Wednesday, August 11, 2010

chess politics

Before we delve into the main subject of this post, chess politics, let´s go for a quick walk down memory lane. When I was little, I had two beautiful children´s etiquette books, illustrated by Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are), called What Do You Do, Dear? and What Do You Say, Dear?

They had questions like ¨You are in the library reading a book, when suddenly you are lassoed by Bad-Nose Bill. ¨I got you,¨ he says ¨and I´m taking you to my ranch, pronto. Now get moving.¨ What do you do, dear?¨ (answer: walk quietly through the library)

¨ You are picking dandelions and columbines outside the castle. Suddenly a fierce dragon appears and blows red smoke at you, but just then a brave knight gallops up and cuts off the dragon´s head. What do you say, dear?¨ (answer: ¨Thank you very much¨)

With that in our minds, I would like to discuss two current issues in chess politics. The first is the FIDE elections. It seems to me that Ilyumzhinov is a psychopath. As evidence, I offer this article in the respectable English newspaper, the Guardian, his Wiki page, which is obviously written by a flunkie (¨He now owns a private jet and six Rolls Royces; he has a black limousine in Moscow, but prefers his white one at home¨), the Wiki leaks page on the murder of journalist Larisa Yudina, (update: Arne Moll of Chessvibes writes more about this here) his absolutely hilarious autobiography The President´s Crown of Thorns, downloadable from FIDE (my favorite chapter title: ¨It Only Takes Two Weeks to Have a Man Killed¨) and th e fact that he insists he was abducted by aliens. Because he is so obviously insane and evil, it boggles my mind that news websites, like Chessbase, seem to care about impartiality (take a ****ing stand, cmon).

That aside, I am super confused as to why anyone in their right mind, Karpov in particular, can support the ¨One Country, One Vote¨ idea. Why exactly should Russia, with 203 GMs, 467 IMs, and 1959 titled players, have the same political influence as, say, Sao Tome and Principle, the Soloman Islands or Palau, which have no titled players of any kind. (For an amusing list of FIDE federations that have a vote, click here.) Many/most of these countries don´t even have functional real government, forget chess federations. It´s complete insanity. The only possible rationale that I can see for giving tiny countries this kind of political power is that it´s easy to buy their votes. (Niels Lauritsen makes the a similar point here. )

I dearly hope he is saying this only to get elected, but Karpov insists he is all for One Nation, One Vote too:

¨Our policy will be one of enhanced regional empowerment, based on the philosophy that those closest to the situation are best aware of the challenges and opportunities they face. Regional leaders should be provided with greater autonomy and resources. Resources must be provided consistently rather than once every four years on the eve of FIDE elections. Past practices contaminate the electoral process. For this reason we support ‘one federation, one vote’ as an important ingredient in the democratic practices of FIDE and as a guarantee that small and developing federations have a voice.¨

What am I missing?

The second chess politics issue I wish to discuss with you is the Washington State elementary ratings controversy. For the last couple years at Elementary Nationals, almost all of the K-5 and K-3 Under sections have been won by Stevenson Elementary from Washington State. (to see for yourself, click here*, and then click on team standings and K-5 Under 900, K-3 Under 800, and K-3 unrated. Then do the same for last year´s supernationals standings). This school is setting some serious records, winning sections by incredible margins of 5, 5.5 points. (To their credit, they also won the K-3 open section this year.)

They aren´t quite cheating, but it´s really close. The NY Times tells the story well. Basically, they just don´t use USCF ratings, so their kids are massively under-rated and they clean up the trophies.

Of course, you could argue that under sections are absurd in the first place, and even more so when they involve children, whose ratings tend to change more rapidly than adults. But they´re nice for the majority of children (and people in general) and with that in mind, I do think something should be done. Other teams will either stop coming to nationals (a real economic problem for the USCF) or (even worse) they will also start cheating/playing the system.

The question is, what to do? The obvious solution is something like what Goichburg does with FIDE ratings, to either come up with a formula, or to simply assign the Washington State kids minimum ratings, but that leaves a lot to the discretion of TDs, and it´s nice to have clarity/tranparency/rule of law. It´s strangely hard to concieve of an idea that is both systematic and easy to administer, harder than with adults, because the kids are different each year, and they aren´t themselves intentionally doing anything wrong.

What would you do, dear?

*I accidentally had this linked to 2008 for the first 5 days, so if you clicked on it and thought ¨huh?¨ then try again. :)


Anonymous said...

"That aside, I am super confused as to why anyone in their right mind, Karpov in particular, can support the ¨One Country, One Vote¨ idea. Why exactly should Russia, with 203 GMs, 467 IMs, and 1959 titled players, have the same political influence as, say, Sao Tome and Principle, the Soloman Islands or Palau, which have no titled players of any kind."

