CategoriesChess For Beginners

Chess Noob #20 – Ratings

As has been previously mentioned, most tournaments pair you with players of similar ratings.  But what exactly IS a rating?  What does it mean?  How is it tabulated? Can YOU become a Grandmaster?

A rating is a 3-4 digit number associated with a player to showcase their playing strength.  The higher the number, the better the player… the lower the number, weaker the player.  The lowest possible rating is 100.  The highest possible rating (in theory) is 3000, although the highest rating any chess player has managed to achieve was 2851 which was held by the World Champion at the time, Garry Kasparov.  Pretty straight forward right?  But with such a huge difference in highest possible and lowest possible, how can you tell if your rating is any good and where you stand in the grand scheme of things?

FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs or World Chess Federation) and the USCF (United States Chess Federation) use similar ratings for classes of player.  Those classes are as follows:

2600 or more are World Championship Contenders.  2400-2600 are where most Senior Masters (SMs), International Masters (IMs), and Grandmasters (GMs) are rated.  2300-2400 is the ratings for most FIDE Masters (FMs).  2200-2300 are ratings where you’ll find most National Masters (NMs) and FIDE Candidate Masters (CMs).  2000-2200 is considered Expert.  1800-2000 are Class A.  1600-1800 are Class B.  1400-1600 are Class C. 1200-1400 are Class D.  In FIDE, anyone under 1200 is simply considered a Novice, although in the USCF, the classes continue. 1000-1200 is Class E.  800-1000 is Class F. 600-800 is Class G.  400-600 is Class H. 200-400 is Class I.  100-200 is Class J.  As mentioned before, 100 is the lowest possible rating a chess player can get (I’d thought that while 100 is techncially possible that nobody with a 100 rating existed… but at the World Open in the U900 section there was one player with a rating of 101 and another with a rating of 104… I was surprised to say the least).

Despite the above, a high rating is not the only thing you need to achieve a Grandmaster title.  You also need to get Grandmaster Norms.  Norms are hard to get.  There are very specific rules to get norms, which you if  can find out for yourself by visiting this link:  but basically you have to do very well in a long tournament against at least 3 other Grandmasters.

So how are chess ratings figured out?  Well, I don’t want to bore you with a big equation (because, frankly, the actual equation used boggles my own mind), but basically at each tournament, you’re give a “K-factor” number which is based on your rating at the start of the tournament and how many rounds there will be in the tournament.  Then, each round, there is a table that’s used (that you can find if you check the USCF rule book or the FIDE rulebook out of your local library) where each round you find your K-factor, then find the point difference between you and your opponent (so if you’re rated 1100 and your opponent is 1200, you’re looking for a difference of 100).  It will then tell you how many rating points each player will gain or lose if a) the higher rated person wins, b) the lower rated person wins, or c) the game ends in a draw.  In the case of a draw, the higher rated player loses points and the lower rated player gains points, bringing the two players’ ratings closer together.

There’s not much reason to know exactly how to tabulate your ratings, though, as most tournaments will post results (and new ratings) to FIDE or USCF and will soon become viewable.  The USCF, for instance, posts results and new ratings within 2 days after every chess tournament.

The USCF publishes new official ratings for players every month.  FIDE publishes new official ratings every 2 months.  So you’ll never have to be a certain rating for very long (good news for those trying to get over a certain rating “hump”).

Hopefully all this wasn’t too confusing.  If it was…. don’t sweat it… just go and play chess with the knowledge that your rating will get better the more games you win!

Have a question or topic you want me to cover in a future edition of Chess Noob?  E-mail me at [email protected]

CategoriesChess For Beginners

Chess Noob #19- What to Expect at Tournaments

One of the best ways to improve your chess game is by playing at tournaments.  It’s also fun and exciting (and from time to time profitable as well)!  There are many kinds of chess tournaments one can enter depending on the age and rating (we’ll talk about ratings in a blog in the near future), style of tournament, etc.  So  what should you expect at a tournament?  Let’s take a look at the different kinds and what each is like.

Scholastic Tournaments: Scholastic tournaments are for kids only.  Typically, these are for children in grades K-12 and will have pairing split into sections based on grade and/or rating.  There will often be hundreds (if not thousands) of children depending on the size and importance of the tournament… in other words, these tournaments are often very noise between rounds (and since many scholastic players tend to rush in their games, there won’t be much time of peace and quiet).

