Wednesday, February 26, 2020

My First Ever USCF Rating!

Well I finally played a rated over-the-board game. Four in fact. They were my first real-life, big-boy chess games with actual meaning, although I'd been to the local club many times for the Sinquefield Cup and the U.S. Championship--as a spectator, I should add ;).

That's right, my local club is in St Louis. I'm lucky and also a bit surprised it took me so long to get up the nerve to play in person there. I found out that they run a month-long tournament with games every Tuesday evening. I believe the tournament designation is 4SS, meaning four rounds of a Swiss System tournament. After four weeks, they determine the winner of each section and I think they pay out some cash prizes! After getting registered with the USCF on the night I showed up, they stuck me in the U1600 section. These games were G70; D5. Did I do that right? I'm still getting used to some of the terminology and customs. Online you just click buttons and you're playing and everything is automated. So yeah, G70; D5 meaning the game is in 70 minutes and there is a five second delay. I'd never played with a delay (or a physical clock) but with over an hour for the game, it doesn't matter that much to me. I won't use this space for deep analysis of the games so I will just provide some general observations and I hope readers can derive something from it.

Game 1 - Tuesday February 4, 2020
Soooo, it's true what they say: you're gonna play a lot of children.

In the U1600 section, there were a lot of elementary-school aged kids. Perhaps fifteen. Then maybe a few teenagers, a few guys my age (30s) and an older gentleman. I'd say something like twenty players. The 1600+ section had six or eight total. In the first round, I was black and paired with a 12xx rated player. In my entire life, I've played three casual OTB games with someone that is somewhat serious about chess (has an account at so that's something I guess). Beyond that, I've played once with my great-uncle when I was in high school and then a handful of less-serious ones more recently against friends that "just know the rules." It was helpful that I have played through games with a real board so at least I knew what it was going to be like viewing the three-dimensional pieces. Still it is something to consider and to get used to when playing your first OTB games.

When playing in person, there's a lot more going on in regards to stimulants, figuring out order of moving and recording the move, board vision, etc compared to loading up a game on your phone or laptop.

Where do I set the pieces when I capture?

Why didn't my opponent adjust his pieces BEFORE the game?

Move the piece-->Tap the clock-->Record the move ... Move the piece-->Tap the clock-->Record the move ...Move the clock-->Tap the shiiiit. Wait, I went to the bathroom, where the hell did he move? Fuck how did I get blood on the scoresheet?!? Do we hand these in at the end? Why is my pen in my hand while I'm trying to capture with my queen? That's awkward. Wow kids are restless. They play a move and if I don't immediately play, they're up and walking about. .... Holy shit is someone crying?!

So all that is happening but please don't read them as excuses. I actually found I was able to concentrate just fine. I don't think focus is a problem. But it's a warning to everyone else that you should prepare yourself for the unknown--I mean, I knew I'd be recording moves but didn't quite imagine the learning curve with actually doing it, getting into a groove, and remembering to hit the clock. I'd say I missed it about three times which isn't so bad for an 18-move game. Oh yeah, the game....

I lost in a Giuoco Piano Four Knights Variation--I think that's what it was at least. I basically wanted to castle as early as possible and stay simple and solid since I wanted the game to keep under control while I figured out all the little things I mentioned above. I played some slow moves to fianchetto my queenside bishop while my opponent wasn't even castled, yet he was able to get some pieces in on the kingside and sac on h6. I was going down a piece with no king safety so I resigned.


From the pairings list, I knew my opponent's rating was in the low 1200s. Who knows if that affected anything on my end. I know my inflated-as-fuck 1700 lichess classical rating is meaningless here but I really thought I could handle a 1200. The weeks ahead proved otherwise.

