Did the Soviets Collude? A Statistical Analysis of Championship Chess 1940-64

Jul 12, 2014, 1:49 AM |


Did the Soviets Collude? A Statistical Analysis of Championship Chess 1940-64

Charles C. Moul (Miami University) and John V. Nye (George Mason University), 2006


We expand the set of outcomes considered by the tournament literature to include draws and use games from post-war chess tournaments to see whether strategic behavior is important in such scenarios. In particular, we examine whether players from the former Soviet Union acted as a cartel in international tournaments - intentionally drawing against one another in order to focus effort on non-Soviet opponents - to maximize the chance of some Soviet winning. Using data from international qualifying tournaments as well as USSR national tournaments, we estimate models to test for collusion. Our results are consistent with Soviet draw-collusion and inconsistent with Soviet competition. Simulations of the period's five premier international competitions (the FIDE Candidates tournaments) suggest that the observed Soviet sweep was a 75%-probability event under collusion but only a 25%-probability event had the Soviet players not colluded.

"The accusation, first leveled by Fischer and his contemporaries, has since been raised by several chess players, including some former Soviet competitors.

'There has been back and forth on this issue,' said Nye, an avid chess fan. 'Some Soviet defectors said there was some collusion going on. People have analyzed some games and have said it looks fishy.'

The innovation of Nye’s and Moul’s study is that it brings the theory down to number-crunching. After scanning the results of over 30,000 games, the professors pulled the intra-Soviet matches from international tourneys and compared them to equitable pairings from tournaments within the U.S.S.R.

'This data allows us to see how two Soviets played in the all-Soviet tournament and then see how they play each other in the international tournament,' said Moul. 'That comparison allows us to say that the Soviets drew a lot more than we would have expected.'

From that conclusion, the paper sets out three predictions: draws would come quicker when Soviets were playing each other, Soviets drew more in world tourneys than in Soviet ones and Soviet players would play better than they should have when playing foreigners.

'We can basically say, for any given match, whether it unfolded the way we would have expected given their ratings,' said Moul. 'Soviets did better in the international tournaments. We find evidence of all three of those [hypotheses].'"