How players are seeded, rated and paired at Evanston Scholastic Chess tournaments
Goals When Seeding Chess Players
Unlike most USCF-rated scholastic tournaments, our sections are both age-based (by grade) and ability-based. The goal is to create an environment where children have the opportunity to grow their ability at chess, and grow it at their own pace.
The expectation is that when a child reaches the top of one section, s/he will move on to the next higher section: from Pawn to Knight to Bishop to Rook to Queen to King. This is similar to how adult “class” chess tournaments work.
The goal is not to provide an individual child with an opportunity to win most of his/her games at every single tournament. Even very good chess players lose or draw many of their games. Becoming a better player and learning more about the game should be the primary goals.
It’s very typical at our Evanston Scholastic tournaments for a child to win a section, then move up to the next section and do rather poorly for a while. That’s normal, and it’s part of their growth as players. Worthwhile goals for children who are at this stage of learning might be: have games that last many moves, beat or draw a higher-rated player, gain rating points.
Once this is explained to children, they understand it and take great pride in moving up to a higher section. This reminds me of a fourth grader on our school team a few years back. She won the Bishop section and was moved to the Rook section. She said to me, “It’s a harder section, so next time I might only win one or two games.” That was exactly what happened: she won two games, and was very pleased with herself to have gotten that score in a more challenging group of players. Her game continued to grow, and by sixth grade she was in the King section.
Chess may be one of the rare intellectual activities in your child’s life that constantly expands to provide new challenges. No matter how good your child becomes at chess, he or she can find a level that will provide challenge. For some of our players in Evanston, this means playing against adults! Chess is a place where your child doesn’t need to coast or be bored. Chess will always “push back.”
Specifics on Seeding Players
Seeding for Evanston tournaments is as follows:
- Pawn: Grades K-2, or under 200 rating
- Knight: Grades 3-4, or 200-399 rating
- Bishop: Grades 5-up, or 400-599 rating
- Rook: 600-799 rating
- Queen: 800-999 rating
- King: over 1000 rating
A player can either “age out” of a section or “rate out” of a section. For example: David is a third grader with a rating of 54. He will be seeded in the Knight section. Gina is a first grader rated 327. She will be seeded in the Knight section.
When a player wins a section s/he is always moved up a section for the following tournament. Once a player moves up a section, s/he rarely moves back down. Example: Joey is a first grader in the Pawn section. He wins the Pawn section at his second tournament. He is moved up to the Knight section. He loses all his games and his rating goes back down to 100. He will remain in the Knight section. Two tournaments later, Joey’s chess playing improves and his rating goes back up.
New players are always seeded by grade, unless their coach asks to have them seeded higher.
The tournament director takes into account USCF ratings when seeding players, particularly for players in the higher sections. Sometimes a player’s USCF rating will be more up-to-date than a player’s Evanston rating.
Note that for one tournament a year (the Evanston Championships tournament), we seed by grade rather than by these categories. The sections for the Championship tournament are:
- K-1 championship
- 2-3 championship
- 2-3 reserve
- 4-5 championship
- 4-8 reserve
- 6-8 championship
What's a rating, and how is it calculated?
We use ratings to seed chess players into sections and pair them within sections at tournaments. Chess player ratings are computed using a formula that takes into account a player's rating going into a tournament, the ratings of the player's opponents at that tournament, and how many points the player earns at that tournament. In general...
- if you win, your rating goes up.
- if you lose, your rating goes down.
- if you lose against a lower-rated player, your rating goes down more; conversely, if you lose against a higher-rated player, your rating goes down very little.
- if you draw against a lower-rated player, your rating will go down.
- if you draw against a higher-rated player, your rating will go up.
- if you beat someone rated higher than you, you'll earn more rating points than by beating someone rated lower than you.
The rating formula we use for our Evanston Scholastic Tournaments is very similar to the one used by the US Chess Federation (USCF) to compute official player ratings, and it uses the same scale the USCF uses. The USCF rating system was set up many years ago when chess was an "adult" game. 1000 was chosen as a rating which would be reasonable for an adult new to tournament chess and 2000 was chosen to represent a strong amateur player (a typical adult club champion).
