Thursday, April 26, 2018

no nillion for you

We had two math and statistics professionals look into the likelihood of the New Mexico/ Henderson events occurring.

The first report is from an experienced data scientist, who prefers to remain anonymous, but whose professional opinion I sought and whose report I will be forwarding to the ethics committee. The data scientist examined three scenarios in the Jan 15 tournament, one using pre-tournament ratings, one using post-tournament ratings, and a third using the lowest published rating in the past year of the Henderson students and the peak ratings of their opponents. The data scientist found that the chances of the Jan 15 tournament occurring, assuming pre-tournament ratings were accurate, is 0.000000000000000000000000000000888, which is less than one in one nonillion (1 with 30 zeroes after it). That is approximately a billion times the number of stars in the observable universe.

Assuming post-tournament ratings led to a probability of 0.000000000045, which is less than 1 in 100 billion (note that 100 billion is the approximate number of stars in our galaxy).

And the third (most favorable to Henderson) scenario, assuming the Henderson students were at their past-year weakest and the opponents were at their lifetime strongest, still found a likelihood of only is 0.000000037, which is less than 1 in 10 million.

A second analysis was done by a parent on my team who works in computer programming and statistics. I present his work and conclusions below; for obvious reasons they are very similar to the above. They are slightly different in scenario two because the first statistician assumed post tournament ratings of both sides and the second analysis assumed only post tournament ratings of the New Mexico players. (This scenario was run because an argument is being made that the New Mexican players' ratings were provisional and inaccurate, see below.)

Base Analysis

The main argument is that the EP vs. EG tournament is highly implausible. The ratings difference between the winners and losers is much too wide for such a number of simultaneous upsets to occur.

This analysis looked at each individual game, calculated the odds of losing each game, and then calculated the odds of a 0-28 score based on those odds. The odds of losing a given game is given by the USCF ELO model (see resources below). Specifically, the odds of losing a given game is 1 minus the odds of winning a game given two ratings:

This analysis excludes the possibility of draws, but if we included those odds the odds of losing any given game would be lower, so would only strengthen this argument.

Given the above, the odds of such a lopsided tournament occuring is once in 1.13 x 10^30. In plain English, that's once in a nonillion chance of occuring (We had to look that up; see resources below).

5 sigma is often used as an extreme hurdle to determine validity or significance. Scientists used it to validate the discovery of a new particle (see article). 5 sigma is an event that occurs once in 3.5 milliontimes. Not billion. Not trillion.

Post-event Peak Analysis

One argument in defense of the upset team is that the opponent ratings were provisional and therefore meaningless. It's true that six out of the seven winners had provisional ratings. We ran the same test as the above, but this time using the peak ratings of the opponents after the above suspicious event.

Sure enough, most of the provisionally rated opponents had their ratings move up (even though much of it occured by beating their much higher rated opponents in the above event!). As of April, 2018, four players still had provisional ratings, but two of those had 24 and 25 games respectively, so their ratings are close to non-provisional (26 games needed for non-provisional rating).

Using these peak ratings of the opponents, running the same analysis shows the odds of a 0-28 sweep/upset is one in 1.44 x 10^16.

Or, in plain English, one in 14 quadrillion.

This seems like a fair analysis; if you look through the histories of the provisionally rated players, there isn't much to indicate that they are materially, grossly underrated. They do show patterns of consistently losing to low rated players etc.

Even-match Analysis

Finally, all this math aside, the simplest analysis is to just look at the odds of a 0-28 sweep of an evenly matched team, which is far from the case here. The odds of such an upset is simply 0.5^28.

Using this method, we get the odds of this occurring as one in 268 million. Remember, 5 sigma is a once in 3.5 million event, good enough to validate the discovery of a new particle.

Given the above analysis, and especially even the last 'even-match', sanity-check analysis, it is safe (or exceedingly, astronomically safe) to say that this was not a valid event.

We have seen various analyses on this (including one from a math Phd, professional quantitative analyst/statistician), and numbers may vary due to rounding and other issues, but the conclusion is basically the same; this event is an astronomically unlikely event to have occured normally.

Friday, April 20, 2018

"but I can beat him, Mister"

       Let me say first that my assistant principal, John Galvin, is the greatest detective in the world. He's the one who originally caught the Henderson cheating, basically figured out everything they did going back a couple years.

      So yesterday I see him hunched over his desk, reading a small book. It turns out to be The Champions Game, by Saul Ramirez.
     Let's read along:

In my mind, telling a kid who wants to play to draw is unethical. You can ask, if it means the team wins. But if the kid wants to play for a personal championship, you have to respect that. He earned the chance. Leaning on him is an abuse of power.

But now think for a minute about this story. Why would it hurt the team for the top two scorers to have a decisive result vs a draw? It can't. Either way, the team gets one point. In fact, they were up five points going into the round -- they had already clinched it.

