15 April 2012

Of Ratings Inflation and Comparing Top Juniors

This post is in reference to points raised by Ronnie Lim in the comments to my last post.

To Ronnie :
Actually, there is hardly any evidence of ratings inflation at the sub-2500 level. The main 'ratings inflation' discussion by so-called experts, and considered by FIDE, focuses on the elite level (Top 100). Even then, I believe that it is now accepted that it is an inevitable consequence of the explosive growth in the number of rated players, which is why this subject is not much discussed in international forums anymore.

In fact, it has been known that there would be a 'ratings deflation' at the sub-2500 level as the FIDE rating floor was progressively lowered. This then potential phenomenon was covered in a paper prepared by Stewart Reuben for FIDE about 10 years ago, (I had read in full when I came across it many years ago).

All these matters are well known by those who are up to date with current views. It is already well established that a 2400/2500 player nowadays plays much stronger than a 2400/2500 10 years ago due, not least to the wider and electronic access to information thru databases, analysis with much stronger playing programs, better coaching, etc

At the practical level, we can see it happening with Mas. You can't seriously be saying that after 2 years of full time chess, training with a GM coach and playing over 200 games at international GM tournaments during that period, Mas' playing strength was not at least at his year 2000 level. And yet his rating couldn't hit the heights of his year 2000 rating. Yes, it is definitely more difficult to get a GM norm nowadays compared to 10/12 years ago, and definitely there was no ratings inflation over the last 10 years at this rating range. In fact, the reverse is true.

To Ronnie:
With the reference 1990s period taken as 1994 (when Mas won) until 1999, I would say, with due respect:

Yes, a 2400/2500 player nowadays plays much stronger than a 2400/2500 player 10/12 years ago.

Yes, a 14 year-old Ronnie Lim would have been crushed by the present day 37-year old 2455-rated Richard Bitoon, who completed his GM title about a year ago, meaning that he is playing near his peak, and still playing chess full-time.

Yes, any of our present top 10 juniors would have a very good chance of beating a 50-year old (in 1997) 2250-rated Herman Suradiradja who was then working full time at the Indonesian tax office.

Yes, our current top juniors are not inferior to the top juniors of 1990s.

Yes, I think it was easier to win the National Closed in the 1990s when none of the then top Malaysian players took part. Just look at the top 5 list for each of those years and you will see what I mean. No Mok, no Jimmy and no Mas (after 1995). Just juniors ahead of other juniors generally.

Yes, I think even a 53-year old Jimmy Liew could have won the National Closed in 1994, 1996-1999, something he could not do in 2011.

Yes, Yee Weng who won the National Closed in 1996 & 1997, at 14/15 years of age, found it much more difficult to do it (in fact could not do it) in 2002 and 2003, although he was older, presumably stronger & higher rated).

Yes, the National Champs of the 1990s (at their 1990s National Closed Championship winning strength) would have no chance of winning the 2004 National Championship.

So again, yes, I definitely hold the view that it was easier to win the National Closed in the 1990s than in later years.

[Note to Najib: I hope you don't mind if I borrow your 'copyrighted' title style.]


  1. Eddy, you did not copy Najib. You copied my copy hahaha. So Najib->Jimmy->Eddy. Know your place lah.

  2. Another thing I want to ask you long time. Why the comment dates and time all wrong? I posted 6:26 AM on 15th April , it shows April 14 4:45 AM. Fix it lah.

  3. I don't pretend to know in detail the question of rating inflation (or deflation for that mattter). But I do know that matters are not as simple or as clear cut as you put it. You are right when you say that most of the discussions about rating inflation are basically about the top 100 players or players with 2700+ rating. More specifically, the question people usually raise is why are there more 2700 players now (46 in the latest March 2012) than 40 years ago in 1972 (only one, none other than Bobby Fischer)? So there are basically two answers to it: top players nowadays are REALLY much stronger than their counterparts in those days OR rating inflation. My personal understanding of it is that the truth lies somewhere between. Whatever the truth may be, I gather that you do not doubt that there is definitely some rating inflation in the top 100 players, with the effects of inflation being less pronounced as we go down the rating scale to 2600, 2500, 2400 etc.. This much I agree. But what seems to be your position is that at around 2400-2500, this inflation reaches a point where it becomes deflation instead (a turning point of the curve on the graph). This is where we differ in our opinions. My position is that, if there are any differences in the ratings here, it is more likely to be inflation (which means the turning point is lower down the rating scale) rather than deflation. Of course, this is an empirical matter (or a mathematical one?) so I am open to any evidence that shows otherwise.

