21 September 2008

Why Live Ratings Aren't Helpful

After returning from a vacation, one of my most pleasant tasks is to catch up on chess news. Along with a spate of new stories, the time lapse offers new angles on old stories. Over the past three weeks, the ICC Newsletter offered these feature stories on the Bilbao Grand Slam Final.

  • Topalov Tops - but Carlsen Numero Uno! • 'But just a point behind there lurks the young 17-year-old Norwegian ace Carlsen, who not only has his eye on the top prize but also Anand's World #1 spot! Although Carlsen lost to Topalov, in the opening round he beat Levon Aronian followed by Teimour Radjabov in round four - and he has now grabbed the unofficial #1 spot in Hans Arild Runde's virtual live ratings at http://chess.liverating.org/.' (6 September 2008)

  • Topalov Still Tops - Now Ivanchuk Numero Uno! • 'No one said being #1 was easy. And, after successive defeats, young teenage sensation Magnus Carlsen found out the the hard way by being replaced both as tournament leader in the $570,000 Bilbao Grand Slam Final and #1 on the virtual live rating list.' (13 September 2008)

  • Topalov of the World! • 'The rating surge took Topalov to the top of Hans Arild Runde’s virtual live rating list - and with the official cut-off date for FIDE’s October list falling a few days after Bilbao, this mean Topalov once again tops the official world rankings to be published next week.' (20 September 2008)

For years I've wanted to see the list of world's top-10 chess players featured in leading periodicals. FIDE's ranking, calculated at the beginning of every trimester, isn't dynamic enough to capture attention, but a ranking system that changes based on the result of a few games lacks credibility. Why do I say that? Just try to answer the question 'Who's world no.1' -- first for tennis, then for chess -- without giving details. Better would be a method that strikes a balance between the extremes set by FIDE and by Liverating.org.


The Editor said...

"Better would be a method that strikes a balance between the extremes set by FIDE and by Liverating.org"

And yet you offer no alternative. The LiveRating is _unofficial_ and is provided by Hans as a courtesy during the intervening months between official lists. In fact the liverating is very helpful to anticipate where the best players will fall in the pecking order at the time of the official listing. Based on performances at Bilbao I'd rather say that Topa was in better form in the final stretch to the official ratings.

So Mr. Weeks, what system would be better and why?

Mark Weeks said...

For some reason, this old post has just appeared on 'Popular Posts (Last 12 months)'. I never answered the question 'What system would be better and why?', partly because I thought the answer was obvious. Since it's getting renewed scrutiny, I will answer now.

Ratings should be calculated at the end of a tournament, taking all games from the tournament into account at the same time. A rating is a measure of performance over time, not a measure of performance in a single game. That's also why provisional ratings are published only after a minimum number of games have been played.