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The airing of grievances

Posted By: Bill Phipps
Date: Tuesday, 24 December 2013, at 5:29 p.m.

In Response To: Ken's ranking based on U.S. ABT points for 2012-2013 (Ken Larsen)

I was going to save this for the BGO Festivus, but since Ken Larsen has once again trotted out his model as a tool for shaping the Giants ballot, I am going to post my objections now.

1) It is ABT only. Why leave off perfectly good data from Masters events? If I beat Neil in the Masters event but lose to him the next day in the Main event, why should the model reward Neil but penalize me? The fact is, there was likely as much or more money at stake in the Masters match. Certainly we were trying just as hard in each match. Letís be clear about what the model is intended to do. It is trying to promote ABT events to the exclusion of others. This might help create some cache around these events by rewarding winners with recognition beyond just the prize money. This may be a good method of promoting the game ( though I personally donít think it is) but it is an uneven way of determining who is actually good at backgammon.

2) Because the Giants list is looking at the last 2 years, and the sample over that time is small, there is a tremendous amount of noise in the results. To the point, that they defy common sense. Jeb Horton had a great 2 years. Jeb Horton makes a very positive contribution to backgammon in other ways. Jeb Horton deserves consideration for a Giants vote. But nobody, not even Jeb Horton, thinks for a second that he is a better player than MCG, Falafel, Victor, Paul Weaver, Petko, etc etc. The model lists Jeb at 4th because the model is designed to show who did well in the ABT over the last 2 years. This, however, is not the objective of the Giants vote. The Giants list is about recognizing who, amongst active players, are the great Backgammon players in the world.

3) The database is incomplete. Most annoyingly, I am not on it. Looking at the USBGF database, I see that I entered 11 events over the last 2 years. I won 2, and placed second 3 times. I won 65 percent of my matches. This isnít meant as a boast. I am not saying this is an especially great result. I am certainly not saying that I deserve to be a giant because of it. What I am saying is that this strikes me as a pretty good result that certainly deserves inclusion in any viable model of performance over the last 2 years. If we are ignoring years like this, who else is missing?

I believe there is a danger to trotting out a model that has some pretty columns, uses some fancy weights, purports to be mathematically based and spits out a final rating. The risk is that people will look at the final rankings and somehow call this science. In fact, this is just a limited tool with a high margin of error. It is just a way of organizing ABT results and adding weights for time. As a community, we need to decide if this is the sort of metric we want to use for promoting the game. But I think it would be greatly unfair to mistake this as a legitimate approach for determining who the best players in the world are.

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