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I've never played in a chess league or tournament before, but I am anxious to try one and find out where my true over-the-board rating stands. I'm too old for the school competitions (over 30) and I'm not sure where to go or what to do to get started.

What would I have to do in order to become involved with the USCF or FIDE, and what steps are involved in actually playing in such a tournament? Is there a standard format or guideline I can read to prepare?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

USCF has regular chess tournaments listed in different states each month and you can find tournaments such as Chicago Open, Philadelphia Open, etc, in-which, you can play at any levels (Under 2200, Under 2000, etc). You have to be a USCF member to play these tournaments which is an easy process and you can register and pay it online at the USCF website.

Also tournaments such as Chicago Open,World Open (which is starting today at Philly) are open to all USCF members and you can play at any level. At first, you will be having a provisional rating and if you play at any levels Under 2000 and under, and if you win that level you will not be able to win the full top prize due to your provisional rating. But if you play other higher levels - U2200, U2400 and Open - you will also get a FIDE rating because these levels are usually FIDE-rated. You should always check with the tournament organizers to see which levels are FIDE rated, how much they pay out for unrated players who win and then can play them.

Note: Not all USCF tournaments are FIDE rated. Only Big tournaments such as those mentioned above have FIDE-ratings. (Most of these Big tournaments are organized by CCA - http://chesstournamentservices.com/cca/ )

So playing in a FIDE-rated tournament in USA is as simple as finding the BIG tournament closer to your area and registering for it with a USCF membership. Usually these big tournaments have an entry fee of around USD 300.

These bigger tournaments have different ways to enter the tournament and play - 3 day. 4-day, 5-day etc. It all depends on your other-schedule and you can pick a type of play suitable for you. Some of these big tournaments all allow you to re-enter the same tourney if you lose the first few games and think that you can play well and want to play from the start again. You can always check with the tournament organizers about the rules.

From my experience of playing these big tournaments, playing 3-day tourneys is a hectic schedule where you would play 3 or 4 games in the 1st and 2nd days and then join with the regular round schedule for all day-games. Picking the 3-day tourney instead of 5-day or 7-day is basically based on your free time for that week and how well you can adapt to play all the games to win. It's more of a gamble paying 300 USD (unless playing unrated-level which has very less entry-fee but no prize money) and I don't play these tournaments anymore. I just moved from chess to poker.

If you think you are a good chess-player and want to get a FIDE-rating, then playing these big tournaments at Under2200 and above would give you a FIDE-rating.

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Check the USCF web site. They'll list chess clubs in your area. Find one that suits you, pay your USCF membership, and play!

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It might be better to start in a smaller tournament group. I've had luck with meetup.com (where you'll find even smaller groups than the club list on USCF, sometimes), finding at least 3-4 clubs in my area that host USCF rated tournaments. The ratings might be inflated/deflated at the small clubs, because you get a lot of people playing the same people over and over, but it will still give you a rating and it's a cheaper/more informal way to get started. Some clubs only charge $1 or $2 for a tournament, hosted at a coffee shop or mall food court.

Signing up for USCF can be done on their website on a yearly basis.

You might read over the rules, but most of them are pretty common sense; when in doubt, ask the TD. You'll probably want to have a clock with a 5-second delay option, and your own set and board. You want to have a notepad/pen so you can record moves.

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Start here: Pennsylvania State Chess Federation. The state organizations almost always have a better list of clubs than the USCF.

You join the USCF simply by paying them money. There's nothing else required. But you can show up at a local club without a USCF membership, just to get a "feel" for how tournaments run and how players behave. You'll have to join before playing in a rated event, but some clubs aren't so dedicated to tournaments that there won't be a player or two there not too busy to help show you around.

I seriously second the recommendation of staying away from the big tournaments; they cost a lot of money to enter, and are just in general a less friendly environment for the player new to tournaments. Play in some local club events first, until you get the hang of things, then move up to bigger events as you get comfortable with tournaments.

There are few chess leagues around the country outside of scholastic circles, but if there are any in your area, your local clubs will probably know about them.

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