Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Self Worth != Chess Rating

The symbol in the title "!=" is computer programming language-speak for "not equal to".

on a comment post to Greg Chess Progress's blog mentioned an interesting article. The inventor of the Glicko system, Mark Glickman was interviewed by the USCF's Chess Life magazine. In it, Mark made a comment that stands out towards the end of that interview:

"Way too many players, including people in administrative positions within the USCF, incorrectly view ratings as measures of achievement, or worse, as measures of self-worth."

Truer words have never been spoken.

I for one, have never been overtly concerned with chess ratings. I play chess to have fun and I find it an enjoyment to read chess books, go through Chessbase DVDs etc. to improve my chess skills. Ratings improvement is merely a bonus.

I think far too many players get caught up in the ratings game and start to put up an attitude especially when approached by lesser skilled players for questions. I've seen it happen at club level. The U1200 mingle in one group, U1800 in another group, U2100 in one group. I do notice that when people get higher in rating, quite a number of players suddenly developed a "Brahmin-like" behaviour towards less skilled players - a "you're beneath me and not worth my attention"-esque attitude. It's really a sad sight to behold.

When a player is low in the chess rating "pecking order", it is very easy to develop a low self worth if higher skilled players in the chess club deliberately ignore you and avoid you like the plague when you approach them. They would feel that their rating appears to be a curse rather than a badge and are not welcomed.

I think some of these better skilled players should adopt a less "holier-than-thou" attitude and learn to be more accommodating.

Lower skilled chess players need as much guidance as they can get. And sometimes, all it takes is to go over to their group and have a friendly social chat with them. It has been known that lower skilled players usually try not to approach higher skilled players as they're sometimes held back by fear that they ask stupid questions or appear stupid in the face of their contemporaries. So for higher skilled players, it always help to make the first step and make a little ice breaker (followed by an introduction) . And if asked for advice, to dispense them freely as it would mean a lot to the less skilled players and would really make their day.

After all at club level, chess playing is not meant for you to go on an ego trip.


  1. Heck yeah. My game needs lots of work and I'm always open to advice!

    A word of caution: Do not assume that because someone's rating is lower than yours, that they want your help. Some people (not me!) like to learn by trial and error, and some are picky about who they receive advice from. :)

    I think you said it exactly right,

    "So for higher skilled players, it always help to make the first step and make a little ice breaker (followed by an introduction) . And if asked for advice, to dispense them freely as it would mean a lot to the less skilled players and would really make their day."

  2. likesforests: I know what you mean. It has been my encounter as well that some weaker players need not want any input from their more experienced players.

    Being a patzer myself, I have no problems with people giving out advice to me (which I may not always agree with but I respect and thank them for their opinions), good or bad. In a way, I am like you in that I'm very open to advice and welcome it.

    I've always believed that chess playing is a progressive skill and one fine-tuned through studious learning and playing experience.


  3. If you're wondering why I don't read your blog anymore, it's just that your rating is too low for me.

    Seriously, you're straight on.

    Part of the same rating flocking together is simply psychological, or having similar experiences. Not all of it is due to pride, but it's good to make an effort to mix a bit.

  4. Hi Tanc,

    to add to what LEP said about 'similar experiences' I would add similar 'wave lengths' or perhaps similar discourse.

    I fully admit to having a 'pecking order' mentality. I hold players who are experts or above in awe. The first time I was at a tournament where there was more than one GM competing I was almost surprised and disappointed to see that they didn't have "aureolas" floating about them.

    Stronger players (2 classes or more above) discuss the game in ways I can't begin to follow, and I wouldn't dare try to chime in on any chess related conversation, knowing that there's nothing intelligent I could say.

    Conversely, I admit to silently snickering when I overhear beginners (I wouldn't put you in that category, though experts and above might) talking about moves they play and why they think those are strong moves, for example bringing the queen out on the second move.

    Nevertheless, at the little club I'm a part of, there's an unspoken rule that the 'hot shots' will play anyone, and during or after the game offer pointers here and there, as far as the other player is receptive to hearing them. But some of the beginners will avoid playing me or the other identifiable stronger players, because they want to avoid getting massacred, even though we only play 'friendly' games. But really, I get no enjoyment from beating beginners; it's not a challenge. Since the club's purpose is to promote the game, in addition to providing a venue for the real enthusiasts to get some regular face to face games in, those of us who are tournament players spend half of our time playing each other, and half trying to help the others improve their game.



  5. I wonder if some higher rated players "guard" their knowledge so as to prevent potential competition from getting better and challenging them. A professor I once had used to say: "Once you make it to the top in any endeavor, there's a temptation to make that same journey more difficult for others."

  6. I heard that Fischer's book "My 60 Memorable Games" was nearly not published for that very reason --he was leary of giving away too many of his secrets.

  7. LEP: Yes, I know. Sad fact. I suck. LOL. :)

    Eric: That's a very interesting view and one I've not considered.Sometimes, it's hard to say that it's not a challenge to beat beginners. Why not make it interesting and give them say, pawn/piece odds or something? In this way, you can make games more interesting. And I didn't know Fischer didn't like publishing his games!

    greg: I too guard my openings when playing beginners but luckily I play a myriad of positions so it's not easy to see which repertoire I'm working on. Most of the time, I don't divulge pet lines in my repertoire and sometimes choose inferior sidelines because I want to see how it goes.

  8. Sometimes I do give odds, like a rook, or even as much as all of my queenside pieces. It's still not particularly interesting. And as often as not, they don't want me to give them odds.

    Sometimes, instead of playing a game with them, I'll try to work with them on basic checkmates such as king and queen vs king, king and rook vs king, or king and pawn vs king and how to gain the opposition.