One vote per rated game — a proposal

by Weiwen Leung
12/21/2017 – Weiwen Leung shares an op-ed on reimagining votes in FIDE elections, based on the chess activity of each country or federation — as, for instance, measured by the number of rated games played — rather than the present "one federation, one vote" policy. A brilliant suggestion or "pie in the sky"? | Photo: Kirsan Ilyumzhinov with Vladimir Putin

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A proposal for future FIDE elections

The past three FIDE presidential elections have been hotly contested. Not only did candidates actively campaign worldwide, accusations of corruption had also dogged the elections.

Garry Kasparov

After Kirsan Ilyumzhinov won the 2014 election, both the New York Times and the Guardian reported that the campaign had been “long” and “bitter”. It is clear that candidates have a strong desire to win.

It is perhaps impossible to ensure a perfectly clean and fair election. However, can this strong desire to win be harnessed for good? In this essay, I propose one way of doing this: that the number of votes a country has in a FIDE election be based on a measure of chess activity in that country.

The rationale for such a proposal is simple:

First, there is likely to be an increase in chess activity worldwide. Federations worldwide would have an incentive to promote chess activity in their country, so that their words carry more weight. Even candidates for the FIDE Presidential Board may have incentives to promote chess activity, especially in federations that are likely to vote for them.

Also, FIDE will also benefit from an increase in revenue, since FIDE rated tournaments generate revenue for them.

One simple, if imperfect, method would be to measure chess activity by the number of FIDE rated games in that country in the past four years. For example, if ten thousand FIDE rated games have occurred in country X in the past four years, then that country’s federation would have ten thousand votes at a given FIDE election.

What's the catch?

Below I sketch some criticisms of such a proposal. The criticisms that I can think of are valid criticisms, but most of them point towards finding a better way to measure chess activity, rather than the principle that votes should be based on chess activity.

  • Will small countries be penalized relative to large countries?
    Whether a country’s population should be considered is to some extent a matter of opinion; there are good arguments as to whether population should be taken into account. If a country’s population needs to be considered, it is possible to divide the number of rated games by the country’s population (among other solutions). Similar adjustments can be made if it is thought that poor countries (etc.) will be unfairly disadvantaged.
  • Wouldn’t you want to take into account the quality of chess activity, rather than simply the volume?
    This again is a matter of opinion, but if needed, the average ratings of players can be taken to account. For example, the number of FIDE rated games can be multiplied by the average rating of players in those games, and then rounded to the nearest whole number.
  • Will there be fake FIDE rated tournaments?
    With technology, it is possible to minimize the number of fake tournaments. For example, the Chief Arbiter of each tournament could be required to take a photograph of the playing hall at the start of each round.
  • Could a rogue incumbent President refuse to rate tournaments from federations that do not support him?
    The more one uses one’s political power to refuse to rate tournaments, the more precarious FIDE’s financial situation will be, given that tournaments generate revenue. At first glance, it seems that a rogue President will find it more economically viable to use other political methods to strengthen his grip on power. Finally, it is worth noting that political decisions are a concern even in the current system (e.g. should a federation with no FIDE rated tournaments in the past four years get to vote?).

I do not have a strong opinion about how chess activity should be measured (though I think that the number of rated games is a simple and elegant way). I also am deliberately refraining from calculating how potential candidates might gain or lose from such a proposal. However, I believe if a federation’s votes in a FIDE election are based on its chess activity, the strong desire of chess politicians to win elections can be harnessed for good, even if FIDE elections remain highly politicized.

Update: December 21st — Editor's note:

Related articles in our archive include a 2014 "Visual presentation of world chess ratings", featuring the following graph:

Ratings graph

Also represented geographically on a 3D earth model!

We also previously looked at "Which is the world's biggest chess nation?" and the results which may surprise you!

FIDE itself also publishes a country rank averaging the top 10 players by rating.

