San Luis: Topalov and other historical performance records

10/8/2005 – Victory celebration for Veselin Topalov at the FIDE World Championship are virtually a certainty. So our statistical attention is diverted to a different question: is Topalov's performance so far the greatest of all time? In addition: Susan Polgar gives us her expectations for round nine.

Will it be smooth sailing for Topalov
the rest of the way?

Anand - Topalov: This will be an epic battle. If Anand wants to have any chance of catching Topalov, it has to start with this round. He is trailing Topalov by 2.5 points and can cut it to 1.5 with a win. This will be the toughest and most dangerous opponent for Topalov. If this game ends in a draw or win for Topalov, it is over. This is a true toss up.

J. Polgar - Adams: Both are not having a good tournament. Judit's husband just arrived in San Luis to give her support. It is tough to have a young baby and be a chess professional at the same time. That is why her husband had to stay home to care for their son. In addition, today is an off day. Therefore, I expect an all out battle. I give a small edge to Judit.

Svidler - Kasimdzhanov: Svidler is trailing Topalov by 2 points. While Topalov has his hands full with Anand tomorrow, Svidler is facing the lowest rated player in the tournament. This is his chance to cut into the lead. On the other hand, Kasim just lost a very tough game, a game he could have won. He is eager to get back on track. I give a small edge to Svidler.

Morozevich - Leko: Morozevich just came off a back to back win. Leko also had a good run. Both are now at even score. I expect a tough fight in this game. This is another toss up.

Susan Polgarwww.SusanPolgar.blogspot.com


A statisticians view of the FIDE World Championship

By Jeff Sonas

Although the FIDE world championship tournament in San Luis is barely halfway complete, a victory celebration for Veselin Topalov is almost a certainty. Most of the other players still have a mathematical possibility of winning the title, but Topalov now has a 91% chance to win the tournament, with only Viswanathan Anand (5% chance) and Peter Svidler (4% chance) having any real shot at catching Topalov:

Normally at this point in a tournament, I would be trying to shed light on why certain players’ chances were more promising than you might think, or pointing out interesting details about what has transpired so far. However, this is not a normal tournament. Topalov is so far ahead that the most popular topic will probably be whether we are witnessing the single greatest tournament performance of all time.

A few months ago I did a lot of research on this topic as part of the release of my new Chessmetrics website, as well as my series of articles on the greatest player of all time. I devised my own performance rating measure, one which considers the number of games played along with the raw score. This measure acknowledges that an 80% score across ten games might be more impressive (and more significant) than a 90% score across only five games. The Chessmetrics performance rating indicates the rating we would assign to the player, if we knew of no results other than the one tournament. So of course a greater number of games is going to provide additional evidence that they really are that strong.

According to this measure, the greatest tournament performance of all time was achieved by Anatoly Karpov at the Linares tournament eleven years ago in 1994, with a performance rating of 2899. Topalov’s partial San Luis performance is in the top ten, and he does have a chance at topping Karpov, although Topalov would have to finish with 5 out of his last 6 in order to arrive at the 12/14 score he would need. That would make his the only player in history to achieve a 2900+ Chessmetrics performance rating in a tournament:

Of course, we must also consider the importance of the tournament, in assessing the “greatness” of a performance. The Linares tournament was not part of any world championship cycle, whereas the current San Luis tournament will determine the FIDE World Champion. Thus perhaps it would be more fair to compare Topalov’s performance against other tournament performances that were part of a FIDE championship cycle:

This means that Mikhail Tal in 1959 is the only player with a higher performance rating than Topalov in such an important tournament, although of course these are relative values, and the quality of chess being played today is presumably far stronger (objectively speaking) than was played in Tal’s time, or even Fischer’s. I want to call your attention to Paul Keres in the above list, with one of the greatest performances ever in a Candidates event, and he didn’t even win it! Incredibly, another 2nd place performance by Keres is only a few spots farther down on the list, with a 2825 performance in finishing behind Petrosian three years later in 1962.

If Anand and Svidler do manage to close the gap, then it could prove to be a thrilling finish. But even if Topalov maintains his fabulous lead, we can at least keep score and try to place his accomplishment in its proper historical context. To help you in this endeavor, here is a table detailing the Chessmetrics performance rating that will accompany each of Topalov’s possible final scores. You can see that it will take a +10 score for his performance to top Karpov’s best-ever tournament performance, and a +8 score to top Tal’s best-ever FIDE-cycle tournament performance:

Final Score Performance
9/14 (+4) 2797
9.5/14 (+5) 2817
10/14 (+6) 2837
10.5/14 (+7) 2858
11/14 (+8) 2878
11.5/14 (+9) 2898
12/14 (+10) 2918
12.5/14 (+11) 2938
13/14 (+12) 2959

Note that you can see far more about these topics on my Chessmetrics site, if this isn’t enough for you. To get you started, here is a link to the 50-greatest event performances (including both tournaments and matches) of all time.

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