I agree. Who in their right mind would support this one person, one vote for president idea. Why would someone like Bill Gates who has 50 Billion dollars receive the same voting rights as someone who has say less than $100,000. Absurd!

Jim Eade said...

Although I do not support Kirsan, it amazed me that a number of board members and delegates were painting Karpov as a knight in shining armor riding in on his white horse in order to save the day. The USCF President even wondered whether his election might help solve the USCF's membership problems. C'MON people!

A motion came out of the scholastic council to use any OTB rating from a state or lager organization for the purposes of placing the player in the proper under-n section. The USCF rating would be used for the tournament, but the other for placement. It seemed to me to largely address your and others concerns. I hope it passed. I left before it came up.

Ed Scimia said...

"I agree. Who in their right mind would support this one person, one vote for president idea. Why would someone like Bill Gates who has 50 Billion dollars receive the same voting rights as someone who has say less than $100,000. Absurd!"

I think the better US political analogy would be providing the residents in California the same number of electoral votes as Idaho -- i.e., a system in which winning the majority of states won you the presidency, regardless of the population of said states. Of course, we do give each state equal representation in the Senate regardless of size, so it's not unheard of.

Erabin said...

Elizabeth- After teaching through out the US during the summmer, I understand the second problem more and more. I have had a few dozen unrated campers who could have easily been 800-1000. Kids have told me things about certain openings and have memorized games that I would never have thought of when I was that level. The only problem is how to judge the ratings. Also, in such a big tournament as the nationals, it would take a very long time. Perhaps it would be best to abolish unrated sections and add more class prizes in the open sections.

charlesgalofre said...

I really dont think anything should be done to the ratings of the washington kids... your going to manipulate their ratings because they continue winning? haha... almost as close as accusing them of cheating. not right.

Two parties? said...

One nation one vote is just good old democracy. Everyone is equal. Personally I find it a horrid political system, but apparently it's all the rage.

WA said...

Washington is not the only state with under-rated kids. Are you going to survey every state and come up with a formula that satisfies everyone?

Several years ago, many WA tournaments are dual-rated. They stopped the practice when USCF started charging serious money to rate scholastic tournaments. If USCF moves to rate scholastic tournaments for free or at a nominal cost, this problem will go away.

On the flip side, what about states with inflated ratings? Their younger kids tend to populate the top 100 lists. As a result, they have an over-representation at national and international invitational events. Should we "normalize" their ratings at nationals too? It is also advantageous to be over-rated in the open section to finish with a better standing (i.e. trophy!)

Elizabeth Vicary said...

Jim-- I agree with you, in the sense that who knows if Karpov would be good. I suspect that the skill set required to be a great chess player has very little overlap with the skill set required to be a good politician. But at least he hasn´t impoverished a desert country by trying to build a theme city with water park.

Charles-- do you object when Goichburg gives FIDE rated people a USCF rating for section placement purposes? How is this different if the kids have established Washingotnn State ratings of 1400 or 1500 and are playing in the Under 750 section?

These are good points about the advantages to being over rated; the problem for me is that this seems like an intentional *systemic* manipulation. Maybe the Texas kids are over-rated, but it´s very hard to contend that someone is doing that on purpose.

I want to add that I have no personal stake in the issue, as I don´t coach elementary school under teams.

WA said...

The WA ratings are not quite the same as the regular USCF ratings. They are more equivalent to the USCF quick ratings. So a 1400-rated WA kid is not nearly as strong as a 1400-rated USCF player in a regular time control game. We also know that USCF quick rating system is pretty useless. There are masters with quick ratings of novices.

No one in WA set out to intentionally manipulate the USCF rating system. If USCF wants to encourage the use of its ratings in scholastic chess, it ought to make it available at low cost.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

FIDE ratings are equivalent to USCF ratings, but there is a rough conversion formula. It should be easy enough to look at a large sample of WA kids who have ratings in both systems and figure out what the equivalencies are.

I´m not quite sure what you mean in comparing the ratings to quick ratings. I was under the impression that hardly anyone uses USCF quick ratings, and that´s why they are wildly inaccurate. Are you saying WA state kids play more action chess? (That´s basically all my kids play also, I imagine for most scholastic players it´s the same)

Rating a tournament costs 18 cents per game if you do it online. Is that really so much? When you compare it to the cost of a family attending nationals, it´s nothing (especially since I imagine people in Washington State have to pay much higher airline prices than most of the rest of us). As for USCF dues, you have to pay those anyway when you enter nationals.

