A helpful guide on Elo ratings (how strong are you?)

While beginning to play chess, you might’ve learned about the given number called a rating. This is a good indicator of progress. It allows a player to self-reflect within various stages of the learning process.

I’ve wondered for a long time how to evaluate the rating to a player’s strength? Of course the higher the better, but I think it can be more definitive than that.

Here are the definitions of what most people considers a “chess beginner”:

As stated by the United States Chess Federation, a beginner can be classified within 800, a mid-level player as 1600, and a full-fledged professional around 2400.

A grandmaster (the highest title in chess) has at least received a rating of 2500 at some point in time, while a beginner is usually below 1200.

When it comes to ambigous chess rating this article will help you familiarize with the the terms. This is the ultimate guide to chess ratings, let us begin.

Is there a Difference between Offline and Online Ratings?

Elo ratings are numbers used to determine the strength of a player along with the probability of winning in a given match.

An Elo rating increases over time whenever a rated game is won. Keyword there, rated game. Means unofficial and non-recorded games don’t bring the player any Elo points.

A rated game basically means a formal match held by an official chess body. Namely Fide for international or USCF specifically for the United States.

The higher the Elo, means the stronger a player is likely to be. Elo is gained when you win and get deducted when suffering a defeat.

This scoring of sorta “power points” created a hierarchy in chess. It is important to note that online and offline ratings are different.

Ratings from chess.com or lichess cannot be drawn as a parallel to offline numbers. If you’re looking for a good estimate of your rating, chess.com is a really good platform. Another alternative is Lichess.

So, how do offline ratings and online ratings differ exactly?

What is the Official (Offline) Elo Rating System?

This is the system used in all official offline tournaments. A number of factors are put into play when determining the win/loss difference. How many points are gained by winning can be influenced by a couple of factors:

● The rating of the player.
● The rating of the opponent.
● The outcome of the game.
● The nature of the tournament.

Such difference also applies to the number of points lost by being defeated. This means losing to a very strong player gives a very little subtraction to the current rating.

A very strong player on the other hand will lose a heck lot of points when managed to be defeated by a lower Elo.

There are even cases where a draw can actually cause you to lose points. But that’s only when the difference reached beyond the hundreds mark.

So that’s Elo scores. It is used in offline chess ok, but how does it differ from online ratings?

What is the Glicko rating system?

The glicko rating is a sort of variation created from the original system. Essentially it is still the elo system, with really minor tweaks. A rating deviation is put into place that correspondingly makes it harder to increase the rating over time.

A player for example starting a new account online would have a huge rating deviation. Every won game will give the player massive points. At the same time, losses will give a larger decrease than the regular elo system.

This rating deviation decreases over time. Meaning it would be significantly harder to rank higher the longer you play.

It’s easy to play online! You don’t have to travel.

But does this mean it is harder to rank online? After all, the rating deviation makes it harder to rank significantly over time. Technically yes, but actually no. The accessibility of an online platform makes it easy to garner ratings.

Offline tournaments after all are expensive and time-consuming. One bad tournament can set you up way back in terms of recovery.

While online, you could just play as much as you without being held back by time and location. This makes offline Elo actually harder to maintain than the online one.

Even though the math says it should be easier. So remember, online games have a weight designed to hold players back.

Both rating systems are good at tracking a player’s progress. And both should be utilized to their maximum to compensate for each other’s limitations.

Elo Scales of Fide and USCF

International titles are given when a player fulfills certain requirements. Those requirements can go back to the player’s actual rating.

This is why certain rating levels are home to similar titleholders. There are two large governing bodies when it comes to chess, Fide (International) and USCF (United States).

FIDE category

The following are more of a global standard used in an international scale:

2700+People being referred to as “super grandmasters”
but essentially is a non-official title for world-class grandmasters
2500-2700A lot of Grandmasters
2400-2500Occasional Grandmasters with a large percentage
of International masters
2300-2400A lot of Fide Masters
2200-2300A lot of Fide candidate and national masters
2000-2200Occasional candidate masters, with experts (USCF category)
1800-2000Class A, category 1
1600-1800Class B, category 2
1400-1600Class C, category 3
1200-1400Class D, category 4
below 1200All novices and beginners

How does this help us you might think. Well it helps a lot! We can have a clearer picture of most chess player’s trajectory throughout their career. This in turn allows us to draw parallels into our own strength.

Most people won’t even reach the candidate master level however. These make it a somewhat limited point of comparison. These classes by themselves would not be enough to reflect on how much we can still improve.

To look within is to look at others.

These classifications are result-oriented. What’s great about this rating system is it does not consider time. Someone who is completely new to the game can still be better than one who’s been playing for years.

Of course if someone has been playing for a long time. That player would be likely to get stronger. But correlation is not causation. This category by Fide is a nice ranking system but there’s another similar hierarchy.

USCF category

The United States Chess federation represents the United States to Fide. They are however large enough of an organization to make an impact in the chess world. They govern chess competitions in the U.S and stepped the following ranking:

2400 +Senior Master
2200- 2399National Master
1800-1999Class A
1600-1799Class B
1400-1599Class C
1200-1399Class D
1000-1199Class E
800-999Class F
600-799Class G
400-599Class H
200-399Class I
100- 199Class J

It is pretty similar to the Fide standards with slightly being beginner-friendly. Fide hierarchy focuses more on those at the top. While USCF has specific stages for those who are just learning the game. There are many more categories leading to 2000.