Open Tournaments: These are for children and adults alike.  Age doesn’t matter in an open tournament where it’s all about the rating!  If you’re a 1200 rated player in the U1300 section, you’ll be combatting other players with ratings of 1299 and below whether they are 6 or 60.  And don’t feel bad if you lose to a child… they have way more free time to study than you do!

Quad Tourneys: If the tournament you play is is a Quad, that means there will be 4-person sections.  The 4 people in each section will have very similar ratings to one another.  In a Quad tournament, there are 3 rounds (unless it’s a “double quad”) where each player in the section will play one another round-robin style and the person with the most wins is the winner of the section.

Swiss Tourneys: A Swiss tournament will pair winners against winners and losers against losers.  Each win gets you 1 point, each draw gets you 1/2 a point, and each loss gets you 0 points.  Every round after the 1st round, players with the same number of points will duke it out.  There are no eliminations, so even if you lose every game, you’ll continue to play the entire tournament.  The first round is slightly different… since everyone is starting off with 0 points, everyone is in the same “bracket”.  They will line up everyone in the section according to ratings, then cut the list in half.  The top person of the top half plays the top person of the bottom half, the second person of the top half plays the second person of the bottom half and so on.  The same thing happens every round… but each round the list of players that needs to be divvied up is smaller as there will be less and less people who have the same scores as one another.

Quick VS Normal: “Quick” tournaments (whether they are swiss or quad) will consist of all games that are 30-min or less for time control (usually G/20).  “Normal” (non-quick) tournaments have varied time controls that could be anywhere from G/35 to 40/2.

Often, these tournaments will take place either at a hotel with a large ballroom, or a school gynmasium.

You’ll likely want to bring your own food as hotel food and/or vendors can get expensive.

If the tournament is at a hotel, you may want to book a room at the site hotel so you can just go straight to bed after a late round and sleep in longer than if you stay at a hotel that’s a 30 min drive away but cheaper.

Nearly all tournaments also have “Skittles Rooms”, where players can congregate to chit-chat, go over games, study,  or play casual chess.

Most tournaments will also have a chess store, which sells sets, clocks, books, dvds and more.  Make use of these stores.  If there’s a certain opening you want to learn, find a book about it at the store (they’re often times on sale).

Now that you know what to expect, the only thing to worry about is the entry fee, which can range anywhere from $2 for local mini-tournaments at your local chess club to over $300 for the World Open!  Look for tournaments that have a good entry-to-prize ratio and that has sections you think you might be able to win!

CategoriesChess For Beginners

Chess Noob #18: Mating with a King and Queen

In the last blog, I covered mating with a King and Rook.  The idea was to box in the opposing King into a smaller and smaller area of squares until in the end you use your king to take away his final square and checkmate with the Rook.

We’re going to use a similar idea to make with a King and Queen.  Some find this easier (since the queen can move in more directions than a rook and can therefore making the King’s remaining squares smaller faster… but some people may have trouble with it (there was a game in the Under 900 section at the World Open where the game ended in a draw because the kid with a King and Queen couldn’t figure out what to do, and ended up stalemating the opposing King).

Since I don’t want you to accidentally stalemate your opponent, let’s take a look at what we need to do…  First, I’ll set up a random starting position:

We’ll say that white just queened it’s pawn and then black moved to F6 from E5 after white Checked with the new queen.  It’s now White’s move.  Remember, white wants to take away as many of black’s possible squares as quickly as possible.  There’s no need to endlessly put black in check (if you do 50 checks in a row, it’ll be a draw anyway).  We can’t just keep going back and forth either (as 3-move repetition is a draw), and we have to be careful that in the end, we don’t cut off black’s available squares until just the right time (we don’t want to stalemate black like the unfortunate player at the World Open).

White’s goal here is to corral black into the corner or edge of the board.  In the above position, black is already on the F-file… so let’s keep him confined to F-H by moving the Queen to block the E-file:

Depending on where black goes, we’ll just cut his squares off more and more.  So if he did Kg7, we’d go Qe6 making black have only 3 squares left to go to.  if he goes to g6 or g5, we’ll go to f8 to take another file away.  if he goes to f5, we’ll do Qe7 to make the space smaller.

Eventually, we’ll want to bring our king into the game, but not until we can’t take away more space with the queen.

