'FIDE – An Inglorious Inventory'

by ChessBase
5/26/2010 – Any idea which are the most active chess playing countries in the world? Did you know that 43,000 people in the world have a 2000+ rating, while around the same number are rated below that mark? The top seven countries have the same number of players as the remaining 136 members of FIDE? The French Chess Federation's Léo Battesti presents us with some eye-opening statistics.

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FIDE – An Inglorious Inventory

By Léo Battesti, Vice President of the French Chess Federation

It seems incredible, but the work of Fabrice Touvron is a first. His tables (link at the bottom of the page) give details, federation by federation, of the number of FIDE rated players by rating classes as well as the number of rated games that are played. This data allows to better understand the state of chess in the world. And a few months before FIDE elections, this analysis reveals the sorry state of our sport in the world.

Elitist politics

Imagine that football (soccer) only had, in the whole world, players from the First and Second Leagues. That’s a bit the way it is in chess, in the large majority of the 143 concerned countries.

Most federations have, effectively, an elitist policy which neglects amateur players. Evolutionism replaces politics, and the only survivors are the best armed. The mass is not organised. There are few competitions and specific activities. Did you know, for example, that the French Federation is the only federation organising a national youth championship with more than 1,000 players.

Germany, at the head of the numerical standings, gives the tone: 8,394 players above 2000, with barely 5,388 for all the other categories put together. It is even more drastic for Russia (8,813/3,610). The importance of the Russian elite should be taken into perspective according to its population and the number of games taken into account. Compared to France, the figures are surprising: 0.0088 of the Russian population against 0.012 of the French; and 18,114 rated games against 21,349 in France. So Russian players over 2000 only play occasionally. But then what are their 1,501 titled players (GMs, IMs and FMs) doing?

The same thing can be observed in most countries, in the USA, for example, you can only find 297 players rated under 2000 among a deceptive total number of only 2227. But the leaders in this are the Chinese: just 398 FIDE rated players, barely 9% of whom are rated under 2000. This is for a population of 1,338,000,000 !

On a worldwide scale, the consequences of this elitist choice are instructive: 42,894 have a rating greater than 2000, 32,460 have a rating between 1800 and 2000, and just 19,888 players in the world have a FIDE rating under 1800! Note that France and Spain represent 17% of this category (and the top ten countries represent 67%). These two federation have, effectively, the most harmonious distribution, with 3628/6434 and 2751/5282 players respectively in the categories above and below Elo 2000.

End of the myths

Reading these tables, other myths collapse. Turkey, which has popularised chess in schools, is far behind. It stagnates in 25th place with barely 1,056 FIDE rated players and only 1,117 rated games compared to 21,349 for France. So having chess in schools is not sufficient to develop our sport. Grassroot structures, links between schools and clubs, and national organisation are indispensable tools. Assets, which are obviously used by only a few countries.

Financial considerations could certainly be cited, but they are not sufficient to explain why among 295,061 rated games, 77% are played in the first 20 countries (227,972). These structural weaknesses are particularly obvious in territories which are wealthy and have a good chess tradition: USA (3,235 games), United Kingdom (barely 1,487, less than Corsica with 2,167!), the Netherlands (3,820). The winner, on the other hand, is Spain (38,911), ahead of Germany (31,506), the Czech Republic and France.

An internal pseudo democracy

The FIDE elections will take place with an Electoral College of 143 voting members. That’s one federation one vote – like, unfortunately, most sports federations. Thus 50 countries in the Electoral College will have an average of 28 players each – some of them only 1 to 5 – and will weigh as heavily as Germany’s one vote for 13,782 players or Russia’s one vote for 12,423.

That all federations should be represented is a right. But that such huge disparities should be accepted is an affront to democratic principles. In fact, as we have already understood, this alibi for equal rights only serves to maintain a system of control by federations that have no real existence, and that have delegates who go to the Olympiads sometimes as the only member, invited, most often, by the incumbent President.

Confronted by this problem, some federations would like to require a minimum number of members and clubs to distinguish a full Member Federation from an Associated one.

Such a reform, it seems, would be an opportunity to make FIDE more dynamic. But, unfortunately for amateur players, this strategy is not used by the ruling powers in chess. Essentially, the activity of FIDE is centred on the elite of the elite. The illusion that things are working comes only from the organisation of the World Championship Cycle. During the 2006 General Assembly in Turin, not a single line, not one word, was devoted to a general policy that would enlarge the pyramid’s basis. The budget given to chess in schools and youth is ridiculously light compared to, for example, the operational costs of the organisation.

The candidacy of Anatoly Karpov for FIDE President should get our hopes up. The Russian champion has, for quite a long-time, understood the importance of developing chess in schools. Hasn’t he created dozens of Karpov Schools across the world? That is necessarily a good sign. In regions where the strategy of mass has been implemented the percentage of players under 2000 is around 90%. Imagine what the International impact would be if there were 400,000 more FIDE rated players!

Important numbers

  • There are 143 Federations in the world, with 116,362 FIDE rated players. Top ten: Germany, Russia, Spain, France, India, Poland, Hungary, Italy, Rep Czech, Serbia

  • The first seven countries have almost the same number of members as the remaining 136 others combined!

  • The first twenty countries have 85,439 rated players, about three times as many as the other 123 (30,923).

  • The last 50 countries have 2,217 rated players, about four times less than France alone (8033).

  • Only 26 Federations have more than 1,000 FIDE rated players…


Thanks to M. Fabrice Touvron, a chess player from the Var region of France, for his remarkable research work which allows us to present these thoughts about FIDE rated players in the world. His data is available in Exel and PDF here.

Please note that if you write letters on this article (using the feedback link on the left of this page) you must give the name "Battesti" in the subject line for it to be correctly retrieved. Also please avoid chaotic or adventurous orthography if you want to see your letter published. A full name and place of residence will help to this end.

Leo Battesti, the main organiser of the annual Corsican Circuit, is a well-know figure in chess. A Sorbonne- educated lawyer and political activist, he is the founder of the “Ligue Corse des Échecs”, which has 4060 registered players for 260.000 inhabitants in Corsica.

Garry Kasparov at an event organised by Leo Battesti on Corsica in 2008

This makes the island of Corsica the place in the world where chess is most played. The game is taught on school time in almost every Corsican primary school.

Corsica, which the French call Corse, is located west of Italy, southeast of France, and north of the island of Sardinia, and is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (after Sicily, Sardinia, and Cyprus). It is politically part of Metropolitan France, although it is closer to Italy. The island is famed as the birthplace of Napoléon Bonaparte.

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