History Time

by admin on April 25, 2014

It seems like forever since my rating has been over 2200. How long has it been, exactly? Well, take a look at this graph.

ratings graphThe last time I was over 2200 was after the World Open in 1995, before I even moved to California. For the longest time my rating just seemed to go down and down, but just maybe I’m starting to see a smile at the other end of this graph. After last weekend, my rating has now risen to 2171, its highest level since 1997. It’s conceivable that I’m just one good tournament away from getting back into master territory. That may not matter much to you, but it does to me. Although I have a Life Master title, for the most part people don’t see the title. They see the rating.

However, the articles I’ve been reading at the U.S. Chess Online website make me wonder how real any of this is. They’ve been making little changes to the “K” and “B” coefficients to make ratings a little more volatile for experts and to correct for the ratings deflation that began… around 1997. So that whole long period of decline that you see in the graph may just have been a result of the countrywide ratings deflation. And my increase over the last couple of years may just be a result of the changes to “K” and “B”.

While browsing my statistics I noticed a couple other interesting things. One is that at the Reno tournament I played three of my most common opponents: my sixth game against Ed Formanek (+2 -3 =1), my fifth against Michael Langer (+2 -3), and my fourth against Theodore Biyiasis (+3 = 1).

I knew that I had played several games against Ed, dating all the way back to my first year in Ohio. He lives in Las Vegas now, so he’s the only person whom I’ve played several times in two different parts of the country. I was totally shocked to see that I have played five games against Langer. Before our game last weekend, he asked, “Didn’t we play once before?” and I said, “Yes, I think so.” Turns out we had played four times before! Who knew?

Another interesting thing you can look at is your results by 100-point rating category of your opponents. In this tournament I played my 100th game against a 2200-2299 player. In fact, Mr. Formanek was lucky number 100. I’ve played only 82 games against players in the 2100-2199 range, and 129 against players in the 2000-2099 range. It’s an oddity of the Swiss System that you’ll play most of your games against people who are either well below you or well above you, and fewer against people who are very close to your strength. I remember that during the brief period when I was over 2200, I played a lot of experts and hardly any masters.

Of course, all these statistics are a little bit misleading because the USCF’s computer records start in 1991. See my post “Remembering past rivals” for the real list of my most frequent opponents. Formanek now moves onto that list. We played one game before the USCF’s computer records began, which I lost, so I’ve actually played seven rated games against him with a record of +2 -4 =1.

Speaking of remembering past rivals, I would like to end this entry by remembering Bill Mason. I was stunned to read on the USCF website that he had died, a couple days short of his 50th birthday. Bill was one of the small group of strong players we had at Duke during the first few years that I taught there. He was a “Dookie,” I think, even before the stereotype existed. If you didn’t like him, you might call him cocky and arrogant; if you did like him, you might call him insouciant and witty. I can still remember him swooning over some female chess player he was paired against in the World Open (I think). “I just couldn’t concentrate because all I could do was look into her beautiful brown eyes!” Yes, definitely a male chauvinist.

Of course, this was all when he was a college student; I’m sure he gained some maturity after that, and I hope that my remarks that are based on the way he was in college won’t be interpreted as criticism. Whatever his faults, he was a very talented chess player, with a peak rating of 2395 according to the USCF. He probably could have made a bigger mark on U.S. chess but I don’t think that chess was his #1 priority.

Oh yes, as mentioned in the US Chess Online article Bill was a member of at least one and perhaps both of the “Walk the Dog” teams that won two U.S. Amateur Team regional titles and one national championship. The teams also featured Michael Feinstein and Robin Cunningham, and I’m not sure who the fourth player was. Such a great group, and hard to believe that one of the team is gone. I guess that “Walk the Dog,” like the Beatles, will never be reunited now.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Ashish April 26, 2014 at 9:05 am

I suggest a match against Ted Biyiasis.


Neil April 26, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Nice to see you’ve managed to maintain your skills still with the possibility of reaching new heights! I really enjoy your personality and your lecturing style! Keep up the good work!


Mike Splane April 28, 2014 at 1:41 am

In my opinion, your rating dropped because everybody’s rating dropped.

I think your recent rating rise is not a fluke. You played a large number of daring and interesting ideas in two very strong tournaments this year. I also noticed in our recent conversations that you are talking about positional evaluations in ways I haven’t heard from you before. Your thinking processes have improved. Now all you have to do is retain your form. Good luck!


Phille April 28, 2014 at 3:45 am

You could always check your USCF rating rise and fall against your Elo-performances. And if your tournaments usually haven’t been Elo-rated, you could calculate a faux-Elo-performance, based on your opponent’s Elo at the time.
Would take some time, of course, but might give you an accurate impression of what’s really been going on with your playing strength.
Looking at your (real and faux) Elo performances might also suggest a new goal … like the FM-title. 😉


Matt April 29, 2014 at 9:45 am

It’s funny how one can forget past opponents and how many times we have faced them. A while back, you recorded a chess lecture on a game you played against Agata Bykovtsev and I commented that I had played her once before. I have been gradually adding all of my games into Chessbase (which is time consuming given that the games go back to 2003!) and discovered that, in fact, I have played Agata twice before. I couldn’t even recall the first occasion but she was lower rated then.

2171 is getting tantalizingly close to Master again! I’m sure you can get there. As you say, it might only take one good tournament although the higher your rating the harder it is to gain points. I set myself an informal goal of getting to 2200 by the end of the year but won’t beat myself up if it doesn’t happen by then. With enough good play and improvement, I figure the rating will eventually follow the results and the results will eventually follow the improved play.


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