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Provision of Grading Guidance for Players with Insufficient Recent History for a Published Grade

19th January 2009

Richard Almond (Hastings & St Leonards) contributes:

My vote is that players without grades are show as such, without unreliable grades based on a minimal amount of data in Grader's records or Club estimates.  I realise there would be indication not official grades, but still feel better to leave entirely for interested parties to make their own judgement from results and board order.

23rd November 2008

Bernard Cafferty (Hastings & St Leonards) responds to the request for views:

There used to be a useful convention that, for such players, the grader went back to the last firm grade they enjoyed. I agree that a break of more than five years can lead to great rustiness, but some players doubtless still study the game during fallow periods and might still play casual games which, of course, are not eligible for grading.

[Ed.  Text deleted as it discusses a particular case that aroused comment. I wish to keep the discussion purely on the principle of whether or not including any information for players without a current grade, with an appropriate warning, is helpful or not.  In this particular case there is absolutely no suggestion that either the player or the club involved have done anything questionable.]

In other words, I believe it is not possible to have a 'one size fits all' policy - circumstances alter cases. I also believe that it is totally misleading to give a figure more than fifty points below an average figure achieved over a decade of regular play. A statistical truism is that you have to have a reasonable sample on which to base figures. To base a figure on less than ten games, in my view, is simply unrealistic and misleading.

19th November 2008

The Web Editor seeks views of MSCL players:-

Most players will be familiar with 2 sources of ECF grading information.  These are:-

1.  The published (paper) grading list:  this includes everyone who has played sufficient games (standard and / or rapid play) over not more than the previous 3 seasons to qualify for a Grading Category (A - E).  This covers players who have played 30 or more games in just the previous season (Cat. A) down to those who have played 9 games over the previous 3 seasons and at least 1 in the last season (Cat. E).  Full definitions can be found in the publication or on the ECF website.

2.  The online grading database on the ECF website:  In addition to the data in the published grading list, this contains data going back to when the player first had a grading, or 1994 (whichever is later).  It also contains data on "inactive players";  that is to say, players who do not appear in the latest published list, but have had a published grade at any time since 1994.  However, as in the published lists, it only gives data where the player qualified for a Grading Category.

As a grading reporter, I have access to a further source of data.  This is a more comprehensive database that includes anyone who has played ANY graded game(s) over the previous 3 seasons.  This is my primary source of player / grading information to show on the results pages of the website.  While it excludes anyone who has played no games at all for 3 or more seasons, it does give information on anyone who has played some games in that time, but who does not meet the criteria for any of the Grading Categories.  In particular, for such players, it does include a value in the column headed "GRADE", even though, officially, it is not a grade!  This situation is only distinguished by the presence of an asterisk, rather than a letter, in the column headed "CAT".  I have adopted the practice of quoting this "non-grade" grade value (!) in the grading columns of the results tables, but (so long as I spot them!) highlighted in red with the caution that such grades "are based on insufficient recent games to qualify for a grading category and are for guidance only".

One can imagine a number of reasons why a player might fall into this area.  For example, consider someone who plays 30+ games in one season.  Their grade at the end of that season will be based on those games alone, with a Grading Category of A.  The following season this person decides to go back-packing in Outer Mongolia, or whatever, and plays no graded games at all.  They no longer qualify for even a Grading Category of E, will not appear in the published grading list and will only appear in the online databasae as an inactive player, with no current grade.  They will, however, appear in my database and, because of the number of games played 2 seasons ago, their last official grade will be carried over into the current "GRADE" column, but without a category.  The next season they resume playing in the MSCL, so their name crops up in the results.  Given that they had been a very active player previously, and their chess sabatical had only lasted 1 year, that value is probably still a reasonable indication of their playing strength.

At the opposite extreme, there might be someone who is entirely new to competitive chess, or who hasn't played for many years, but then plays just one or two games.  The value given for such a player might be a reasonable indication of their current strength, but is subject to the margins of error applicable to statistical analysis of a small sample.  No doubt umpteen other scenaria can be imagined for players in this area.

In successive years, the games on which this value was based will be taken into account in updating the value, which will become an official grade, with a Grading Category, if they then satisfy the necessary criteria.  Consequently, such data can have some significance for up to 3 years.  (This is my understanding based on querying the significance of such data with the ECF grading coordinator.)

I have taken the view that such data might be of value to others, but that the caution should alert readers to the need to use care in interpreting them.  However, inputs from some readers indicates that despite this caution, this practice can cause misunderstanding or concern.  I am therefore seeking wider views on whether I should continue doing this, or whether it causes more confusion than guidance and I should delete such values.  Such players would then appear in the results as ungraded.

One correspondent has suggested that I might seek guidance from a player's club on what they feel his or her current strength is, and show this as an estimated grade.  This I am most reluctant to undertake.  Any such estimates would still be subjective, have absolutely no official significance and not be taken into account in any future official grade that the person qualified for.  Experience also suggests to me that obtaining such information from clubs might take considerable effort and time!  Clubs might, of course, wish to furnish such guidance about their current members on their own club website, or provide it to me for inclusion on their club's page on this website.  However, I'm not inclined to chase for it or to include such estimates in the results tables.  Consequently, I believe the only realistic options are:-

1.  Continue as I have been doing, passing on the information from my comprehensive graders' database, with a cautionary note.  Readers can then use such data with caution, ignore it or investigate further on an individual basis if they so wish; or

2.  Restrict the data I show to official grades, with a Grading Category.  This would be compatible with the published and (ECF) online database.  Players in the area we are concerned with here would then appear as ungraded and indistinguished from a totally new player with no history of competitive chess playing.  Readers could, of course, still investigate further through the ECF database, or with the player's club, to see if more background information might be available.

Your views please.