Now look at the crosstable (MS Novice);

  1 | LEO GONZALEZ     |6.0  |W   9|W  33|W  24|W   5|W  11|W   6|L   2|
   TX | 15707532 / R: Unrated-> 976P7   |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
    2 | BRANDON CABALLERO  |6.0  |W  27|L   7|W  19|W  24|W  13|W  12|W   1|
   TX | 15707553 / R: Unrated-> 931P7   |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |

He didn't tell Leo to draw; he told him to lose. Why? It boggles the mind. I guess he wanted two co-champions rather than one. Reread the dialogue, this time knowing the kid is begging to play the game honestly and he's being told to throw it. The chutzpah of writing "He understood it, but his ego was fighting the concept of sacrificing in order to achieve something greater" just blows my mind.

Also, this isn't cheating, but did you guys watch the video about Henderson girls in Mike's article? Where Ramirez says "I'm not going to lie, I had to read a lot of books about how to coach a girls' team ...They mess up their positions in a whole different way"  wtf?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I'm sorry, what?

USCF President Carol Meyers issued a statement that began

"1. No cheating happened, nor is alleged to have happened, at the 2018 National Junior High Championship; the alleged incident took place prior to our event."

I'm sorry, what????????
We're accusing them of intentionally losing games to lower their rating in order to enter the National Junior High in inappropriately low sections. They did this and won the tournament.

Intentionally entering the wrong section is cheating.
They began their cheating with the tournaments on 1/15* and 1/19, but this was done only in order to cheat at nationals. In some sense, nationals is the real cheating because the earlier events have no victims in and of themselves.

The statement Carol Meyer issued is now being used by the Henderson coach to claim he has been exonerated.
Honestly, it's hard for me to fathom what she could have been thinking, but the statement needs to be retracted immediately.

Friday, April 13, 2018


So the USCF put out this statement, which I consider an laughable shirking of their responsibilities. 

"The US Chess Federation has not received a written complaint to initiate our procedures for factual inquiry and ruling on any allegation of cheating pertaining to this event."

And you don't care enough to do anything on your own?? After you have been begged in a timely fashion to by no less than 12 coaches? After your own national championship becomes an outrage and a joke?

It's the casual denial of responsibility that kills me.

You have all the facts you need, Carol Meyer, USCF et al.  Cheating obviously occurred and ruined YOUR national championship. People complained to your organization in time to remove the kids from the section and fix the problem. If your rules are really set up to make you powerless  to investigate on your own, then I feel sorry for you. 

Pretty soon no one is going to pay money to attend your national championship if you don't fulfill your fundamental responsibility of enforcing the rules. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Cheating at the National Junior High

Last weekend, at the National Junior High School Chess 
Championship, Henderson Middle School from El Paso 
Texas "won" the under 750 and Under 1000 sections
 with teams of obviously sandbagged players. This 
was brought to the attention of Chief TD David Hater 
by many coaches, but he felt it was not his
 responsibility to act. 

Let's examine the evidence. 
The Under 1000 team members are
Ra***ez, Saul (7.0, 899)
Ra***ez, Juan (6.5, 867)
Pal***no, Carlos (6.0, 760)
Ar**jo, Carlos (4.5, 884)

Why are their ratings under 900, you are thinking? 
Because that allowed them to play in and win the 
Texas Under 900 championship. 

To get their ratings under 900 for these events, 
they claim to have played a two round match in
 Las Cruces, NM, where they lost 26-0, most of 
which were 400+ point upsets. 
This was rated as a tournament, rather than a match;
 perhaps accidentally or perhaps because there's an 
anti-sandbagging rule that says you can only lose 50
 points in a match. 

My assistant principal, John Galvin, reported this at 
7 pm Saturday. At the 2:30 meeting the next day, there
 was some disagreement about whether these results
 were spectacularly unlikely or actually impossible
A parent from my team who is also a mathematician 
was kind enough to run some numbers for me (results 
have been reviewed by a few of his colleagues and 
detailed discussion is in the comments. )
His analysis showed the odds of losing 26-0 with the 
rating differentials is 1 in 3x 10^21 
Without considering ratings, it's 1 in 263,000,000. 

When asked, the Henderson coach attributed his team's
 poor performance to "being kids" and coming from 
underprivileged homes.  

The Under 750 team is 

R**z, Alessandra (7.0, 734)
Arga***na, Aime (6.0, 585)
Ag***re, Devante (5.0, 632)
Ji***ez, Jose Luis (5.0, 654)
Valadez, Angelica (5.0, 683) 

On Jan 19, 2019, they held another tournmanent / 
match in New Mexico in which the Texas players 
again did very very poorly. This time their under 
750 team goes under. Notice how the MSA report lists 
the players' states in the left hand corner so you can 
easily see how badly Texas fared. 

