About inflation in chess ratings. As an economist who also worked as professional betmaker, I've kept an eye on this topic.
The fundamentals on FIDE Elo and adjusted historical Elo rating and ranking are developed and discussed
in-depth by the highly regognized statisticians Jeff Sonas (www.chessmetrics.com), Rod Edwards (http://www.edochess.ca/),
Mark Glickman (http://www.glicko.net/glicko.html), Ken
Thompson, John Nunn, Christian Krause, and Arpad Elo,
the inventor himself (based on previous works).
Here some empirical rhubarb about the influence on average rating by reducing the number of participants in a closed tournaments. The next
chapter then will have a closer look on the Elo system itself (for highlighting, ELO is written in uppercase letters).
Highest Rated Tournaments (category)
First Category XVI
A so-called World Master Tournament held in Torino 1982 as a one-off event, is considered as the first category XVI tournament ever (with an ELO
average of 2627,14). Seven, an odd number, of the world's top players, including the world champion, competed in the double round robin event. Unfortunately, due to illness, Dr. Robert Hübner was forced to withdraw after the seventh round in half-time,
and his schedule was expunged from the second cycle of games, making it now a six player’s competition. The participants in Italy were Anatoly Karpov, Ulf Andersson, Boris Spassky, Robert Hübner, Ljubomir Ljubojevic, Lajos Portisch, and Lubomir
Kavalek. Andersson shared first place with Karpov at 6/11 each, with Andersson having gone undefeated.
Jan Timman (no. 2 of the world in the January – June ELO list 1982, rating and ranking was a half-yearly
up-dated), Vice World Champion Viktor Korchnoi (no.3), and Garry Kasparov (no.4, rapidly progressing, he climbed no.2 position in the ELO list of July 1982) were all not invited; Karpov then avoided to play in international tournaments with rising Kasparov,
and defector Korchnoi was boycotted principally for eight years from 1976 up to 1983 in chess tournaments by the Soviet authorities, meaning that he could not compete in invitation tournaments with Soviet players.
Bugojno 1986, the 5th and last International Bugojno Chess Tournament (a biannual series, started in 1978 by
Serbian organizers in a Bosnian town in the Yugoslavia of Marshall Tito) was then the next event considered to be the highest category XVI FIDE tournament ever held (ELO average of 2627,5), eight grandmasters were invited to participate in a double round robin,
Anatoly Karpov won, runner-up Andrei Sokolov was the only player to remained unbeaten and could beat eventual winner Karpov. Two top-shots were missing: Garry Kasparov and Viktor Korchnoi who was never ever invited at all Bugojno series, apparently to secure
Karpov’s traditional participation.
Highest tournament average since ELO rating system does exist
Bugojno was surpassed in
the same year 1986 by the OHRA-Brussels 1986 (not to mix up with the S.W.I.F.T. series at Brussels) which averaged out at ELO 2636 in a double round robin of six
participants as the strongest tournament since the ELO system of rating was introduced. Kasparov won that OHRA (his first all-play-all tournament since 1983, that is also to say Garry Kasparov's first tournament after his gruelling series of marathons
against Anatoly Karpov for the world title) ahead of Senior Viktor Korchnoi who had won ahead of Spassky at the OHRA-Brussels in 1985.
Kasparov and Korchnoi were the only two players at Brussels 1986 above the 50% mark, Hübner and Nunn tied for third-fourth place, Short who launched his premier win against Kasparov was fifth, Portisch came in as sixth and last. Of the thirty
games, twenty were decisive, an impressive quantity for such a top-level clash! Brussels (OHRA-A) in December 1986 was the first major chess tournament televised by the BBC and containing commentary by the players themselves.
At that time (since ELO introduction around 1970), a category XVI (16) tournament was regarded as the absolute maximum. Well, they didn’t know how ultimate inflation works 🤨.
Note: A Mini-Tournament in Johannesburg 1981 (won by Ulf Andersson, ahead of Viktor Korchnoi, Robert Hübner, and John Nunn in a quadruple round robin to offer
Korchnoi, boycotted in all tournaments with soviet players participating, ‘a rhythm’ of strong opponents), achieved already category XVI with an average of 2629 ELO points, but was not recognized by FIDE due to the ruling Apartheid system in South
First Category XVII
The Mini-Tournament Optibeurs (EOE) in May 1988 at Amsterdam turned out to be the first
ever Category XVII event (on a scale originally limited to XVI units!). Reigning World Champion Kasparov won that quadruple of four players with 9/12. Anatoly Karpov was the runner-up (6.5/12), the Dutchman Jan Timman (5./12) third, his compatriot John Van
der Wiel fourth and last (3/12).
Played only a few months after the World Championship match in Sevilla in 1987, where Kasparov and Karpov tied for a 12-12, Kasparov this time was deeply satisfied, winning his
individual Mini-Match vs. Karpov 3-1. In the nation standings, the USSR beat The Netherlands decisively 11.5-4.5.
