The Chessmill

Ramblings and ruminations on chess in Milwaukee,

SE Wisconsin, theUSA and the World.

[Speaking of players who grab a pawn and head for the endgame]“Here we see the tyranny of the pawn in its vilest and most nauseating form. But there are degrees, and even in master play we find weak moves being made through an insufficient contempt for pawns.

 — C. J. S. Purdy

Interview With Arpad Elo

We continue with our plundering of Wisconsin chess history by reaching back into the longest-published of all the local chess periodicals, Badger Chess, for this interview with Arpad Elo, conducted by Dave Brimble

Arpad Elo has influenced the history of the chess world with his scientific approach to the rating of chess players. In name recognition among chess aficionados, he ranks up there with the world champions.

Elo was born August 25, 1903, near Papa, Hungary. He learned chess while attending high school in Cleveland Ohio, and later went on to win the Wisconsin Championship eight times. In addition, Elo spent time on the organizational side of chess as, among other activities, president of the American Chess Federation, charter director of the USCF, chairman of the USCF rating committee, and secretary of the Qualifications committee for FIDE.

We had the opportunity to spend several evenings with Elo at his modest Brookfield apartment. Surprisingly, there was little evidence of his chess connection visible in the living room where we talked, save the most recent issue of Badger Chess with its special "State Championship" section which lay on the end table next to Elo's chair. There was an interesting mix of books on his coffee table, including selections on art and geographic topics. (The remainder of his chess library, we later discovered, was relegated to a few shelves hidden away in the closet of his bedroom.) The walls were liberally smattered with original art. Arpad's kindly manner provided a glowing frame for his insightful conversation.

Dave Brimble

BC
You were born in Hungry. How did you come to the United States?
Elo
My father was one of six children of my grandfather, of six boys and there was only a farm of maybe ten acres. So some of them had to go! The youngest one stayed on the farm and the rest went and became skilled craftsman. The oldest one became a cabinet maker and came to the United States eventually. So five of them came to this country including my father, but he left a pregnant wife back in Hungary who was supposed to follow. And I was the one, the little baby in the mother. I was nine and a half years old when my mother finally got courage enough to come to this country and follow my father. So we lived in the Cleveland area where most of the Hungarians who came to this country settled around the turn of the century. I still speak the language and I have gone back to Hungary several times.
I lived in Cleveland until I finished high school. Eventually I went to the University of Chicago and got my Bachelor's and Master's Degrees there in physics. I opted for astronomy but professional opportunities were so limited there was no future in it, so I stuck with physics, the nearest thing. You have to be a physicist now to be an astronomer.
After college I became an instructor at Marquette. It took many years to become an associate professor. I never became a full fledged professor because I didn't have a PhD. Vying for promotion and rank in an academic institution is an ever present occupation.
BC
How did you first start playing chess?
Elo
After classes let out each day in high school, I used to be an errand boy and I would see in the window of the department store a chess set that I was fascinated by. So I went to the Encyclopedia Britannica and read about chess and learned the moves from there. I tried to make chess sets of collar buttons and things like that to play against my uncle. He refused to play with them saying "It's hard enough when you have regular pieces, let alone if you have a thimble for a rook and collar buttons for the other pieces." So eventually I saved enough money to buy a wooden chess set for $1.25. That was a big investment at the time and I kept that set until a few years ago when I put pegs in it and gave it to a little girl who was learning chess. She was a spastic and could handle the pieces with the pegs and holes in the board. So my initial set has a useful purpose.
During the Depression there was lawyer who had learned chess and had accumulated a small library of chess books and he had a chess set. Believe it or not this chess set was a loaded set with black pieces of ebony and white pieces of boxwood. A genuine Jacques chess set. It was very valuable and I was able to buy it and half a dozen books or so for $10.00. I kept it up until a few years ago when I gave it to my son. He plays chess but not as avidly as I did. I don't play chess any more either because I can't keep up with all of the developments. Not even for fun. It is no fun to play sloppy chess.
I used to play chess very intensively. I wasn't really a master but a good strong expert, always, but the last tournament that I played in, a state championship in 1971, I was 68 at the time and my rating slipped below 2,000 and I said "This is enough of tournament chess." I faced the fact that I could no longer maintain the level that I was accustomed to playing.
