Sunday, November 15, 2015

An evening with Ilya Merenzon

Email to Ilya Merenzon, CEO of AGON, 12 November 2015.

Dear Mr Merenzon

In your Report of September 7, 2015 to the FIDE Executive Board, you write:

I wonder then if I could ask you about the claim you make that there are "600 million players globally".

The report gives as a source for this information YouGov March 2012 but in fact the YouGov survey gives no such figure and YouGov have specifically stated that the figure does not come from them. They say:
I am afraid that we do not have any further information about this and about how that figure was arrived at.
I wonder whether you would be able to provide a proper and verifiable source for the figure you give and if not, whether AGON will withdraw it.

Looking forward to your reply


Reply, same date:

Dear Justin,

Can you please introduce yourself (I mean the organization you represent)?

Regarding data: YouGov is not authorized to provide detail on the research given that we paid for research and own results and YouGov is not distributing it without our authorization. Study commissioned by us took place in India, Russia, Germany, US, UK. Numbers that we cite are conservative approximation and we are prepared to give more details if need be, but first I’d like to know who I am talking to.



Reply to the reply, same date:

Dear Ilya

Thanks for your reply. I write for the Streatham and Brixton Chess Blog.

I have already seen the raw data from the YouGov survey and I communicated with them about it in 2013, which is how I was able to confirm that no such figure appears in their research.

All the best


Further reply, still same date:

Thank you. Out of curiosity (since you seem to put some thought into it) what's your view on number of people playing chess (by playing I mean the yougov way to define it).

Also, how did you get access to raw data?



My reply, date unchanged:

Dear Ilya

As my piece explains, I got access to the raw data by contacting YouGov directly. I did this after attempting to contact the PR representative identified in the AGON press release, which invited us to do so for "more information (including access to the raw YouGov survey results)".

I don't have a particular view on the likely number of people on the world who play chess, other than that I consider it is likely to be much, much lower, given that it it is talked about or discussed on social media relatively rarely. The figure for 285 million players on the internet is similarly unbelievable.

All the best


[Thanks to Jon Manley]
[605 million index]


Andrew Gelman said...

This is hilarious. It would be great if they were to reply and you could get a whole string of runaround emails. But I have a horrible feeling this is the last you'll hear from them.

Anonymous said...

We established that the survey in question used a very loose definition of "playing chess". To compare that total to other sports, games and pastimes, you would have to count their participants using a similar very loose definition. For example that you counted as a "footballer" if at least once a year, you kicked a ball a few times.

Their numbers might be valid for the countries they sampled. Why though, is it justified to extrapolate to the rest of the world?

"Hard" numbers are known, if not published, for those playing chess. You count the numbers playing in chess sufficiently organised to have a rating system. You can include school events where the headcount of participants is logged even if without a formal performance measurement.

Agon is an independent commercial organisation. If it bases its business plans on fantasy numbers, that is to an extent its own problem were it not for its associations with the International and National Chess Federations.


Anonymous said...

This is the same company that by contract with FIDE must be the "sole and exclusive organiser" of the Championship Cycle events (Annex 11, 2012 General Assembly), yet was pushing "co-organization" possibilities all over its brochures for the Candidates just recently. Maybe one can give Merenzon a bit of leeway after Paulson left (or fled), but the FIDE/Agon interaction is getting more and more murky in my opinion (how did the Blitz and Rapid get under its control?), but I can't expect any FIDE groupies to inquire about this though.