Macieja on the new K-factor (UPDATE 2 : Macieja answers FIDE's reaction)

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Macieja on the K-factorThis week FIDE expressed her concerns about the effects of the new K-Factor which will be in order as from July 1st, and decided to publish two parallel rating lists for a year and then review the results of the different K-factors in effect. GM Bartlomiej Macieja proposes a different solution.

Concerns expressed by FIDE FIDE logoFollowing the publication of the new Rating Regulations which will come into effect from 1 July 2009, concerns have been raised by several players and organisers. During the 10-day working visit of Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos in Singapore with General Secretary Ignatius Leong, the following points were noted and recommended:

1. That especially for major high-level competitions, organisers normally would have an invitation list of players based on their ratings at the time of consideration and invitation. Organisers normally would have a contract with the invited players sometimes as long as one year in advance. Some players would have agreed to participate based on the ratings of the other invited players. The dynamic K=20 factor could have a major effect on the ratings of the invited players one year later.

2. The rating lists are used to seed players for the world championship cycle -Candidates Tournament, World Cup etc... The radical change in the K-factor is a major concern especially among the top players. It was regretted that parallel lists were not calculated before the decision to adopt the new K-factors.

3. The radical change in the K-factor for players rated under 2400 is also a serious concern as this could lead to an inflation for norm categories and title purposes. The potential inflation among players under 2400 will also cause a ripple effect as more players move upwards and cross the level of 2400. A study and review on the title regulations would be necessary as a result of the new K-factor - the rating scales may have to be increased.

4. Qualification Commission Chairman & FIDE Rating Administrator Mikko Markkula will produce a parallel list which uses the new K-factors (30 & 20) for tournament reports submitted from the rating lists starting 1 April 2008 till 1 July 2009. FIDE will publish 2 lists for 1 July 2009 - the normal list based on the K-factors being unchanged (25, 15 & 10) and a parallel list (known as the K-List) using the K-factors (30 & 20). The K-List will not be used but only as a comparison.

5. Until 1 July 2010, FIDE shall continue to publish 2 lists using the different K-factors. FIDE shall then review the 2 lists after 1 July 2010 - based on the recommendations of the Qualification Commission. FIDE would then decide whether to extend the trials, abort or to adopt the new K-factors with effect from 1 July 2011 as The Rating List.

Existing K New K
Less than 30 games 25 30
30 or more games but Rating below 2400 15 30
Reaching Rating 2400 and thereafter remains or goes below 10 20

Georgios Makropoulos      
Ignatius Leong
FIDE Deputy President FIDE General Secretary

Approved by:
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov
FIDE President

Comments by GM Macieja

GM MaciejaThe recent FIDE announcement regarding the K-factor came to me as a huge surprise.

First of all, during the FIDE Congress in Dresden, the General Assembly decided to increase the value of the K-factor to K=20 (K=30 for players who have never reached 2400). The decision cannot be now challenged neither by the Deputy President nor by the General Secretary, even if the action is approved by the FIDE President, as according to the Article 4.1 of the FIDE Statutes, the General Assembly, being the highest authority of FIDE, exercises the legislative power.

Moreover, the increase of the value of the K-factor has been recommended for already many years as a necessary correction to the system. For example, a statistician Jeff Sonas proposed K=24 already in 2002. With 4 rating lists published per year, the increase of the value of the K-factor is essential, as I have proved in my report of and the extended notes on the FIDE Congress 2008. With 6 rating lists published per year, the necessity of the increase is not under any question. Even so conservative FIDE Titles and Ratings Regulations Committee mentioned in Dresden K=25. The Qualification Commission decreased the value to K=20 and passed it through the General Assembly, without any objection.

The higher value of the K-factor will make changes of rating quicker, but the effect is far exaggerated by many people. Only for young and very old players (or, to be more precise, for fast improving and fast regressing players) the change will have a serious effect - their ratings will closer correspond to their present level. But, is it bad? For the majority of players, the difference will not be significant in a long term, only fluctuations will increase, thus the players hoping to easily exceed 2800 may get disappointed - they will still need to increase their level. ;-)

The reasons of delay provided by Mr Makropoulos and Mr Leong are far not convincing. Instead of waiting for a year or two in order to show consequences of the change of the value of the K-factor, it is much better and faster to calculate results from last two or even five years using the new value of the K-factor. As tournament reports are in electronic format, it is almost as easy for FIDE to recalculate everything as one click.

To judge how serious the argument with organisers and invitations sent in advance is, let's look at tennis. The basic rule of the ATP Ranking System is that players lose ranking points gained more than a year earlier. It means that the organisers encounter much bigger problems than in chess, because an invited leader of the ATP ranking list may be even almost unrated the following year, which is not the case in chess. However, the practice shows that it doesn't effect tennis tournaments, which are organised smoothly.

Taking into account the formal reason (decisions taken by GA cannot be challenged) and also that an increase of the K-factor is absolutely neccessary from the statistical point of view, I call the Deputy President and the General Secretary of FIDE to withdraw their announcement and to follow the decision of the GA.

Best regards Bartlomiej Macieja 28th of April 2009

FIDE logoReaction by FIDE

Singapore, 28th April 2009

GM Bartlomiej Macieja

Dear GM Macieja,

We refer to your email to FIDE and the open letter which was published on ChessBase on 28th April 2009 concerning your comments on the K-factor.