BC
You've had great success with your chess career here in the state of Wisconsin. How many times were you state champion?
Elo
Well, eight times I either won it outright, or tied for first place. That was between 1934, when they held the first statewide tournament (my first win was in 1935), and 1961. That's quite a span! I was fifty-eight years old when I won it the last time. I was always in contention, even though I never got to be proficient enough in the openings, especially modern openings, to really consistently perform at the master level. I was often the victim of new variations that I didn't study or wasn't aware of.
BC
So you didn't get into reading magazines and such about the latest openings?
Elo
Well, I got the magazines, but I had so little time to really go into the theory deeply. You see, I came to Marquette University to teach in about 1926, so when I started playing in Wisconsin chess in the early thirties during the depth of depression, my job kept me busy.
There was no chess activity at Marquette back then. The only chess activity was in the recreation department, the municipal chess association. I played in all the local tournaments, city championships, county championships. The recreation department maintained a continuous program. It is still active today, although perhaps not as popular as it was back then. In 1930, the first year that the municipal chess league was formed, we had three hundred people playing in municipal chess in various categories, triple A and double A. The captains of the triple A league were the leading players of the state: Robert Reel, Harold Knutson (past state champions) and the like.
I was a chess organizer, too, and that not only took away from the time that I could study and play chess but it took away from my professional time. I sacrificed a lot of my professional life as a physicist. Why did I do it? Because I was a little crazy at the time! Eventually I did indirectly benefit, though. For example, when I started attending the FIDE meetings my expenses were paid. I was able to travel, which I never could have done if I had just stayed working. That came mostly after my retirement. I retired from Marquette in 1969, but I continued to teach part time. First at UWW Center, then later at Cardinal Stritch for five years or so. I stayed with the academic field and I was able to do it part time because of my chess activity. It was almost a full time job.
BC
Is it true that you were involved with the pioneering of the Swiss System?
Elo
No, not really. We experimented with all kinds of systems in the early days of Wisconsin chess. We tried sectional tournaments and then the winners of the sectionals going into finals. Small sectional tournaments. The idea was to get a tournament finished over a weekend, starting Friday. We used to play three games a day, which was horrendous. After finishing a tournament, we were just exhausted.
I was among the first to organize Swiss-type tournaments on a regional basis, but that's not to be interpreted that I invented the system.
BC
You were a chess player, you liked to play chess, you had other things to do with your time...why would you organize all of these chess tournaments and devote so much time to other chess organizational duties at the sacrifice of your own time?
Elo
At the first North Central Opens and Western Opens I would play in each tournament and be part of the organization or even direct them. When I directed them I stopped playing. I suppose it was a kind of dedication to chess. I always looked at chess as kind of a unique cultural phenomenon. There is nothing like it in the world. Look at the literature of chess, there is no other game that has the vast literature that chess has. The great chess masters became sort of idols to me and to many other chess players. I wanted to see more chess activity. I was very selfless in that I wasn't looking out for any kudos. I just wanted to contribute to the movement. If you kept track of your time and put minimum wage on it, it would be a sizable amount.
I didn't get much thanks for it, I got mainly a hard time. I was continually attacked by Goichburg for example, for imagined and supposed usurpation of authority about the rating system. He eventually even got Edmundson on his side and they tried to get me out of FIDE. They made quite an effort to get rid of me but I finally prevailed, I think because the people in FIDE that I worked with realized the integrity of the system and what I was trying to hold up was the integrity of the system. Whereas Edmundson and Goichburg looked on it as a means to finagle and promote, inflating the egos of American chess players, that they are better than they really are. They wanted to use the rating system for political purposes, trying to influence the way the rating system worked. Then they would examine under the microscope all the numerical mistakes I would make and make an issue out of them. That was in the late 70's.
Fred Cramer had a run in with Edmundson in 1972 during the Fischer era. His gripe was about how Edmundson tried to manipulate Fischer. I still believe that Edmundson's shenanigans were a contributing factor to the failure of the Fischer Karpov match in 1975. I think he deliberately insulted the Russians. Averbakh, the Russian master who was part of the negotiating team, who was also a member of the qualifications committee with me and who I became good friends with said that every time it seemed as if they were making progress about the conditions, Edmundson would throw about insults and such, and violate protocol. The Russians are very serious people and want to stick to the rules and when they get insulted repeatedly it really turns them off.
