Friday, 15 July 2011

Pass the can opener

Let's have de bait!
Lets start this post with a quote from the man who created chess ratings.

“The process of rating players can be compared to the measurement of the position of a cork bobbing up and down on the surface of agitated water with a yard stick tied to a rope and which is swaying in the wind.”
Arpad Elo, Chess Life, 1962

Yorkshire chess players might want to add a response to the quote above:

“Yes, but having three different ways of measuring the cork’s position isn’t going to make the task any easier is it?”

I recently posted on the new YCA grading list for 2011 and made some observations about them. In particular I said that I felt that, in light of the availability of these new grades alongside the YCA live rating and the proposed new monthly ratings, the Calderdale League needed to clarify it’s position on which of these statistics team captains should be using to help them decide on board order. I asked readers for feedback.

It seems that I have inadvertently opened a can of worms because I got lots of feedback! Thanks to all who took part in the discussion which was the most active we’ve ever had on the blog. Having allowed the comments to roll on for a little while I feel like now would be an appropriate time to try and summarise some of the opinions that have been expressed and maybe to make some recommendations to the league in advance of the AGM which takes place on Monday the 18th of July at the Lee Mount Working Men’s Club in Halifax.

What’s the problem?
The main challenge in my view is how best to ensure that team captains can continue to construct their teams in strength order in a consistent fashion. If some use the live ratings and some use the annual ratings then there may end up being disputes about board sequence.

Why is this important?
You may well ask. Some people are saying that I’m creating an issue that doesn’t exist. To a certain extent they are right. The issue doesn’t exist right now but I think when the new season begins it could start to cause problems and I’m keen to avoid disputes between team captains who may end up using different standards to sequence their board order.

The issue is important because it creates a consistent framework for us to carry out match play. Nearly everyone I know who plays league chess wants to feel that their team is deployed using the same standards as their opponents.There is a perfectly justifiable element of status involved too. If you are a board 1 player you want to be pitted against the other team’s strongest player. Many of the best players in the league are participating in matches because they want to test themselves against the best players at other clubs and if they didn’t feel that was happening then they might decide to stop playing in the league. In the same way, board 5 players want to know that they are playing their opponents weakest player and would feel picked on if they weren’t.

This is why the various new ratings (annual/monthly/live) cause us a potential problem. Which rating should captains be using to help them decide who is their strongest and weakest player and will the opposing team captain (and players) feel compelled to agree when they present their team sheet?

What are the rules?
The current League regulations state that…

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

Generally, there is nothing wrong with this regulation. Captains should be (and are) using the YCA ratings to help them determine a player’s strength and justify their board order. If they believe that a player is actually slightly stronger or weaker than his grade (which can be the case when a player’s grade has been calculated from a small number of games played in the previous year) then he can use his judgement and present his team in way to reflect this.

All of this is fine but it is based on captains using the current annual grades as their guide and also assumes that the captain is best placed to understand his players’ current form and strength. The live grades have fundamentally changed this situation because now anyone can get a very accurate idea of any players current form and strength simply by referring to the YCA website and I believe this gives captains less room for latitude in their team selections than previously.

Next season I’ll be captaining Hebden Bridge’s ‘A’ team and will be wanting to ensure that our strongest player is playing on board 1 against our opponents strongest and our weakest player is playing on board 5 and confronting the other team’s weakest. I’ll use the live grades to help me judge the form of my players and if I need to change the board order during the season to reflect the form then I will do so. Likewise I’ll also be studying the opposing team’s form and will want to make sure that this is reflected in their board order. If I don’t think that is being done then I’ll speak to the other team captain before the start of the match and discuss it. The live grades enable me to do this when previously the annual grades did not. Naturally, other team captains may adopt the same approach.

Of course we mustn’t be too pedantic. If there is a very small difference in the live grades of two players then I think it doesn’t matter too much what order they play in. In the same way if a newish player is in the line up then it wouldn’t be right to insist they play in a position merited only by their live grade because it won’t be robust enough to be totally reliable and in this instance the opposing team captain’s judgment should be respected.

What should we change?
I don’t think we need to change very much. In fact I think the current wording in the league regulations is fine (besides that it will be real torture to amend the league's consititution). However, I do think the league should offer some guidelines to team captains at the start of the season which should include:
  • Clarification that where the current regulations say “Yorkshire grades” they mean the most up to date grades available i.e. the live grades.
  • Guidance on how to raise concerns about board order. This should be done between the captains before the match starts. In this way if one captain isn’t aware of the current live grades then he can be informed by his counterpart and the two can then have a sensible discussion before play begins. If neither captain is aware of the current lives grades then there won’t be an issue!
  • Confirmation that once play has begun it will be assumed both captains are happy with their opponent’s board order. Subsequent protests to the league can be viewed as bad form unless voiced before play began.
  • An indication that some latitude be allowed for a player who is being played out of strict rating order when that player’s grade has been calculated from a small number (less than 10?) of games or when two players with a marginal difference in grade (3 points or less?) are played out of sequence.
This will ensure that some consistency and common sense prevails throughout the season and will enable players to play their matches knowing that they’ve been pitted against the right member of the opposing team.

Of course there is a whole separate issue around which grades to use for the Calderdale Individual Championship. This competition is unusual in that it adopts the same format as a weekend congress but takes place over 5 months and not 3 days. This gives rise to some interesting challenges where live grades are concerned. However, in this case I can’t see how live grades can be used because a Swiss System tournament has to have a static list of players in rating order before the first round draw and that list cannot be re-drafted based on the players’ new lives grades after each round has taken place. Let’s not go there!

I hope that this proposal sounds sensible, rational and fairly straightforward to implement and I also hope that it will enable the league to make the best use of the new rating system. What do you think? Please post a comment below to make your views known.


Adrian Dawson said...

Hi Dave,
You raise an interesting issue. Do you have a web address for the "live" or "rolling" grades, so that they can be accessed before matches?
I can see that this issue may(surprisingly) take up some time to be thrashed out, as is often the case with anything that is new. Consequently as Martin Syrett will be the in-coming Chair, I suggest that he is going to have his hands full in moving the meeting on.
I am hoping that the article I wrote in the Courier has been read by as many players as possible and that they respond accordingly.

Best regards,


Pete said...

Apart from suggesting that you leave out the attempt to define "marginal difference in grade" - which may cause more problems than it cures - I agree entirely with your suggestions. As I have said before, what is the point of issuing live grades if they are not going to be used? If the decision goes the other - illogical IMHO - way (i.e. sticking to the start-of-season grade throughout the year) then the YCA should be asked to stop publishing live grades, as these can only cause contention, for no perceivable benefit.

Nick said...

Maybe I missed it last year, but when was there ever an issue about board order, I can't remember any problems, except Courier's board order was a bit odd.