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  1. #1
    CC Grandmaster Desmond's Avatar
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    Chess strength v age

    Interesting article on fivethirtyeight (from 2017):

    ...To get some insight into how chess skill might decline with age, I downloaded the most recent FIDE rating list, from the beginning of August. This lists ranks all the players registered with the game’s international governing body according to their Elo rating.1 The end result was a data set with more than 280,000 players and their respective ratings. These are all the players currently rated by FIDE, although some of them, such as Kasparov, are flagged as “inactive,” meaning that they haven’t played a rated game in a year or more. (To estimate a given player’s age, we subtracted his or her birth year from 2017.)

    The result is shaped like a large floating apostrophe of mortality. After a steep increase in players’ early years (youth is wasted on the young), the estimated trend in ratings peaks just after age 38, before beginning a long, slow, irreversible and depressing decline (kinda like real life). ...

    So what's your excuse? To run like the devil's chasing you.

    See you in another life, brotha.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by road runner View Post
    ...The result is shaped like a large floating apostrophe of mortality. After a steep increase in players’ early years (youth is wasted on the young), the estimated trend in ratings peaks just after age 38, before beginning a long, slow, irreversible and depressing decline (kinda like real life). ...
    The good news is that active players can retain most of their ability, even into their nineties.

  3. #3
    CC Grandmaster Desmond's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Byrom View Post
    The good news is that active players can retain most of their ability, even into their nineties.
    The dataset used also contained inactive players. It's really showing the age v the rating when they were last active. For example it's showing Kasparov's current age v his rating which was then over a decade old. I suspect that the decline would be steeper than shown.

    Also there could be some self selection going on - maybe better players are likely to continue playing for longer.
    So what's your excuse? To run like the devil's chasing you.

    See you in another life, brotha.

  4. #4
    Monster of the deep Kevin Bonham's Avatar
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    And they are ignoring the changes in the FIDE rating floor over time. A 30 year old whose lifetime peak strength is 1100 and who plays FIDE-rated chess all their life will probably have a FIDE rating while an 80 year old for whom the same is true probably won't.

    Still pretty similar to what I would expect.
    Last edited by Kevin Bonham; 09-02-2019 at 06:37 PM.

  5. #5
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    Kasparov to Carlsen/other top players is not a fair comparison at all as Garry retired from chess many years ago and is not studying/preparing regularly -nor playing tournaments on regular basis.

    Korchnoi (despite failing health) was still playing fairly strongly when close to 80. With age, players are more likely to study less and to try ''less hard'' over the board. Some players - but not all!

    Re peaking at 38 - majority of the world's top players is younger than 38 but then again - Vishi is doing well at 50!
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  6. #6
    CC Grandmaster Desmond's Avatar
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    Yuri Averbakh is the oldest living GM at 96, not active for a while though.
    So what's your excuse? To run like the devil's chasing you.

    See you in another life, brotha.

  7. #7
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    It feels like the authors have not investigated the subject deeply enough.

    Just some questions that immediately come to my mind.

    1) Where is the 38 coming from? How statistically credible this result? The locus of points on the chart looks literally everywhere.

    2) Even if we assume that 38 is statistically significant, what does it say? Very few could become professional chessplayers. Around 38 people get busy with jobs and families and chess becomes less important. Well, that actually what exactly happened to me. I stopped playing competitively when I was 38.

    3) Chess ratings do not disappear even if players do not play. So what is the point of comparing Kasparov's rating of 2812 with the current players? The authors say that he is number 2 in the world, but realistically he would struggle to be even in the top 20.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by road runner View Post
    Yuri Averbakh is the oldest living GM at 96, not active for a while though.
    I met him when I was a kid in 1989 - at the time he was not that old and in absolutely perfect physical shape for his age (looked like he was in his early 50's) However, he was saying that he is not interested in stressing himself by playing tournament as it is neither inspiring nor healthy at his age.
    Curiously, I checked the Database, he did play some tournament games in the 1990's but just a few...and it is clear that he has not been taking tournament play very seriously.

    However, those players who have never been among the ''top guns'' during their young years may still have something to prove in senior events.
    Rotstein from Germany is 86yo and is rated above 2300. During his young days, he was just a national master of average strength so his playing level has not gone down too much.
    Nikolac from Croatia is turning 87 and has been playing as recently as last year. His fide is still over 2400! He is a GM ...but has never been a very strong GM - yet maintained his level of play.

