Monday, January 28, 2013

Magnus Carlsen's Rating Record

By , GuideDecember 24, 2012
Magnus Carlsen made big waves in the chess world earlier this month. Not just for winning the London Chess Classic - Carlsen scored five wins and three draws to put up 18 points under the 3-1-0 scoring system used there, collecting his third title in the four years the event has been held - but for what happened as a result of that triumph. Magnus Carlsen's unofficial live rating now stands at 2861, which (once it becomes official on the next FIDE rating list) will make him the highest-rated chess player in history. That number is ten points higher than the previous mark, set by Garry Kasparov in 1999.
Does this make Magnus Carlsen the greatest chess player ever? Well, of course not: at least not in any meaningful way. While there's plenty of debate over what rating inflation means - some see it as natural, as players become stronger over the years, while others believe it is simply an artifact of the ratings system - there's no doubt that ratings have gotten higher over the course of the last few decades, and that ratings are chiefly meant to compare contemporary players to each other, not to make comparisons across eras.

But that won't stop people from speculating on Carlsen's place in history. As only the third player ever to hold the "highest rating ever" record, it's natural to look at how his achievement ranks with those of Kasparov and Bobby Fischer. When Fischer reached his peak in 1972, he stood an incredible 125 points ahead of Boris Spassky, while Kasparov opened up an 80-point gap over the field when he had his record rating.

Carlsen can't quite match those measures of domination, but he still pulled away from the pack far more than many fans thought he would. With Vladimir Kramnik currently ranked second in the world with a 2810 rating, Carlsen has opened up a 51-point lead, more than enough to show that he's a step ahead of his compatriots.

That's a great first step to building an all-time great resume. But to truly be in the running as the greatest player ever, Carlsen will have to win the World Chess Championship and hold onto it for a good long time - something he hasn't seriously taken a run at yet, but which we might well see happen in the years to come. At the age of 22, Carlsen certainly has plenty of time left to build his legend.

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