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Ratings, Damned Ratings...

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and Statistics, to paraphrase Twain. Like many chess geeks I'm fascinated with ratings, but I'm also horrified by the fascination with them and what the list has done to the game and the culture of the game. Before the FIDE list debuted in 1971 the concept of world-class player was determined by results in important tournaments. Now you can score less than 50% in practically every event you play in but still stay in the top 20 and those invitations keep coming in.

Chess stats man and database dude Jeff Sonas has a new article up at ChessBase.com with statistical predictions about the FIDE world championship starting on June 18 in Libya. In it he tries to explain his concept of a player's "true strength" as compared to rating and TPR (tournament performance rating). All the explanation seems confusing, but the examples clear it up somewhat.

The point is something of a tautology, basically saying that if you win a FIDE KO, you are a strong player regardless of your rating and the luck often involved in two-game mini-matches at semi-rapid time controls. His example of Khalifman and Ponomariov both having excellent Linares results months after their KO wins helps distinguish between what Sonas calls "true strength" and what most people call "good form." Any top-20 player with good form and a little luck can win the KO. On the other hand, we knew Khalifman had been world class and that Ponomariov was a dangerous up-and-comer (and former youngest-ever GM ). The other two KOs were won by Anand, no comment necessary.

So how about the semifinals? 1997: Adams, Short, Gelfand, Anand. 1999: Nispeanu, Khalifman, Akopian, Adams. 2000: Shirov, Grischuk, Anand, Adams. 2001: Ivanchuk, Svidler, Ponomariov, Anand. Hmm! The lowest rated players on that list are the Vegas Boyz (aka "tourists" in Kasparov's now-legendary appellation). Khalifman has sunk again, but was always a top-ten talent. Akopian and Nisipeanu, relatively unknown in 1999, are now recognized as solid top-20 performers. So for all the talk (and evidence) of the KOs being lotteries, in the end the guys who are left standing can seriously bring it over the board. Of course the chess is usually crap, but that's hard to measure with statistics...


Nisipeanu top-20? I haven't heard of him since that 1999 KO...

Cool, I used to love Sonas' stuff on KC, this should be a good read! Oh, and I used to think it was Twain, too. It's actually Disraeli.

Well, if you want to get really pedantic, the only reference to Disraeli ever saying it is in Twain's own autobiography! He's certainly the one who made it famous. The last time I trotted out the full quotation (Mig on Chess #89, Jan. 18, 1999) I attributed it to Disraeli.

Jeff's stuff is always interesting. I remember printing his first piece on chess back in the old ClubKasparov.ru days in 99. I'm still not sure if it's worth anything beyond theory and discussion, but it is fun to think about! I just haven't seen enough evidence that it has predictive value beyond Elo enough to be useful. Chess is still more of a sport than a science. But it is definitely useful for historical comparisons.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on June 15, 2004 5:57 PM.

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