It's worth keeping in mind some of the ramifications of the current system when thinking about any new ideas. E.g. The last page of FIDE's federation ranking shows that Swaziland has 24 rated chess players and no titled player; Burkina Faso has five rated players and no titles; Djibouti has three rated and zero titled; Nauru has seven rated and no titled, etc. — not to pick on any of these countries specifically, but the point is that Djibouti and, say, the British Virgin Islands, have the same weight and voting power in FIDE as Russia, Germany, India, US or China.


Weiwen Leung is an economics PhD and computer science MS student at the University of Minnesota. He previously served the Singapore Chess Federation as Honorary General Secretary and Council Member. He now has a Youtube chess channel.
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fons2 fons2 12/23/2017 10:02
@ FlannDefence: >> "I hope that helps."

Not really.
FlannDefence FlannDefence 12/23/2017 09:04

My comment is by no means the longest in this thread, however it is the only one you have complained about in that regard. The reasons for an objection to weighted voting may have been implicit, but nevertheless obvious. I hope that helps.
fons2 fons2 12/23/2017 05:17
That seems reasonable, but it also depends on what you expect FIDE to do. An argument could be made that FIDE should cater to chess players, regardless of nation or federation.
e4c5Nf3a6 e4c5Nf3a6 12/22/2017 08:14

Russia has currently about 12000 active rated players while Ivory Coast has about 20. Using this as a measure, Russia would have 600 times the number of votes of Ivory Coast while using the logarithmic scale it is 4 to 1. I think the latter system is more reasonable, because every country has a meaningful vote.
e-mars e-mars 12/22/2017 05:02
@fons2 Why do I bring politics? Have you seen the picture above (not to mention Putin's expression... better than one thousand words)? Did you bother to follow the link and read the article? (
fons2 fons2 12/22/2017 02:31
@ FlannDefence:

That's a long comment to say you don't like a proportional voting system. Without giving any reasons.

Also I don't think it would be a 100,000 to 1.
FlannDefence FlannDefence 12/22/2017 09:50
FIDE -Hello, small country, we are FIDE, and we run World Chess.
Small Country - Oh yea?
FIDE -Yes, and we would love you to be a member. Of course it will cost you a lot money, but you can pass that on to the hapless chess players who live in your country, and you will be allowed to abide by our rules, and send some amateur apparatchik to the occasional junket abroad. You will also get a vote at FIDE congresses and elections.
SC -How many votes?
FIDE -One, of course.
SC -How many votes does the USA get?
FIDE -eh, 20,000.
SC -and Russia?
FIDE -100,000 - but...
SC -Actually, we are FIDE members at the moment.
FIDE -Oh, sorry.
SC -We're leaving.
fons2 fons2 12/22/2017 09:11
@ e4c5Nf3a6:
>> "The proposal in its current form makes small countries completely unimportant."

A country with 1 titled player should have less to say than a country with hundreds. That makes a certain amount of sense to me.

You might say: but then they will not give any money to the small countries anymore.
But I'm not sure it's FIDE's job to give money.
They should just organize stuff, keep a rating list etc.
fons2 fons2 12/22/2017 09:10
@ e-mars:
>> "Technology? Have you seen FIDE's website ? In the 90s I made a website + database in PHP better than FIDE's..."

Yeah I don't think FIDE would be up to the task. I was thinking more in an ideal world type scenario.

>> "And then, technology can't assure you they tempered the results..."

Any election can be tampered with, no matter what the system.
Ideally the vote is public instead of secret. At least then we can check if our votes are counted correctly.

>> "Putin, do you know him and how he was elected, right?"

