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Monday, April 25, 2011

Will I Ever be a GM?

If you frequent chess forums and/or chess playing sites with any regularity, I’m sure you have heard this question asked a million times. Heck, maybe you’ve asked it yourself. The funny thing is, I’m not sure why it’s ever asked, really. The answer is almost always a resounding NO.

How do I know that those folks won’t ever become Grandmasters? It’s simple. If your actual chess rating is 2300 or 2400 (2500+ is GM level chess) and you have an actual shot at the Grandmaster title, you will not be on a forum asking how to gain 100 points. You’ll be studying and playing at tournaments. Instead, it’s always the 1100-1600 crowd that seems to ask questions like those. Of course, I’m not saying that every 1100 who has ever asked if he could become a Grandmaster hasn’t actually become one, but it’s like winning the lottery – your chances are really, really low.

The average USCF rating is 1391. *Average*. That means that a good portion of actual tournament players fall below that mark. It’s really intriguing to walk around some of the big tournaments that have hundreds of competitors. In Las Vegas, for instance, the tournaments are held in huge ballrooms, inside one of the big hotels. You walk past row after row after row of people who are intensely into their games. They are all playing the exact same game, which is chess. However, only the last five or six rows feature any players who are worth a damn. 90% of the room is filled with patzers, trying hard to make their way to one of those front rows.

A rating of 2,000 USCF makes you an official chess Expert. That alone is an awesome feat that very, very few chess players ever achieve. And yet, Experts still have 200 hard-to-earn points before they become a “lowly” Master with a 2,200 rating. The Master then has 300 points to climb through if he wants to get near a Grandmaster title. See what I’m getting at here? The 9th grade kid who finds he loves chess and has set himself a Grandmaster goal is going to find things out the hard way.

Of course, setting goals is never a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong here, I feel that goal-setting is very healthy, but only if they are actually attainable. Instead of announcing that you will stop at nothing to earn the Grandmaster title when you are rated 1550, maybe tell folks that 1800 is within view, and see if you can jump that hurdle. Once you crest the 1800 mark, you can start hitting the books and seriously consider shooting for Expert. If you continue to improve from there, Master may not be out of sight. But remember, the higher your rating the harder it is to improve on it, in general.

For example, if a 1400 rated player has taken a whole year off of tournament play to study and improve their chess, it may not be very difficult at all to fly through 300 points and acquire a rating of 1700. However, unless you are a super bright prodigy, improvement after that will prove to be slow and painful. Instead of setting unattainable goals, always bring you’re A-game to tournaments. That way, you are sure to get as far as you personally can. Wherever you plateau, if in fact you do, should be acceptable to you no matter if you secretly want to be a GM or not. We all secretly want to be GMs, it goes with the territory.

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