Pestaño: Who is the best chess player ever?

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Thursday, July 10, 2014


IN ANY sport, choosing the best player of all time is controversial and subject to criticisms.

As an example, in the heavyweight division in boxing, is it Muhammad Ali or Rocky Marciano? In golf, Tiger Woods ,Jack Niklaus and Ben Hogan comes to mind. In tennis, there are many in contention, namely Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg,Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors.

Going further, in team sports we have Pele, Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Johan Cruff and Franz Beckenbauer in football and Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson and LeBron James in basketball.

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If you ask any chess-playing Tom, Dick and Harry in previous years as to who is the best player of all time, you will get mostly two names--Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov.

I say “mostly” because some experts including grandmasters favor Paul Morphy (Fischer’s choice), Emmanuele Lasker (champion for 27 years ) and Jose Capablanca (most gifted ).

Now, my choice is the phenomenal Magnus Carlsen, the current champion. He has the highest rating in classical (2877), rapid (2855) and blitz (2948) in history.

The main reason why he is my choice is because he is still 23 years old and historically, the peak performance of a chess player is between 30 and 35.

There is no doubt that he will breach the 2900 Elo rating barrier in classical play and that would be roughly equivalent to when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile. He is a complete chess player--brilliant in the opening, middle and unbeatable in endgames.

In my observation, there is no serious threat from the current top players. His most serious challenges will come in the next two to four years from two unlikely sources—China’s 15-year-old sensation Wei Yei and Wesley So!

Here is a word of caution and warning though, in comparing the ratings of players who have not played against each other.

Arpad Elo, who developed the rating system bearing his name and implemented in 1969 was of the opinion that “it was futile to attempt to use ratings to compare players from different eras; they could only measure the strength of a player as compared to his or her contemporaries.”

According to recent estimates, Elo ratings has inflated by 100 points since the time of Fischer and 50 points since Kasparov. Also there was no established rating system during the time of Morphy, Lasker and Capablanca.

Jeff Sonas’ rating system is called “Chessmetrics” and claims to take account of the rating inflation that the Elo system has suffered.

Sonas, like Elo, claims that it is impossible to compare the strength of players from different eras, saying:

“Of course, a rating always indicates the level of dominance of a particular player against contemporary peers; it says nothing about whether the player is stronger/weaker than a player far removed from them in time. So while we cannot say that Fischer in the early 1970s or Capablanca in the early 1920s were the “strongest” players of all time, we can say with a certain amount of confidence that they were the two most dominant players of all time. That is the extent of what these ratings can tell us.”

Cepca. Our July tournament will be on July 20 at the second floor of Handuraw Gorordo at 2 p.m.

In August, we will have several outreach projects. We will sponsor a tournament among inmates of BBRC, subject to approval of the authorities, both for men and a separate tournament for women. We will also be back at Mandaue City jail.

We will also arrange a match against a selection of male varsity players of various schools in Cebu against Cepca.

(boypestano@gmail.com,www.chessmoso.blogspot.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 11, 2014.

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