The TD supervising these tournaments, Will Barela, 
 is also the President of the New Mexico Chess Association.
Looking through his directing history reveals some, 
lets' say ... "purposeful" events. Between Dec 28 and
 Jan 5 of 2017/2018, he rated a series of 15 multi 
section tournaments, in which a master who was 
dropping dangerously close to 2200, beat kids rated
 100-1000 in hundreds of games, thereby obtaining 
his life master title.
Congratulations to Life Master Benjamin Corarreti, 

I have never seen more obvious evident of sandbagging.
 There is no attempt to hide the thrown games, not a 
single draw. 
USCF officials could have moved their sections and saved
the integrity and reputation of their tournament; they 
were told at the beginning of round 5. Instead, they 
insist it needs to be handled by the Ethics Committee.

Handing it off to the Ethics Committee has enormous
costs. The entire credibility of the tournament 
experience is ruined for everyone. A confidential 
committee decision six months later does nothing 
to fix this. The cheated teams will never get to walk
 across the stage; they'll never get the newspaper 
articles, or the homecoming celebration, or the 
exhilaration of that night. 

I know there will be cases where the evidence is not
 clear and the TDs can't, in good conscience, act. But
 this is not that situation. This is the clearest, most 
unambiguous case of cheating POSSIBLE. 

If you aren't going to act on this, you can't claim to 
be enforcing the rules. 

It's unfortunate it wasn't handled well at the time, 
and more unfortunate (see next post) that the 
USCF is doubling down on their new stated policy of
 not interfering in cheating in progress.  
The USCF ought now to announce the cheating 
publicly and congratulate Metcalf and Thomas 
Edison on their wins in the U750 and U1000 
sections, and Scotty Gordon and Sameris Desvignes 
on the individual triumphs. 

In future, under sections should use peak rating.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

How to Solve Coaches Cheating at Nationals

Use peak ratings as eligibility for under sections at nationals.
Children's ratings should not be going down. This solves the problem and is easy to understand and enforce.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Noah gets his first chess lesson

We discussed the names of the pieces and which he likes (he dislikes the knight and likes the "little tiny pawn," consistent with his love of small things). I explained that chess is a game and one of my favorite games, and that you play by moving the pieces around from one square to another. We practiced that. We agreed to take turns. I told him about taking pieces, how to do it, and that you get to keep the piece.

After the lesson, it was nap time, and he took a pawn to bed with him.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Have Respect for Mattresses, Citizens!

A mattress is insatiable.  It demands sacrifices. At night it makes the 
sound of a bouncing  ball. It needs a bookcase. It needs a table with 
thick stupid legs. Creaking its  springs,  it demands drapes, a door 
curtain, and pots and pans for the kitchen. It shoves people and says to them:
     "Goon! Buy a washboard and rolling-pin!"
     "I'm ashamed of you, man. You haven't yet got a carpet."
     "Work! I'll soon give  you children. You need  money for nappies and a pram."
     A mattress remembers and does everything in its own way.
     Not even a poet  can escape the common lot. Here he comes, 
carrying one from the market, hugging it to his soft belly with horror.
     "I'll break  down your resistance,  poet," says the mattress.  "You  no
longer need  to run to the post  office to  write poetry. And, anyway, is 
it worth writing? Work and the balance will always  be  in your  favour. 
Think about your wife and children!"
     "I haven't  a wife," cries the  poet, staggering back  from his sprung
     "You will have! But I don't guarantee she will be the loveliest girl on
earth. I don't even know whether she will be kind. Be prepared for 
anything. You will have children."
     "I don't like children."
     "You will."
     "You frighten me, citizen mattress."
     "Shut up, you fool.  You  don't know  everything.  You'll  also  obtain
credit from the Moscow woodworking factory."
     "I'll kill you, mattress!"
     "Puppy! If you dare to, the neighbours will denounce you to the 
housing authority."

That's an excerpt from a very funny comic Russian novel Twelve Chairs,
which you can read online.

Recently, Jonathan and I attempted to buy a mattress.

It's always been my dream to own a king sized bed. Plus Zoe sleeps with
us and Noah manages to as well sometimes. (i.e. we need it).

In 2001, I bought my sister a Tempurpedic mattress as an engagement
present. She's always loved good bedding. She didn't end up marrying
the guy, who was an inventor and invented the blue ink in American
Express Blue cards and made fake passports for the CIA, and she didn't
like the mattress either (too firm), so she gave it back to me and I'd
been sleeping on it ever since.

