17 February 2008

The Year of Big Changes

In Soviet Players on the FIDE Rating Lists, I noted that Soviet players disappeared from the FIDE rating lists between 1990 and 1991. Where did they go? We know that the Soviets were reclassified by FIDE as Russians, Ukranians, Georgians, etc., but can we be a little more precise? How many players were reclassified into which nationalities? I decided to look at the FIDE rating data to find out.

The first point to note is that the quality of FIDE's rating lists changed dramatically from 1990 to 1991. Until 1990 the names were listed with only surname and first initial, e.g. 'Kasparov,G.'. In 1991, the names were fleshed out with additional data related to the first name, e.g. 'Kasparov,Gary'. (FIDE started spelling the ex-World Champion's name as 'Kasparov, Garry' at some time in 2001.)

I had already done some work on the 1990-91 rating lists for an article I wrote in 2006, Chess in the Balkans. In 1990, FIDE changed the federation (country) codes for ex-Yugoslavia to follow the political changes in the Balkan countries. This was the same year it changed federation codes for the ex-USSR, and I suspect that the improvements to players' names were done to facilitate the matching of players to federations for both Yugoslavia and the USSR.

Anyone who has worked with matching data on databases knows that names are not a reliable way to identify people. When I matched the 695 players classified as 'USR' in 1990, I found 620 of them listed in 1991. Where did the others go? They were victims of name changes. For example, 'Arakhamia,K.' in 1990 became 'Arakhamia-Grant,Ketevan' in 1991, 'Azmayparashvili,Z.' became 'Azmaiparashvili, Zurab', and so on.

Looking at the 620 names listed in both 1990 and 1991, I found that they had been reclassified into 29 other federations. Here is a list of federations that absorbed at least 10 ex-Soviet players:-

328 RUS
126 UKR
  23 GEO
  20 UZB
  17 ISR
  16 ARM
  12 USA
  12 BLR
  10 EST etc.

On that list there are two kinds of federations: those that did not exist before 1990-91 (e.g. RUS & UKR), and those that did (ISR & USA). Of the 29 federations that absorbed Soviet players, 17 were missing from the 1990 list. This included the countries of SLO (Slovenia), which was involved in the political breakup of Yugoslavia, and GER (Germany), which had previously been split between FRG and DDR (West & East Germany).

The 15 federations created in 1990 from the political breakup of the USSR covered 1123 players in 1991. Why the difference between 695 'USR' players in 1990 and 1123 ex-USSR in 1991? I'm not sure, but it may have something to do with the increase from 7786 players on the 1990 list to 10067 on the 1991 list. Here is the breakdown of the 1123 players:-

706 RUS
197 UKR
  51 GEO
  28 UZB
  27 BLR
  23 ARM
  17 EST
  15 LAT
  15 KAZ
  12 AZE
  10 MDA
    9 LTU
    7 KGZ
    4 TJK
    2 TKM

Now that I have some numbers, they don't look right to me. The Baltic states, for example, appear to be under-represented. I'll investigate that another time.


If you are interested in more background about the rating lists, the following threads on the forum for About Chess might be useful.

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