are certainly possible!). Most scholastic players start out with NWSRS ratings around 500, and it normally takes a couple years to advance above 1000. The vast majority of active scholastic chess players in America have USCF ratings under 1200. In October 2010, there were fewer than 25 scholastic players in Oregon with ratings over 1500 and only one over 2000.
See data.

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 his or her playing strength, so new ratings are considered provisional and can fluctuate wildly. Provisional ratings are not very reliable. The ratings formulas have a built-in mechanism to dampen fluctuations as more games are played, so inevitably your rating will settle down to a realistic level and gradually change as you improve. 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, his/her 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, his/her baseline rating is based on age and performance at that first tournament. Thereafter the rating is based purely on performance.

No over-the-board rating system, that we know of, accepts computer or online ratings as a “baseline” or for new players.

Q: Why does the OSCF think ratings are beneficial to scholastic players?
A: Ratings provide many benefits to both players and organizers:

  • As Chess Master Carl Haessler points out, “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.

Ratings have potential drawbacks as well. Some players avoid certain competitions out of fear of losing ratings points. For example, some players will avoid short time controls because they play better at longer time controls. And some strong scholastic players avoid scholastic tournaments because they know that a lot of young players are underrated. When your opponent is stronger than his or her rating indicates, you don’t gain as many points as you “should” if you win, and you lose more points than you “should” if you lose. Bah!! Have courage and have fun playing! In the long run, you’ll be happier and a stronger player and have a higher rating because of it.

Q: My NWSRS and USCF ratings are very different. Why is that?
A: First, let’s define “very different.” The USCF considers two players to be in the same class grouping if their ratings are within 200 points of each other. Ratings within 100 points are considered nearly equal by the rating algorithms. Differences of less than 100 are normal and can easily result from random variation.

Greater differences can also sometimes be explained by random variation — especially when ratings are provisional. Provisional ratings are not very accurate and can change dramatically in a short period of time. When ratings are still provisional, a few games that are rated in one of the systems but not the other can lead to big differences in ratings between USCF and NWSRS.

In addition, players with NWSRS ratings under 1200 frequently find that their USCF ratings are quite a bit lower than their NWSRS ratings. There are two principal reasons for this. First is that the minimum USCF rating is 100, while the minimum NWSRS rating is 400, so there’s a 300 point difference built into the system for novice players. A second reason is that Oregon juniors tend to play way more NWSRS events than USCF events in their first few years of tournament play. To see how this works, suppose your first tournament is dual-rated, and you get identical initial USCF and NWSRS ratings. Then, you go to six more NWSRS tournaments that are not USCF rated over the next year, and your play become substantially stronger. Your NWSRS rating will increase along with your playing strength. However, your USCF rating won’t change at all until you play another USCF event.

The differences between the ratings gradually diminish as both rise above 1200, and there is little difference between the ratings once NWSRS exceeds 1500. How so? Players rated above 1500 rarely play anyone rated below 1000, so the differential minimum ratings between the systems does not have nearly the impact as it does for novices. In addition, stronger players tend to play many more USCF events than do novices, so their USCF rating tracks changes in playing strength just as well as their NWSRS ratings do.