Q: What is a “rating” and how is it calculated?

A:  The United States Chess Federation (USCF) uses a Rating system to gauge relative player strength.  These ratings often are used to pair players appropriately at tournaments.  Ratings also can be used to set section floors or caps (e.g., a section may be limited to players Rated Under 600, or Over 1300).  Section Rating limits help ensure children play other children within what is deemed an appropriate range of current playing ability.  A player’s Rating climbs with every tournament win, and falls with every loss. The higher the rating, the more advanced the player.  Ratings also are impacted by an opponent’s strength. 


Q: Does a parent need to be present at the tournament if the child will be playing in another room most of the time?

A:  Yes.  Each player needs one adult who is responsible for them at the tournaments.  The tournament directors cannot watch your children between rounds and children should not disturb other players or their families.  An adult presence helps keep noise to a minimum and helps ensure the child has a safe presence between the round.

Q: What is a Provisional Rating?

A:  A child’s first rating is called a “provisional rating.”  For the first 26 rated games a child plays, a special formula is used to adjust the child’s rating, based upon the unreliability of their play at this point.  There typically will be wild fluctuations – these are normal, so don’t get distressed if you child goes up and down with dramatic swings.  Many children will not break 200 during their first year of rated play.

Q: How do I guide my child through Tournament wins & losses?

A:  One of our program goals is to help children learn how to win and loose with grace and perspective.  Parent support is critical to achieve this, and parent/coach communication goes a long way to ensuring your child has a positive experience.

When your child finishes a round, he/she may have big feelings regardless of the outcome.  Try to appear relaxed, and rather than ask your child about the outcome, or emphasize it once they report it to you, consider asking a different question.  Some examples are:  Did you have fun?  What was the best part of your game?  Did you learn anything new?  If you child had a specific goal, focus on that (e.g., How far did you get with your Black opening?).  Remember to praise the child’s effort.  

Once your child address the outcome – If it was a win, again praise their effort and hard work to achieve the win.  If it was a draw, stalemate or loss, ask them what they would do differently next time?  Let them know that it may not feel good to lose, but that even the best players in the world loose games, and they learn from those experiences and that is how they improve.  Emphasize the next round or tournament is a fresh start, and hug as needed!       

Q: Should I start with the Junior Tournament Play Dates?

A:  If you child is between 4 and 7 years old, and still is working out these basics of the game, these provide a perfect introduction.  They include instruction, discussion of basic tournament rules (in a developmentally appropriate way), and allow the children to play 3-4 “rounds” with no winners or losers.  The rounds are shorter than at a typical tournament and the children may not complete a game.  They will be much more closely supervised during their play then they would be at a typical tournament, and can ask more questions.  There also will be snacks or pizza included, and water for all the players.

Q: What section should I sign my child up for?

A:  A general rule, students of PreK-1st graders should start in a No Score section (except if a 1st Grader really understand all the rules and can get to the end of a game and play it out).  When a student regularly is able to complete a game and understands most of the basic rules, move up to Novice.

Older new player should play in a Novice section with a grade range that includes that child’s grade (e.g., a 4th Grader should play in Novice 2 at the Avenues Tournaments).

After your child has played in a few Novice or No Score Tournaments, you can discuss with your coach when it is appropriate to move them up.  When you do move them to Rated play, it is a good general rule to move them to the section with the lowest ratings or grade cap (often it will be called something like, “K-1” or “K-3 Under 400”).


For students who already are playing in rated section, some tournaments have firm ratings cutoffs which makes the decision a lot easier (e.g., a section for players rated between 700 and 999).  At other tournaments, there may be two or more sections your child could play in, and for these it is good to take note of your child’s mind set and maybe check in with your coach.  Some children like a challenge and some go back and for and may need a tournament where they can have more measurable success.

Q: Will my child receive a trophy?

A:  Trophies at our scholastic tournaments presently are awarded to 1st through 10th place.  For children with the same number of wins and losses, a tie-break system is used (recommended by the US Chess Federation).  The tie-break system is an algorithm that takes into account the comparative play levels of the ties players’ opponents, as well as a number of other factors.


Q: My child is Unrated – how does he/she get a rating?

A:   In order to play in a rated section at a tournament, your child will need a USCF Membership and ID number. Scholastic annual memberships for children 12 & under are $17, and can be purchase online through the USCF web site (http://www.uschess.org).

Please discuss the appropriate time to switch your child from Unrated (typically called Novice, Rookie or No Score) to Rated sections with your child’s coach or instructor.  There is no hurry to receive a rating.  Each child will have the best experience in the section appropriate for his/her development and ability.

When you sign your child up for a rated section for the first time, please enter “0” or “Unrated” or “new” in the box asking for a rating.   Your child will receive an initial rating after the tournament results have been submitted to the USCF.

Q: How do I Discuss Ratings with my child?

A:  Please feel free to reach out to our coaches if your child is curious about ratings.  Some children jump into rated play and steadily climb, but it is more typical (even with the brightest children) to rise, fall and frequently plateau.  This is why it is better to discuss your child’s progress with a coach, and set specific goals rather than use the rating as a measure of success.  Children peak at different times and get different benefits from playing chess.

Q: How do I know when my child is ready for their first tournament?

A:  When your child asks to play in a tournament, it’s probably time!  Perhaps your child is inspired to play by a sibling or a classmate.  You also can let them know about the tournaments and that it is an option for them.  The basic requirements to play are:

  • Know what the chess pieces are and how they move around the board.
  • Understand how to play a basic game (or at get through most of it – the end game can be confusing to students who most appropriately play in No Score).
  • To play in a Novice section, children should know how to win, lose, or draw a game (be able to identify checkmate).

Q: What happens if my child loses the first game? Will he/she be eliminated?

A:  In scholastic chess tournaments, all participants can play all rounds.  There is no elimination, so nobody goes home early.  If a child looses a game, he/she usually will be paired with another child who lost his/her previous game.  As the tournament goes on, children continue to play other players who are plating at a similar level on that day, and the games become more even.  This is another reason to help encourage the children to keep playing if they lose the first (or subsequent) round(s).  Remind your child that even our best players have lost all their rounds at some tournaments!

Q: My child can’t play all rounds in a full day tournament due to a scheduling conflict. What can we do?

A:  Sometimes kids have a birthday party, family event, or a athletic competition that prevents them from playing in all rounds of a chess tournament.  Fortunately, the “bye” option allows them to miss a round or two of chess so that they can meet both obligations in the same day.  A “bye” is an excused absence from a round that normally gives them a half point for the first excused round (same as in a draw).  Byes should be requested in advance of the tournament.

Q: Are there any requirements to sign up for a tournament?

A:  To play in an unrated section, the child must be the grade range for the section and either be unrated or under the rating cap for the section.  To play in a rated section each player must become a member of the United States Chess Federation (http://www.uschess.org) to participate in tournaments.

Q: Are there any rules that I should be aware of?

A:  Yes. The crucial rules of a tournament are:

  • Touch Move:  If a player intentionally touches a piece on the board when it is their turn to move, then they must move that piece if it is legal to do so.
  • Chess Notation: In higher rated sections, each player is required to notate, or write down the moves in each chess game.
  • Clocks & Time: In rated sections where clocks are used, once a player has run out of his/her allotted time, his/her opponent wins by default.
  • Conclusion of Game: Once the game concludes, each player should raise their hand and a Tournament Director will come to the game and record the result.


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