Why do some countries always gain and other always lose rating points?

by Svitlana Demchenko
6/10/2021 – World Youth Chess Championships are known to produce tons of interesting games and often very surprising and inconsistent results. However, it appears that at least one thing stays fairly consistent – certain federations typically gain rating points while others lose them at the event. Why is there such a contrasting trend for Asian versus European countries, and what could be the possible reasons behind it? Sveta Demchenko presents the data from which we can draw our conclusions.

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Country Rating Trends at World Youth Chess Championships

Every year, hundreds of young talented chess players from all over the world get together to compete at the biggest international youth event - the World Youth Chess Championship (WYCC). Most years, over 60 countries send delegations with their best youth talents in hopes of returning home with crowned world champions and medalists. At the end, some come back home with broken hopes, while others make a joyful return with loads of newly-gained Elo points. 

Personally, I have participated in the World Youth Chess Championships three times, with my best results being 6th place in 2017 (Uruguay) and 5th in 2019 (India). I have always enjoyed WYCCs, as I met many good friends through the event and also gained some rating every time. By contrast, some of my friends from other countries had a different experience. Rating-wise, the World Youth was their least favourite event because their team never performed as well as expected, and they would often come home with big rating losses. 

WYCC 2019 Award ceremony, Under-16 Girls Section, in Mumbai, India. From left to right: Salonika S., Nurgali N., Garifullina L., Mahdian A., Demchenko S., Beydullayeva G.

At some point, I started wondering if this may not just be a random occurrence. From my observations, there was a recurring pattern of how most Asian countries were gaining rating points at the WYCCs, and European ones, on the contrary, were losing them. However, these were just personal observations, which do not amount to much. So, I decided to make some calculations to see if the impression I had was indeed correct.

Below is a table of average rating gain or loss per player from each participating country in a given year at the WYCC. If you look at the rows horizontally, you may notice some interesting patterns for certain countries. 

Table 1 - Average rating gain/loss per player from participating countries at World Youth Chess Championships over the past decade (unit: FIDE rating points)

Did any particular country catch your eye? Sure, not every country has a consistent streak of rating gains or losses, but there are quite a few that show a very clear trend in one direction or another.

Let’s start with our biggest gainers: Armenia, Kazakhstan, India, China gained rating every year they participated; Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Vietnam gained rating points every year they competed, except one. What do the countries on this list have in common? They are all located in Asia! (only Turkey’s geographical location is shared by both Asia and Europe). 

By contrast, here are some countries that tend to lose rating points at WYCCs: Germany, France, Slovakia, Switzerland, Spain lost rating every year they participated; Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Serbia, Sweden, Colombia lost rating every year they competed, except one. These countries too, as you could have guessed, share a common characteristic: they are European! (only exception: Colombia). 

What the gains and losses look like on a world map (click to enlarge)

Overall, here are our leaders in rating change: the five countries that gain the most rating points at the World Youth Championships, and the top five most generous countries, who made the most “rating donations” over the years at the event. 

Table 2 - Top countries for average rating gain (left column) or loss (right column) per player from WYCCs 2012-2019 (unit: FIDE rating points)

It is curious to see that, on average, a player from Vietnam gains as much as 46 rating points from participating at the World Youth Championship, while a young Croatian player loses around 38 points! This could be considered a coincidence if it happened once, but these averages are taken starting all the way from WYCC 2012, which suggests that this has been the case for most of the last decade. 

So, why do Asian countries always seem to gain rating points, while countries in Europe tend to lose them? Since I am not an expert in this matter, I would prefer not to claim any conclusions, but I can offer a few thoughts.

 The way I see it, many factors can be responsible for causing this trend, and there might be an interplay of individual and systemic ones.  

Individual factors are related to the player’s performance at a given event, which could be influenced by their personal motivation, health status, coaching, parental support, etcetera. For example, if a certain federation came without a coach some years, it is possible that their team has performed worse as a whole. In a broader sense, the players’ motivation can be influenced by the overall popularity of chess in their country. For instance, players from countries where a career in chess is viewed as prestigious may be more encouraged and motivated to perform better, as opposed to federations in which most players are attending WYCCs for travel and leisure purposes. Certain federations only send one official representative per section, and take a more serious approach to preparing their players for the WYCC - offering training camps and several coaches, whereas others do not have the resources or the desire to do so. 

There are also a number of systemic factors that should be taken into consideration, primarily concerning the idea of rating accuracy. There is no doubt that FIDE ratings are internationally recognized as accurate estimations of skill level. However, youth players tend to progress very quickly, and sometimes their rating may not match their skill level, especially if there is a lack of strong tournaments in their country. Even if you simply look at the FIDE Calendar, the number of events held in Europe is much greater compared to Asia. In addition to more opportunities in their own country, travel within Europe is easier due to proximity and no visa-related barriers, which amplifies the scope of tournaments in which European youth can participate. Limited accessibility to tournaments in some countries can limit youth players’ opportunities to show their current level of play, causing some of them to be underrated. It is difficult to calculate exactly to what extent players from a certain country are overrated or underrated, but Asian youth players constantly gaining loads of rating points while playing in European Opens seems to be a very common pattern.