Why bring politics into it? Do you think Trump was elected fairly? Think about it. It might certainly explain why all the polls were wrong.
onyman onyman 12/22/2017 01:10
My opinion on this proposal: No. Simply no. I could write a few pages with explanation, but I will just leave it at that.
e4c5Nf3a6 e4c5Nf3a6 12/22/2017 12:32
The proposal in its current form makes small countries completely unimportant. It would make more sense to take the logarithm of the number of rated games instead which differentiates large countried from small ones, but the small ones are not completely powerless.
GreenKlaser GreenKlaser 12/21/2017 10:53
The US Constitution makes the amending process much more difficult than ordinary legislation. That protects the people from drastic change. This proposed drastic change for FIDE could result in revolution. It should be considered that federations could separate from FIDE and start new organizations with forms of their choosing. Other organizations have been formed before and fake events have been submitted to FIDE before. Would any new federation join accepting the proposed rules? As noted, FIDE would still be in charge of counting (whatever numbers would be used) and as dictators have said, the power to count is more important than what is counted. This proposal is simply political. Why? Who would benefit? That could answer why. Who would be hurt? How would they react? Can we consult ZERO-FIDE?
basler88 basler88 12/21/2017 05:01
You're so right e-mars! Just take a look at the picture there are the two of the corruptions guys in the world and not to mention criminals.
Globular Globular 12/21/2017 04:08
What about the USA, where there are many, many more nationally rated games that aren't FIDE rated? There are other countries that fall into this category also, e.g. England, Canada, etc.
e-mars e-mars 12/21/2017 03:47
@fons2 Technology? Have you seen FIDE's website ? In the 90s I made a website + database in PHP better than FIDE's...
And then, technology can't assure you they tempered the results... Putin, do you know him and how he was elected, right?
KevinC KevinC 12/21/2017 03:44
I think this is a horrible idea. All the small nations combined would then have less say than the top one country.

It is hard enough to get rid of a be FIDE leader, so imagine if one or two federations dominated the voting.
fons2 fons2 12/21/2017 01:04
@ mcplayerus: >> "because it will be much harder to 'buy' votes that really count."

That depends. Let's say you buy one of the bigger countries, that could almost seal the deal right there. So they might actually have to buy _less_ votes.

Maybe direct democracy is the answer: let every single registered chess player vote. (With today's technology that should be achievable.)

Isn't that ultimately what it's all about? FIDE services chess players, so let _them_ vote.
ConwyCastle ConwyCastle 12/21/2017 12:17
Excellent idea in its simplest form - votes proportional to rated games. I don't think it should have anything to do with rating or the country's population. I imagine that vested interests wouldn't be likely to embrace such a change, as they'd soon be out of a job.
mcplayerus mcplayerus 12/21/2017 10:31
Obviously this system will never be accepted simply because it's a correct way of voting. This will mean real democracy inside FIDE and less room for abnormal political arrangements because it will be much harder to 'buy' votes that really count.
So although it's a good system just forget about it simply because it's too ... good!
fons2 fons2 12/21/2017 08:37
Why not make the vote proportionate to the amount of registered members?

That seems more logical, easier to manage / control and less prone to fraud.
FlannDefence FlannDefence 12/21/2017 08:08
In practice, and in principle, this is a wretched suggestion, favouring the advantaged, and perverting the play of chess into a race for a powerful vote. Many countries are already wondering about the point of being FIDE members - this would provide an excellent incentive to leave as soon as possible.
RayLopez RayLopez 12/21/2017 04:38
Good op-ed by Leung, but, like Seirawan's proposal for the optimal number of games in a classical chess tournament, likely to be forgotten.

And what's with the crocodile image with "ART" behind Putin and Kirsan? Subliminal message? In other news: the World Chess Championship has a new logo...not yet making the news here in Chessbase but will soon.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/21/2017 04:06
In my opinion, this suggestion would be something quite positive.

I would also approve taking into account the quality of chess activity. With the average ratings, yes, but I would also rather like, at first view (as an addition, and not to replace the average ratings), that the number of high level players would be taken into account (perhaps a rather complicated system, taking into account, for example, the numbers of IMs and GMs, and the highest levels - 2800+, 2700+, etc.).