As members of the OSCF worked with volunteers in Washington to roll out the NWSRS in the fall of 2005, we were asked many challenging questions: Why do you want to implement another rating system (NWSRS)? Won’t this draw players away from the USCF and confuse everyone? Will players have to start from scratch in the new rating system? Don’t you think ratings focus too much on “competition” and not enough on playing well?
The short answer to all of these questions is “No. No. No. No.”
We feel that a rating system that provides ratings for all players, without requiring an annual membership fee, helps everyone in the scholastic chess community and hurts no one. By ensuring that all scholastic players compete with a rating, the quality of the competition gets better, players have an objective, measurable standard to track their progress, and more kids “get hooked” on chess. 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.”
Eventually, the entire competitive population will grow to the point where more players will want to be nationally rated. More players and more competitive opportunities ultimately means more USCF memberships — not fewer.
Many scholastic players never consider investing in a membership in the USCF — and earning a ranking at a national level — because they don’t consider themselves “serious” players. By offering dual-rated sections for more experienced players, scholastic players can naturally expand into the national pool. Once they feel more like full-fledged members of the chess community, players’ parents won’t think twice about laying out for a USCF membership. For example, every one of the players in the All-Stars Invitational is required to join the USCF.
And, no, we don’t think they’ll be confused. Kids who can learn to play chess can make sense of regional and national ratings systems, as the kids in Washington State have done for years.
A larger population of rated players provides many benefits to both players and organizers:
- 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.
- Players and their parents can use their rating as a tool to reinforce desirable traits such as perseverence, self-confidence, grace under pressure, and good sportsmanship.
- By working cooperatively with the Washington ratings coordinators to create a regional system, we also promoted the growth of chess throughout the region. One of the goals of NWSRS is to make state borders more “transparent” and encourage more cross-state competition. This means a larger player pool for tournament organizers to draw from and greater flexibility and tournament choice for players and their families.
Now that the NWSRS has been in Oregon for more than four years, scholastic competition in Oregon has improved tremendously. There is a greater sense of unity and consistency among tournament organizers. There are more opportunities for kids to experience success, as they play in skill-appropriate sections. This pool of young players will continue to feed and refresh the USCF and adult chess populations. More kids playing more chess in more venues. What could be better?