Reprinted with permission of Bill Williams, Badger Chess editor from the July 1982 edition.
An Interview with Arpad Elo
Badger Chess Editor, Ted Babcock, concludes his interview with Wisconsin’s steadiest and most supportive champion: Professor Arpad Elo, known in the outer places as the father of the rating system. Yes, the Elo number of every major player in the world is named for a man. In this part he scores Edmondson and appraises his compeers of the 1930-50 era,
How long did you play in tournaments?
Well, the last tournament that I played in was 1968. I started playing in state championships in 1933; I played in 37 consecutive state championships from 1933 to 1969, and during that time I won or tied for first eight or nine times, roughly 25% of the time. It’s a long history of chess; actually from 1926 when I first started to play in Milwaukee, I played for 43 years in Wisconsin chess.
Do you play only socially now?
I don’t even play any more because I have my statistical work for FIDE, although this has lessened since 1980 when the Amsterdam office took over the routine calculation of FIDE ratings, so I’m relieved of that, but since then I’ve been particularly involved in the application of the rating system to bowling and golf, although both of those games have inherent rating systems,: a bowler’s average and golfer’s stroke score. Still, there are applications of my system to both sports. The probability of one bowler outscoring another can now be calculated by applying my system. The same is true in golf. In golf you have such things as weather conditions and course difficulty, so stroke score may be an indication, but it's not an absolute method of comparing players unless they play in the same conditions, but I’ve applied the system in such a way that the elements of weather and course difficulty are removed; inherently the method is such that it compares players in a tournament to each other than to the par score.
Have any of the national organizations for those sports shown interest in using your system?
The American Bowling Congress has used my work in the detection of sandbagging, which is a serious problem in bowling because when bowlers enter tournaments they receive handicaps depending upon their average in league competition. Now, if a team or an individual chooses to underscore in league competition and then goes into a money tournament and scores his real ability, big money is involved. There is a case of a team that won $30,000 and it was pretty evident that they were sandbagging. So the system can be used without actually producing ratings.
In golf, we have actually produced ratings for a seven year period, 1970-1976, and that was made possible by a golf enthusiast who financed the project. But now it has to be continued by some official organization if it’s to have any value at all. It might take as much as $3000 a year to maintain the rating system, which, considering the money that’s involved in golf, is really peanuts, but it’s again a case of overcoming inertia. It would mean a change. The program for calculating the ratings are all available, so if anybody takes it over they can take the whole package and carry it on, but it remains to convince people that this would serve a purpose.
As one candidate for the Policy Board once remarked, “the rating system makes the difference between the USCF having 5000 and 50,000 members”. Eliminate the rating system and how many people will subscribe to Chess Life?
If you could arbitrarily change anything in US chess, what would that be?
In U.S. chess? That’s a difficult question. Well, I would like to see an endowment fund built up to support master chess and to support the US teams in various events. I suggested this to Edmondson when he was business manager.
But you need something on the order of a million dollars or more. A million dollars would provide us income—depending on the interest rate of course—of anywhere from $60,000 to $120,000 a year. Now, with that you could support US teams and send Masters abroad to represent the US.
But you couldn’t talk to Edmondson, because he unfortunately knew all the answers. We got an enormous amount of income during the Fischer boom, when the membership really went up, and some of that money could have been used constructively instead of frittered away as it was. No matter how you slice it, chess is not a game so very popular that admission fees to tournaments can support the Masters as they do in other sports. The spectator appeal in chess isn’t there. What kind of gallery do we have here? Even at the US Open, the gallery is small. So we need a permanent fund which has to be built up over the years. If this had been started back in the sixties and all the money from life membership had been invested, just think, with all the money market funds these days, the Federation would be rich. It needs some vision.
Another thing, in operating the rating system: there should be a small technical committee of experts, maybe three or four people at the most, instead of having technical decisions made in Delegate’s Meetings, as it’s done now. It’s ridiculous to put a technical question to a Delegate’s Meeting with all the prejudices and ignorance that prevail about the rating system swaying the membership one way or the other. It’s like trying to decide by vote whether the value of pi should be 3-1/7 or 3.1415 and so on, you see? The democratic process is very fine, but not in deciding technical matters.
Who is the strongest player ever from Wisconsin apart from William Martz and Leonid Bass?
Well, at the present time there are many more near or at the Master level than there were before. Certainly Martz and Bass are at least a class interval above what prevailed during my era. During my period, there were maybe half a dozen strong players who were in the same general class—we were competitive with one another. I think one of the most promising players was Jerry Kraszewski. He won the state title, I think only once (actually twice in 1946 and 1956—TB), but he reached his peak during the war years and had to go into the army. But he was a very imaginative player who had a great deal of talent and insight—insight. His flaw was that he always fought the clock. The other player who was very imaginative and original was Richard Kujoth. But he was an undisciplined player. And there was Averill Powers, too.
I think if they were active at the present time or kept up with the latest developments, they would all have low Master ratings. Of course there were some very fine players who came in toward the end of my career and are now masters. I’m thinking more of the thirties, forties and fifties. There were players who would come in for a sort of transcience, like Hugh Myers, and Richard Reel who, in the early days in the thirties, was a strong player, and Enos Wicher, a University of Wisconsin student who for a couple of years won the state title. If you look at the winners of state titles on the old Reel Cup you will find that most of them would be low Master strength. But those players—Kraszewski, Kujoth, Powers—I think they unquestionably would have been Masters, given the opportunity to play frequently. This of course is much easier now than in my days--much more opportunity to play with strong players outside the state. We became too inbred, really. There was a lot of activity in Milwaukee, but—
In the 1950’s, I started the big tournaments in Milwaukee, the North Central Open and the Western Open—those were really my efforts that started them. Go back to the old issues of Chess Life when it was still in the paper format, you’ll see that the North Central Open and the Western Open, along with a few others around the country, were really the forerunners of the big open tournaments.
White: Arpad Elo – Black: Robert Fischer
New Western Open, Milwaukee July 4, 1957
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 f4 e5 7 Nf3 Qc7 8 Bd3 Nbd7 9 O-O b5 10 Qe1 Bb7 11 a3 g6 12 Qh4 Bg7 13 g4 exf4 14 Bxf4 O-O 15 Qg3 Ne5 16 Nxe5 dxe5 17 Bxe5 Qc5+ 18 Rf2 Nh5 19 Bd6 Qxc3 20 bxc3 Nxg3 21 Bxf8 Rxf8 22 hxg3 Bxc3 23 Rb1 Bd4 24 a4 Bc8 25 axb5 axb5 26 Rxb5 Bxg4 27 Kg2 Bxf2 28 Kxf2 Be6 29 Rc5 Kg7 30 Kf3 Kf6 31 Kf4 Ra8 32 g4 h6 33 g5+ hxg5+ 34 Rxg5 Rh8 35 Rg2 g5+ 36 Kf3 Rh3+ 37 Rg3 Rxg3+ 38 Kxg3 Ke5 39 c3 Bd7 40 Bc4 f6 41 Bd5 Be8 42 c4 Kd4 43 Kg4 Bg6 44 Kf3 Bh5+ 45 Kf2 Bd1 46 Kg3 Be2 47 c5 Kxc5 48 Be6 Kd4 49 Bf5 Ke3 0-1