Pros - Hey I made it! I drove myself to the club, signed up, and played a game! You learn so much doing things you're not used to. I found it helpful to look at the positive things I learned from this experience to improve for next time. I liked that I took my time, unlike many of the other players. Maybe they have better opening knowledge than me, or just don't analyze so much, or don't need to, or they're bored and were forced by their parents to play so they want to get out of there in thirty minutes. I like that I could now plan ahead and develop a small routine for moving, hitting my clock, scoring the move, etc. Sometimes it's the little things. I should add that my opponent was incredibly respectful at the end. He whispered that it was a good game and that I "played very well." I didn't. Haha, anyway I'm sure it was a canned line but it really doesn't matter. It was refreshing to hear that and overall, losing a game over-the-board is far easier to digest than losing to a faceless internet stranger.

Cons - Woulda been nice to win. I put my game in a lichess study so I'll have it for later. I did for all games actually. I will analyze them further.

Game 2 - Tuesday February 11, 2020
I played somebody more my age and I was white. I think my opponent was around 1100 rating. There isn't much to talk about since I covered so much in the summary of my first week. I won a piece (thanks to a blunder) and safely consolidated down and got checkmate on the board. That actually made me wonder if most of these games at this level are played to checkmate? No idea at that point. I think that I'll try to test my opponents even if I'm in a losing position, just until I'm not having fun or I can judge that they'll be able to mate and it's pointless to play on.

Pros - I won. That's always nice. It was still stressful because even getting a knight before move ten doesn't mean that much in chess. I had to remain vigilant and I still took maybe too much time in some positions but you really don't want to give up counter-play.

Cons - None. It always helps to win. I was ready to think about playing in the 1600+ section soon to really gain experience......(riiiiight)

Game 3 - Tuesday February 18, 2020
I guessed I would be black and so I was prepping the caro-kann beforehand. More or less just cramming some ideas in my head 30 minutes prior. Naturally, she played 1. d4. I tried the King's Indian and it was actually my type of game, lotsa positional moves, few captures. Anyway I dropped a pawn and was inactive. We analyzed afterwards which was fun but not comprehensive.

Pros - Another game under my belt I guess.

Cons - Second loss, I'm guessing my provisional rating will be bad.

Game 4 - Tuesday February 25, 2020
This game was last night so it's fresh in my memory. I played a 600-rated player as white and I played my normal, comfortable opening. He seemed to want to trade material and I tried to find clever ways to do this, eventually allowing lotsa trades then I won a center pawn. I didn't see incredibly far ahead and missed a check but it was innocuous and I remained up a pawn with two active rooks on the 7th. I was for sure winning but for a few reasons, I went ahead and traded way down into a pawn ending. The reasons were I was low-ish on time--I had about 20 minutes left while my opponent had over an hour on their clock. That's right. I don't think they took more than thirty seconds for any move. That's a bit crushing to your ego though, when you can't find completely winning moves in an hour of chess while your opponent is just blitzing out moves. That's chess though. I was cracking my brain figuring out advantages and he played simple moves that I couldn't find anything wrong with. The other reason for heading to a simple pawn ending is that I've been studying endgames a great deal lately so I figured I could go into a 5 vs 4 pawn endgame and figure it out. Anyway it was probably a +1 ending but he had a slightly better king and was able to gobble up some pawns where I had to use some tricks to defend. He queened while I had a pawn on the 7th with my king on the promotion square. He really should have taken 55 of his minutes if he needed it to find the win but he played quickly and let me promote then we traded. Blah blah, I was at least able to use my endgame "skills" after that to sac my rook-pawn but force the draw.

Pros - Well, I didn't lose to a 600. I sensed he wasn't incredibly serious about improvement but he played good enough moves to draw so what can I say?! I'm happy I was putting in work to calculate the last king maneuvers to ensure the draw. If it weren't for my recent endgame study, I'm almost certain I would have lost the game at the end there but I knew the technique for the draw. Drawing a 6-700 rated player instead of losing surely saved me tons of rating points so there's a direct benefit of endgame study! I'm proud that I can focus for these long games and not let my opponents speed or style of play affect my thinking too much. I'm also lucky that he didn't take some time to find his win. Probably a lot to analyze in the opening since he played some moves I hadn't seen before. I get my provisional rating after this game!

