I recently came across this interesting article at NM Todd Bardwick's site. The site apparently is not kept updated but it has an interesting article on becoming a master which reads in part:
I will attempt to lay out the USCF over-the-board rating system and set out realistic expectations as a player (hopefully!) moves up the rating scale. (Of course, this is based on my subjective opinion as a player and teacher and the players that I polled from various rating levels.)
The mean rating for adults is somewhere in the 1500’s. Adult rating increases are a separate topic than a child’s (discussed later). Every adult who has been playing chess for years will eventually reach his average rating plateau strength. This could be 1200, 1600, 2000, or anywhere else, depending on many factors (brain speed, calculating ability, study time and efficiency, ability to solve mathematical and logical problems, board game sense, concentration, competitiveness, intelligence, etc.) There are very high rated players who have spent many hundreds of less hours of study time than their much lower rated counterparts. I have met many low rated players who have read tons of books and can seemingly recite every game ever played, but somehow have trouble applying chess concepts to their own game. In this case there are normally several commonalities – too much opening study (sometimes spending time learning traps and garbage openings, which is mainly memorization… chess is not a finite problem that can be memorized), study of game collections of famous player where the concepts are too complex, or too stubborn/unteachable/unreceptive to new ideas or constructive criticism. As with any subject, the more you know about chess, the more you will realize you don’t know. With proper study, anyone can improve their chess game.
Class B becomes a major sticking point for many players. In Class B, the player has a basic knowledge of all aspects of the game, has for the most part eliminated gross, random blunders, and has an understanding of the concepts of tactical and positional chess. Natural talent can take most players to Class B, but not much further.
After reaching Class B, the rating points get much tougher. As a player reaches 1800, he is statistically better than 80% or so of all rated adult chess players. In order to hold a Class A rating, now the player is expected to score 25% vs. Experts (95th percentile)...and Experts make very few mistakes compared to Class B and C players.
Reaching the 2000 level of Expert is a huge accomplishment (finally a rating that starts with a 2 instead of a 1!). Talent and study are generally required to reach and keep a 2000 rating. The Expert level is the third major rating plateau…and very few climb past it. Most players have several master skins by the time they reach 2000, but in order to hold an expert rating, the player must now score 1 out of 4 against masters…no easy task! The rating points are tough here because we are approaching the very narrow part of the rating bell curve. To move from the 95th percentile of Expert to the 99th percentile of master is a huge step. To hold a master rating, the player must score at least 75% against experts and break even with masters. It is well documented that the toughest 100 rating points to attain are between 2100 and 2200. It is important to temper your expectations, especially as you reach the main plateau levels of 1000, Class B, and Expert.
How close are you to Master?
I will pose an interesting, non-scientific, question. To get a feel for this question, I polled half a dozen masters and a couple experts who have spent significant time over 2200. Their answers were amazingly consistent.
Read the article for their answers!