This is a very good way to encourage competition and improvements. Since most novices will be motivated to reach the next stage. An international body can’t really do this.

Since most players who travel worldwide have high ratings. But USCF can, and which I actually find very interesting.

Now that we talked all about that let’s talk about my own way of classifying your own level.

Which level are you? My own elo descriptions!

The stages of a beginner always follow the same trajectory. No one starts crushing everyone right off the bat.

Although some do, rare people with world-class potential. We mortals however need our own way of classifying our level. Some skip one step or two, but most don’t.

I decided to do something fun, like how you would play in a given level. Look at the chess levels I have made below and maybe one can describe you. This is how strong you are.

Take note that these are made with chess.com ratings in mind. Lichess ratings are not applicable to this one. Since Lichess has a huge rating deviation than normal (meaning it’s easy to rank high). So here they are:

0-1000 (Baby)

This is the stage when a player hardly knows how to play at all. People of this stage can be described as the following:

  • Barely know the rules.
  • Still gets confused about how pieces move.
  • Makes a lot of illegal moves.
  • Leaves pieces hanging to be captured.
  • Creates a ton of blunders ripe for the taking.
  • No tactical, endgame, or positional knowledge.
  • No knowledge about chess strategy.
  • No evaluation and analysis skills.

These are the players that can really be called complete “beginners”.

1000- 1100 (Baby with experience)

Once at this stage, a player is expected to have the following attributes:

  • Several games of experience.
  • Very basic tactical knowledge.
  • Makes a lot of blunders.
  • Occasionally leaves pieces hanging.
  • Play without making long-term plans.

So this is the stage where you are still a beginner, just with a little tidbit of experience.

1100-1200 (Kid)

These players have the following qualities:

  • Occasionally make blunders.
  • Has basic tactics.
  • Rarely leaves pieces hanging.
  • Implements positional plans that are usually incorrect.
  • Good at offense bad at defense.

This is when stuff starts to get interesting.

1200-1300 (Teen)

A player as a teen has the following traits :

  • Understand the opponent’s motives and counter plans.
  • Not so common blunders.
  • Doesn’t leave pieces hanging anymore (although maybe when playing braindead).
  • Intermediate tactical skills.
  • Fairly bad defensive skills.
  • Starting to learn openings
  • Fair middle game.
  • Poor positional and endgame skill.
  • Understanding basic chess plans.

At this point, you are starting to beat some of your friends and family members.

1300- 1400 (Adult)

An adult has the following characteristics:

  • Intermediate thought process.
  • Identifies checks, captures, and threats made by the opponent.
  • Doesn’t leave pieces hanging.
  • Very good offensive tactics.
  • Fair defensive shots.
  • Little opening knowledge.
  • Basic endgame skills.
  • Basic middle game skills.

This is what they call an “advanced beginner”.

1400-1500 (Grandparent)

This stage as the following traits:

  • Good thought process.
  • Does not leave pieces hanging
  • Advanced offensive tactical skill.
  • High defensive skill (occasionally miss defensive resource).
  • Has a fair knowledge of the opening.
  • Seasonally play funny openings.
  • Intermediate endgame skills.
  • Intermediate positional and analytical process.
  • Poor positional and evaluation capability.
  • Will probably need a coach, books, or some extra resources to improve.

A lot of people who’ve been playing for a long time fall into this category.

1500-1700 (Advanced Grandparent)

This player has the following:

  • Advanced tactical skills
  • Advanced thought process
  • Intermediate endgame skills
  • Intermediate positional mastery.
  • Fair evaluation and positional capability.
  • Has some kind of trainer in place with resources to improve.
  • Needs strong competition.
  • Needs to focus on the endgame.

You are beyond a large percentage of the chess community if you’re in this stage my friend.

1700-1900 (Saiyan)

You are expected to have the following in this category:

  • Near the expert level.
  • Advanced tactical skills
  • Advanced thought process
  • Extremely strong endgame and positional mastery.
  • Intermediate evaluation skills.
  • Good analyst for other people’s games.
  • The opening repertoire becomes a must-have improvement.
  • Good database that allows reaching to specific positions.
  • Should have a title after few more years.

You are on the road to success when reaching this far in your chess journey.

2000 plus (Super Saiyan)

This player has the following:

  • A title along with a good association within the chess community (most of the time).
  • Advanced thought process.
  • Advanced offensive tactical and defensive shots.
  • Tile perfect endgame and positional mastery.
  • Advanced evaluation skills.
  • Can memorize a variety of own and other people’s games.
  • Can play blindfold chess well.
  • Extremely insightful analyst
  • Can become a chess trainer
  • World-class opening repertoire.
  • Uses chess engines to improve lines.
  • Look at the opponent’s previous games before most matches.

You are a phenomenal player! Congrats to you. You are now one of the people representing chess for those who aspire to learn the game.

Closing statement

Self-awareness is a good tool to prosper improvements. Getting to know the Elo scores is a good way to identify that.

But at theend if the day, elo ratings should never be an actual determinant of the player’s full potential. These are all just numbers, everybody can improve with hardwork.

There are no metrics that can measure what you can become. So play well my friends 🙂