I´m sure no one started out trying to manipulate the system, but is anyone arguing that the current situation is fair to the other teams?

Elizabeth Vicary said...

See, this is my worry: within a year or two, Chess in the Schools, plus some of the NY private schools, then Texas and Florida, and all the places with a big scholastic community, will react to this by either having tons of unrated tournaments or by creating their own rating systems. The tournament will become a huge joke of who can artiificially create the lowest ratings.

The big losers will be the random kids from Iowa or Boston, who will have real ratings and zero chance.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, Chess-in-the Schools did it already a couple years ago (may be 5-7 years ago to be exact before current re-rating policy and an internet submission), when they rated all theirs tournaments like only twice per year after Nationals;
so theirs players could take under trophies on Nationals.
Texas kids were overrated for years and partly it was intentional, a lot of NY and NJ parents asked USCF to stop it and several years ago USCF stop to rate TX matches under regular rating system, but it is still some tail from former injections (I calculated before how many thousands of ratings points were injected from Dallas Chess Club rated matches in the mid of decade, just mention that IS318 did this year once technically the same thing - a rated match between some player on his floor and some kid, although according USCF Rules in match play you should lost your rating floor, it was never done in TX, CA (remember a story about the youngest ever NM) and NY (although it is clear that the guest player was not aware that technically his USCF Life Title on a stake), so it could be the easy way for all your kids-Experts to become National Masters; moreover the source of high ratings of TX kids (who are great kids, and nothing against him) is NY, 1996 when some player got his 1600 (1800 rating EXACTLY) floor during match play - 7 matches against another player on the his floor); so you can see the USCF Ratings System could be easily manipulate in any direction and in most of the times it is even legal.

WA said...


Yes, most scholastic games in WA are action chess. Many games cannot be rated under regular ratings according to USCF rules. So are you going to use quick ratings at nationals?

You can't simply "look at a large sample of WA kids who have ratings in both systems and figure out what the equivalencies are." The kids who are active in USCF rated tournaments rarely play in (WA) scholastic tournaments and vice versa.

The cost of USCF rating is non-trivial when you consider that perhaps only 3% of the chess playing students will play at nationals. Why should the other 97% kids pay to have a USCF rating? How about a FIDE rating too?!!

There are biases in USCF rating systems. The younger-aged group in the All-American team is quite arbitrary because of the biases. I would consider inflated ratings a more serious problem!


WA said...

By the way, Stevenson elementary competes in nearly all sections. They don't just do well in the Under sections. They have also won the open sections many times.

The fact that IS318 can field teams of 10-20 players in many sections that they compete in also give them an unfair edge over their competitors. Without big donors, many schools simply can't compete against IS318 on an equal footing! Perhaps this is another topic for future discussion :)


Anonymous said...

just the fact the WA uses their own rating system shows that they are trying to manipulate the system. there already is a national rating system!

Elizabeth Vicary said...

I´m not sure why having lots of kids playing in a section means we have an ¨unfair¨ advantage. I always thought it meant we had a good program that reaches many kids. We do not have a big donor at all. The school itself pays for the vast majority of the nationals costs out of the school budget, because the administration thinks the program has high educational value.

I am not in favor of quick chess ratings being used at all. If by ¨action chess¨ you mean g/30, that can be uscf rated. If you are playing G/15 tournaments, then ok. Since you have so many kids playing at Nationals, it seems like there are probably enough to figure out some kind of USCF - WA state conversion. The comment about FIDE ratings seems a little random-- I don´t know how to respond to that.

With regard to the Texas kids, their alleged rating inflation is a seperate problem people have tried to address, but it´s hard to think it´s intentional-- more a by product of Texas having a strong scholastic chess community but few adult players. Also, as I understand it, the Dallas Chess Club man at his rating floor who played all the matches had had a stroke and consequently lost some chess strength-- this caused rating inflation certainly, but it´s hardly intentional on his part.

As to the matches Alexis played, he played two this year, one against Jim West (who was at his rating floor) and another against Matan Prillentensky (who was at his peak rating). Both people responded to an ad I had put up. I´m not sure what these other matches you are talking about are, Anon 4:28 pm.

This post is not meant to disparage the fantastic program that Stevenson has. It is tremendous. But I don´t think what´s going on right now is fair (and I notice no one is saying that it is-- just that other things are not fair). And also I hear the grumblings from other coaches/parents (as I mentioned, it doesn´t affect me in the slightest) and I can see what´s coming-- other schools will follow suit by not rating or alternately rating their tournaments, and nationals itself will become a big joke.

