10 June 2014

Rating Inflation

It has become common in the chess world to assert that ratings today are inflated relative to historic ratings. As more and more players surpass Robert J. Fisher's peak rating of 2785, chess enthusiasts lament the inflation that creates the illusion that those players are stronger than Fischer. It cannot be true. Bobby Fisher is the best who ever moved a pawn.

Computer Scientist Ken Regan studies individual positions through computer analysis and compiles databases of hundreds of thousands of such positions. Through examining a player's moves over a batch of positions, he creates an Intrinsic Performance Rating (IPR). He develops methodology to catch cheaters. His analysis is also useful for estimating the Elo rating of players in the past.
What he found was that rating inflation does not exist. Between 1976 and 2009, there has been no significant change in IPR for players at all FIDE ratings ... the IPR for players rated between 2585 and 2615 has remained relatively constant over time. Today's thousands of grandmasters and dozens of players rated over 2700 indicate a legitimate proliferation of skill.
Howard Goldowsky, "How to Catch a Chess Cheater: Ken Regan Finds Moves Out of Mind," Chess Life (June 2014), 30.
Such is one of the many gems in the cover story of this months Chess Life, the magazine of the United States Chess Federation (USCF). I heartily recommend the article.


  1. One of the problems with chess rating inflation, is that people should come up with an accepted definition before answering the question :

    - evolution of the average rating of a group of known players over time ? (player A, player B,... player Z)
    - evolution of the average rating of a bracket of players (Top 100)
    - evolution of the average rating of all FIDE players

    If we take the monetary analogy, there would be rating inflation if the average rating of all FIDE players was going up, which is clearly not the case since the FIDE floors have been decreased to 1000...

  2. Good point, Laurent. People often think they are talking about the same thing because they are using the same words, and yet they mean very different things by those words.

    I can say that I have the impression that folks who lament rating inflation often give the impression that they think today's 2700 players are not as strong as the smaller number of 2700s thirty years ago. Regan shows that such thoughts are in error. There are more 2700s because more players are playing at that level.

    As you say, however, the average FIDE rating has dropped because FIDE now rates a broader and weaker pool. USCF average ratings, too, have declined because of the influx of casual young players who play rated scholastic chess.