Who Put the “Who” in “Hubris”?

by admin on July 15, 2013

Me, that’s who!

I took a look back at my 1977 diary to see if it said anything about the rating jump I wrote about in my last blog post. And in fact, I did write something that was unintentionally hilarious.

To set the stage: In September 1976 I played a breakout tournament, in which I finished with five wins in a row and picked up enough rating points to skip over the 1700’s. Back in those days I never played tournaments during the school year (sounds crazy, I know), so my next rated tournament was a weekend quad in May 1977. In spite of the eight-month hiatus, I went 3-0 in the quads to stretch my win streak to eight and raise my rating another 30 points or so.

“… Which makes it reasonable that I might be an Expert by the end of the summer!” I wrote in my diary.

Let us pause to consider the hubris of this statement. I’ve just gained 160 rating points in one shot. Now I’m talking about gaining another 160 rating points by the end of the summer? I also wrote about my winning streak, “Eleven more and I’ll tie Fischer!” I’m pretty sure that comment, at least, was meant with tongue in cheek.

Reality set in pretty quickly after that. I went 1½-1½ in the next month’s quads, ending my winning streak, and I’m pretty sure that I didn’t gain any more rating points that summer. In fact, it took me five more years to reach Expert.

Commenting on my last post, Brian Wall recounted a similar experience. He jumped from 1797 to 1997 in one tournament. Surely Expert was just around the corner? Not! He took five more years to gain those last three rating points.

What this shows is that the bonus-point system they had back then, although in principle a good idea, would occasionally overshoot. Perhaps it’s still that way. So for any readers out there who just had a super tournament and gained 100-200 points, let me just give you a word of advice: for the next few tournaments you shouldn’t expect any huge gains. Just playing steadily at your new level would be a perfectly reasonable and respectable goal.

Finally, let me issue a new challenge to my readers: Who has the longest winning streak in rated games? The eight-game winning streak I mentioned above was a lifetime record that I’ve never equaled. I’m sure that some readers must have done better.

It’s pretty hard to have long winning streaks in Swiss system tournaments, where the reward for winning games is that you face ever more difficult opponents. But a chess club or round-robin format, where you’re playing people at equal or lower strength, is more conducive to long winning streaks.

I gave a ChessLecture one time about a listener who, amazingly, went 16-0 in his New Jersey chess league, thus seriously threatening Fischer’s record of 19 wins in a row. Unfortunately, when I look him up on the USCF website, it looks as if the chess league was not rated, so his streak doesn’t count. Any others?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Splane July 15, 2013 at 11:37 pm

My longest winning streak was 9 games, out of over 800 played in my USCF career.

The longest winning streak among GM’s is not Bobby Fischer’s 19. Steinitz holds the record with a 25 game winning streak from 1873-1882. He was inactive for most of that period, except for one match, focusing on his career as a chess journalist. He finished one tournament on a 14-0 run, tying for first and then added two more wins in a playoff for first place. He followed that up with a 7-0 match victory, and then started his next tournament with a 2-0 score.


admin July 16, 2013 at 10:11 am

Wow, I didn’t know that! It seems that a match against a thoroughly outclassed opponent is a good way to build up a super-long winning streak; both Steinitz and Fischer benefited from that arrangement. Although, to be fair, nobody had any idea beforehand that Taimanov and Larsen would be so thoroughly overwhelmed by Fischer.


Brian Wall July 16, 2013 at 11:23 am

I remember Joel Johnson and I were checking this and Joel had something like an 80 game winning streak or a 100 game nonlosing streak, I forget the details.

Someone should check his stats.

I had a 50 game non-losing streak in 2012.


JG July 30, 2013 at 5:24 am

I thought you would appreciate. Saw from the writeup of pacific coast open that Trina Chatterjee gained 200 points and skipped her 1400s.


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