I'm writing this on Monday evening and the new FIDE rating list is due out tomorrow (1st July).
This is good news for fans of 17 year old boys everywhere because, as you may have been reading over the past couple of weeks, Magnus Carlsen is going to be the new second highest rated player in the world. Except apparently he isn't because FIDE published the list a day early and they have him in sixth place. Even though he gained ten rating points he actually dropped down one spot from fifth, thanks mostly to an extraordinary run of form lifting Ivanchuk from eleventh to fourth.
So what's going on?
Well, let us begin with the general and note a recent chessdom article by Hans Arilde Arunde (FIDE card) during which the Norwegian said, with regard to working out how the rating list might be calculated,
"I must admit that trying to predict what FIDE will do, sometimes feel (sic) like trying to hit a moving target!"
This is not a good start is it? We are, after all, talking about the official rating list published by the game's governing body - the organisation charged with running professional chess. Shouldn't the process be clear, transparent and obvious to all?
I can't help but imagine Magnus phoning FIDE to find out his new rating and the conversation going something as follows:
Magnus Carlsen: "Who are you?"
FIDE Wonk: "The new Number Two."
MC: "Who is Number One?"
FW: "You are Number Six."
MC: "I am not a number — I am a free man!"
Why specifically is the Norwegian prodigy not, as things stand, officially the second highest rated player in the world? It seems that the deadline for results to be included in the July rating list was 15th of June and Carlsen's most recent tournament, Aerosvit 2008 held at Foros, didn't finish until the 19th. As a result none of the games played there were included in the calculations for the new list even though the event finished two weeks before it was due to be published.
You may recall that we've been here before. In April 2007 there was an almost identical kerfuffle over whether Anand had, or had not, taken numero uno status from Topalov. Traditionally FIDE have included important events in their rating calculations even if they ended after the official deadline. Last year, as now, the confusion arose as a result of FIDE's apparently arbitrary decision to stop this practice.
Magnus Carlsen, as played by Patrick McGoohan, travels to FIDE HQ
(aka 'The Village') hoping to establish what the chuff's going on with the rating system
Now I understand that maintaining a rating list is probably not as easy as I think it is. I also realise that it takes a little while to get data into any system but don't you think the 'pressure of time' argument would hold a little more water had FIDE not managed to publish the new list early? Neither, by the way, can we allow FIDE the possible defence that the tournament organisers may not have informed them of the results. According to ChessBase FIDE do have the information but are choosing not to use it. ChessBase also report it is not the "rating officers" but "administrators" who took the decision not to include Foros.
This all seems very strange to me, not the least because the aforementioned Mr. Arunde runs chess.liverating.org which manages to update ratings on a game by game basis let alone tournament by tournament. How can it be that FIDE can't match one guy working on his own?
It's true that Arunde's 'live list' only deals with elos 2700 and above (currently 29 players) but as I mentioned in the comments last time, I don't think a two tier rating system is necessarily a bad thing. A daily updated system for the elite and the regular list for the rest of us is just fine by me. If FIDE can't do it themselves I wonder if they might then consider bunging Arunde a few quid/krone/prostitutes or whatever it is that they usually dole out to get things done and have him run a live list for them.
Does any of this matter? Well, I confess that I'm in a minority here at the S&BCC blog but I rather think it does. I happen to think that having Carlsen drop one spot in the rankings when the whole chess world knows he's really jumped to second place makes FIDE look like divs.
The rating list always was out of date as soon as it was published but now the entire world can find out access a real-time rating list at the click of a mouse button FIDE's insistence on sticking to an arbitrary and bureaucratic procedure seems totally bizarre and it does not bode well for the future.
I rather suspect that by the time this is published on Thursday morning FIDE will have changed their mind and decided that Magnus Carlsen is the second best player in the world after all. While correcting a mistake can only be a good thing, buggering about in this manner once again does rather reinforce the impression that any owners of whelk stalls would be best advised not to leave them in the hands of FIDE officials for any length of time.
Whether or not a corrected list is eventually issued, as things stand Magnus Carlsen is number six and FIDE have left themselves looking like a bunch of number twos.
Thursday morning update:
Looks like I was wrong about FIDE issuing a corrected list.
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Speedy Malc (got there before me dammit)