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In the world of professional sports, ranking systems occupy a significant position. In a similar vein, chess, too, has its own ranking systems.

A chess ranking system tells us how well-trained and skilful a chess player is. It is a tool that clarifies where the world’s top chess players rank alongside each other.

In the world of chess, the highest governing body – Federation Internationale des Echecs (FIDE), maintains and updates the rankings of professional chess players based on their performances in registered tournaments.

A chess ranking system is based on a rating mechanism that will generally have a range of 400 to 2000+. In other words, a professional chess competitor will begin with an average chess rating of 400.

As a chess player keeps winning or losing games in official chess tournaments, the rating will either go up or down. If you are just starting out with your professional chess career, you will be assigned a basic chess rating.

This article will tell you all you need to know about the chess ranking system and how different chess ranking titles are awarded to professional players.

What Is The Chess Ranking System?

When it comes to classifying professional chess players into various categories, a chess rating calculator becomes the need of the hour. A chess ranking system has been developed to distinguish each chess player from the next.

A chess ranking system does the vital task of measuring the cumulative strength of a chess player. This is done by the award of points to the players based on their performances in official chess competitions.

It should be noted that there is more than a single chess ranking system in use globally. Chess watchdogs such as FIDE, US Chess Federation, English Chess Federation, International Correspondence Chess Federation, etc., all depend on one or the other chess rating calculator in place.

Since online chess tournaments have become hugely popular among chess enthusiasts, internet chess-playing platforms, such as, Internet Chess Club, and Lichess, have developed their own chess rating and ranking systems.

Recommended Read: 50+ Chess Stats That Will Blow Your Mind

How Does The Ranking System Work?

A chess ranking system divides players into groups based on their rating. Any player with a higher rating by numbers will be placed at a higher rank than someone with a lower score on the rating list.

As a player gains points via a rating system, the ranking also goes high on the rating list. Most chess rating systems rate players based on their performances in chess tournaments. However, these days, even individual games between celebrated chess players get ratings on site.

When Does It Start?

A chess ranking system generally ranks players from the time they begin their professional chess career. It plays an instrumental part in determining who gets to climb up the ladder of the chess hierarchy. A chess rating calculator always works to classify chess players after each game is played.

The modern chess rating system was first introduced in 1939 by the Correspondence Chess League of America. The chess rating system that made headlines on a global scale was the Ingo system in 1948.

Today’s most well-known chess rating system, the Elo rating system, was adopted by the international chess governing body FIDE in 1970 and the United States Chess Federation (USCF) in 1960.

It is time now to look at all the chess rating systems that are internationally recognized to be official rating systems.

The Elo Chess Rating System

Arguably the most popular chess rating calculator in the world, the Elo rating system was the brainchild of Aprad Elo. While carving out his chess rating system, Aprad Elo had said that measuring the credibility of a chess player can never be absolute, and all rating systems would only present an approximate picture.

FIDE has been adhering to the Elo chess ranking system since 1970 and organises chess tournaments based on classifications derived from the Elo rating system.

To get a better understanding of the different chess rating categories, let us check out the following table on the Elo scale, according to the 1978 standard:

Rating range                            Category
2700+Informally termed as ‘Super Grandmasters’
2500-2700Most Grandmasters (GM)
2400-2500Most International GMs (IMs) and some GMs
2300-2400Most Fide Masters (FMs) and some IMs
2200-2300FIDE Candidate Masters (CMs), some National Masters (NMs)
2000-2200Candidate Masters (CMs)
1800-2000Class A, category 1
1600-1800Class B, category 2
1400-1600Class C, category 3
1200-1400Class D, category 4
Below 1200Novices

How Is Elo Rating Calculated?

The inventor of the Elo chess ranking system, Arpad Elo, had devised a novel formula to calculate each professional chess player’s ranking. He called this formula’ linear approximation’.

As per linear approximation of the Elo rating system, a chess player’s rating is calculated by the following method:

Rnew = Rold + K/2 (W – L + ½ [EiDi/C])

Here, ‘Rold’ and ‘Rnew’ are the previous and current ratings of the chess player in question. ‘Di’ is the rating of the rival player after subtracting the said player’s rating; ‘L’ happens to be the total number of defeats; ‘W’ is the number of victories; the values of ‘C’ and ‘K’ are 200 and 32, respectively.

If you want to calculate a chess player’s rating based on the Elo formula, first find out the average chess rating of the opponent player. Once you have that at your disposal, place the number in the formula along with the number of games the player is expected to win in the formula. After the calculation is completed, you will have the chess player’s new rating. 

In layman’s terms, any player with a higher Elo rating will have a better chance of winning a game of chess against an opponent with a lower Elo rating. 