Here’s a position, while playing against my chess computer where I finally have to start bringing my king over:

Do you see WHY I now need to bring my King over?  If I move Qg3, I take away the last of black’s squares but without checking him, so it’s a stalemate/draw.  I don’t want a draw, I want a win.  And I can’t go Qh4+, Qh3+, or any other Queen move for that matter, because it will allow black to get his King out of the little cage I’ve placed him in.  And I don’t want that.  So now, with black having only h2 to go to, it’s time to start walking my King over, forcing Black to go Kh2, Kh1, Kh2, Kh1 back and forth until my King gets to his area..

and now that the black king is wedged in place, we can mate with Qg2#:

Have a topic you want me to cover or a question you want answered? e-mail me at [email protected]


CategoriesChess For Beginners

Chess Noob #17: Mating with a King and Rook

Sooner or later in your chess games, you’re going to have to learn how to win with a limited number of pieces.  It may even be down to you having 2 pieces (for the sake of this blog a King and a Rook) and your opponent is left with only 1 piece (a King).

There is a 50-move rule in chess… that if each opponent makes 50 moves and has not taken another piece in that time, the game is a draw.  So, if you’re down to a King and Rook, and your opponent has just a King, you have only 50 moves left in which you have to checkmate!  The pressure is on!

It really does not matter where the pieces start, you’ve got only 50 moves to win once it’s down to just a King+Rook VS King.  So, for the sake of argument, I’ve placed everything near the center of the board… this will make winning a little harder and more time consuming, but it can be done.  So, here’s our starting position, with white to move:

There’s clearly no way to get a checkmate while black’s king is out in the open and has so much room to run… so we need to force him to an edge (preferably a corner).  How do we do that?

Imagine the Rook as a post for an invisible fence.  The black king can never cross that fence (IE any of the squares the rook controls… which in our starting position would be any of the squares along the D file or any of the 4th rank).  If you can make the the king more and more confined, you will win.

BUT REMEMBER, black has 3 goals at this point.  Goal 1) try to last 50 moves to make the game a draw. Goal 2) try to take the rook, so that only the 2 Kings remain, making the game a draw. Goal 3) get put into a stalemate for a draw.

As white, you must stop this at all costs.  You’ll be using your Rook to make the invisible fence smaller and smaller and your king to (at first) protect the Rook and then later to cut off a square from black’s king to make checkmate possible.

Let’s take another look at the starting position:

We need to make Black’s possible squares smaller, but we can’t just yet because if we move the Rook right now, we’ll be giving the black king MORE space… so first let’s move our King to keep the Rook guarded, and we’ll make the fence smaller on the next move.  Let’s go with Kc4.  My chess computer then does Ke6.

Now we can make the “fenced area” smaller with Rd5. Then black moves his King (my computer did Kf6).

Now it gets SLIGHTLY tricky, but don’t worry.  The next move needs to be a King move (we don’t want to move the Rook because then we’ll either a) put it in danger or b) give black more freedom.  We also want to keep our King on the opposite side of the “fence” so that black can never use our King as a shield to get past the fence.  So we’re going to do Kd4. Black does Ke6 and we do Ke5 to force black’s King further in the corner.

It doesn’t matter what black does.  Our goal remains the same: give black less room to move and keep the rook safe until the mate happens.  In the end, we get to this position (with black to move) just a few moves before the mate:

Black’s only 2 squares left are h8 and h7.  He HAS to go to h7 now.  We want to keep him in this micro-sized jail cell so we’ll walk our King around the back with the following:

1) Kg5…Kh8. 2) Kf6…Kh7. 3) Kf7…Kh8

See how we’ve kept black trapped in and just kept our rook safe while we walked around to a better position for our own King?  Now comes the winning move of Rh6#:

Set it up and try it yourself.  Let someone else put the 3 pieces anywhere on the board for you and see if you can figure it out (and remember to keep track of your moves… remember, if you make more than 50, it’s a draw…).  But the plan is always going to be the same: force your opponent’s King into a tighter and tighter space.

CategoriesChess For Beginners

Chess Noob #16 – The Pin


“The pin” is one of the most powerful tactics you can have in your arsenal of attacks.  No, I’m not talking about putting anyone’s shoulders on the ground and there are no 3-counts.  Think of chess more as a war game than anything else… and “the pin” is when you’re attacking so heavily that a piece is “pinned down” and literally cannot move.

Pins can be performed on any piece, making it immobile out of the fear of having the king (or queen, or other higher cost piece) getting captured.  It’s a very simple tactic, but a very strong one at the same time.

