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Popular vote: a history lesson

Posted By: Albert Silver
Date: Wednesday, 7 May 2014, at 4:18 p.m.

In Response To: Remember Cato The Elder/My opinions for what they are worth (Stick)

It would be interesting to see a top 10 list for backgammon players in other games/sports. Chess, Poker, Table Tennis, Tennis, anything.

Backgammon is the only one that I know of based on popular vote. All the others are entirely based on performance (except poker) using mathematical criteria. Chess has the most precise measurement system, which is the Elo rating system. On the other hand, backgammon has a unique system of criteria that none of the others have: the bot error rates. Even chess, which has engines (that is their name instead of bots) that can trounce the world number one, far worse than XG could beat Mochy, or whomever the number one of the day is, they do not agree on the best moves nearly as consistently as the backgammon bots do among themselves.

The popular vote is just that, a popular vote, and I mean no disrespect to any of the ones on the list. An example in case: Robert Fischer, the chess world champion from 1972-1975, resigned his title in 1975, refusing to defend his title. An argument could be made he was still the best player for some years after, but at some point any such thought would be fantasy. Ability erodes if not exercised. That said, in 1996, the US Congress passed a bill declaring, by popular vote amongst its representatives, that it recognized Bobby Fischer as the still-reigning world champion. The bill barely failed to pass in the US Senate. I think that is the value of the popular vote for strongest player.

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