    Also, there are IMs who are around 70 but remain rated around 2400.
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  9. #9
    Monster of the deep Kevin Bonham's Avatar
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    I'm currently gathering data to post the median rating for active players of each age; will only be a short time ...

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Bonham View Post
    I'm currently gathering data to post the median rating for active players of each age; will only be a short time ...
    That has already (mean rather than median) been done here and here.

    RatingvsAgeCapture.JPG

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vlad View Post
    ... 3) Chess ratings do not disappear even if players do not play. So what is the point of comparing Kasparov's rating of 2812 with the current players? The authors say that he is number 2 in the world, but realistically he would struggle to be even in the top 20.
    A good point. From the first link in my previous post: "Inactive players were excluded from the analysis (an inactive player could carry a high ELO rating into the old age and therefore skews the statistics; as good as Kasparov is, he won’t be a 2800+ player at the age of 95 anymore);

  12. #12
    Monster of the deep Kevin Bonham's Avatar
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    [EDIT: This post should be read in conjunction with post 15.]

    OK this is the graph for all all male currently FIDE-rated players by age, just giving the mean and median for each age group.

    FIDE BY AGE.png

    For age 6 and for all ages >90 there is a very small sample size hence the large amount of bouncing about.

    There's little difference between the mean and median lines. I like the mean line better because it is, for whatever reason, smoother for the age groups with decent data.

    The peak age for both mean and median rating is 33 (cf fivethirtyeight's 38 for all players including inactive). 33-year old players have a mean FIDE rating of 1836 and median of 1847.

    The distribution in peak years is slightly two-humped. It dips lowest at 44 (mean 1773, median 1785) and the second peak is at 52 (mean 1798, median 1823). After losing only a few dozen points between early 30s and early 50s, there is then a loss of 110-130 points over the next 20 years.

    However it would be necessary to look longitudinally at specific players to establish whether players really decline that slowly. It could be that the faster-declining players tend to quit chess while the evergreens are more likely keep going. There are also a lot of past rating system issues that could be influencing the pattern.

    I have ignored three South African players allegedly born in 1900.

    [EDIT: Just discovered I inadvertently deleted all female players based on the flag field, so I'll have another go!]
    Last edited by Kevin Bonham; 10-02-2019 at 11:17 PM.

  13. #13
    Monster of the deep Kevin Bonham's Avatar
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    Interesting to see the differences between mine and the links posted by Pat. Probably the smoother decline in the one Pat posted the graph from is caused not only by grouping into 5-year age bands but also by excluding players with high k-factors. This might suggest that the 30s-40s age group is dragged down compared to the early-50s group by having a higher proportion of inexperienced weak players. (I can't check this quickly because I deleted those columns from my dataset because they were in the way.)

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Byrom View Post
    A good point. From the first link in my previous post: "Inactive players were excluded from the analysis (an inactive player could carry a high ELO rating into the old age and therefore skews the statistics; as good as Kasparov is, he won’t be a 2800+ player at the age of 95 anymore);
    Yes, the authors mention this and then they compare Kasparov and the current top players. It makes the whole story strange/inconsistent. Well, they could have structured the article better.

  15. #15
    Monster of the deep Kevin Bonham's Avatar
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    This is what the age curve for adults looks like with all active rated adults with known age included except those for whom k=40 (who have less than 30 games). Including juniors would be misleading because their k-factors no longer differentiate between those with <30 and 30+ games.

    FIDE BY AGE 2.png

    Getting rid of players with few FIDE games (I'm assuming it's this rather than adding females!) gets rid of the double-hump I noticed before.

    The peak age is still 33 (mean 1963, median 1974). From there it's all downhill at about five points a year, which looks more or less linear at least from ages 33 to 87, after which point the series gets too volatile to say much of use because of small sample size.

    One of the links posted by Pat mentions another possible confounding factor: number of active players dips at peak strength. So it could be (though they don't say it) that players are more likely to keep playing actively around that age if they are strong, and more likely to take a break and come back later in life (with an inflated rating that takes time to go down) if they are less strong.
    Last edited by Kevin Bonham; 10-02-2019 at 11:18 PM.

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