Friday, March 22, 2013

Half a billion chess players can be wrong

There was a YouGov poll which showed that about 12% of British adults play chess reasonably regularly, more than a few times a year
So saith Dominic Lawson, on Radio Four last Friday. (At 2:36: his exact words are not 100% clear from the recording, but I do not think I mistake his meaning.)

One of these two people is dressed like a chess player

There was, indeed, a YouGov poll: we looked at it last month. It did say that 12% of British adults (or at least, 12% of their sample) play regularly, but more than half that 12% are in the category "at least once a year" rather than "at least once a month" or "at least once a week". Dominic's claim is wrong.

Dominic's on a bit of a poor run this month, what with writing this in Standpoint:
As one of his rivals admitted to me, "Magnus always plays his moves with such confidence. There is a definite aura about him." That, at least, he has in common with Bobby Fischer. Viktor Korchnoi, who I believe is the only man to have played the two of them, has ascribed to both the effect of "hypnotising" the opponent.
Viktor Korchnoi...I believe is the only man to have played the two of them. Dominic may believe this, but unfortunately he believes incorrectly, with Ulf Andersson and Lajos Portisch two others who can claim that distinction. Still, Dominic remains one of the better part-time chess writers in the mainstream press. (Stephen Moss at the Guardian is another).

Back at the old YouGov poll, my attention is drawn to this from Chess In Schools And Communities. This piece, as well as referring to "proven educational benefits", the evidence for which is unclear (but which we are promised shortly) also claims that recent research has found the game to be played by over half a billion people worldwide.

If you click this it may enlarge, much as it enlarges the number of actual chess players

It has not, of course, and I reckon whoever wrote that ought to know this.

Digressing for a moment on the half-billion nonsense, I was trying to trace the origin of the claim and I found a piece in Wired from October 2001 which refers to
the estimated half-billion chess players out there.
The subjects of this interview include Fred Friedel and the World's Worst Chess Journalist. Is the figure Friedel's? Or can Ray possibly have thought up this one himself? Surely not. Ray never thinks up anything for himself.

Maybe it comes from the actor who portrayed Jesus Christ. Which is at least some kind of authority.

Despite appearances there are actually half a billion of us

Now, talking of journalists and journalism, since this is the silly season (any time chess is in the news is the silly season) and to show that far from being just a moaning pedant I am a generous moaning pedant, I had intended today to give away a prize in connection with the Candidates Tournament.

While we cannot match the prize fund of 510,000€ on offer at the tournament, we do however have a fiver we are prepared to give away. And to prove it, here it is.

Now the intention was to award this fiver to the reader who sent us the worst piece written about the 2013 Candidates Tournament. However, since nobody is likely to top Tom Peck's rubbish in the Independent, which Phil wrote about on Wednesday, and because members of the blog team weren't going to be eligible for the fiver, I'm afraid I shall just have to spend the money on drink.

Unless, that is, anybody can locate an earlier example of the half-billion claim than the one above. In which case, the fiver* is theirs.

[* One fiver only, in the event of more than one entry the earliest example wins]
[Thanks to Geoff Chandler]

[Thanks to Angus]
[Lawson photo]
[Ray Keene index]


Anonymous said...

Kirsan claims 600 million currently and wants to increase it to a billion. But where did the original claim come from? Without being able to pin down a precise source, there seem two possibilities. One being in 1999 to 2000 when Kirsan set up FIDE Commerce to "commercialise" chess, the other being in 2000 when the BrainGames Company was launched.

If you are talking about the online audience, the hard statistic is how many unique people turned up to watch or to find out what happened. There can be a large audience as the Deep Blue match in 1997 supposedly caused immense traffic.


Matt Fletcher said...

A somewhat lower estimate from 1971 (via Google's News Archive)


New York Times - Aug 15, 1971

He estimates there are 60.million chess players in [the] world...

Matt Fletcher said...

And here's 600m apparently from FIDE, July 2001 - sadly you have to pay to see the whole article.


Salt Lake Tribune, The - Jul 29, 2001

Although chess has the potential numbers of a major sport, events are rarely ... FIDE informs us that there are approximately 600 million players worldwide, but ...

It's quite fun to see how widely the numbers differ depending on time and context - suspect the definition of "player" differs quite a bit throughout these reports (and obviously any extrapolated number such as the YouGov one needs to be taken with a (fairly large) pinch of salt).

Anonymous said...

Searching for fide billion chess players comes up with

(Warning - it's Sam Sloan site so at the very least it will try to play music at you)

In this there is the claim
It is absolutely clear that to find the big corporate sponsor, which we all badly need we must be seen in the world as a cohesive unit; a united, strong and viable international organisation with 159 member countries and over half a billion devotees with the same aim, goals and vision.

It isn't dated but 2000 from the context. TWIC 276 of Feb 2000 mentions the FIDE Commerce document as well, but doesn't comment on the half billion claim

ejh said...

Good effort, but it will be hard for an entirely anonymous entry to win the fiver...

Matt Fletcher said...

Anon: A dated version of the commerce document (Feb 2000 as expected) from the archive of the FIDE site:

ejh said...

Hmmm. For my money, literally in this instance, Anonymous is winning, but without a plausible self-identification (which can if necessary be made via I reckon Matt is going to get the fiver.