BC
So why would Edmundson try to sabotage the match?
Elo
Because he was fired by Fischer as his second back in '72. Edmundson was then the executive director of USCF and used his influence adversely. Fischer made certain conditions of course and the conditions were a matter of debate. Fischer insisted on the condition that in the event of an equal score at a certain point that the title would be retained by the champion and draws would not count and things like that. Eventually those conditions were slightly modified and adopted when Karpov became champion. So Karpov got everything Fischer asked for with minor changes. Of course I don't know if Fischer would have played in any case. I have a feeling that he would have found some other impossible condition. I agree with those who say that Fischer probably could psychologically not afford to risk losing the championship over the board.
However, I was not closely involved with the match procedures, although I did make some calculations regarding the probabilities associated with the various match conditions. Things like the odds in favor of the champion or the challenger at certain stages during the match. It was published in the British magazine Chess.
BC
You were one of the moving forces behind the old American Chess Federation (ACF). Was that the forerunner to US Chess?
Elo
Yes, that ended in 1939 and it became the USCF, one of the two parent organizations, the other being the National Chess Federation (NCF), which was a moribund organization. It came to life only when the US needed to send a team to the Olympics. Between that there was no activity what so ever. So the American Chess Federation was formed to promote chess year around, and from year to year.
The ACF was the outgrowth of the so-called Western Chess Association, which was just a group of fellows that annually got together at some summer resort and played a tournament! No organization at all. They used to meet at Excelsior Springs, Minnesota, which was a watering place of some kind, and that used to be the Western Chess Association.
In 1935 we made a bid to have the second ACF tournament in Milwaukee and I was chairman of that committee. In 1934, I had gone down to Chicago to play in the first ACF tournament and when I saw the scale of the tournament, and the scale of the prize fund I thought, "Gee, we can do this better in Milwaukee," which we did. In 1935 we raised more money than the Chicago tournament had done the previous year. We had 1,300 some dollars for the prize fund, which if you think of it now it would be several ten thousand dollars. It was very hard work to raise $1,300 in 1935 during the depth of the depression. Well, anyway, we managed to have this tournament in Milwaukee.
Incidentally, that was the tournament where I played my "famous" game with Rueben Fine. He tried to annihilate me and made a mistake. I had a winning position with two united pass pawns on the sixth rank but with queens on the board and my king was exposed.
Sunday morning, while I was playing this adjourned game with Fine, they were having the business meeting of the ACF and they wanted me in the meeting. The tournament director was coming around saying, "Hurry up gentlemen, the meeting is almost ready to start." I was expected to finish this adjourned game with Rueben Fine before the meeting! That's all I needed!
Fine kept me unhinged, repeatedly putting me in check. In the meantime, the meeting had started and had gone on in my absence, and Sam Factor and a bunch of others decided that since I organized such a successful tournament, I would be the proper one to be president!
Back at the chessboard, while I was trying to avoid all of the checks, I inadvertently repeated positions and immediately Fine called, "Tournament Director!" and he claimed the game a draw. Even though I drew with Fine, I am not proud of the circumstances, because it was a terribly sloppy game.
When I finally arrived at the ACF meeting and discovered that I had been nominated for president, I protested, but then the people in the recreation department, Don Dyer and Ernie Aulfie, promised to help me in this venture to try to organize a national chess federation that was really active all the time.
Our idea was to make a tournament book of that tournament and give it as a gift to members who would join the federation at one dollar apiece. The previous ACF president was George Barnes of Minneapolis, who was very active in midwest chess, a very fine gentleman. So when we agreed on this mode of attack to get members involved in the federation through the sale of a limp covered tournament book, I wrote to Barnes and asked him to send me the mailing list of the ACF so we could begin circulation. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when he came back with his reply that I already had the mailing list: the names that appeared on the ACF letterhead! There were eleven names of directors of the so-called federation who were just regional players. They didn't have any membership at all!
Well anyway, the upshot of this is that eventually we got mailing lists through a crossing effort. We wrote to several people and they sent us names of people and so on and we circulated our plan. We had a thousand books printed, but we only managed to get rid of about three hundred of them. That gives you an idea of the enthusiasm of chess players toward any sort of organization. So we started with just over three hundred members or so. In the meantime, the poor printer who printed the book out with great expectations of selling all the books, had to wait two years before we could pay off our debt.
