Is it Better to Play Rated or Unrated in Chess?

Most people who play chess are casuals, individuals that are not necessarily dreaming about becoming this glorious chess player.

Then they stumble upon the system of chess ratings and everything changes, the field is now more competitive, they have to become better or the game is no fun anymore. 

The question of rated vs. unrated does not usually come up, this is because serious chess players are locked in the mindset that rated games are just automatically better.

With this article I will be challenging this mindset since it might not be the case all the time. Rated games have its advantages (obviously).

However I think there is also a case to be made that unrated games have its perks, this article will talk about the advantages of both sides. Let’s get started then . .

In my opinion, unrated games are better than rated games for most people

Most people who play chess do not do it for competitive purposes (or even then, only for light informal competition), this means that most people play chess for entertainment.

I think that unrated games fall in this category, since there is so much pressure in rated games it is not really that entertaining. 

Whenever I play rated games over the years, I always had the impression that I was under greater pressure, and as a result, I did not always perform to the best of my abilities.

Unrated games are often the ones I have the most fun with since I can play them with the intention of just having a good time while still giving it my all.

There are also people that are not prepared to give it their all (as in invest so much thinking time) but still desire to play the game since they know it will provide them with enjoyment.

In this case playing unrated chess games is way better than playing rated ones. At this point, there’s not much of a difference between the two, with the exception of those who don’t want to chance having their rating go down.

The happiness that comes in rated encounters are rooted in overcoming strong chess players and proving your abilities.

But I can testify that overall, rated games are much more emotionally unnerving and you are rarely satisfied until you get a high rating (even when you had a good game).

This makes unrated games more satisfying for most people, after all, most people do it for fun.

The stress from rated games can make you a stronger (and happier) player

I think that there is still satisfaction in becoming a strong chess player. If that is your MO (although I suspect that not a lot of people prefer this), then rated games are for you.

After all, just because something is stressful does not mean that it is bad for your performance. The thing is, there are certain types of stress that really improve performance.

There are two distinct ways in which stress might hinder or improve your effectiveness. When it keeps you extra aware, more driven to study, and gives you success in a particular situation, stress may be beneficial.

When it is at a manageable level, stress enables you to plan, concentrate, and achieve at your very best. On the other hand, too much stress, or the wrong kind of stress, may lead to performance anxiety.

This is harmful to the human body and prevents you from playing in a comfortable, calm, and attentive manner during battle. Rated chess games bring out stress, and in my experience it is the kind of stress that would induce performance anxiety.

However there are ways to turn this stress into an advantage. With experience, people are able to use the excitement that they get from stress to increase their performance (and overall satisfaction).

Eventhough most people are affected negatively by the stress they get from rated games at first, it might actually become addicting eventually. In this rare case where you enjoy this artificial stress, rated games are for you. 

If you are serious about chess or easily offended, you shouldn’t play unrated games

When I watch certain players compete in unrated games, I find that they exhibit a level of carelessness and sloppiness that is not present in their performance when they compete in rated games.

This irritates me every now and then since I tackle each match to the finest of my skills in order to get the most out of the experience and further my education.

When someone would suddenly quit for no apparent reason for example, it makes me feel duped. This pertains solely to me. Some also play unrated games as a sort of snob, that they are the tough guy and won’t generally play at their regular level.

There are times when your opponent will do this in order to put their lesser adversary (you) to a sort of “trial” which subsequently tells that they are naturally the better player. This may include intentionally giving up a pawn or playing some obscure gambit.

This is so they have an excuse if they lose and something to brag if they won. I find that this is condescending yet amusing at the same time. If you are serious about chess or are easily offended, trust me, just play rated games. 

Why are people so disrespectful in unrated games?

If you asked me if not for the insulting tendency is present in unrated games, it will be better than rated games. I still think that unrated chess games is the best for most people, however just don’t get offended.

There are many reasons why people try to disrespect others in unrated chess games.

Psychologically speaking, it’s possible for an individual to criticize another merely because of the organizational hierarchy and the undeniable basic antagonism that characterizes us as people, which is another way of saying the pecking order.

People are mocking one another for a variety of reasons, including the fact that they are just clueless.

They reproduce the usual behaviors that are prevalent in the contexts they are accustomed to, which include their households, schools, and places of employment, and where offending becomes a routine in order to operate or cope with difficulties.