    (It must be pointed out also that I do not deny the phenomenon of rating deflation. In fact this was already predicted by Prof Elo himself)

  4. Of course, it is never an easy task to compare the strengths of players from different eras using ratings (The Elo rating was designed to rate a player's strength relative to his comtemporaries at a given time). But I would not think a difference of 10 years would make a major difference to the playing strength of players with of the same rating at their time. You must remember 10 years ago, we already DO have databases and we DO have strong engines as well (I had Fritz 5 back in 1997 and i can tell you that it was already extremely strong). So unless we are comparing players from another era, say 20-30 years ago when there were no databases or strong engines, then I might be more inclined to agree with your point of view.
    So probably there is room for more discussions with regard to the question whether a 2400/2500 player today is stronger than one 10 years ago.

  5. But on a more local level, I cannot agree at all with your point of view. Again, I wish to stress that I am impressed with the performances of our junior players recently espically Li Tian and Yit Ho. I really am excited that we again have junior players who can compete at an international level. Good for them and good for Malaysian chess.

    However, if you were to say that the juniors today are equal to or stronger than the juniors 10-15 years ago (Read: Mas, Chern Ee, Zi Jing, Yee Weng, Nicholas, Jonathan, Tze Han, Marcus, Ee Vern and myself at our peak during our junior years [again there are others too like Zhe Kang, Wei Khoon, Khai Boon, Swee Leong, Shihong, Chee Yin, Weng Yee]) then I have to say that you are mistaken.

    One natural way for us to see this is to compare their respective ratings during their time. If we accept this comparison as legitimate, the juniors of the 1990s win hands down. But of course, the whole argument about rating deflation was basically to undermine this premise. So how else can we compare? Another way is to assess the quality of the games themselves. Of course this is not easy to show as well. So why my conviction that junior players of 1990s are stronger than those today? Simple, my experiences playing with both these group of players. It is not easy for me to convice those who think otherwise, but as someone who has lived throught it, so as to speak, I can confidently say that the general level of play those days were higher than today.

    In a nutshell, I do not agree at all with the points u mentioned in this new post. Just to mention one: No, Jimmy would have found it more difficult to win the National Closed in 1996-1999 than in 2011 [Jimmy, care to comment? :-)].

    1. I do not wish to be read as belittling the achievements of the juniors today. I am not. In fact, I sincerely wished that they could be stronger than us 10-15 years back. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case (except of course for that little man, Li Tian).

    2. I would most probably have been crushed by Bitoon when I was 14 years old but I COULD still have conceivably beaten him couldn't I? Btw just for curiosity, I did played Bitoon twice in classical chess and won both games, first in the SEA Games Event in Kuala Lumpur 2001 [when he was rated 2432] and the second in DATMO 2009 [when he was rated 2490] :-)

  6. for the record, I do agree with Mi Yen (at least until the Gandalf part). Yit Ho did pretty well considering who he was playing with.

  7. Ok, Ijust got back from Slim River (KLK GP Event). Fadzil won on tie-break from Yit Ho, both on 6.5/7. Abdul Rahman Sapuan ended up 3rd and Yit San 4th.

    I haven't started enjoying the comments in this post yet, except for Jimmy's first 2 comments.

    Jimmy, I readily acknowledge your precedence on Najib's title style. I did not notice it until you highlighted it in your blog. 5% royalty to Jimmy, 5% to Najib, ok.

    I'll look into the time stamp thing. I had noticed it was out for comments although it is alright with posts.

    Ronnie, I'll look into your comments later after I have refreshed. Maybe later tonight or tomorrow night after work. Thanks for your comments. I appreciate you joining in discussion. Your comments would certainly be invaluable especially coming from one of the wonder boys of the 1990s.

  8. Wow, it feels good to be blog owner. I just deleted comments from 'anonymous' which I felt were just rubbish. These rubbish not only not add anything new but actually detracts from the discussion. And I would not take kindly to insults by rude and uncouth guests in my own house.

  9. Who is the best footballer? Pele, Maradona or Messi...

    Very subjective and at the end of the day, there will never be any clear winner, maybe what emerge at the end of the day is only clear enemy.

    I guess it is not importance to find out which generation is stronger, what important is to find out how to make current generation stronger...

  10. Ilham, I agree with you that it is ultimately unimportant as to which generation is better, so long as there is overall progress.

    However, discussion flesh out differences and the uniqueness of each generation or of particular players and give valuable insights. Vested interests and bias due to personal experience cannot be avoided which is pefecly alright too.

    It is however again, important to see these discussions for what they are and not get emotional and personal over it.

    As Ronnie has given his input which I value very much. I wish to bring the discussion on this topic to an amiable closure. I shall address whatever points raised by Ronnie and myself so far.

    Thereafter, Ronnie shall have the opportunity to respond and his response shall be the last word on this matter in this blog. I will not respond, which I think is fair.

  11. "I guess it is not importance to find out which generation is stronger, what important is to find out how to make current generation stronger... "
    Best quote so far from Ilham