One of the most usual pins you’ll see is a bishop pinning a Knight.  It happens very frequently in games, and in many openings you’ll see a position that looks something like this:

The knight can’t move because black would be putting himself in check by doing so.  A normal response would be to push the A-pawn to cause the bishop to retreat.  White can of course (and often does) take the knight forcing black to double up his pawns in the c-file, but not always.

You’ll also, a lot of time, see a similar bishop-to-knight pin where the bishop will capture the queen if the knight is moved.  This can be seen here:

The Bishop, however is not the only piece that can create pins.  Here are a few other powerful pin examples:

Here, white has black’s knight at F7 pinned… HOWEVER, black has a much more powerful pin.  Black is checking white with the Knight at F2.  White would LIKE to take the knight with his Rook, but the Rook is pinned in place by black’s Queen!

And can you see in this one that Black’s Queen is a gonner no matter what Black does?

In these examples, the pin was due to a check that would occur if the piece moved.  That’s not always the case.  In this next example, a lesser piece is pinned because a more powerful piece would be taken, making the pinned piece an easy target:

Black would LIKE to either take the pawn at f4 or push to e4 to make White’s Knight retreat.  If he does either of these moves, however, he will lose his Rook!

Pinning a piece down for threat of either a check or winning a larger piece is a good way to make your opponent’s troops immobile and in many cases win material.  Be on the lookout for pin opportunities for both sides of the board.  Yes, you want to try to pin down your opponent’s pieces, but remember, they want the same thing!

CategoriesChess For BeginnersChess Puzzles

Chess Noob #14- The Pawn Square

So you’ve played an awesome game and now it’s down to a King and Pawn(s) VS King (and Pawn(s)) endgame!  Who will win? How can you figure out the win without making the moves?

The answer to both questions is one word: COUNT!

When you get down to just pawns, a lot of the time you can figure out the outcome just by counting squares.  You’ll still need to do analyzing (“This move works if he pushes the pawn, but what if he moves the king first?”), but for the most part if you count the spaces you can solve the problem before it becomes a problem.

Who wins here?:

Answer: White!  Yes, Black will get it’s Pawn promoted first, but then white promotes with check and takes black’s new queen as soon as black moves his King to safety.

But it’s not always about Pawn races.  Often times, it’s just a case of “can I promote my Pawn before my opponent can capture it?”

So who wins here where there’s just a Pawn racing a King?:

Answer:  Black will take out white’s Pawn before it gets promoted. This game is now a Draw!


Again, it ends in a draw.  White WILL get it’s new queen, but then black takes it for a draw.

And here?:

This time white wins.  Black won’t be fast enough to get to the Pawn before it promotes, nor will it be able to take the fresh Queen.

So how can you tell just by looking (without playing it out) if a pawn will get to the back rank before the opposing King can capture it?  We create…


From wherever the Pawn is, moving toward it’s hopeful promotion, we must create the Pawn square.  The Pawn square is an imaginary box that is as wide as it is tall.  The height of the box is from the Pawn to the back rank it’s trying to get to.  The width is the same number of squares as the height (so, also, the number of squares the Pawn needs to go to to become promoted).

If the black King is anywhere inside the Pawn square, it will capture the unprotected pawn.

SO, using our earlier examples, in each case the pawn has only 3 spaces to go until it is promoted, so the Pawn square will be 4 spaces by 4 spaces (because we need to include the space the Pawn is starting on).

So our first position’s pawn square looks like this:

See that the Black King is in the Pawn square.  It will therefore capture the pawn before it gets to the end.  In fact, along the X axis, the King is at space 2, and will therefore capture the pawn when it’s on space 2 for the Y axis (sorry for bringing up high school algebra!)

In the second example, the King is on space 3 and will capture the pawn on it’s space 3 (just after it becomes a Queen):

But in the final example, the King was not able to catch the Pawn.  Why?  Because it was just outside the Pawn square, and therefore cannot catch up to the Pawn.

So whenever you have an unprotected Pawn racing for the back rank and it’s only threat is a King trying to catch up to it, you can now decide who will win!  Simply imagine a Pawn square.  If the opposing King is inside that square when you begin your mad dash, you will lose!  If he’s outside the square, then make a run for it with the knowledge that very soon you will have a new queen on the board!

Have a topic you’d like me to cover or a question you’d like to ask? send me an e-mail at [email protected]