Jonathan loved it so we thought we'd buy another Tempurpedic. We 
did, the Contour Supreme (heavenly, firm), but it smelled terrible and 
we started reading frightening articles online about the neurotoxic 
chemicals it's made of. Zoe was just a few weeks old and we were 
afraid for her. We tried to air it out: removing the cover and standing 
it by the window every day for weeks, but when it hadn't stopped 
off-gassing after a month and a half, we returned it. 

After further research on the heath hazards of memory foam we 
decided to splurge and buy an Essentia, which is organic memory 
foam. They are crazy, crazy expensive, but we justified it with 
the idea that we would spend 8 hours a day on it for twenty years. 

Unfortunately, it was not very comfortable. Fortunately, it too was 

By now we are feeling defeated, tired of mattress shopping and unsure 
of what we wanted. So we headed to Sleepys. It's just very confusing, 
buying a mattress. You go to the showroom and lie down on ten or 
twenty of them and by the end you have no idea what you want 
anymore or how comfortable any of them really are. Do we really like 
"firm" mattresses, or have we simply always had one? The salesperson 
talks a lot of mumbo jumbo about coils and latex and alignment. She 
tried to convince me that firm mattresses are for fat people. Then 
later, after we'd bought the mattress, she starts telling me how her 
obstetrician kept harassing her about weight gain and gestational 
diabetes during her first pregnancy so she skipped prenatal care 
entirely for her subsequent children. I didn't even know you could do 

In the end we picked the first one we'd lain down on. And then we 
discovered that you can make an offer for a mattress. Sleepys prices 
are not fixed, you actually bargain with the regional manager via 
the salesperson. The mattress was $2900, on sale for $2600, we 
offered $2200 and that was fine. 
update: 4/2018: I went home that day and found the same mattress on Amazon for $1100. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

life choices

Hello out there!
I made a big decision recently that I'd like to tell you about. The last year and a half I've been staying home with my now two kids, Noah (2) and Zoe (5 months).

At first I was super-enthusiastic about this project, determined to raise the smartest, most verbal, best-fed, sweetest-natured children ever made. I talked to Noah incessantly, keeping up a running narration of everything I was doing in order to expose him to the absolute maximum language possible.  but after a while it gets very tedious. you get sick of talking, sick of mops and trucks and dinosaurs and garbage or whatever your kid is obsessed by 24 hours a day. also I spend a lot of time doing laundry and changing diapers and picking up toys and cleaning the house. and I don't mind housework per se, I actually have grown to kinda like it, especially the clean warm orderliness of laundry, but I'm SO BORED. I avoid my friends because I know I'm a conversational black hole.  I reread old blog posts and miss myself.

So I made plans to put them both in a local Montessori school next September and return to teaching at 318. I miss 318, at least parts of it: my advanced classes and the Saturday tournaments. Also I miss the long overnight trips. (I'm going to elementary nationals this year with another school and I can't wait-- 5 days of nonstop chess analysis without my children sounds like a dream.) I feel in some way that I belong at 318 and do a lot of good there.

And then Jonathan asked me to stay home another year with Zoe-- to put Noah in preschool 9-3 5 days a week and just take care of her, the house, and Noah after/ before school. He asked me like its a favor.

At first I thought no, I need for myself to be working outside our house for my own mental health. but then the next morning I was pushing the double stroller through the park on an unseasonably warm sunny winter day and we stopped and Noah got out to play chase with a puppy, and amidst the squeals of joy I thought "of course it's glorious to have another year off to spend with my children. How lucky I am." And so I cancelled Zoe's enrollment at the Montessori school, committing myself.

I'm still going back and forth in my mind. On the one hand I think we'd be stretched very thin as a family if we were both working. The house would never be clean and the dog would not get dewormed and no one would eat anything but takeout and toast.

Maybe with just one kid to watch I can blog and go running and maybe even play chess.
and if I was working, I'd be staring through my window, wishing I could be with my kids.

any thoughts, blog readers?

Monday, October 13, 2014

a different way to pay for private lessons

It started when a parent said to me, "My child's rating hasn't gone up in a year. Does that mean he hasn't learned anything from the expensive private lessons I've been paying for?" And I replied, "That's exactly what it means, with the small caveat that your child might have learned something about chess (like an opening) but is not a more skillful player."
Which led me to think about the problem for parents of not knowing if an expensive coach is worthwhile. Which led me to make an offer to a small group of parents that:
 I would teach their child once a week for free
The child would play in a minimum of 2 tournaments a month and one hour a week at chess club or online.
The child would do all my homework and notate all games.
I would be paid every three months the gain (from the beginning of lessons) in the child's rating times a multiplier X.
My question to you is, what's a fair number for x? I would suggest it might be different for different people, or different ages, and definitely for different ratings.
Take as two examples a 9 year old rated 600 who has played chess for a year and a 13 year old rated 1650 who has played chess for 5 years; both students have previously had private and group lessons.

Thank you.