Should you Play Higher Rated or Lower Rated Opponents? 

The elo rating is an interesting concept in chess, this allows players to determine which “level” they are currently in from the rest. The ratings determine a player’s chess ranking, in other words, it is the pride of a chess player. 

Playing against a higher rated or lower rated opponent will definitely give a contrasting experience, the difference will be clear. The question is should you play against a higher rated or a lower rated opponent? there will be layers into this answer.

From what I’ve seen on forums my answer here is a little unpopular, everybody just says that you should play against a higher rated opponent.

While playing against a higher rated opponent may have some benefits it is not the whole story, and this article will show why, let’s get started. 

Playing against higher rated opponents will make you a stronger chess player

As I said, playing against a higher rated opponent will have some obvious benefits. 

If you want to be strong and that is your sole focus, you should almost exclusively play against higher rated opponents only. It is usually when you have challenged yourself or you are aspiring to be a chess professional in the future. 

It is best to compete against individuals who are ranked between 100 and 200 points higher than you if you really want to become stronger. 

It trains you how to battle, and you’ll see for yourself what the contrast is between the games you play and the games they play. 

You will get some rating points for victory against lower competitors; but, your overall playing ability will not change as a result of these victories.

Playing against higher rated opponents helps you become used to competing against stronger competition. You may discover new strategic and tactical principles by playing against higher-rated opponents and then reviewing the game after it’s over. 

This will allow you to acquire insight into how your competitors approached the sport. One of the things that you will learn is speed. Playing against higher rated opponents will teach you how to think faster.

If you want my tips on how you can think faster during a game of chess, you can view another article that I’ve written.

If you only play against lower-rated opponents it will only make you worse and your opponents better. 

You will get used to playing at a lower level, and when the time comes where you have to play against equally rated people to yourself, you will realize  how much chess you have forgotten at the lower level. 

Games against weaker opponents do not challenge nor does it stimulate the brain. However, your opponents will feel the exact opposite and they will improve.

It is like lifting a really heavy set in you local gym for a couple of repetitions. I am sure that you have noticed the easiness of lifting the lighter weights afterwards, it is like you have become stronger suddenly.

This is because when you are used to making adjustments on a difficult task, any other inferior task below it becomes way easier. This is the same with chess, if you really want to be strong then you should exclusively play against higher rate opponents only.

However I think a case can be made as to why you should also play against lower rated opponents. 

You should also play against lower rated opponents for fun

It is important to take advantage of the fact that you are competing against inferior opponents and exercise, forcing yourself to triumph as directly as possible (that is, winning by finding the greatest moves as opposed to only playing decent enough moves).

This not only help perfect your winning method but also ensures that you maintain the same level of concentration no matter who you are competing against.

Lower rated players have a tendency to play in an incredibly creative manner, however they do it in an exceedingly improper manner. This is another incentive to continue playing them. 

But sometimes a lower rated opponent may take you by shock with something that your better players don’t hurl at you (such as an erroneous sacrifice, a premature threefold repetition check, an outdated opening, and so on).

You will need to train your ability to refute these flawed ideas.

Also, in live chess competitions, there are always plenty of lower-rated players waiting in the pairings list to take advantage of you, so why not get some experience by playing against them?

These of course are all of the “technical” reasons but these are not the only reason why you should play against weaker players, another is passion. 

Playing against lower rated players is just more enjoyable

Let’s be honest, playing chess just to lose or draw over and over again is not fun.

The reason why we play chess is because we imagine ourselves being this chess master that can find amazing resources out of thin air. You will almost always look bad against a higher rated opponent. 

It may give you improvement in the long term playing against a higher rated opponent, but I doubt that it will give you any enjoyment.

This is the primary reason why I think you should play against a lower rated opponent on some occasions, you just have take a break from stressful rated chess games every now and then. 

I played a good match with a guy who was around 300 points lower in rating than I am. I made a mistake in the beginning, but I still had enough strength to dominate. It was a really enjoyable experience overall.