I was president of the ACF for its second and third years. The ACF lasted until 1939, when it merged into the new USCF. I was a charter member of the directorate which means that I was just one of the guys who signed the application to the state of Illinois under which the charter of the USCF was given. So I really had no hand in the negotiations between the two. By that time, I no longer held any office in ACF. I kept the presidency until 1937 when Kirk Holland took over, but I had no official capacity in ACF. The Negotiations on the ACF side where mainly conducted by the Chicago group including Kirk Holland, Albert Wagner, and Louis J. Issacs, a group of Chicago players who saw the deficiencies of the old federation and tried to correct it.
Chess players splinter into groups and cliques. The NCF as it existed for all those years was nothing more than a group of Hamilton group club members in Chicago. I think it was an exclusive lawyer's club or businessman's club, and some of them were chess players. So they formed the NCF. It was as though half a dozen of us would say, "Now lets create a continental chess federation. We'll call ourselves that and incorporate and what are we going to do? Well, whenever we feel like it we'll promote some chess activity." Casual. Some of them, the real chess players, realized that this was nothing. In the meantime, Mr. Kunz, who was the president it seemed for perpetuity, contented himself with playing the role of Mr. Chess when it came time to send a team to the Olympics. And when that was over, that was it until the next Olympics when they would tap a group of rich people for funding.
The USCF was a merger between the ACF and the NCF with the intention of expanding the membership to include all chess players, not just the members of an exclusive club. Not a country club but a city club. The Hamilton Club people were actually glad that they no longer had the responsibility. Maybe they missed it, but since it only meant a layout of money for them, I don't think they really cared. Maybe Mr. Kunz's ego was a little bruised. He never was active in the USCF after that.
BC
So then you worked for the USCF?
Elo
Jerry Spann was the man who got me into the job of being chairman of the rating committee. He appointed me to work out a rating system that would be respected and acceptable to the membership.
BC
Why you?
Elo
Well, he was asked that question and he said he felt I could do it and my committee members would know if I did it right or not, because one was a statistician and the other was a mathematician. I was a physicist, so I knew the difference between a scientific and a non-scientific approach. Guthrie McClain was the statistician member of the committee. Dr. Eric Marchand, who was the other member of the committee (who is still playing at a high level, by the way. He's always listed as one of the most active players on the annual lists,) knew what I was proposing was sound, but I never received any objections from either of them, nor any suggestions! So the rating system was really a one man job.
BC
You would think that at least the statistician would have some suggestions.
Elo
He was too busy earning a living. This happened in 1959, so it took me a couple of years to develop the system. I think I had maybe gotten one letter from him during the years I developed the system. I served on the ratings committee from 1959 to the late seventies, when I was removed because of Goichberg's and Edmondson's pressure.
BC
You worked with Fred Cramer on your book, The Rating of Chess Players. What was his contribution?
Elo
Fred was invaluable in preparing the book. I let him edit it and he helped a great deal in making the book tight. I tend to wander and take too long to explain something. He was able to cut through the brush and helped me formulate my thoughts sharply.
Fred was always a great fan of mine and the rating system. He started the movement in FIDE to have my system adopted. He was for many years the USCF representative to FIDE and he kept hammering away at them until finally in 1970 the system was adopted, much against the opposition of the Iron Curtain countries. Strangely enough, later on the Russians were the most supportive.
BC
What didn't they like about it?
Elo
They didn't invent it! That was it. As a matter of fact in 1970 I received a letter from a Russian named Solkolski, I think, informing me that they would support the system if I agreed to have the system named Solkolski/Elo! I had had some correspondence with some of the Russians, but not with this one.
He had a system which I described in my book, a ratio system. They were very secretive about it. They didn't disclose how the got their formula and such. I looked at their fundamental assumptions and went ahead and developed the theory for their system (which they never published) myself. I just looked at the mechanics of it and figured out the substance behind it.
It was rather amusing, I read that letter in the FIDE meeting and that carried the day! They invented everything. But they did invent a lot, certainly in chess theory. So we can't take that away from them.
Anyway, Fred Cramer and I knew each other for many years. He played in all of the tournaments so we had seen a lot of each other. He proposed my name to the qualification committee of FIDE. I was elected to the qualification committee even before my system was adopted. I went to the first FIDE meeting in 1968 in Lugano, and in 1969 in Puerto Rico, and in 1970 in Siegen, and that's when, finally after I met all of the people in FIDE, they saw that I didn't have horns or anything. They saw that I was a reasonable individual and I made a lot of friends, which carried the day. So Fred was very, very helpful. I owe him a lot.
