Friday, March 14, 2008

Cold War Chess- Winning isn't everything

Soviet emigré and international grandmaster Genna Sossonko tells of a story, that “at one meeting of the Chess Federation, when the behavior of a player who had committed some misdemeanor was being discussed, [former military prosecutor and head of the chess section of the USSR] Baturinsky said heatedly: ‘During the war we used to shoot such people’” (Sosonko, 2003, p. 101).

Did the Soviets Collude?: A Statistical Analysis of World Championship Chess 1940-1964
We expand the set of outcomes considered by the tournament literature to include draws and use games from post-war chess tournaments to see whether strategic behavior can be important in such scenarios. In particular, we examine whether players from the former Soviet Union acted as a cartel in international all-play-all tournaments – intentionally drawing against one another in order to focus effort on non-Soviet opponents – to maximize the chance of some Soviet winning. Using data from international qualifying tournaments as well as USSR national tournaments, we consider several tests for collusion. Our results are consistent with Soviet draw-collusion and inconsistent with Soviet competition. Simulations of the period’s five premier international competitions (the FIDE Candidates tournaments) suggest that the observed Soviet sweep was a 75%-probability event under collusion but only a 25%-probability event had the Soviet players not colluded.

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