Thursday, 30 June 2011

Rates of interest

The Yorkshire Chess Association released their new 2011 grading list earlier this week. These new ratings are based on all games played between 1st of June 2010 and 31st of May 2011. I’ve collected (and slightly edited) the list for Hebden Bridge Chess Club members below. You can also go to the YCA’s website and have a rummage around for even more details.






































I’ve edited the list above in order to remove any inactive players. Here are some points and comments about this list points that I think are worth making as team captains start to plan for next year’s league campaigns.

  • Both Dave Wedge and Matthew Wedge-Roberts will not be available as Dave is now working down in Cambridge during the week and Matthew is off to university. We wish them both the best of luck

  • The highest new entry on the club list is Pete Leonard who makes an appearance near the top with a brand new grade of 158! Whilst it must be said that this grade has been calculated from a relatively low volume of data (7 games) we must congratulate Pete on this excellent result and also provide a well-meant word of warning to him that next season is likely to provide him with a much greater challenge as this new number will propel him into the upper reaches of the ‘A’ or ‘B’ team. I'm sure this will be something he will look forward to.

  • Josh Blinkhorn takes the prize for “Most Improved Player” of the season increasing his rating by 15 points from 121 to 136. Congratulations to Josh for this result and I fancy there is still more improvement to come from him in the coming years.

  • Other players with double digit improvements were Matthew Wedge-Roberts (+13), Dave Shapland (+11) and Dave Sugden (+10). Trevor De Luca improved by 14 points but that is based on only one game played last season.

  • I should also mention Matthew Parson’s increase of 8 points which is significant because it elevates him to the lofty heights of 174 and places him amongst the elite players in the Calderdale league operating above the 170 mark. For the record these players are:
  1. Leo Keely (Huddersfield) 175
  2. Matthew Parsons (HebdenBridge) 174
  3. David Keddie (Huddersfield) 174
  4. John Morgan (Courier) 173
  5. Chris Booth (Huddersfield) 172
  6. David Firth (Huddersfield) 170
All I can say about this list is that I hope Huddersfield ‘A’ aren’t able to field all 4 players that fall into this bracket on a regular basis next season. There must be something in the water over there! Incidentally the 5th Huddersfield player on the list is John Lavan and his new grade is 169! That’s a pretty frightening Huddersfield ‘A’ team they might have there.

In my view this new annual list and the ongoing live ratings (Jon Griffiths the YCA Grader has announced his intention to publish monthly lists next season as well!) raise some interesting questions about how league teams should be selected and organised for the coming season. At present the Calderdale League guidelines states that...

"All players must be listed in order of known playing strength. Yorkshire grades used for reference."

The quandary is should captains be using the live ratings or the 2011 ratings to help them determine this? Which should take precedence? Bare in mind that at the outset of the new season both the annual rating and the live rating will be the same but as the season progresses the live rating will change and become a more accurate reflection of a player’s current strength than the 2011 rating and the more games a player plays the greater the potential disparity between the two. Should captains therefore swap players around during the course of the year based on live ratings or continue to use the 2011 rating to guide board order regardless of current from?

Let me provide an example of how this current 'static' system of selection can affect both teams and individuals during the course of the year. Last season Hebden Bridge ‘B’ correctly deployed Pete Olley on board 1 because his 2010 rating was higher by a 10 point margin than the team’s board 2, Dave Shapland. However, Pete struggled on board 1 and as his live rating dropped and his colleague’s grades rose it might have made sense to swap the board order to reflect the form. We decided not to do that because we wanted to be consistent and use the 2010 grade to decide board order as we would have done in previous seasons despite what the live grades told us. There was nothing wrong with that approach but as a result Pete endured a tough and dispiriting season and his rating plummeted. This season he will operate at a different level but the point remains that the live grading system could allow team captains to modify their board order to reflect the form of their players.

