Chess Rankings & Ratings

When talking about chess, you might hear statements such as: “I’m a 1600 player,” or, “We’re playing in the under 2000 section”. These numbers are called chess ratings, and they help determine player rankings in the chess community.

Ratings Defined

Ratings are numbers used to represent the playing strength of chess players. They allow players to compare themselves to their peers. Most rating systems are based on the work of Arpad Elo, a physics professor and chess master, who invented the system now named for him.

The workings of chess rating systems can be quite complex, but the basics are simple. Ratings are based on the results of games between players — usually, games played in chess tournaments. If a player wins games, his rating will increase; if he loses, his rating will fall.

The rating of a player’s opponents also affects how that player’s rating will change. Defeating a much lower-rated opponent will cause a gain of​ few, if any, rating points, while defeating a much higher-rated foe will earn a large number of rating points. Losses work the same way, though in the opposite direction; losing to a much stronger player won’t affect a player’s rating much, but losing to a weaker opponent will cost quite a few points. Draws also affect ratings in a similar manner; drawing a higher-rated player increases a player’s rating while drawing a lower-rated player decreases it, though not as dramatically.

Ratings in the USCF

At least about 20 years ago, went something like this:

  • 1200-1399 = ‘D’ player – usually a beginner;
  • 1400-1599 = ‘C’ player – average club or tournament player, most people can achieve this level if they work at it;
  •  1600 – 1799 = ‘B’ player – consistently above average;
  • 1800-1999 = ‘A’ player – strong club player, takes the game far too seriously!, has lots of opening knowledge;
  • 2000-2199 = ‘Expert’ – extremely strong, consistent player with the possibility of achieving Master rating, may have real talent;
  •  2200-2399 = ‘Master’ – strongest amateur rank, hasn’t quite got the hang of things yet but maybe one day he/she will wake up.

International professional players have two ranks:

  • 2400-2499 = ‘International Master’ – weakest professional rank; strong, experienced international player, eats Masters for breakfast;
  • 2500+ = ‘Grandmaster’ – eats IMs for breakfast, lunch and dinner, a star in the firmament of Caissa, a chess genius who thinks nothing of playing 20 and 30 board simuls against Experts and Masters and is disappointed if he/she doesn’t win every game. Capable of playing 10-20 blindfold games at the same time, and winning, etc. etc, in short, an all around bricks and mortar, brass bound b*st*rd of a player, but they do lose on occasion, sometimes to players with a much lower rating and computers are better than that these days.

Note that IMs can be rated above 2500 if they haven’t yet achieved the results necessary for the title of Grandmaster.

As you can see, most of us have got a long way to go!

The ranks of International Master and Grandmaster can only be gained through participation in international tournaments and the achievement of ‘norms’. That is consistently drawing with and beating other professional players. You can get a rating of 350,000,000 by playing in local tournaments but you still wouldn’t be an IM or a GM. Of course if you do get a rating of 350,000,000 drop me a line and tell me how you did it!


It’s important to remember that a rating is a measure of consistency so don’t be put off playing higher rated players. Anybody under the rating of 2000 can play like an absolute idiot in a particular game and you’ll find that you will sometimes play far beyond your own rating.

The great thing about chess is that it’s fun to play. Players rated 1200 and below probably have a lot more fun playing than professionals. I think it was Gary Kasparov who said, “Chess is mental torture!”, which doesn’t sound to me like he’s enjoying his games very much. After all, chess is a pass-time and, unless you’re trying to be a professional, treat it as such and don’t worry too much about your rating.

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