BC
Was Fred with you in your involvement in the ACF?
Elo
No, not then. He didn't have anything to do with the American Chess Federation. He wasn't into chess until 1953 when he became seriously interested in chess, when we had the US Open here in Milwaukee. That's when he volunteered to have his company install lights in the tournament room. So his participation in national chess dates from 1953. He was not on the initial committee to raise funds. I formed a committee with Avril Powers and Ralph Abrahms before the US Open and we raised something like $4,400, which in 1953 was an enormous sum. It was the highest open tournament prize fund ever up to that point. Fred stayed out of that, I don't think he thought we could do it, but somehow we managed. Then when the tournament was about to start he realized how poor the lighting was there in the Eagle's Ball Room, the same building that is still there today. One hundred and eighty one players participated, which was the highest total number up to that point. So, Fred's company installed temporary lighting in the playing hall. After that he was a regular in all our deliberations in national chess.
Trying to promote chess is a thankless task and one that is more heartache than you can imagine. People are just not interested. Look at how everything is being fought over in the United States Chess Federation with only 50,000 members. They are all complaining about their rating fees and their memberships fees. They can't hold onto the membership for some reason. Chess players are very fickle. Of all the people who joined USCF at one time or another they could get 100,000 members easily. There is something missing in the promotion that doesn't encourage repeating. When you see the lackadaisical attitude of the staff in the USCF... they're chess players too. They're more interested in playing the game of chess than attending to business.
BC
So you were developing a rating system for the USCF. Were you surprised that the ratings became so popular?
Elo
The Elo ratings are fought for and strived for until it becomes really amusing. Sometimes I think I created a Frankenstein's Monster! Young players are really interested in what they do rating–wise than in what they do across the board. It reminds me of race track habitues who go to the race track and study the tout sheets and never see a race.
It's built up an interest and activity in chess. Before the rating system came into its own, there were only a few large tournaments in the country. It was only after the 1953 US Open which was held here in Milwaukee that we started the North Central Open and the Western Open in 57 and those were for many years the only big tournaments in the region. We attracted players from coast to coast. But now there is such proliferation of tournaments that there's hardly a weekend goes by without there being some big tournament someplace within easy distance.
I don't know whether it's good or not because as a general thing the activity in the United States has leveled off. There's big money tournaments in the east, but the number of players participating in tournaments has not increased significantly in ,I would say, the past ten years.
BC
We find it interesting that you started work on your Elo system back in the late Fifties and early sixties. Is that correct?
Elo
I had started to work on it from a theoretical angle . I did a lot of work which was never revealed before I had any formal presentation of the rating system in 1960 or 1961.
BC
That was during that post–war period in which US Industry had discarded most of the uses of statistics in manufacturing which they had used to some extent during the war. It was during that same time that the so–called father of statistical process control (SPC) Dr. W. Edwards Deming went to Japan and taught the Japanese about SPC. It strikes us that your system is based on the same sorts of things. Did you have the same problems Deming had in trying to convince people that this was really going to work?
Elo
Well, I had a time convincing people because of natural tendency of people to oppose change. First of all, I recognized that the greatest truths in Science are statistical in nature. Even in physics. I felt there had to be some way of applying statistics to chess performances and that's how it developed. I knew there were rating systems devised without any real rational foundations. It was a case of you add so many newt's eyes and so many bat tails and you come out with some kind of a number. That was the general idea. But to show that these could be used or could not be used in a scientific manner was left up to me, really. There existed the Harkness system which I describe in the book, and even its proponent did not understand the statistical basis of it and what it involved and where the fallacies lay. But once a scientific approach was established then one could take almost any system and show that it had some sort of rational foundation.
BC
What were the fallacies of the Harkness system?
Elo
Well, for one thing you could lose points even when you made a perfect score. When you see the rationale behind the system, which Mr. Harkness never saw, you realize that things just don't happen that way. You don't have a distribution of performances which never exceeds or never falls below certain levels and that all performances are equally probable, that your worst performance is equally probable to your best performance. That might be true, but your average performance is not the same probability of happening as your highest and lowest (the standard bell curve). Nature works certain ways and the human performance also works in the same way.