Firstly, in order not to create any misconception, we would like to assure you that we are in support of increasing the K-factor. However, in view of such a radical change, we would like that all players especially the top players, understand the consequences of the change. We believe that a full proposal from the Qualification Commission should also include changes in the title regulations if necessary, but unfortunately there was no mention as to whether this was necessary. Moreover, the proposal on K-factor was not even highlighted during the verbal report of the QC at the General Assembly of Dresden 2008.

In Dresden 2005, a resolution was made that when the General Assembly/Executive Board could not discuss reports in detail such reports are referred to the Presidential Board to further decide. Attached (below) is the said resolution “Dresden 2005 Resolution Commission Reports”. Hence our decision to delay the implementation is not “to challenge” the reports made at the General Assembly.

We foresaw a problem when FIDE was informed that at the Amber tournament in Nice, France, that all the top players who were participating there had agreed to sign a protest letter (a draft was already prepared) to the FIDE President concerning the change of K-factor. Surprisingly, among these top players were several young players who supported the protest. This proved that the top players had not been duly informed nor consulted on such important changes.

We understand that publishing a list by calculating past years is an indication to the players. However, we felt it was even better to publish a list which includes events of 2008 to 2009. At the same time, from July 2009, to publish the parallel list using the new K-factor so that the players would be better able to understand and feel how they would be progressing in present time than just in the past. Don’t forget Mr Macieja, FIDE and the Continents use the Rating List to qualify players for events which are included in the World Championship Cycle. With the change in K-factor, some players would be in and some would be out. We want to give the players time to realise how the change could affect their career. This decision offers opportunity to all players, federations, organisers and rating experts to give relevant input and comments.

Even if FIDE has the power to force such changes, we believe it was not the best way forward if we are unable to convince the greater majority particularly so since this serious change would affect the lives and career of especially the top professional players.

The comparison of our top chess tournaments with tennis is not relevant. Most of the top-level chess tournaments are round-robin events where a small group of players are invited. Henceforth, any fluctuation in the ratings of the invited players could adversely affect the category of these top-level chess events. In tennis, most players are invited and any fluctuation in their rankings does not affect the event.

In conclusion, we reiterate that both FIDE and the undersigned are in favour of the change. FIDE as well as the ACP should communicate these changes and convince the national federations and players.

We take this opportunity to commend you for your efforts and that what you have contributed towards rules and regulations in FIDE have been positively considered.

Best Regards,

Signed : Georgios Makropoulos, FIDE Deputy President Ignatius Leong, FIDE General Secretary

Dear Mr Leong Dear Mr Makropoulos

Thank you very much for your immediate answer.

I am fully aware that the Presidential Board is sometimes entitled not only to delay implementation, but even to take important decisions. I find it very reasonable, especially if they are controversial and they were not tabled in advance, thus came as a surprise for delegates. The same regards proposals which might have financial implications. I am also aware that sometimes the General Assembly cannot come to a common conclusion and gives the Presidential Board the right to decide. It is also a reasonable step, as it is much easier to discuss complicated problems in a smaller and better prepared group. For instance, during the General Assembly 2008, Mr Makropoulos proposed to postpone a decision regarding the problem of coming late for a game for the Presidential Board meeting. Nobody objected, his proposal was accepted.

The case of the K-factor is, however, completely different. It was widely discussed during the FIDE Congress 2008, first at the Titles and Ratings Committee meeting, then at the Qualification Commission meeting, eventually the proposal of change was approved by the General Assembly, with no single voice of objection (including no single voice of objection of any member of the Presidential Board). It means, that contrary to the problem of coming late for a game, the General Assembly decided to take the decision and not to postpone it for the Presidential Board meeting. As so and as the General Assembly is the highest authority of FIDE, the decision has to be followed now and only further General Assemblies are entitled to change it.

Well, I am even not mentioning that the recent FIDE announcement was not a conclusion of the Presidential Board meeting, but a result of "the 10-day working visit of Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos in Singapore with General Secretary Ignatius Leong". It is clearly not sufficient to challenge decisions taken by the General Assembly.

As I was present during the General Assembly 2008, I would like to stress, that contrary to the information included in your letter, the change of the value of the K-factor was not only written in a report of the Qualification Commission, but also orally announced by the chairman Mr Mikko Markkula. The chairman even added that he had made "all the calculations", they were on his computer, and everybody wishing so could see them at any moment. Thus, even all sugestions that the delegates could not be aware what they were accepting are baseless.

Concluding, using the FIDE Laws of Chess terminology, the move (the decision) has been made and no claim or takeback is any longer possible.

I fully agree that players should be much better informed about the reasons standing behind the increase of the K-factor. The main concept is that the higher frequency of publishing rating lists reduces the effective value of the K-factor, thus the value of the K-factor needs to be increased in order not to make significant changes in the whole rating system. With one rating list published yearly, as originally done by professor ELO, the K-factor equal 10 played its role. With 6 rating lists published yearly, the value of the K-factor needs to be increased. With the frequency of one rating list published every two years, the value of the K-factor would need to be decreased.

I have already done some job and published 2 articles on the ACP Website regarding the topic. They were also published on other commonly visited websites, so chess players could get known about the change and understand that it was not a political decision, but a statistical necessity. I sincerely hope, FIDE can also join the efforts. 5 months have already passed since the FIDE Congress in Dresden, fortunately 2 more months are still left before the 1st of July.

As you have correctly mentioned, ratings play a very important role nowadays. Based on them players are directly nominated for major FIDE events, also for national championships, they are invited (or not) for various tournaments with different conditions. And that is exactly why it is so important to have a proper rating system. This time, after a week of work, FIDE has clearly done the right move.

Best regards Bartlomiej Macieja 30th of April 2008


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