In the March 2001 issue of Chess Life, issued in early February, a letter to the editor appears from David Vaughn of Houston, Texas in response to an earlier letter in the December 2000 issue by the Ratings Committee.  Mr. Vaughn takes issue with the Ratings Committee's statement that  under the two points per game activity bonus enacted by the Executive Board, "ratings could increase by hundreds of points simply as a result of playing in tournaments frequently."

Mr. Vaughn stated, "This is not possible!  Once a player has been more active than the average by 10 to 12 games, his rating will be approximately 20 points higher due to his increased activity.  However, since his rating is now 20 points higher than his 'true' ability, every game result will net him one less point than his 'true' rating would since he now has a higher win expectancy.  At this point, continued very active play only nets him approximately one point per game.  As this process continues, after an infinite number of games he can only achieve an 'activity boost' of approximately 40 points relative to the new average for people of his identical ability.  Thus for the players who started the year at 1500, if the average rises to 1550, the very active player will only achieved approximately a 1590 rating."

Mr. Vaughn asserts, "My dismay comes from the fact that the integrity of the USCF rating system (long one of the most valued services provided to members) is in jeopardy if members realize that the ratings committee is comprised of individuals who appear to have little understanding of the technical issues involved in the rating system." and concludes, "I call upon the Ratings Committee members concerned with preserving the integrity of the rating system to disband the committee, or at least resign so that people familiar with basic arithmetic can be appointed.  Failure to do so will indicate they are chess politicians, with no interest in integrity."

Even though it now seems there is little danger of "activity points" being implemented, as a member of the Ratings Committee, I think it appropriate to reply to Mr. Vaughn's charges.  I have submitted the following letter to the editor, to be considered for publication.

little understanding?

In the March issue, David Vaughn asserts that the USCF Ratings Committee "is composed of individuals who appear to have little understanding of the technical issues involved in the rating system." Mr. Vaughn says, "The committee's concern seems to focus around the very active player whose 'ratings could increase by hundreds of points simply as a result of playing in tournaments frequently'. This is not possible!"

He then goes on to explain that if players obtain two "activity points" per game, due to the fact that a higher rating makes gaining additional points more difficult, no player could gain more than 40 points more than the overall average, so that if the average gain due to activity points is 50 points, the maximum gain would be 90 points.

Mr. Vaughn's analysis is based upon a limited understanding of the rating system. His argument has validity for players who face entirely opponents rated within a few hundred points of themselves, but is erroneous regarding games between players with large rating differences. For example, when players 800 or more points apart meet, the higher rated has an expected score of 99% or greater. Awarding two activity points per game to a large number of such games would result in an average gain of about two points per game for the higher rated player, with no limit on how how high the rating could go (except for the 2000 limit that was part of the activity points proposal). This is why a Rating Committee simulation of past actual results showed that players would have gained as many as 400 points in less than a year as a result of activity points.

Bill Goichberg

Member, USCF Ratings Committee

Salisbury Mills, NY homepage