14 August 2017

Master Ratings and Master Titles

Between the publication of the second and third lists of USCF ratings (see the previous post in this series, USCF Rating Lists in the 1950s, for a chronology), the USCF grappled with a number of new issues provoked by the introduction of ratings. The following editorial was published in the 5 July 1951 issue of Chess Life, under the title 'Masters -- and Masters in the National Rating System'.

From letters recently received, it becomes apparent that many players are still confused regarding one phase of the National Rating System, and that they insist, despite all that has been written to the contrary, in considering that the Rating System does the one thing that it very definitely does not attempt to do.

Let us therefore repeat again, in the fond hope that this time our statement will be understood, that the National Rating System does not determine the permanent status of any chess player nor indicate how he will be ranked ultimately in the history of the game. The National Rating System does no more than indicate the current effective playing rank of a player at one particular period in his career, without regard to his achievements in past decades beyond the scope of the system and without prophesy as to his possible future attainments.

For a number of reasons which we will not catalogue at this time, there is a definite need for this current evaluation of how a player is actually performing at a given period. But the value of this current and transitory rating is sadly distorted when some misinformed chess players insist upon considering this current performance rating as conferring or withholding honorary titles. This the National Rating System does not do. and it was never intended to do. In the Rating System a player may shift from Senior Master to Expert classifications in the matter of a few years, according to his performances in current tournament play -- the fact that he may temporarily hold the classification of Master in the rating system does not actually make ham a Master in the honorary sense that the term has been applied in the past; the fact that another player, long considered a Master in the honorary sense, slips in more recent play to the Expert classification, does not deprive him of the many honors gained as a Master, nor the right to be considered as a Master in the honorary sense.

It is to be expected that even the most formidable player, if he continues to play tournament chess after his prime, will eventually lose rank in the National Rating System which can evaluate only current performances and cannot, except in a very limited sense, make exceptions for past heroics. If the recognised Master continues to play tournament chess long enough, in his final years he is almost certainly doomed to a reduction in his current performance ratings to an Expert classification. But this reduction does not actually make him any the less a Master in the honorary sense.

This was further explained by an example from baseball, showing how the performance of a great player can decline in the twilight of a career.

National Chess Ratings are merely the chess equivalent of the yearly baseball batting averages, and the confusion over them has arisen solely because some chess players insist upon considering them so much more than that.

However. since there has been so much confusion in players' minds between "Master" as an honorary title conferred for outstanding performance in the world of chess and the ”Master classification" in the National Rating System, CHESS LIFE will recommend to the annual meeting of the USCF Board of Directors at the Fort Worth meeting that the Federation create and recognize, outside of the scope of the National Rating System, an honorary classification of "Masters" in the same sense that the present FIDE titles of "International Master" [IM] and "International Grandmaster" [GM] are conferred for outstanding performances of the past as well as of the present.

CHESS LIFE will recommend specifically that the honorary rank of "Master Emeritus" be conferred upon all chess players of the USA who may be deemed to have at any time in the past earned the right to the title of "Master" before the operations of the National Rating System became effective, and whose present standings in the current performance ratings are below that of the "Master classification"; that the selection of those players entitled to such recognition be placed in the charge of a special committee qualified to judge and assess past records of tournament performance.

CHESS LIFE further will recommend that it be provided that in the future any chess player in the USA who has held a "Master classification" in the National Rating System for a period of years (exact length of tenure to be determined by the Board of Directors) automatically becomes a Master Emeritus upon dropping in the current performance ratings to a classification lower than that of "Master".

CHESS LIFE will also recommend that the Board of Directors make full provision for conferring the title of Master Emeritus upon such qualified chess players who have won recognition as "Masters' in European events and have since become Americans, whether they participate actively in tournament play in the USA or not, provided that they contribute substantially to the promotion of chess in the USA.

CHESS LIFE will further propose that the list of recognized Masters Emeriti be published in connection with the semi-annual printing of the National Ratings.

Montgomery Major

For a discussion of FIDE IM and GM titles, see Early FIDE Titles (November 2014).

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