Although millions of adults know how to play chess, only a few thousand a year try tournament chess; those who do have often played for many years with friends or family. That 1000 rating corresponds to a level of play which is definitely not "beginner chess." Particularly with our Evanston tournaments, children often start playing tournaments fairly early in their chess careers.
On a rating scale normed by those adult-based values, we have some young players whose strength is best estimated with negative ratings. Most of those are children in the Pawn section who score 2 points or less. A positive score in the next tournament will almost always wipe out the negative number.
It's the difference between ratings, not the ratio between them, that matters. If two players have ratings 200 points apart, it means that the higher rated player would be expected to win 3 games out of 4. That's true whether the ratings are 2600 vs 2400 or 400 vs 200. It also means that in sections like ours that are broken into 200-point rating groups, upsets are always a possibility.
Ratings for school-aged chess players tend to be somewhat erratic, and they tend to make sudden leaps. That's normal: they're kids, they're learning and they have good and bad days. Upsets are common at Evanston tournaments, so your child has a shot at beating the opponent rated 100 points higher, and a chance of losing against someone rated 100 points lower.
It's best for your child to think of ratings as a long-term measure of progress: "I was rated 350 last year, and I'm rated 475 now."
To put it all in perspective, most of our Evanston Scholastic players have local ratings between 100 and 1200. The highest-rated USCF male player is Hikaru Nakamura at 2871; the highest-rated USCF woman is Anna Zatonskih at 2564.
Goals When Pairing Chess Players
Once players have been seeded and rated, they can be matched up for the day’s competition. There is no elimination in chess; all players play all rounds. Chess players are matched up for their games using software that follows a set of rules for pairing, listed here in order of priority. The first two are close to being absolute rules.
- No two players ever play each other twice in one tournament.
- No one should play against a teammate.
- Each player should play against someone with the same or a similar point score in any given round. This will not necessarily be someone with the same rating. In fact, much of the time it won’t be.
- Each player should play an equal number of games as black and as white. (Ideally, players alternate playing black and white, but that’s a lower priority.)
As you can imagine, these rules sometimes come into conflict, especially in the smaller sections.
Specifics on Pairing Players
Before the first round, players in a section are ranked from highest to lowest local rating.
The top half of the field plays the bottom half of the field. Example: if there are 20 players in a section, Seed 1 plays seed 11, seed 2 plays seed 12, etc. Players on the same team are generally not paired against each other.
Scores are tabulated after the first round: all players will either have 1, 0.5 or 0 for a score. Thus, there are now three “score groups” within the section. For round two, all the players with a score of 1 will be ranked highest to lowest by local rating. The top half of that score group plays the bottom half of that score group. The same is done for the other two score groups in that section. If there is an odd number of players in a score group, a player is either moved up or down to a different score group to ensure that all players get a game. A player who moves down a score group will generally play one of the highest rated players in that next score group. A player who moves up a score group will generally play one of the lowest rated players in the next higher score group.
As the day proceeds, there will be more and more score groups of smaller and smaller size. To the extent possible, these are treated as already explained: Players with a given score are ranked by rating from high to low; top half plays the bottom half. Most players will have an opponent with the same score. However, small score groups can make it difficult, if not impossible, to pair within a score group while avoiding pairing players twice and avoiding pairing teammates. If necessary, several players may need to be dropped to play against lower score groups. Players dropped will generally play the highest ranked players below them that they can play. Unless a section is very small, no one should end up playing someone who has scored more than 1 point more than he or she has up to that point.
If there is an odd number of players in a section, the lowest-rated player in the lowest score group will get a pairing of PLEASE WAIT. The floor director will either try to find a game for that player within the section (by cross-round pairing, or by substituting that child at a board with a no-show player) or we will give that player a point. Since this is a player in a low score group, that point will have little impact on the standings, and is sometimes helpful for morale.