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I recently bought a USCF membership and played in my second tournament. The first one I played without a membership. I looked at my ratings, but noticed my quick rating was 1521, which is over 200 points higher than my regular rating. I've only played one tournament while having a membership, and both tournaments I played at were over 30 min time control.

How come this rating was so much higher than the previous one?

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The USCF uses an Elo type of rating system. Your initial rating is only a rough estimate based on the strength of the rated players you played and your score against them. This first estimate is very unreliable as it depends completely on the ratings of your opponents.

Let me give an example. Suppose you play at 1500 level and one of your opponents is also 1500 strength and you draw with him. Suppose you have 4 more opponents and they are all rated 1900 and they all beat you. According to my back of envelope calculation your initial rating will be 1500. Now suppose your 4 strong opponents are all 2300. Now the initial calculation of your rating will be much higher, not because you played better but just because it was obtained against much higher rated players.

Understand that this is a basic flaw with this kind of system. The solution is for you to play a lot more rated games. The more games you play the more accurate your rating will be as an estimate of your playing strength.

For future tournament results the calculations will also take into account your latest rating. Your rating will be adjusted up or down according to how well you actually played in relation to how well your rating suggested you should play. In the instance where you played a bunch of 1900's in one tournament and a bunch of 2300's in another the higher ratings in the second tournament would not make a difference because your expected score against both the 1900's and 2300's is as close to zero as makes no difference.

This kind of Elo system uses a factor called a "K" factor to multiply the adjustment amount to your rating. Different federations use different k factors but all use different k factors for different types of players. For instance, FIDE uses 40 for new players (less than 30 games) and juniors under 2400, 10 for over 2400's and 20 for everybody else. So as a new player you rating will jump around by twice as much as would that of a more established player like me. In effect as you have more rated games under your belt your rating becomes a more reliable estimate of your strength.

But in the meantime while you have a high K factor expect your rating to jump around a lot.

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