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 en.kremlin.ru

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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.

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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.