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Commonly Asked: Parent/Student Expectations

It's been over a decade since I've been teaching chess to children....I cannot believe it! Over the years I have had the ability to interact with students of all ages and backgrounds. One common concern that often arises from both parents and students is related to development/growth.

Development from the parent's perspective

Parents invest a lot of time, effort, and sacrifice into the activities that their children do. Naturally, they want to see growth. When parents do not see improvement, they have questions.

Development from the student's perspective

Students are competitive in almost every area of their lives, whether it's test scores, sports, or chess. Students often feel immense pressure to perform well, since that is the standard most parents have for them. Because students are highly competitive, and oftentimes feel pressure to do well, they also tend to be concerned with growth.

Development from the coaches perspective

For coaches, student growth is of high priority. No coach wants to see their students stagnate. To coaches, student growth is also very important as it is in many ways a reflection of their ability to connect with students.


OK, so everyone is concerned with growth, what now?

Managing expectations is important in any pursuit. I hope that the information I provide below, both statistical analysis and hypotheses developed through years of coaching, provide some relief to concerns and questions related to student development.

Statistics Related to Rating Gains

While I am not a huge fan of using rating as a sole determinant of skill, parents and students oftentimes do not have anything else to go by! While rating is not everything, it does tend to be a good measure of average student performance, especially if they are actively playing rated games.

On Wednesdays we conduct the Elite Chess Team, which invites players who have been rated 1600+ for free group instruction. Upon deciding to write this blog entry, I thought of conducting a statistical analysis from a sample of 10 students from the Elite Team. While a sample of 10 is not overwhelmingly large, all of these students had the following things in common:

  1. Started rated chess in elementary school

  2. All reached 1600+ US Chess (regular rating)

I compiled data which features:

  1. Student grade at the time of their first rated event

  2. Initial US Chess "regular" rating

  3. Number of classical rated games played to reach certain classic rating thresholds

  4. Number of months to reach certain classical rating thresholds

Unfortunately, US Chess does not break down this information so it all had to be done manually. In the future, we may continue to increase the sample of the data, though I think the findings are consistent.

Note: if someone has time and would like to help me increase the sample by assisting with the manual work, please contact me!

Number of Months to Reach Certain Rating Levels

Number of Rated Classical Cames to Reach Certain Rating Levels

Only US Chess "Regular" Rated Games Used

Analysis of Data:

  • The average child in the sample got to the rating level of 1000 in 20 months, 1300 in 27 months, and 1600 in 44 months.

  • The average child in the sample got to the rating level of 1000 after playing 110 rated games, rating of 1300 after 180 rated games, and rating of 1600 after 328 rated games.

  • PJ Liotino was an outlier as he started late in late elementary school. We can also see that his growth in terms of number of games was much faster than the other students, but not necessarily faster in time.

  • The fastest any of the children got to 1600 was 3 years.

  • This data does not measure other factors such as:

  • Whether a student received regular coaching

  • How much a student studies/practices at home

While this very basic analysis does not necessarily provide all the ingredients to their growth, it does give us some perspective on how long development may take. I hope that parents and students use this information to assist with the development of their expectations. Chess is hard, it takes time. In fact, as the students get stronger it becomes increasingly harder to improve.

For perspective, here is the rating curve for regular US Chess ratings:

  • Players who are rated 1000 lie in the 35th percentile of all US Chess rated players.

  • Players who are rated 1300 lie in the 24th percentile of all US Chess rated players.

  • Players who are rated 1600 lie in the 15th percentile of all US Chess rated players.

Advice to Parents