Overall, I would say the answer likely lies in a combination of several factors, and there is not one sole reason that would explain this trend. I would like to ask our readers, and experts around the world: what, in your opinion, is the main contributing factor as to why Asian countries often gain rating, while European ones typically lose rating at World Youth Chess Championships? Are there similar tendencies in other age groups, and at other types of chess events? And if so, what could be the possible reasons behind it?

We look forward to your theories and explanations.

WIM Svitlana Demchenko, born 2003, is a Ukrainian-born Canadian chess player. She was a multiple-time Canadian Girls Champion and a two-time North American Girls Champion. Svitlana has been a member of the Canadian Women’s Olympiad Team since 2018 and was also part of Canada’s team at the World Youth Chess Olympiad. She speaks five languages and is presently a university student in the Biomedical Sciences program.


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Traxlercounterattack Traxlercounterattack 6/15/2021 08:32
The real reason is Turkey etc. is buying elo points in closed tournaments
tharley tharley 6/11/2021 03:38
The prevailing force at work is rating DEFLATION in areas where chess is growing relatively well among young people. A very young player establishes a low rating, and proceeds to primarily play with peers who collectively improve their chess over time. An isolated improving group will not increase its net pool of rating points. Conversely, young people where chess is not growing as well have less scholastic tournament opportunities and are more likely to attend tournaments with aging players that are more likely to be declining in skill and may even have hit their "floor".
Phillidor Phillidor 6/11/2021 08:59
An interesting and well written article. I noticed similar trends when playing youth international championships. Just a couple of ideas from my perspective why there are such rating trends:
1. rating inflation: to illustrate the point, in our country there were a lot of primary school blitz tournaments, where cca 100 players came every time and mostly played only against themselves. Although these tournament counted only for national blitz rating, some players which were candidate masters or even lesser title, had national blitz rating around 2400-2500, comparable to some grandmasters from the same country. Obviously when young candidate masters played against the grandmasters with similar rating, the odds were far from 50:50. Similar occurence can happen if we have a quite big group of players, who play FIDE rated games mostly or only against themselves.
2. no FIDE rated tournaments: some countries do not have a lot of FIDE rated tournaments, but young players from these countries naturally progress and become strong even if they don't yet have (adequate) FIDE rating.
3. taking care of one's FIDE rating: some players could willingly avoid tournaments where they expect their rating could be in danger because of younger players with low rating and good skill. International world championship may the exception, where players are willing "to take the risk" and attend it, but then it can be a bit frustrating to be paired mostly against improving players with little FIDE rated games. Simplification such as 2200 must beat 1700 can backfire, as in reality both players could be equally strong (about 2100).
4. "tourism" vs. "professional attendance - as already stated in the article.
And so on... I can only agree that there are systemic as well as personal reasons for these rating trends. Equalising those differences through a bigger system seems fair and natural.
amarpan amarpan 6/10/2021 04:43
The average rating of Russia and European countries has been traditionally high. There is now a general evening out going on because of the global awareness in chess, growing economies in Asia, the emergence of role models (Anand, Ding Liren, Hou Yifan, Weseley So ....). The internet and computers is also a factor in the evening out process. Earlier one had to rely on strong playing partners or coaches to improve in chess, but these days all need is a computer or just a phone. Azerbaijan may the only exception in Asia, in that it always had a traditionally high rating. They now have some great role models to look up to.
JerryGarcia JerryGarcia 6/10/2021 03:11
In the US we can have both FIDE ratings and USCF (United States Chess Federation) ratings, although most players below FIDE strength of 2000 don't have a FIDE rating. The reason is that it costs a lot of money to have a FIDE rated event and a small amount to have a USCF rated event, so usually the only events that are FIDE rated are the top section or two (out of maybe 7-8 sections) of big money opens. Smaller opens usually aren't FIDE rated, just USCF rated.

What this means is that kids in the US who go to World Championships get FIDE ratings when they are very young and weak compared to what they will be in just a few short years. The next time they go to the World Youth Championships they are a year or two (or five) older and stronger, but their rating is still low. So they tend to gain FIDE rating points and remain underrated in the FIDE system until they can enough strong opens in the US, or alternatively until they play a bunch of tournaments in Europe.

This probably also means that strong adult players who play in FIDE rated opens in the US probably tend to lose rating points as a result.
brabo_hf brabo_hf 6/10/2021 02:25
Chess is an old men game in Europe. In my club almost the whole board is +70 years old. This means for young players it is very easy to get ratingpoints.

30 years ago chess was maginal in Turkey, Iran, India and China. So it is a much younger generation playing chess in those countries. There are much less donators.

I also notice a lack of serious coaching in many Western countries. In Belgium you are pretty much on your own with most clubs only open once per week. It is no coincidence that the youngest grandmasters are almost exclusively coming from the same countries which are winning most rating points. In Europe you need to be +2700 to live comfortably from it. In Asia I expect +2500 is already sufficient so many European children just don't even try to get the best out of themselves.
Denix Denix 6/10/2021 02:24
With many young Chess Enthusiasts in the Philippines and supporting parents, it rarely participate internationally in competitive youth events. Put yourself in Wesley's shoes when you were young.
Marozka Marozka 6/10/2021 01:53
I suspect a lot of it is randomness. One might find similar "consistent" patterns of rating gain/loss over a decade for groups of players whose name begins with "D", "M", "N" etc.