The second related issue becomes apparent when we consider those players who have grades that have been calculated from a small base of games in the previous season and here I will use the other Pete (Leonard) as an example because it illustrates the point neatly. On the basis of 7 games played last season he has a new grade of 158 which should dictate that he must be deployed in the upper reaches of the either the club’s ‘A’ or ‘B’ team next season despite the fact that he hasn’t yet played a rated game against opposition graded higher than 140. Now, it may well be that Pete will acquit himself with great ability in this rarified atmosphere (as I happen to think he may) and completely justify this new rating. Alternatively he might struggle against the standard of opposition he will be compelled to meet and have no way of dropping down the board order to operate at a level that suits his live rating and allows him to rebuild his form and confidence.

At the heart of the matter is the fact that the current grading system doesn't express a preference for the number of games it believes are required to calculate a robust rating. I seem to remember that in days gone by players who had played less than 10 rated games in the previous season got an 'E' (for estimated) placed after their grade and this enabled team captains and tournament organisers some room for latitude as they assessed the player's strength. Now that we don't have this standard it appears that there is a danger some new players will have to be thrown in at the deep end before they are ready and at the expense of more experienced players who perhaps should be playing further up the board order.

Having considered all of the points above it seems to me that neither of these issues (having two ratings and the lack of a minimum games standard) will really cause a problem if teams are required to use the live ratings as a means of deciding their board order. If this regulation is put in place then (hyperthetically) if Pete Leonard did struggle next season and performed poorly then he could drop down the board order and find the right level to play at instead of being trapped on a high board for the whole season getting walloped. The same regulation could have allowed Pete Olley some relief last season as well. I’ve been in that position before myself and it isn’t a nice experience.

Of course the subject of gradings and how they are calculated and applied always stirs up passionate debate amongst chess players and it is certainly no different in Calderdale. For the record my opinion is that live ratings are a good idea but I also believe we need to adapt our league regulations and guidelines to reflect the new system. Specifically I think it is important that all team captains in the league use the same criteria to select their team order. They should all use the live rating or all use the annual grade and the regulations should be amended to enforce the preference.

I would be very interested to hear readers views on the subject of ratings or feedback on the new club list.

11 comments:

Matthew said...

I think any player should have played at least 30 games in a season for a grade to be considered accurate.

It will always be the case that there are inaccurate chess grades in club chess, most players simply dont play enough games.

We have Pete Leonard - is his grade accurate? He might be underrated for all we know at this point - More games are required.

Indeed John Lavan over at Huddersfield has a good season theoretically - he beat Keddie and Booth in the Huddersfield Club Champs, but his grade his based on only about 9 games - if he plays the same amount next year and doesnt do so well he will drop 20 points!

Pete Leonard said...

I think there's no question, if common sense is used. Of course the live grading should be followed. What you describe happening to Pete Olley is enough to make a player despair!

I've played in the past in my University's league, and in the Cumbria league. I've no recollection of a fixed board order being imposed for an entire season. It would initially be determined by the players' grades at the start of the year and would then be modified by players' performances. In those far-off days, "live" grades were not available; perhaps this was a good thing, as matters were left to team captains' judgment. There were, of course occasions when one suspected one's opposing captain of "cheating", e.g. by "sacrificing" board 5 at board 1, with the aim of winning the other four matches, or of fiddling board order based on previous results between the individuals concerned. One approach was to have each captain write their board order down, secretly, and then swap lists. The games people play!

Isn't the county AGM on 11 July and isn't this the time at which to agree a consistent approach across all participating clubs? Actually, Jon Griffiths' intention of publishing live gradings monthly makes no sense unless these gradings are to be followed. Why bother, else? The live gradings could be followed scrupulously, which avoids one freak good or bad result from disproportionately affecting board order. In the days where common sense was used, one used to wait until player A had outscored player B on two or three occasions, before switching their places; a month's results would achieve the same effect, using live gradings.

I was never involved with selecting or sequencing Cumbria's county side, but I imagine a similar approach was used there. Matches would be far less frequent, so start-of-year gradings could be used for much of the season. However, if board 3 got two or three straight wins while board 2 was consistently losing, no-one would argue with changing the order.

