Frustrated by Floors
By Joel Benjamin   
December 11, 2006
Dear Joel,

I played tournaments and studied incredibly hard for over 15 years. I was stuck in class D for two years and then again in Class C for two more years. After that I kept getting better until finally breaking 2300 some 15 years ago. Family concerns took over and I haven't picked up a chess book for the past 15 years but did play enough to drop my rating under 2200. I was considering returning to tournament play but realize my actual strength is at least 2-300 hundred points below my rating floor. It is embarrassing to lose to 1600's as I did in my last non-rated game 3 years ago. Why don't ratings drop for not playing? Why have a rating floor or why not just give us an option of not having a rating but just a rating class?

Thanks, Anon.

I congratulate you on the impressive rating advancement you achieved over your career, and commiserate with your current frustration. Many players feel, as you do, that age and inactivity have caused their rating floors to inappropriately reflect their current strength.

Rating floors do serve a valuable purpose. There are those among us who like to drop points on purpose ("sandbagging") in order to compete for juicy class prizes. Bill Goichberg's CCA minimum ratings also deal with that problem. Plus a lot of honest players are grateful for rating floors because they don't want to fall so far from the rating they proudly reached at their peak.

It would not work to drop ratings for inactivity. A lot of inactive players have been studying hard or playing non USCF-rated chess (e.g. on the ICC or in other countries) and may actually be much stronger than their ratings indicate. Nor would a rating class rather than a rating be practical; without a four-digit rating, how would the USCF be able to rate the games for the opponents?

If you haven't played rated games for a while you may be overly pessimistic about your current playing strength. Nevertheless, if you are sure you would prefer to compete without a rating floor, you can petition the USCF to remove it. They might not be convinced that you are indeed much weaker than your floor until they see results to back that up. But if your assessment is proven correct, your rating will ultimately be allowed to drop. If that is what you want!

Joel Benjamin