What is a Chess Rating?

Chess Rating Systems

Like all other professional games, chess has a rating system too. A Chess Rating is a number ranging from 400-2000+. Chess ratings help determine a person’s estimated strength for tournament level play.

As a player, you will receive a rating the moment you register with a chess governing body like FIDE or your national governing body affiliated with FIDE like the USCF. When you start playing a rated tournament, you are allotted a rating once your name is entered into the official database of chess players.

The number or rating goes up and down depending on your performance against other rated players. The sample ratings and how they typically correlate with you chess skills are explained below:

  • 400 – Your beginner rating- before your first tournament.
  • 800 – You are a player having chess basics right and can independently figure out several threats/opportunities in the game.
  • 1200 – A budding chess player who can understand some basic chess strategies.
  • 1600 – A player among the top scholastic players on a state or national level.
  • 2000 – Expert Level – A milestone hit by a handful of chess players while they are in grade school.
  • 2200 – Minimum rating to be considered a “Chess Master”.
  • 2400 – “Senior Master”.
  • 2500 – Minimum rating as part of requirements to earn the “Grandmaster” (GM) title.
  • 2900 – The World Champion is typically rated closer to this ranking.
  • 3000 – No one has yet attained this in standard tournament competition.

What is a USCF rating?

There are also separate ratings for various chess organizations from the international chess body, FIDE to Internet chess clubs. USCF is a nationally recognized American Chess governing body.

USCF stands for United State Chess Federation and the rating system is used throughout the United States. To participate in the USCF-rated events, you must have a USCF membership. A USCF rating is required to receive the title of National Master and Grandmaster.

How do wins, draws, and learns affect your rating?

Chess players have a provisional rating until they have participated in minimum 26 rated games. Wins and losses- basically your results in chess games and the ratings of your opponents affect your rating. If you win, your rating goes up, and a loss means your rating goes down.

However, in case of a draw, whether your rating will go up or down will depend on whether you are ranked lower than your opponent (it will go up) or higher rated than him/her (your rating will go down)

General range of ratings

Ratings could range from 100 to nearly 3000. You may lose your rating points or gain them. But you cannot lose your US Chess rating. Once rated, always rated.

Why are chess ratings important for chess players?

Chess players are conscious and concerned about their ratings because ratings are responsible for determining pairings. They give a fair idea on which tournaments the players will be eligible to play in, and also reflects their current playing strength.

Some tournaments and championships allow players to play only if they are over or under a certain rating. For example, CHESS KLUB is organizing a U1500 International Chess Championship. The prizes can go as high as $10,000 in some of these tournaments.

Sand-Bagging in chess tournaments

Sand-Bagging is an offense.

It could get you kicked out of US Chess or any other official chess body in your country for life. Sand-bagging is when a  higher ranked player deliberately loses in some tournaments in order to reduce their rankings to make them eligible for higher prize money tournaments meant  for lower levels.

This is unethical and also against the spirit of fair play and equal opportunity that Chess is known for.

How do you “Earn” chess ratings?

A player can earn ratings in many ways. By playing in sanctioned tournaments, a player can get officially ranked by a national chess federation like USCF or FIDE.After each tournament, the results are sent to the federation rating the event, where they are processed and updated.

Once a player’s rating is established, it can fluctuate anywhere between 0-60 points after each rated game. In case of a draw, change in ratings ranges from (0-30). To get a general idea, you can refer to the table below.

What changes to expect in your rating after each chess game
Scenario Ratings changes ( tentative)
If you win against a player rated +300 than you +60 Points
If you win against a similarly rated player +30 Points
If you win against a player rated -300 than you +0 points
Second loss against a player rated +300 than you -0 points
A loss against a similarly rated player -30 points
A loss against a player rated -300 than you -60 points
A draw against a similarly rated player Very Minor Change
A win or a loss against an unrated player No Change

You can use the online calculators on the FIDE site to compute the potential rating you can achieve.

Is an online rating the same as a tournament rating?

No. Online ratings  are essentially given by online chess sites that you use. They have no effect on your “real” rating. Different websites use different databases and methods to estimate change.

Different rating systems for chess players

There are two main rating systems, and each one has its merits.

The first one is the Elo System, used by the USCF, FIDE and several other online chess sites. The popularity of Elo system is largely due to it’s simplicity and its longevity, having survived for a longer period of time.

In Elo system, the % winning chance of the player plays a decisive role. Given two players of different strengths, if a player wins 6 games out of 10, his rating would remain 60% provided he had 60% chance of winning against the grandmaster. But if he wins 5 games or less, his rating would go down, while a win of 7 or more games against the same player would mean his rating will rise up.

The Elo system was originally invented as an improved chess-rating system over the previously used Harkness System, but is also used as a rating system in association football, American football, basketball,

In short, the wider the spread of the ratings, the higher percentage of games the higher rated player is expected to win. In order to calculate a  player’s rating after playing a few games, you calculate the average ratings of his opponents, and assess how many games he was expected to win. Elo Rating has a simple formula to calculate the new rating. 

