Or should I say, problems. After all, even if there is general agreement that FIDE's Elo system inflates - all these new 2700 players can't be that strong - there is more than one issue. Firstly, even club players with good memories can obtain a theoretically stronger and deeper repertoire than that which, say, Bobby Fischer ever mastered. How then are we meant to compare an "average" GM who plays Rybka-perfect lines for twenty moves with such kings of the past? But at the other end of the game, the abolishing of adjournments means endgames are played worse nowadays than, say, in the 1980s, something not at all factored into ratings. Another question mark: why is it that whenever a super-elite player such as Ivanchuk plays in a tournament a few categories below the top tier, they suddenly produce a 2900 performance? Could it be that the top few players - those never outside the top ten, say - actually have deflated ratings, thanks to playing each other so often? Deflated at least relative to the rest of the list, if not to the past?
And then there's the ECF system, which was found to be subject to deflation due to rapidly-rising juniors. A retrospective adjustment of all grades has since been made, and furthermore the ECF have tried to prevent the problem from occurring again by an adding an increment to each junior grade. 10 extra points for anyone under 10 years old each, 5 for anyone aged between 10 and 17. Crude fudge or satisfactory solution? We do not currently know, but at the very least this system ignores the deflationary effects of both juniors who aren't improving, and adults who are.
And what, then, is my solution? It's simple. All we need to do is find a player whose standard never changes: someone who plays at exactly the same level year on year, game on game, move on move. First, we find out what their rating is one year; second, we fix their grade at that point for eternity. Then finally we just measure other players against this one player, anchoring the entire system around this one solid point, changing all other grades as and when any inflation or deflation becomes apparent. (Indeed, different ratings might be adjusted differently.) Now, who could such a thoroughly consistent player be? Why, the answer is obvious. We need a computer programme that is never updated and always plays on the same hardware, and that's it. Problem solved.
Well, that's not quite it. First of all, the computer programme itself must be moderately strong. Strong enough that it could beat anyone on a good day, not so strong that it never loses. Secondly, it must have an opening repertoire not susceptible to anti-computer lines, the way early Fritzes were regularly mashed in closed King's Indian, for instance. The opening repertoire must also be broad enough that it is virtually unpreparable for, but not updated (because this would improve the computer's strength). Thirdly, the programme must face a large variety of human opposition, from weak players such as myself to strong Grandmasters. This could be organized online, or in special "rating determining" tournaments, or both. After that, the only thing to do is just analyse the results for de/inflation, and adjust rating lists accordingly. A very basic example, in case this part isn't wholly clear: let's say in the first year the computer consistently performs at 2650 against all opposition. We set its grade at 2650, but in the next year it performs equally consistently at 2700. This means the computer's performance has inflated by 50 points, so everyone's rating should be adjusted downwards by 50 points. The computer's, of course, stays the same - at 2650. Simple as.
So there it is, another off-the-board problem solved - a far easier thing to do than to solve them on the board, usually. What issue would you like to see Chivers resolve next?