Chess is meant to be entertaining if you are not willing to pursue it professionally. Improvement doesn’t matter if you have loss your passion for the game, you will just quit anyway once you are bored which is also bad for improvement.

I think that playing against a lower rated opponent is good on some occasions. 

Personally, I think a good mix between higher rated and lower rated opponents is ideal

Mixing things around is a smart move in my opinion. In my personal matches it is about one hundred points higher than your rating to one hundred points below.

When you lose against higher rated opponents too frequently, chess becomes tedious and even hate-inducing. On the other hand, prevailing because of mistakes made by your lower rated adversary is not a very effective approach to grow.

Therefore, you should try to play some stronger players on some occasions, and play against those that are a little weaker on some other occasions.

For example, the majority of my games are won in matches. When a fresh match is scheduled, I check to see what kind of rating my potential opponent is expected to have. 

I am a part of a few extremely active groups, and one of those groups is two or three. If my squad already has a rating advantage, I choose not to join; nevertheless, if we are trailing in rating points, I will join.

Such events has the potential to be really respectable competition for some while now.

I also like participating in competitions, but since I am cheap and refuse to pay for a membership, the quantity of competitions in which I may take part is severely restricted. 

If you make it past the first couple of rounds of an event, you are going to face some very better ranked opponents since quite a number of the individuals are going to improve their ratings as the event goes on.

Which is to the benefit since you are going to face a good mix of higher and lower rated opponents in moderation.

In online games I also like the variety. At this point in time, 92% of the opponents I face are of a similar strength to myself (the guys whose ratings range from -100 to +150). 

There are three competitors out there that are more powerful than me. One with almost the same rating as the other, one with +100, and one with +150. 

To them, I am almost hopeless, and it is difficult to compete against them; nonetheless, I need such games in order to learn and improve my skill. 

Because I am unable to consistently absorb such blows, I have no choice but to compete against opponents of a similar skill level to me as well as those of a lower skill level in between.

This is the mix that I am talking about, a good balance between enjoying chess while also improving along the way. 

Basically when playing against opponents with a lower rating than you, you should have a better chance of winning.

If you feel that you are not doing as well as you would want in this area, you might try playing some practice matches against people with lower ratings.

On the other hand you will likely learn new strategies as rapidly as possible against higher-rated opponents, which will contribute to your speedy progress.

But there is one thing that they will not be able to teach you, and that is how you should play games against people with lesser ratings.

A good mix is necessary for the maximum benefit of playing either rating level. 

See how elo ratings work in my other article.

Maybe this doesn’t even matter at all . .

I think some people believe that playing against higher opponents is enough get stronger, however this is not true.

Although it is a part of it the other is analysis, you should pair analysis with playing against higher rated opponents to realize maximum improvement. 

You won’t make nearly as much progress as you could if you don’t examine your own matches and don’t keep records, memos, or anything else related to them.

It does not matter if you defeat competitors with a better or lower rating; what matters is finding out how you accomplished it and continuing to improve upon it.

Analyzing your previous matches is the single most essential thing you can do to improve as a player. If you don’t know what to work you obviously wouldn’t unlock your full potential, analyzing your own games gives you information, it gives you clarity. 

Playing against higher rated opponents will be helpful, but it will only be truly instructive if you perform the follow-up (analysis).

It is never too late to get started on this. Never. Identifying positions in which you made an error and pondering how you might have played them more effectively are two of the most fundamental aspects of game analysis. 

After that, you’ll be able to avoid making the same sort of error in subsequent games, and voila: your performance will improve.

I do think that considering the mix of the higher and lower rated opponents that you will play against is important, however the follow-up is also just as important. It matters, but you do have to follow through with hardwork in order to really become better.


To reiterate, it is important to both play some higher rated and lower rated opponents in your games.

Higher rated opponents help you to become stronger, while lower rated opponents on the other hand help you deal with unorthodox approaches and some weird creative openings.

The most important of all, playing against lower rated opponents will allow you to relive the passion of winning. You will definitely look stronger against lower rated opponents, this will be enjoyable for most people.

I think finding the right balance is important to maximize  your experience with chess. That is all, thank you for reading.