“What’s your USCF?”
Ask any chess player in the United States, and they’ll respond without as much as a second thought. So what?
Now take a trip to any country outside of the United States. If you ask the same question to a chess player, you’ll most likely receive puzzled looks and responses along the lines of “What’s that?” Another country, probably the same response. The borders of the United States are most likely going to be the extent to which chess players would recognize “USCF.” Any further, and chess players use other rating systems. Sure, some countries might have their own local chess federations as well. However, most use another rating system, at least for the larger tournaments. This rating system is the Fédération internationale des échecs, better known as FIDE. FIDE is sometimes called the World Chess Federation because it is just that. FIDE is a global organization that connects and interacts with national chess federations and hosts international chess tournaments. It is recognized by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) as the main overseeing body of international chess play. Most top-level tournaments respect FIDE rules and regulations, almost without exception.
So why does this matter? In short, it matters because the FIDE rating becomes the most important of all at high-level competition. Almost every international tournament is FIDE rated. In addition, most high-level open tournaments in the United States are FIDE-rated for the highest section(s). Even the World Chess Championship, perhaps the most popular chess event, is FIDE rated.
Establishing a FIDE rating
If a chess player aspires to become the best of the best one day, he or she must pay attention to FIDE ratings as early as possible. Moreover, he or she should attempt to play in as many FIDE-rated tournaments as possible in order to achieve their first rating. Per rules, one must play 9 games against FIDE rated players, with three having to be in the same tournament, and at least 1 point (out of 3) must be scored against those three players. It seems complicated, but it isn’t difficult if many FIDE-rated tournaments are being held.
After the first FIDE rating is achieved, the best approach is to try to stabilize and gradually increase it. This, however, can sometimes be difficult and might trend in the opposite direction, as it did with me. My first ever FIDE rating was 2018, a good 50-100 points above my USCF rating at the time, which was somewhere in the 1900s. In this case, my FIDE rating was higher than my USCF rating, but for most people, it turns out to be the other way around. Despite my attempts to keep my FIDE rating above 2000, it didn’t last long, as I lost games to players who were much higher-rated than me in USCF but around equal to me in FIDE. As a result, these games would affect my FIDE much more than they would affect my USCF. My FIDE rating hit an all-time low around at 1838 in March of 2016 after poor tournament play in general. Since then, however, I have been able to claw my way back to a current rating of 2121 in a span of roughly 12 months. A couple of different approaches have allowed me to accomplish that. For one, I have begun to play much more frequently in the open section, which tends to be FIDE-rated nowadays (as previously mentioned). Performing well in these open sections has definitely boosted my FIDE rating. Secondly, the NVA Chess League has benefitted me greatly. The NVA Chess League is a team league takes place over several months and is FIDE-rated. However, the fact that each separate game is rated as its own event has helped me the most, since many more points are gained for each win. Lastly, playing in international tournaments has helped when they come around since they add 9 FIDE-rated games apiece. Although I haven’t played in any of the prestigious international tournaments such as the World Youth just yet, but I have had my share of North American Youth Chess Championships that I have attended. Having played in four straight, they have also helped me get in more FIDE-rated games.
In the end, however, playing in FIDE-rated tournaments is the easiest and most efficient way to improve FIDE ratings. The earlier someone improves their FIDE rating, the better, too, because FIDE uses a higher K-factor (scalar) in calculating ratings of minors (U18). This means that ratings fluctuate more with younger ages. Although this could potentially cause more severe drops, the possibility of higher gains also exists. It’s important to note that USCF ratings are equally important at first; until one’s USCF rating is high enough to be able to compete in FIDE-rated sections and/or tournaments, progress can’t be made in FIDE ratings in the first place. It’s just that, eventually, once someone reaches the levels of 2300 or 2400+, FIDE ratings become that more important. As always, thanks for reading and see you next time!