ELO barrier of 2800 broken: Kasparov surpassing Fischer’s record
After winning the 13th Tilburg Interpolis 1989 (another cat. XVI, double rounded, Kasparov won with incredible 12/14 with a 3.5 points leading margin, he and Senior Viktor Korchnoi as clear second were again the only two players above 50%, out of eight participants), Garry
Kasparov surpassed Bobby Fischer’s record ELO figure of 2785 ELO points with virtually 2788 ELO in October 1989, and after winning in his usual fashion as well at Belgrade
Investbank 1989 (at 9.5/11 in a single round robin, three full points in front, without Karpov and Korchnoi), Kasparov reached for the next official FIDE list in January 1990, the magic number of 2800 ELO, as first chess player ever to do
In other words: Great Gazza counted 2775 ELO points in the July – December 1989 ELO list, he played two tournaments in the second half of the year – Tilburg Interpolis in September / October
1989 and Belgrade Investbank in November 1989 – gaining 25 rating points to be quoted exactly at ELO 2800 in January – June 1990 (half-yearly published lists, granularity of five points).
First Category XVIII
The 34th edition of Reggio Emilia 1991/92 was
the first category XVIII chess tournament ever played; it was won by Viswanathan Anand (6/9 points) as clear first ahead of nine former Soviets! Gelfand and Kasparov finished joint second, followed by Karpov as fourth, equal fifth Khalifman, Ivanchuk, Polugaevsky,
then shared M. Gurevich and Salov, and finally Beliavsky as tenth and last.
The Alekhine Memorial at Moscow in 1992 (GM round robin of eight players, not to mix with the strong Alekhine Memorial
Open at same place) was then the second cat. XVIII tournament, won by Anand and Gelfand, jointly (3. Kamsky, 4.-6. Karpov, Salov, Yusupov, 7. Shirov, and 8. Timman).
Best performance in
a modern supertournament achieved by Karpov
The 12th edition of Linares
1994 (again cat. XVIII) was a next “strongest ever” chess tournament. After the split of FIDE by Kasparov and Short in 1993, Garry Kasparov had no official ELO rating any longer, the organizers gave him a virtual ELO figure of 2800, making
it a new tournament’s record average of 2685 ELO (Short was not invited; soon, he and Kasparov were re-integrated in the FIDE rating / ranking list despite the schism still existing concerning the World Champion title).
The 1994 Linares tournament was extraordinary because of the incredible performance by Karpov, who chalked up nine wins and no losses, winning with 11/13 and an incredible margin of 2.5 points over Kasparov who finished joint second with Shirov in
a field of 14 players including also Anand, Kramnik, Topalov, Gelfand, Ivanchuk, Bareev, Beliavsky, Kamsky, Lautier and Judit Polgar. After Linares 1994, Karpov reached his individual peak rating of ELO 2780 which, at the time, was the third highest rating
ever achieved (Fischer 2785, Kasparov now at 2815 in July – Dec. 1993 list).
First category XIX
Novgorod 1994: Ivanchuk at better tie-break above Kasparov claimed the inaugural edition of Novgorod, Russia, as joint winners, both going undefeated, six players battled in a double round robin event organised
by the PCA, and not rated by FIDE. The participants were in order of ELO: Garry Kasparov (2815 inofficial), Alexey Shirov (2740), Vladimir Kramnik (2725), Vassily Ivanchuk (2695), Evgeny Bareev (2675), and Nigel Short
(2675 inofficial), the then reigning Vice World Champion according to PCA, who could not win a single game throughout the whole tournament.
First Category XXI
A new landmark in category madness was Las Palmas 1996, directly surpassing cat. XX as the first cat. XXI (based on the semi-official ELO list of November 1996, edited in-between the then regular
half-year intervals with list in January and July), labelled proudly as “World Championship of tournaments” by the organizers (“Supertorneo Mundial de Ajedrez Cran Canaria ‘96”) – sadly,
it turned out to be the last big event at Las Palmas.
The participants were in order of ELO: Kasparov (2785), Karpov (2775), Kramnik (2765), Topalov (2750), Anand (2735), and Ivanchuk (2730), then clearly the
strongest tournament of the modern era (with an average ELO of 2756). Kasparov emerged triumphant as "the best player in the world at that moment", Anand was sole second, Kramnik and Topalov joint third-fourth, Ivanchuk and Karpov shared last, the latter as
only player without a single game win in this double round robin.
New best-ever ELO rating of 2851 by Kasparov
It was right after
the victory at Bosna, Sarajevo in May 1999, when Garry Kasparov achieved in the next ELO list from July (to December) 1999 his phenomenal ELO 2851 rating:
Always as clear first,
Kasparov scored that year 10/13 at Wijk aan Zee, then 10.5/14 at Linares (doubleround) and afterwards 7/9 at Sarajevo (Bosna), all together these 36 games gave him a plus of 39 points to climb from ELO 2812 in January 1999 to ELO 2851 in July 1999
– remaining in January 2000 as well at ELO 2851 (no games of Kasparov in the second half-year 1999).