Leon Akpalu said...

The USCF has its "one country, one vote" policy because this made it easy for the USSR to buy the votes of small countries by sending them "chess advisors". Now the USSR is gone, but we have to live with the system. As for what will happen to it, well, it's hard to imagine the small countries voting themselves out of political power.

Regarding primary school ratings: the Nationals should just not have sections by rating. Even where there's no manipulation (intentional or not) kids at that age are too unpredictable in general (not just improve too fast) for the ratings to have any meaning.

And of course having a lot of kids in a section certainly does increase your chances of winning the section -- if one or two of your kids has a bad tournament, it helps to have 20 other kids to step up instead of one or two... or none.

WA said...

Many scholastic games in WA are in G/25. So they don't qualify for regular ratings.

When younger players from here compete abroad, you have a similar situation where they are under-rated in FIDE tournaments.

I am not against WA-USCF conversion if you come up with a reasonable formula. But the conversion has to be official and not for the purpose of nationals only. Because in that case, you don't really recognize their playing strength but only interested in taking advantage of these kids at nationals (so they don't win anything.)

The Texas situation is due to the inherent inflation in the USCF rating system. If you have the same four players playing in a quad many times over, even if none has improved, their ratings will inflate due to "bonuses." USCF really need to normalize the (scholastic) ratings across regions from time to time. A best place to start is to use the nationals result for normalization purpose.

You keep saying that "under" rating is unfair, but you don't seem to consider "over" rating an unfair issue. You may want to have a discussion with the parents of kids missing out on international invitationals (e.g. world youth,) top-100 lists, all-american team, and trophies at nationals because inflated ratings tend to improve final standings.

Finally, the winners of the "Under" sections are by definition under-rated. So it is UNFAIR that they win the trophies. You can't win regardless.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Isn't the ratings issue much bigger than the state by state ratings issues?

With many (most?) kids playing a ton of chess online, is it reasonable to believe that any rating system system can properly adjust / fix the problem?

Elizabeth Vicary said...

I do think pver rating issues are a problem, but they are usually taken care of by kids playing adults from out of state. Most top rated kids don´t only play other children, the way low rated kids do. It´s a bit different in Texas, as those kids are more geographically isolated and tend to travel less. On the other hand, Tommy He did just win a gold medal in the Pan Ams, so it´s hard to argue he didn´t deserve to go.

I also think it´s hard to argue that WA state ratings should be converted to USCF ratings for the purposes of selection for interntional events. I doubt FIDE would allow this, first of all. Also, a big part of the reason the USCF exists and that you pay them money is that they represent you to FIDE. You can´t say, as a community, ¨We refuse to pay membership dues but we want to USCF to make a special exception and treat our rating system the same as theirs in qualifying for international events.¨

Brian Lafferty said...

FIDE Election:
The Court of Arbitration for Sport has the case brought to it by Karpov and several national chess federation. My understanding is that the two arbitrators selected by the parties have themselves selected the third arbitrator and that a hearing is scheduled for sometime in September. It is possible that CAS will order the FIDE presidential election stayed pending its decision. We should all know more in a couple of weeks.

The problem of large and small member countries is an age old problem that the founders of the US confronted and solved with a two house legislature. FIDE might consider something along those lines.

Washington State: I suggest that state ratings be completely rejected no matter where the team comes from. If they have no USCF rating appropriate to the time control they want to play in, too bad--they don't get to play until they have a valid rating. If the USCF takes a hard line on this, I'll bet you suddenly see more USCF rated tournaments. Alternatively, make the kids play two games, one as black, one as white, against Rybka or Fritz 12 and let the computer give them a nominal rating.

WA said...


Either you officially recognize WA ratings via a conversion formula or give up the idea altogether. No one has suggested doing the conversion for the purpose of international events. (And you see why your conversion idea will likely be controversial.) The majority of WA scholastic players simply don't care to have a USCF rating. They don't even attend nationals. So I don't know how to response to your claim that "We refuse to pay membership dues but we want to USCF to make a special exception and treat our rating system the same as theirs in qualifying for international events." As far as I know, neither WA nor USCF is currently interested or exploring integration of their rating systems. I think they are both quite happy doing nothing about it! And it is fine by me :)

Even if you somehow "fix" the WA problem, you will be complaining next about HI, KS, LA, GA, WI, MS, MO, MN, AL, NC, UT, etc. And then school chess club and online ratings, fast improving kids who don't play nearly enough USCF-rated games to update their USCF ratings, and so on.

I am done with this discussion. Thank you for your contribution to scholastic chess in NY and the US.

Brian Lafferty said...

FIDE Election update. FIDE has set a hearing date for Karpov's action for a date before the FIDE election in Siberia. It's looking like they will decide before the election. I'm told that White & Case has six lawyers working full time propping the case for hearing. If Kirsan and his Russian backers have half a brain between them, they'll find a graceful way to withdraw before their dirty laundry gets aired all over the world.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

I would like to know your name beore you ¨go.¨
Perhaps I misinterpreted your comment: ¨But the conversion has to be official and not for the purpose of nationals only.¨ With your discussion of qualifying for international competitions, I thought that´s the ¨other purposes ¨ you had in mind. Maybe you meant you wanted not to pay USCF dues but have a USCF rating for American tournaments. I don´t know how that makes sense either, but maybe I´m still misunderstanding you.
Whichever way, thanks for commenting. I think all discussion is useful, and I appreciate your time and thoughtful responses.

grudonark said...

I hope that FIDE elects Karpov, eveb though I agree that Karpov's election, standing alone, is only a step in the right direction.

If any state uses its own slow-rating system, then a conversion factor should be applied to those ratings as to unrated kids from that system in national events. The resulting conversion factor will itself inevitably be imperfect, but
the factor will prevent super strong unrateds. With kids who are rated, but rated low (and whose rating does not change due to the
use of the separate state system) the problem is a bit more difficult--here TD discretion to again use a conversion factor should be permitted.

The conversion factor(s) should be transparent, uniformly applied, and ideally announced in advance of the tournament.

As your comment suggested, the matches with the fellow in the Dallas Chess Club were not about
increasing junior ratings, but instead about giving a fellow past his chess prime but with a love of chess a chance to play tons of rated matches.

Hal Bogner said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hal Bogner said...

Oh, Dear!

About Stevenson: Please note that USCF's site goes back to 2005, and shows them winning the following Championship sections in that period: K-3 2008, K-5 2005 and 2009, plus a close 2nd this year behind Illinois' Half Day School - another well-coached program which managed this feat with only 3rd and 4th graders (but that's a separate issue). One Stevenson graduate has gone on to win the Junior High (K-9) Championship in 2008, and is now rated over 2400. Success is inspiring, and often breeds further success.

I can't speak to the details of the Washington state ratings (which operates jointly with Oregon, too, I believe). Clearly, USCF strongly desires to draw a bright line between USCF ratings and all other measurements. In any case, the "under rating xxx" sections are arbitrary; personally, I am thankful that USCF was dissuaded from extending their experiment with cash scholarship prizes to the "under xxx" section at Supernationals in 2009. (And why was that money not set aside safely, instead of being mingled with USCF's general fund, which does not appear to contain it today?)

Thanks for speaking out forcefully on numerous issues, and providing a reasonable place for discussion. Whether the lunatic manner in which FIDE is run nowadays (obviously, I agree with your characterizations!), or the haphazard aspects of the scholastic nationals (which - to USCF's credit - are run with amazing effectiveness administratively, though of course there are areas to improve, including both the "clubiness" of the TD staff that you've spoken of here, and the lack of "sponsorability" that I'd like to help them change), you write fearlessly, with your heart on your sleeve, while also striving to be fair and to recognize facts, no matter whose opinion they support.

Hal Bogner said...

Oh Dear, again!

My first attempt to post, which included the "PS", gave me an error, so I reposted without the PS - only now to find both posted.

Elizabeth - please remove the duplicate!

And also, I erred: Stevenson won the K-5 Championship in 2009 and 2005, and was "close second place" this year (2010).

Anonymous said...

Texas kids are completely overrated. If you look at their tournament history it is obvious that their rating is inflated thanks to the Dallas Chess Club.
The USCF should do something about Texas ratings, because those kids are making it to the world youth and kids from other states who are really close dont make it because of that.

Arne said...

Hi Elizabeth, I agree it would be ideal if news sites were more outspoken, but it's not always easy to take a stand as this might hurt one's reputation of an objective news source. This is still an important criterium to some readers, even in the age of internet. Of course, I'm sure every reasonable journalist roots for Karpov, if only because Ilyumzhinov is such a horrible choice, and even though Karpov's own campaign strategy is not always very consistent.

By the way, I've written an article on the (in my personal opinion still extremely relevant) Yudina murder case on ChessVibes:

ejh said...

One country, one vote would surely be normal procedure for any international organisation, sporting or otherwise.

The killing of Larissa Yudina is of course important, but it was important when it happened and most of the chess world took no notice. I see Karpov has now rediscovered it: where was he when people like Sarah Hurst were shouting about it more than ten years ago? Shaking hands with Kirsan, is the answer.