What’s in a Number?

The new ECF grades came out this week which would have had a lot of UK players in the UK checking their latest number. Of what significance are they? Well they do give a fairly good indication of playing strength and you can see whether you are improving or not. A larger number of games will give a more accurate figure, a smaller number is less reliable.

My own grade came out at 247, up from 240. It was based on just 12 games so I don’t think it will be very reliable, though it does perhaps indicate that I did not completely go to seed during my long layoff from competitive chess. My son Sam stayed about the same, his standard grade going down slightly (153 from 157) and his rapid grade going up (147 from 144). I think he reached a bit of a plateau after moving up steadily from his first rapid play grade of 33 in 2012. I figure he’ll be moving up again before too long.

These long term trends, over a large number of games, are what best indicates where someone is heading. Many older players suffer a slow, long term decline, though not all. Checking players over 70 for ‘standard improvement’ shows that it is never too late to get better. It was good to see a Tiger Chess member occupying one of the top places on this metric.

Of course grades can be taken a bit too seriously and can become something of a distraction. So I would recommend not thinking about them until a list comes out, and even then take a very long term view. Things like moving house, a change of job or trouble at home can play havoc with someone’s playing strength. But these issues eventually come to an end leaving the big picture as what really matters.

Nigel Davies

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About NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in St. Helens in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days Nigel teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 15 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game. Besides teaching chess, Nigel is a registered tai chi and qigong instructor and runs several weekly classes.