BC
Was that something new around that time or had you been using it for sometime in your work in physics?
Elo
Not in particular in physics, although it has been used, certainly in many applications. The bell curve was a well known distribution for a couple of hundred years already. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the basis was laid by emanate mathematicians Laplace, Gauss, and so on.
BC
But your application was fairly original, though.
Elo
Well, yes and no. If you once understood what the normal distribution told you, it was only one step from there to the rating system.
BC
Since chess is a one on one competition, it is very much like tennis in that respect. Your book suggests a problem with tennis' use of a knockout system. Why couldn't your rating system be used in tennis?
Elo
It could be. As a matter of fact, I point out in the book that singles tennis would be an ideal place to use it. In 1973, the English magazine Chess published my short account of my rating system in which I mentioned its possible application to tennis. I sent a reprint of that article to the tennis association, and left it there. To my knowledge, they never pursued it.
The problem with a knockout type competition like tennis is that it limits the amount of data you have. You can't have a lot of round–robin tennis tournaments because there are just not enough courts to do it, that's the problem. The limitation of equipment. In chess, you can have a tournament with any number of players because after all a chess set is a lot less expensive to maintain than a tennis court.
It could be used in any one-on-one sport, even to a certain degree a team sport where there's one-on-one competition. For example, it's no accident that on the average over the years, the league winners in baseball are just about a hundred won/loss percentage points above the average of the league (the mean), which is about a hundred points above the lowest scoring teams. That indicates that the Elo system is applicable to a considerable degree to team sports, as long as you have enough data, and certainly in major league baseball with its 162 games. You look at the past history of baseball, and compare the won/loss percentage of the winners of the league, you'll see that it comes out pretty close to 64%. If a team can score 64%, it's almost a foregone conclusion that it will win the pennant in that league. You can see that is the normal performance curve.
I had to learn statistics to develop the system. I realized that I had to develop knowledge in this field, which was a field I never studied in college. I was in classical physics. The ideas of quantum mechanics came about after my graduation, and that's when a new generation of physicists had to learn probability theory, because they began to find that in certain physical phenomena, probabilities were a factor.
I read a lot, and never cease to study. In this case, I sat in on an elementary statistics class conducted at Marquette University by one of my associates in the math department and I got the fundamental ideas and from then on I read and read and read. In the meantime, I acquired quite a library on statistics and probability theory. I studied to get more and more ideas.
BC
So you learned statistics and set up your rating system. In your book, you mention that the system has a natural deflation in rating points. Is this something you expected?
Elo
It's something I expected because that was also the flaw in the Harkness system. You see, when you have a pool of players, and new players come in who tend to improve, they gain rating points slowly, and in doing so, they depress the ratings of their opponents. In other words, it's like letting cold water into a warm bath. As the new players are learning the game and improving, they naturally take points away from the people who are already in the pool. So we have to sort of balance it, and devise mechanisms to take care of this deflationary trend. That's where the bonus points come in. If a player performs at a level which is highly improbable, you can attribute this to an improvement and give bonus points to that player. By so feeding rating points into the system, you keep the level of the system, or the temperature of the bath, at a constant value.
This bonus point system can be abused, as it has been, so there is actually an inflation rather than deflation in rating points in the USCF and I don't know whether they're correcting that finally. In 1970 when FIDE adopted the rating system, the FIDE rating scale and the USCF rating scale were identical and since then the USCF scale has gone haywire.
BC
How much rating inflation do you estimate there is?
Elo
At least 100 rating points. But I can't be sure because I'm no longer in the inner circle of the rating machinations. I don't know for sure how much of it is due to fudge factors and how much of it is genuine. But everyone complains about their rating being too low, you know, losing points and so forth, so they adapted measures that definitely fed rating points into everybody's rating. So I see people of my own period that have the same ratings they had twenty years ago, and now they're old men, they should be going down. Its part of just human physiology that you lose sharpness.
BC
Maybe it was an attempt on the part of the USCF to hold on to membership instead of letting them get discouraged.
Elo
That's right. You see, the rating system, when applied honestly, is very cruel. It shows when you're declining. Its not a friendly operation at all. Its a measurement system. So if it shows that your performance is not as good as it used to be, why kid yourself?