I wonder whether you are creating a problem where there is none? Has there previously been some directive that the start-of-year gradings should be used all year? The guidelines you cite only say "Yorkhire grades"; aren't the live grades also "Yorkhire grades"?

As I say, this is what AGMs are for. Calderdale is perhaps a strange organisation, but I can't see why anyone should impose start-of-year gradings.

My observation about Calderdale is based on the weird practice of giving the home team White on all boards. I have never seen this before. In all other leaues in which I have participated, board order has always alternated, usually with the captains tossing a coin to determine who will have the advantage of White on boards 1, 3 and 5. You could predetermine that, if people felt that an "unlucky tosser" would be disadvantaged; if so, I'd give the away, not the home, team the advantage of three Whites. To give the home team all five Whites just seems daft to me. Peter Rawlings tells me that he has raised this at AGMs a number of times, without success.

Regarding my own grading, I'll play where I'm put and try to be philosophical about it if I'm stuck being thrashed at every match. I can't promise that I shan't get discouraged, and annoyed, if this should happen. Thirty years ago, I was somewhere in the 160s or 170s (I played boards 3 to 5 for Cumbria), so I think 158 now is unrealistically high. I expect my 2012 grade will be lower, but shall do my best to stop this happening!

Nick said...

Well Pete I am going to completely disagree with you regarding board colours.
It was tried in the league a few yrs ago (2004 ish I think) to alternate colours based on the toss of a coin, but it didn't get a great level of backing by the players.

The problem is that you may go a season based on the toss of a coin where you get 10 White and 2 Black or vice-versa, at least when home team has white on odd boards you know you will get even number of White/Black games.

The opinions I have heard in the past would seem to back this up.

Nick said...

Should have said home team has White on "all" boards!

Matthew said...

Well Pete! What a detailed response! Thanks for taking the time.

I agree with Nick over the board colours, actually thinking it is quite a novel approach making the league more interesting.

Though i do not think necessarily that having black is an impediment, indeed a lot of my better wins come with the black pieces due to my style of play. Though i appreciate that a great deal of players simply arent comfortable playing black, indeed some feel that they are lost already.

As for your grade Pete, please dont misunderstand me, I know from briefly playing you that you are a strong player, and have indeed indicated that your grade might be inaccurate, but being on the low side.

Can a player recapture the glory days of youth? Do todays grade equate to those of 30 years ago? I have no idea. In my own experience 150 graded players today are stronger than 150 graded players of 15 years ago, when i was playing as a junior - however, and this is key, it depends on the overall strength of the county you are playing in.

10 players graded 100 will produce over enough games played graded towards the top end at 150 and the low end at 50. It is the average (not mean - but mode) that determines where this falls out - and if you were to then take a stronger player from this sample and place him in a league with say 100 players, and a different mode average, it is likely that his grade would change over time.

Yorkshire is perhaps the strongest county league in the country, and as such the mode is lower, but players overall strength can be higher.

As such a player with a 150 grade in yorkshire - can be seen as equal in strength to a 160-170 graded player in a lower overall quality county.

I hope i have not confused everyone there! This is why, going back to my original post, the true test of a grade is in number of games played, as well as playing outside their local league. As such i tend to place ECF grades ahead of YCA, and see them as being a more accurate measure of a players ability.

Still we cant all player 50/60 games a year and travel to weekend events, mores the pity. I know some players who consider 15-20 games in a season to be a lot! I normally play about 70 games a year, in fact last season was one of my leaner seasons, yet i still played more games than the vast majority of players in the league.

Overall i dont believe in these 'live' grades.

In fact my grade for the upcoming season would actually be 181, if it had been worked out on the traditional method that has worked for many years.

Is the more accurate for me than 174? And how do we judge this accuracy anyway? By what measure?

Magnus Carlsens grade converted back from fide to yca would be about 272. Are we all comparing our own grades to his in the accuracy stakes then?

Ultimately grades are only a guide to a players strength. We can argue that as i have the highest grade in the club i am the best player, but its only a guide - the true test comes in competition.