The USCF Chess Rating System

After the Elo rating system, the second most popular chess ranking system is the USCF chess rating system.

This system is partially based on the Elo rating system. The only differences are the variability of the ‘K’ factor and additional points for outstanding achievements in chess competitions.

The USCF system also differentiates between professional chess players based on ratings, and the players are placed in different categories based on their ratings. In the following table, we will find out how the USCF system categorises players:

CategoryRating range
Senior Master2400 and Beyond
National Master2200-2399
Class A1800-1999
Class B1600-1799
Class C1400-1599
Class D1200-1399
Class E1000-1199
Class F800-999
Class G600-799
Class H400-599
Class I200-399
Class J100-199

The Ingo System

The Ingo chess ranking system was designed by Anton Hoesslinger in 1948. The system was in use from the date of its inception until 1992. It was the standard rating mechanism of the West German Chess Federation. However, it was later overtaken by the newly ELo-inspired rating system ‘Deutsche Wertungszahl.’

The Ingo rating system was a highly influential chess rating system in the earlier decades of the twentieth century. What made the Ingo system totally different from most other chess rating systems is the fact that here the lower the ratings of a player, the higher ranking that particular was given.

The Harkness System

Another notable chess ranking system of the mid-twentieth century is the Harkness System. It was devised by Kenneth Harkness sometime before 1950. The USCF, as well as several other international chess organisations, made use of this system from 1950 until 1960.

The Glicko Rating System

This system of chess rating was given shape by Mark E. Glickman, who made some changes to the already existing Elo rating system to come up with this new method.

The Glicko-2 rating system is considered an improvement to the widely-used Elo rating system. The Australian Chess Federation and several online chess portals such as use the Glicko-2 rating system to rank chess players. 

The reason this method is used mainly by online chess platforms is because of its computer-friendly computations. While, on the one hand, the Elo system is better suited for calculations on paper, the Glicko-2 formula is more manageable for computers to check in their memory.

The USA ICCF System

The International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF), based in the United States, had its own chess rating system in the 1970s. The ICCF was established on March 26, 1951, and has been one of the leading chess governing bodies in the US and abroad. 

The ICCF regularly organises individual and team tournaments for professional and amateur level chess players worldwide. It currently utilises the Elo chess ranking system for judging rankings of players.

The Deutsche Wertungszahl System

Deutsche Wertungszahl, or DWZ, is a chess ranking system employed by the German Chess Federation in unified Germany in 1990. This system was the successor to the Ingo system.

The DWZ rating system uses a chess rating calculator known as the ‘Gauss Error Distribution Curve.’

The Universal Rating System

Developed by a collaborative team comprising Jeff Sonas, Mark Glickman, Maxime Rischard, and J. Isaac Miller, with active help and support from the Kasparov Chess Foundation, the Chess Club, Scholastic Centre of Saint Louis, and Grand Chess Tour is one of the newest chess rating systems doing the rounds.

The Universal Rating System or URS takes note of both styles of chess play – fast play and slow play, to determine the overall calibre and prowess of professional chess competitors. This makes the URS system a lot more comprehensive than the other popular rating systems.

The Chessmetrics Rating System

This chess ranking system was crafted by Jeff Sonas and is dependent mainly on a computer’s analytical capacity. Chessmetrics gives players ratings after going through all the chess game data stored in a computer’s memory.

Experts are of the view that chessmetrics provides a more thorough rating than the Elo system. However, there has been some criticism coming from a few corners about chessmetrics, as it solely relies on calculations only rather than the quality of a chess game played.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Is a rating of 800 in chess good?

As per the ELO rating calculator, a chess rating of 800 falls in the ‘Novice’ category. The USCF rating system places a chess player with an 800 rating in ‘Class F.’ Both these systems place an 800-rated chess player in the lower divisions of rankings.

2. How good is a 1000 rating in chess?

A chess player with a rating of 1000 will be placed in the ‘Novice’ category by the ELO rating system. The USCF rating system will place the same player in the category of ‘Class E.’ This means that the player has a low ranking in both approaches.

3. What is Magnus Carlsen’s rating?

The current world chess champion based on chess Elo rankings, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, has a FIDE rating of 2864. He is followed by Alireza Firouzja and Liren Ding, having ratings of 2804 and 2799, respectively. It should be noted here that FIDE follows the ELO chess rating system.

4. What makes the Elo rating system so popular?
The Elo chess ranking system, which is adhered to by chess’s governing body FIDE, credits its immense popularity to two primary reasons. Firstly, it is based on a simple and easy equation, and secondly, it has been around for an extended period.

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