So I finished with a 1.5/4 score. I was getting my footing in the first one, played fine in the second, got outplayed in the third, then just had a poopy game in my fourth in which I felt I should've had better control. Fine. After four games, USCF gives you a provisional rating and I will keep that designation until 25 games. Sooooo, without further adieu.....

My rating.....



(I'm pretty sure the P4 means provisional over four games. I read somewhere that sometimes it's listed as 973/4.)

10/28/2020 Update: I played two more games before the COVID-19 Pandemic cancelled OTB games for the year. I won one and lost one and my rating was finally updated again to 1096 (provisional based on 6 games). So I finally got to four digits ;)! I just wanted to add this in so people can see how much your rating can fluctuate in the lower ratings--even after going 1-1! The game I won was against a ~1200 player and my loss was against a ~1450 player, and I still gained over 100 points!

There ya go. It's way lower than I would have guessed. A fourth digit would have been nice! If you asked me four weeks ago before I played a game or saw any of my opponent's ratings, I would have said I'd be over 1200 after a month and that maybe I'd be in the 1600+ section in another month or two of playing. That's not happening. Realistically, what else could I have asked for? It's fine and actually I find plenty more to be happy about with my rating than upset. I have a rating, even if it's quite low. I'm excited that I should only go up from here. I just need more games. I hope it's true.

I'm happy that I now have a rating and a foundation on which to build. I really am excited to see how I can rise through the ranks. Moving forward, I want to shoot for at least equal scores each month, to improve my time management, to focus on game quality and analysis and not rating, and ultimately get to the 1600+ section.


  1. Good blog! It's too bad Lichess doesn't have player blogs on their site...

    If you have the free time I'd recommend going to a weekly casual chess meetup, there must be one in STL? I did that for about six months before I played my first rated game.

    Just my advice, do not set rating goals this early, or if you do, prepare to be disappointed unless you have a lot of time to put in the work.

    Also in USCF tournaments (I assume your club runs their weekly tournament as "one" 4 round Swiss) your opponents ratings are averaged to determine your rating change, so individual rating differences aren't as much a factor when determining rating swings.

    Good luck and have fun!

  2. Thanks very much for the insight! I am working on paying less attention to the numbers! Despite my comments regarding rating, I do think it is easier for me to ignore it with OTB games compared to online but I'll keep working on it

  3. Good job signing up for the tournament and going!

    I'm a similar age and went to my first USCF OTB tournament just last month. It took me a long time to work up the courage, but I had a great time!

    It's nice to read your blog as someone who is in a similar position to me.

    Same as the other guy said, don't focus too much on specific ratings as your goal - just keep trying to learn, play good moves, and improve, and the rating will follow eventually. Chess is hard! :)

  4. Congratulations on trying OTB chess ! Frankly, I wouldn't bother too much about the rating until you get a stable one. As you get into the habit of playing OTB chess, I'm sure your results will improve. Enjoy your journey.

  5. Nitpick: Examine the position/Record your move/move the piece/tap the clock.

    We record the move first as a sort of commitment to it. Of course, don't do that until you have decided on your move, but you should record it first, move, clock.

    1. This is strictly prohibited in USCF play. You have move your piece before annotating.

      The rationale behind the rule is to prevent you, for example, from writing down a false move, to bait some sort of response from your opponent, before actually erasing it and making a different move.

  6. It's completely legal.

    15A. (Variation I) Paper scoresheet variation.

    The player using a paper scoresheet may first make the move, and then write it on the scoresheet, or vice versa. This variation does not need to be advertised in advance. The scoresheet shall be visible to the arbiter (tournament directors) and the opponent throughout the game.

    1. Ah, I see. in FIDE events it is illegal. Thanks.


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