How Tournament Sections Work

You've finally decided to take the plunge into chess tournaments. Awesome! But those intimidating ratings and section numbers have you second-guessing yourself. Take a deep breath - sections make tournaments accessible for players of all strengths. You don't need to be a master to get started.

Sections group players by ability, so you'll face opponents around your level. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned vet, there's a section tailored just for you. So grab your board and get ready to battle it out against players with similar skills.

Chess Tournament Sections Make Play Accessible for All Skill Levels

Whether you're a chess prodigy or just learning the basics, chess tournament sections ensure there's a place for you. Sections divide players into groups based on skill level, so you'll face opponents at your level.

For beginners, sections like "unrated" or "under 800" mean you can start playing in tournaments right away without an official rating. Don't worry if you've never played in a tournament before or aren't a strong player. These sections are perfect for getting your feet wet and experiencing the thrill of competition.

Intermediate players around 800 to 1500 will find sections geared specifically to their skill range. You'll get the challenge of facing similarly rated opponents who will push you to improve your game.

Stronger Players Benefit Too

Advanced and expert players aren't left out. Sections for 1500 and above, as well as "open" or "premier" sections for 2000 and up, provide high-level competition. For the strongest players, these top sections offer an opportunity to gain higher ratings and qualify for invitational events.

No matter your age, rating, or experience, there's a section for you in most chess tournaments. Don't feel intimidated by players with more experience or higher ratings. Focus on finding the right section for your skill level, then go out and enjoy the game! With sections tailored for everyone, the only thing holding you back from tournament play is you.

How to Find Chess Tournaments

Maybe you are interested in participating in a chess tournament but you don’t know where to start.

Luckily for you, there are several pages and resources available that will help you find the tournament that best suits you:

You Don't Need a High Rating to Join a Tournament Section

Don't worry if you're just getting started with competitive chess. Tournament sections make playing in events accessible for players of all levels. Sections are divided based on your rating, so you'll face opponents at a similar level.

Even if you've never played in a rated tournament before, you can still join the novice or unrated section. This allows new players to experience competitive play in a welcoming environment. As you play in more events, your rating will start to reflect your actual playing strength.

The key is just to get out there and participate! You'll improve much faster by facing real opponents over the board. And who knows, you might just discover a hidden talent for competitive play.


Sections typically range from unrated and novice up to master and expert levels. So whether you're a beginner or a chess prodigy, there's a place for you. Don't feel intimidated if you're not a strong player yet. Everyone has to start somewhere, and sections create a level playing field.

Some parents worry their child isn't "ready" for tournament play or doesn't have enough experience. But tournaments can be a fun learning opportunity for kids and adults alike. Sections allow players to face opponents at their level, so new players won't feel overwhelmed. Encourage your child to give it a try - they'll build confidence and skills that will benefit them for years to come. And if you are truly looking for the ideal preparation before participating in a tournament, we recommend that you take a look at our Tournament Starter Bundle.

How Tournament Sections Work: Pairings, Prizes, and More

Tournaments use a rating and age-based section system to group players of similar skill levels together. This means you'll face opponents at your level, whether you're a beginner or a chess master.

Scholastic Tournaments

In scholastic tournaments, every kid is assigned to a specific section according to their age or grade and rating.

To give you a better idea of how these sections work, here is a list of all the sections in the 2024 Elementary School Championships:

Section 2 K6 U1400
Section 3 K6 U1000
Section 4 K6 UNRATED
Section 6 K5 U1200
Section 7 K5 U900
Section 9 K3 U1000
Section 10 K3 U700
Section 11 K3 UNRATED
Section 13 K1 U500/UNRATED



Pairings refer to who you're matched up against in each round. Sections ensure you're paired with players of comparable ratings and ages. For example, in the U1200 section, you'll face others rated under 1200. If there are enough players, sections may be further divided by age groups. This means your 8-year-old could play in the U800 section for kids under age 12, facing only other kids under the 800 rating.


Within each section, prizes are awarded to the top finishers. So in the U1600 section, the top U1600 players would win prizes. Some larger tournaments may award prizes all the way down to 10th or 20th place in each section. This means you have a good chance of winning a prize, even as a lower-rated player in a section with many players.


As your rating and skills improve over time, you can move up into higher sections. Many players start in the lowest sections, like U800 or U1200, and over the years progress into U1600, U2000 and beyond. Some players may reach expert or master level and play in premier sections. The section system allows for a gradual progression, so you can continue to face opponents at your level as you improve.

Playing Up

The concept of "playing up" can apply to both age and rating. For instance, a 9th grader is not eligible to participate in a K-8 tournament, but a 3rd grader has the option to compete in K-3, K-5, and K-8 tournaments if they choose. Similarly, a player with a 700 rating can opt to play in the U1000 section even if a U800 section is available. However, a player with a 900 rating cannot play in a U800 section. If you are considering playing up, be sure to check the rules on the tournament registration page.


The bottom line is that you don't need a high rating or loads of experience to start playing in chess tournaments. With the section system, there's a place for players of all skill levels. So go ahead and find a tournament in your area - there's a section waiting for you, no matter your age, rating or playing strength. Check with the organizers to find the right section to match your abilities, then enjoy some competitive games and the thrill of vying for prizes. The section system makes that possible for chess players of all levels.

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