The Loss of Motivation in Professional Chess

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It is very unfortunate that players go from the pristine state of 'What can I learn?' to 'How can I improve my rating?'. And when it comes to kids, parents (and I am a parent of a chess player) are guilty of that shift in focus. A rating is simply a loose estimate of your playing strength. It can never be accurate – it depends on your results, your opponents ratings, the number of games you have played, and the overall quality of the tournaments you have played. For example, it is very possible that a person with a 1800 rating would have played thousands of games, but a much better, grounded and learned player with stronger fundamentals, techniques and strategy only has a rating of 1600 because he has not grabbed or not got to opportunity to play as many games, but when he plays the 1800 rated player he easily beats him / her. The main point is to remember that your rating merely follows your playing strength. If you get stronger, then eventually, your rating will increase. If you get weaker, your rating will decline.

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Get better, your rating goes up; get worse your rating goes down. The key is to keep playing, and you are playing against yourself, bettering yourself with every game you play – whether its against a lower rated player, or higher rated player, there is always a learning you can grab out of every game – it can be around technique, it can be around time management, it can be around thinking deeper, it can be around taking bigger risks.

You can try to manipulate your rating, but that can only take you so far. For example, offering draws to higher-rated players may seem like a good way to raise your rating, but actually it tends to move it downward since your fear and focus on their rating likely kept you from winning. Instead, if you would have played the player, than the rating, and if you would have played to your best ability than playing to the opponents ability, you could have actually been free of any fear, and won.

Suppose you have an excellent tournament where you lucked out and increased your rating to over your playing strength, it is likely in your next set of tournaments you will fall back to your playing strength rating if you did not grow stronger from your coaching or learnings from tournament matches. Similarly, suppose you have a disastrous tournament and your rating falls 100 points, its no big deal. Simply play normally in your next events and your rating will go back to up. Ultimately, if you keep playing at strength A, your rating will fall back to A. If you improve your playing strength to A+100, then your rating will stay at A+100.

No matter how we look at it, we should come to the same conclusion: don't worry about your rating or someone else’s rating...the best way to increase your rating is to get better, and play as many matches as you can – sometimes you will play better players, sometimes worse players, sometimes lower rated players, sometimes higher rated players, and during pockets of times you may see your rating shooting up, and falling down, but over a period of time, your rating graph will only be on an upward trajectory, if you are truly learning and truly getting better, and no rating system can change that about you as a motivated player.

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