New Rating = Old Rating + (K × (W−We))

K is 10; W is the actual match/tournament score; We is the expected score.

The USCF switched to the Elo rating system in 1960, which was adopted by FIDE in 1970.

On the other hand, the Glicko Rating System is a relatively modern approach and though it uses the same concepts as Elo, the formula to derive the new ratings is a little complicated. Instead of giving a rating to the player that is dependent on the number of games they have played, Glicko system gives everyone not just a rating, but also an RD or Rating Deviation.

So if your RD is 85, it literally means that the system is “85% sure that your rating is between X and Y. Also called confidence interval. So for a beginner on his first game, the rating system would say- “I am 95% sure that your rating is somewhere between 400 and 2400”. The accuracy increases as the gap between lowest and highest decreases based on your winning or losing patterns. The more you play, the more accurate your rating is!

How does this affect ratings?

Well, if you have a big RD, then your rating can move up and down more drastically because your rating is less accurate. But if you have a small RD then your rating will move up and down more slowly because your rating is more accurate.

then your rating will move up and down more slowly because your rating is more accurate. The opposite is true for your opponent! If they have a HIGH RD, then your rating will change LESS when you win or lose because their rating is less accurate. But if they have a LOW RD, then your rating will move MORE because their rating is more accurate.

To know more, you can read The Glicko System by Professor Mark Glickman, Boston University.

What is unique about the USCF rating system?

The United States Chess Federation (USCF) uses the USCF system, a modification of the Elo system, in which the K factor varies and it gives bonus points for superior performance in a tournament.

USCF ratings are generally 50 to 100 points higher than the FIDE equivalents.

USCF rating categories
Category Rating Range
Senior Master 2400 and up
National Master 2200-2399
Expert 2000-2199
Class A 1800-1999
Class B 1600-1799
Class C 1400-1599
Class D 1200-1399
Class E 1000-1199
Class F 800-999
Class G 600-799
Class H 400-599
Class I 200-399
Class J 100-199

The chess rating system is used in estimating the strength  of a player based on their performance versus other players. Popular online chess sites such as chess.com, LiChess, and Internet Chess Club also implement rating systems.

However, in the words of Arpad Elo, the inventor of Elo System- “Any attempt to consolidate all aspects of a player’s strength into a single number inevitably misses some of the picture.”

The phrase “Elo rating” is often used to mean a player’s chess rating as calculated by FIDE. However, this usage is confusing and misleading because Elo’s general ideas have been adopted by many organizations, including the USCF (before FIDE), many other national chess federations,

The short-lived Professional Chess Association (PCA), and online chess servers including the Internet Chess Club (ICC), Free Internet Chess Server (FICS), and Yahoo! Games. Each organization has a unique implementation, and none of them follows Elo’s original suggestions precisely. It would be more accurate to refer to all of the above ratings as Elo ratings and none of them as the Elo rating.

Resources: Wikipedia.com


What is a good chess rating?

A standard FIDE chess rating begins at 1000 Elo and the highest rating is currently 2851, acquired by World Champion and Grand Master Magnus Carlsen. A rating between 1500 to 2000 is for considerably experienced and great players. Players with ratings beyond 2000 include some of the best players across the world who could possibly gain norms to be Candidate Masters, FIDE masters, and International Masters.

Finally, players who have ratings beyond 2500 include Grand Masters and World Champions.

What is a 400 rating in chess?

A rating of 400 suggests a beginner-level player. FIDE ratings do not start ratings at 400 Elo but certain websites grant ratings like 400. This is usually the rating someone who has not started playing tournaments possesses.

How to reach 1800 chess rating?

The correct answer to this has to be “practice”, however, preparation without direction can be futile.

Here are some tips:

  • Try to play with people who are rated higher than you online and offline.
  • Read chess books for intermediate and advanced players to understand middle and end games better.
  • Solve puzzles that require you to think 5 to 6 moves ahead everyday.
  • Understand your current level before prepping to reach the 1800 rating. Be slow and efficient with your progress. Don’t fill up your chess schedule with games and tactics way above your level as that can be demotivating.
  • Try to find online or offline coaches to help you with your end game as a lot of times, crucial matches boil down to your end game skills so you have to make sure your end game is as tight as possible.

Is 3000 rating possible in chess?

No one in the history of chess has acquired a FIDE rating of 3000 Elo. The highest rating achieved to date is 2882- attained by Magnus Carlsen.

Who has the highest chess rating ever?

Magnus Carlsen has achieved the highest FIDE rating to date – 2882.

How strong is a 1400 rated chess player?

A person with a 1400 Elo rating is a strong player in a regular social setting. This player may win matches in their friend or family circle but may not win tournaments with players with higher rating. Someone with this rating is an intermediate level player and definitely can work towards a higher rating by playing more competitive chess.