So then, I would welcome someone coming into the club with a higher grade than me, I like being board no.1 for sure, but i dont 'need' to be board no.1, indeed a higher rated player would push me on again, and if that turns out to be someone like Pete, or someone else, then i welcome it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not for or against the 'live' grading system because I'm not a team captain and therefore don't have to concern myself with player board order before a match. I just turn up and play.

However, I do think there are some practical issues and some potential 'flaws' based on what I saw happening last season.

I don't know how the 'live' grade system will work on a monthly basis. Last season many results were reported late, sometimes over a month after the match took place! Seven of my own games were not reported until the end of the season and therefore not reflected in my 'live' grade.

Also, a player that plays infrequently can have big swings in his 'live' grade based on one or two results! The evidence is clearly visible. If it was enforced to put a team in player's 'live' grade order it would be impractical and possibly too much extra work for some team captains to have to be shifting their team about each week.

What about a compromise solution? Allow board orders to be shifted between players that have a grade of no more than 10 points difference between them, based on their start of season grade; thus preventing major "cheating" and giving a struggling player a chance to switch down a board or two.

I'm all for advocating simplicity; removing layers of complexity to make the life of the team captain easier and also still provide for some flexibility.

In my experience, it's hard enough as it is to get a league match to start on time, never mind having to mess about with board orders week by week! Also, if a team captain has to cancel at the last minute, one cannot be expected to suddenly log into the chessnuts website and look up each player's 'live' grade! The monthly 'live' grade system can only function as well as the promptness of the results reported.

I favour a compromise between the two. Stick to the start of season grades but allow a 10 point buffer either way so players can be switched up or down if needed. I don't think there is any perfect solution but I think this might be an idea to ponder, rather than 'either/or'.

Thanks :)

Intermezzo said...

Well, as I suspected, I have just opened up a monstrous can of worms! Lots of valid points of view so far. I must say I like Mr Anonymous' suggestion about giving captains some guidelines and a 10 point latitude to work with.

To reiterate my view, I think any approach will work as long as it is applied consistently by all teams in order to avoid arguments when team sheets are exchanged. The addition of 1 or 2 words to the league guidelines I quoted could provide just this clarity.

Pete said...

Mezzo, you certainly did open Pandora's box!
Matthew, you and I were clearly writing our comments simultaneously, as the blog said "0 comments" when I started my marathon. So I certainly haven't misunderstood anything. Thirty years on, I suspect I may come unstuck against stronger players (witness Darwin Ursal in that Ruy Lopez event) and that 158 will prove to be too high. So be it. I was indeed confused by your paragraph starting "10 players graded 100..."; I gave up trying! :D
Nick, and others, we'll have to agree to differ over colour allocations. I know it's not going to change and I can see some arguments for it, but it still strikes me as wrong.
Anon (don't be shy! :D), I think you're in danger of creating problems where they don't exist. The captain knows when (s)he selects the team what the grades (live or otherwise) are and has the board order in mind, at that time. Last minute changes are admittedly tricky, but a captain wouldn't usually withdraw without handing over the team list to her/his deputy! The 10 point idea risks being over prescriptive; why not 9, or 11, points? Oh what a tangled web we are in danger of weaving!

Matthew said...

I thought i might have confused a few people - alas, ill explain it better in person to those that are interested!

I think the Huddersfield league has always operated in the above suggested '10 point' rule, or something similar, indeed as does the yorkshire league.

I would do away with the live grades!

Intermezzo said...

Ok. Here's an interesting idea that Dave Milton and I discussed recently. In Calderdale we produce our own League grading list at the start of the season to guide our selection at each club. This list is essentially the latest YCA annual list for all Calderdale players but the league is responsible for getting a copy to each club and into the hands of the captains.

Dave's idea was to publish a list twice during the season. Once before it starts as we currently do and then again in January giving the YCA monthly gradings as of end of December. This second list would then be used by Captains until the end if the season.

I like this solution. Not too much complexity. No need for captains to keep up with live grades but gives an opportunity for us to reflect the form of players in the first half of the season in the second half.

Any thoughts?

Matthew said...

Yeah thats not a bad idea.

Certainly monthly live grades are a waste of time.