Forget Ratings!

By Ian King

You might have experienced this…

You’re busy enjoying a nice casual game with a friend only for some fellow to come along bubbling about some 2100 plus rating on some site or other. Unsure of how to respond, you probably congratulate him with a silent question mark on his IQ. However, not content with just sharing unsolicited information, he also goes on to air an attitude of superiority offering all manner of ‘astute’ analyses and variations in your ‘pathetic’ game.

Oh yeah, he’s also read a book (title) or two and is more than ready to scare anyone who doesn’t know what half-baked information he’s just read. If you’re anything like me, such a person deserves ready discipline. And, pray tell, what greater glory exists than to crush such misplaced ego?

You see there is a very big and definite difference between playing strength and rating; and especially in those who aren’t constantly playing in tournaments. For titled masters, most likely, the two are well matched. But for online blitzers, the difference is sometimes laughable.

Let’s get this right. ‘Your rating is whatever level a comparison system will place you.’ ‘Your playing strength is your actual finesse of play.’ Both fluctuate but your playing strength is what you should care about. Work on it every day
and your rating shall definitely improve.

Let me repeat. You shouldn’t care about ratings, especially online, because you might, for instance, spend an entire day beating people only marginally better than you and gain up to a hundred or two hundred points. Surely, this must send a signal to you that something fishy exists in trusting online ratings to estimate strength. Especially given how you can always just as easily lose those points again.

Instead, focus on increasing your depth, your tactical vision, your understanding of instructive attacks and endgames. Focus on honing your style, and recognize common errors in your play; choose lines that lead to positions you’re better suited for. Focus on upping your patience in attacks, and your aggressiveness in defense. Focus on your ability to spot quiet moves in tentative positions and defensive resources in terrible onslaughts.

See if you can learn to force long combinative resolutions of seemingly equal positions into won endgames. Do any or all of that (maybe even more), and your rating shall soar. ‘Ratings follow strength, not the other way round.’

If you’d be so inclined to follow, a trick I’ve found that helps force improvement in playing strength is participating in tournaments. In tournaments, ratings don’t matter; wins do. Careless mistakes or draws lead to drops in position on the leaderboard.

If you’re a competitive soul, you’ll soon learn to focus on wins rather than rating points and boost your playing
strength by correcting whatever flaws the competition may seem to repetitively punish. Over time, that refinement in play shall lead to the higher ratings you desired so much in the first place.

Something you should avoid about online chess, though, is discontinuing play once you hit a desired target, say 2000 or 2300 or 2500. Your playing strength needs the practice you’re denying it and if you stay away too long, you might find yourself losing too many games the moment you start playing.

Once you hit a target, be happy, and note it to yourself. Then keep playing and if you lose it work hard to hit it again. If you can hit it once a day for six successive days, you’ll probably be above it in a week.

Now that you don’t care about ratings, Happy Playing!

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