It is not like I am furious about this, sometimes it makes things interesting. However I am someone that prefers fun but serious encounters which is why I prefer unrated games but it sometimes makes me think that rated games are better actually. 

If you are a competitive individual, you should play rated games more

There are individuals that are too competitive for their own good, they just can’t satisfy themselves if they don’t have this sense of accomplishment. Don’t get me wrong this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however this is just not me.

Competitive people should play rated chess games more than unrated games, this will satisfied their nature and make them feel more fulfilled. If you are looking to unlock your full potential, I suggest you play more games with ratings.

If you continue to lose and your rating continues to plummet, you will eventually start facing opponents who have talents that are more comparable to your own.

After that, you will be likely to perform your way back to the top of the rating hierarchy (minimizing atress eventually), growing stronger as your competitors also become stronger.

Personally, I still prefer unrated games over rated ones

As for me it is just hard to feel satisfied with rated games. I play it a lot in the past, but now I am starting to shift in unrated games. Also unrated games have surprising benefits to your overall game anyway. 

During the time that I was reading and implementing what I have been discovering into action, my overall rating dropped quite a little. I am not perfect, but I have improved as a result of critically examining the areas in which I fell short.

I’ve seen that my rating is gradually improving once again. I believe that if you focus more on rated games, you won’t be willing to experiment with new ideas, weird openings and sacrifices would just be unsound to you.

As black, I’ve recently switched to utilizing the Caro-kann defense rather than my usual and boring e5 reply, which is actually more comfortable to me.

Not only does it allow me to learn a new variation that I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise, but it also teaches me how to play around the caro-kann if I am playing white’s position.

Even trying my hand at a reti opening was an interesting experience. This would not be possible if I only focus on rated games, this initiative is from playing unrated chess games.

I am saying that if you prefer unrated games it can still make you good, if this is the case I would recommend putting more of your attention towards studying/analyzing rather than the amount of games played.

Unrated games are better for teaching people, rated games are too stressful

Unrated games also win against rated games in a surprising category, and that is as a medium of chess education.

Unrated matches is probably the best way to go if you are playing with someone for teaching reasons, this is because you don’t want to build up pressure to help people discover the appropriate moves before being serious with them.

This is because unrated matches allow you to more freely interact with the other player. One such argument may be that there is a crazy opening that you want to practice with a beginner, but at the same time you don’t want to risk your valuable rating by doing so.

In this case it makes more sense to play unrated games than to play rated ones. 

I usually utilize unrated chess matches when welcoming interested individuals with no prior chess experience.

Unrated games played for beginners also feature take-backs. This mechanism will allow chess instructors to use these types of games as teaching materials in chess matches.

I find that take-back games are very helpful for teaching beginners, and this is only available with unrated chess matches. Since these matches are not rated, it means that losing while playing them won’t have any impact on the beginner’s rating. 

Unrated games are better than rated games when playing against a weaker opponent

When I am competing against someone who is several hundred points lower in their rating than I am, I prefer to play unrated rounds so that I can provide them advice and assist them raise their skills.

If I were to prevail over them, it wouldn’t make much of a difference in my rating, but if I were to be defeated by them, it would make a significant dent in it.

On the other hand, if I am going to be playing multiple matches against a person with a lower rating, I also couldn’t win too many of those matches since it will cause their rating to plummet significantly.

I think you know where this is going, playing unrated games is the simple solution to this rating problem. Our ratings will be a complete non-factor if we were to go unrated, I can instruct them without losing any of my ratings at the same time.

I also prefer not to see their morale suffer because of a decline in their ranking if I were to win many times against them. Playing unrated chess matches when facing a weaker (learning) opponent is the best solution. 

Conclusion

If you are not a competitive player and is just trying to have fun playing chess, perhaps engaging in unrated games is the best for you.

Of course you can still play rated games every now and then when you are trying to test your skills, but there is no shame in playing unrated games since is just more fun. 

There is this mentality that the people who do not play rated games are not “real chess players”, but if you think about it, what’s the point in being real?

Didn’t you pick up the game because it is fun and you find it entertaining? Don’t get me wrong, there is still joy in having a high rating, but it does not always give fulfillment. That is all, thank you for reading. 

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