I agree that chess players play chess mostly to bolster their ego. They play either for rating, or for money. All these tournaments in which they offer enormous class prizes are ruining chess, because they invite collusion and sandbagging. Its something that has been recognized for twenty years. In 1970, they were already talking about sandbagging. And now with these big money tournaments, its getting worse.
I do think, and I'm not bragging about this, that the introduction of the rating system into international chess ushered in a whole new era into chess. When I first started in FIDE I was not only the chairman and secretary of the qualifications committee, I was also the calculator of the ratings and the rating list is now expanded to unbelievable proportions. The number of people participating in the tournaments increased by a factor of 10 at least. When I first started, in a year if I got cross tables of 70 tournaments in the whole world that was a lot. Now it runs into hundreds every six months.
It got to be too much and it would have to be computerized. At first I did it on my HP94 calculator. It is an electronic calculator, a very powerful calculator in its time except that it didn't have much memory. I couldn't store data in it. I could only store data by entering it onto little pieces of chewing gum wrapper. I got that indirectly, purchased for me by a friend interested in golf ratings. His name was Vanderbilt, so he had money. The first thing he did was to send me $750 to buy a calculator. That was in 1970. I still have that and I use it for all of my calculations.
(Talk about too much work! Everything that I did for my book was all hand calculated, and I could never do enough cycles to be confident of some of the old time ratings. Since we didn't have computers back then when I wrote the book, I would type everything up double spaced and then use a scissors to get parts that belonged together, together.)
I continued as secretary of the qualification committee in FIDE until 1986, when my wife had to go into a nursing home and I couldn't travel anymore.
BC
What do you do with your time nowadays?
Elo
I recently read A History of Time by Hawkings, it's a very interesting book. Some of the ideas still require more data. I may be a throwback but somehow I think that this idea of the black hole is a little tenuous. The very proponents of the idea are uncertain, there's no solid data that proves it. There may be other ways that the data can be interpreted. I don't have any other specific ideas myself. I'm not knowledgeable about the theory in depth. Maybe in another life time I will find out.
BC
No chess?
Elo
Chess is too much hard work. I go to the senior center to play bridge. There is an order of magnitude difference between the two games. Bridge is a much easier game. Look at it this way, chess is a game of three fundamental dimensions; force, time, and space. You play on a board with space and you deploy your forces at various times. In bridge you have only two dimensions; force and time. Each play of the card is a time unit. There are only thirteen units of time in the whole game of bridge. You have to display your forces judiciously during those thirteen units, whereas in chess there is no limit to the time units, and you have the other element where you deploy your forces onto sixty-four units of space. It is a much more sophisticated and complicated game.
Anybody can play bridge, and play it reasonably well. You learn the standard American system, which I play, and ninety-nine percent of the time you get away with it. You don't have to know squeeze plays or endgame play or recognize when an endgame play is appropriate. It doesn't compare with chess. The depth of logic in chess is much deeper. The people at the senior center with whom I play think I'm a hotshot bridge player but I know I'm not a master at all. If I can appear that good to them, you can see that bridge is not such a great game.
It is one of the more sophisticated card games, though. You have forty points of force. You need thirteen, fourteen points for an opening bid. You need better than average for an opening bid, ten points being average, that is, forty points divided by four players. To make what you call a game, either no trump or suit, you need the equivalent of twenty six points. To make a small slam, you need thirty three points. A big slam requires thirty six points. You need at least 85% of the force points to make a small slam.
Some of the logic in cards is similar to chess. Whether you take a trick or lose a trick is like exchanging. You win or lose material. If you look at it in the terms of time or force elements, things begin to clear up. If I talk that way to most of the bridge players, they wouldn't understand what I was talking about. There are some that might.
Right now my main concern is getting this eye fixed up. It's not too bad but the trouble is the two eyes don't coordinate correctly. The image size is different. The right is a little smaller than the left. My eyes are always struggling to get the two images superimposed and of course the one in the right eye is a little hazy, so I look forward to better vision. I do so much reading, that is when I find it so difficult.
As I get older, I get more relaxed. There's less in the world that I worry about. I subscribe to Chess Life, Inside Chess, but I don't get enough time to play over any of the games and it's much too difficult on my eyes to read annotations and notes. Maybe hopefully when my eyes get better, I can do more of that, to play over some of these great games.
blog comments powered by Disqus