It seems that a lot of chess players new to or unacquainted with tournament chess want to know their rating. Others who have played online, but not OTB (over the board) frequently ask how one rating compares to another. There are several ways to estimate one's rating, but all should be treated with skepticism.
The series of ten problems at Chess Maniac might be better than most. I tried it a few days ago and scored 1830, which is reasonably close to my recently gained USCF rating of 1819. Less reliable are the Chessmaster personalities. Vlad, for example, allegedly plays at 1846, but the software does not adjust for processor speed. Few human A class players commit the egregious positional errors in the opening that are Vlad's trademark, nor are they as adept at tactical calculation. When I entered B class, I played a sequence of training games against Vlad, finding him surprisingly easy to outplay positionally.
In the early 1990s, I was coming back into chess after more than a decade away. I had played in some team matches in high school, at least one club event at the Spokane Chess Club, and had joined the US Chess Federation and played postal chess. All these activities ended by the time I had been in college one year. Among my circle of acquaintances, the second best player could beat me occasionally. I did not renew my USCF membership and I stopped playing postal.
I bought my first personal computer in 1989, learned that Chessmaster 2100 was available, and that it allegedly played at a master level. Even though I was too busy with graduate school for play--aside from a fanatical obsession with golf during the summer,--I started learning a bit about computer chess. Finding the right level for playing against the box pulled me into efforts to estimate my own level of skill.
Through CM 2100, 3000, 4500, and 5000, I used several features of the program to approximate my skill level, which also increased slightly as I played against successive versions. I also spent some time in the library reading Chess Life, especially Bruce Pandolfini's "Solitaire Chess." In "Solitaire Chess," students guess the moves of a master level game and earn scores for right answers and some alternatives. The total score at the end of each game corresponds to an approximate rating.
When I returned to the Spokane Chess Club in fall 1995, I told the club's contact person that I thought I might be an A Class player. But, at my first club meeting, I played a series of pick-up games against an E class player with an approximately even score. In March 1996, I entered my first USCF rated tournament, scored 2.0 of 5.0, and earned a provisional rating of 1232.
My first published non-provisional rating nine months later was 1425. My estimate based on various exercises turned out to be high by 400 points. But, my initial published rating very nearly could have been much higher. In the 1996 Washington Class Championships, I had Black and move on board one in round four in the position below. A win in this game would have guaranteed me a tie for first, and likely would have given me an initial non-provisional rating over 1500.
I spent quite a bit of time assessing the consequences of 19...b4 with the idea of driving the white queen completely out of play on a1. I played a better move, 19...Ng5, but not the best move. However, as my opponent improved his position move after move, and his queen became active, I lost my way.
The win slipped away, and I found myself in a drawn king and pawn endgame.
Black to move
Inexplicably, I played 45...Kf4?? After this loss, I also lost round five and ended the event sharing places 8-15.
I returned from the event and told a close friend that I no longer had the competitive edge that had been my norm in high school cross country. My loss demonstrated that chess skill development included emotional preparation and mental focus if I was to have the success I sought. My friend played chess casually, but well understood competition. He has been a state champion in cross country, and had run for two college teams, including a leading Pac-10 school. Last fall, the high school team he coaches became the first team west of the Mississippi to win the national championship.
My rating bounced around in the 1400s for the next five and one-half years, finally jumping above 1500 in February 2002. It dipped back into the 1400s for most of 2004, and in 2005 started a steady climb up to 1601. Once I reached B class, I did not drop below, and after my performance last weekend, reached A class. To get to A class, I've needed to learn tactics and endgames, and expanded my opening repertoire. But, more important, I've needed to reduce the obvious blunders made in haste, and I've needed to become far more consistent against lower rated players. I've also increased my drawing ratio.
In the USCF rating system, a rating of 1800 creates a floor of 1600. If I never win again, I will never drop below B class. But, I still have ambitions. My current established rating remains a crude underestimate of my capabilities.
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