ELO list of (July - December) 1999 II:
Kasparov reaching ELO 2851
1 Kasparov, Garry (RUS) ELO 2851 +39 points *1963
2 Anand, Viswanathan (IND) 2771 -10 *1969
3 Kramnik, Vladimir
(RUS) 2760 +9 *1975
4 Morozevich, Alexander (RUS) 2758 +35 *1977
5 Shirov, Alexei (ESP) 2734 +8 *1972
Kamsky, Gata (USA) 2720 0 *1974
7 Gelfand, Boris (ISR) 2713 +22 *1968
8 Karpov, Anatoly (RUS) 2709 -1 *1951 (FIDE WCC, not defending
title at Las Vegas 1999)
9 Adams, Michael (ENG) 2708 -8 *1971
10 Ivanchuk, Vassily (UKR) 2702 -12 *1969
Peter (HUN) 2701 +7 *1979 (eleven players with ELO >2700)
12 Bareev, Evgeny (RUS) 2698 +19 *1966
13 Topalov, Veselin (BUL) 2690 -10 *1975
14 Svidler, Peter (RUS) 2684 -29 *1976
15 Azmaiparashvili, Zurab (GEO) 2681 0 *1960
16 Dreev, Alexey (RUS) 2679 +40 *1969
17 Korchnoi, Viktor (SUI) 2676 +3 *1931 (aged 68 / 69 years - and in the ELO top twenty)
18 Short, Nigel (ENG) 2675 -22 *1965
19 Smirin, Ilia (ISR) 2671
20 Polgar, Judit (HUN) 2671 -6 *1976
New best-ever ELO rating of 2882 by Carlsen
That ELO number of 2851 was Garry’s highest rating ever – and a world record, later and still only surpassed by Magnus Carlsen
who peaked at 2882 in May 2014 (ELO lists now monthly published by FIDE), of course, not taken ELO inflation into account.
Again and again, another forthcoming tournament was topping the previous average benchmark
due to galloping rating inflation (from about mid-1980s to mid 2010s), and the reduced numbers of players in comparison with most previous world-class tournaments.
First Category XXII
The Bilbao Grand Slam Final Masters 2010 the first cat. XXII event ever held, provided new food for Elo fetishists, in fact, it was a Mini-Tournament with only four players in a double round
robin. Since then, category XXII has been reached by several other supertournament series, too. In no particular order: Tal Memorial in Moscow, Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Norway Chess, London
Chess Classic, Zurich Chess Challenge, or the Sinquefield Cup.
First Category XXIII
Zurich Chess Challenge
2014 (six players, point scoring of classical chess combined with rapid chess in single round robins) was the first cat. XXIII chess tournament, a little later averaged / edged out marginally the same year by the 1st Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, Missouri 2014 which was won by Fabiano Caruana with a stratospheric 8.5/10
points ahead of the World Champion Magnus Carlsen at 5.5/10, Topalov sole third, followed by joint Vachier-Lagrave and Aronian, and Nakamura as last (six players invited in a double round robin).
In the rush of daily Liverating hysteria, Youth mania, ELO fetishism, and CATEGORY madness,
i) The smaller the number of participants, the easier to pimp up the average! We should not be focussed (only) on the average, but on median and number of players of a tournament.
Tournaments with only
four players should be regarded as an own category ("Mini-Tournament"). From a statistical point of view, chances to (co-)win a tournament with four or six invited major players, increases considerably compared to the old-fashioned all-play-all tournaments
with 16, 18, 20 players even if among them always some local minor entrants were included. Look at London 2014, a single round robin of six players: after just five rounds which is little reliable, 50% of the <invited>
participants were co-winning...
The number of players does have an impact on the individual chances to win, not
only average counts! The probability to win for instance a round robin tournament such as Wijk aan Zee with normally 14 players, mostly top hundred including a handful from the top ten, could be therefore statistically lower than to win any tournament with
four or six players even if all of them are in the top ten and their average of players subsequently higher. Of course, the gap in strength and rating between 'major' and 'minor' players shouldn't be too much.
ii) From a practical point of view, on top level, we should more focus on (peak) ranking rather than (peak) rating of players. Read more in the following chapter on
Elo system and inflation.
Table: The fifteen “strongest” chess tournaments in terms of pure category numbers (average Elo rating of players) all took place in the
21th century since 2008, two main reasons: reduced number of participants in closed invitation tournaments and FIDE Elo rating inflation.
Highest category (average Elo rating) tournaments ever assembled –
all held in the 21th centruy:
Source: http://www.chessfocus.com/trend/highest-rated-tournaments (as of 2015)
Compare also: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat%C3%A9gorie_d%27un_tournoi
FIDE Elo chess rating inflation - watch out: