Tuesday, July 14, 2015

IM Justin Sarkar Obtains Third GM Norm

In 2009, I wrote about International Master Justin Sarkar's "perfect game." IM Sarkar has been pursuing the Grandmaster title for several years, capturing his first GM norm in the 2006 Marshall Chess Club Championship and earning his second GM norm in the 2013 U.S. Masters Championship. IM Sarkar obtained his third and final required GM norm in the May 2015 UTB Grandmaster Norm tournament, so he will receive the GM title once he pushes his FIDE rating to the 2500 level.

IM Sarkar wrote an article for Chess Life Online about his excellent performance in the May 2015 UTB Grandmaster Norm tournament and that article included his round four win against GM Holden Hernandez. In the fifth round, IM Sarkar polished off IM Joshua Ruiz from the black side of the Caro-Kann. The Ruiz game is interesting not only because of how smoothly IM Sarkar defeated IM Ruiz without allowing any counterplay but also because of some thoughts that IM Sarkar shared with me about the etiquette of making draw offers during tournament play. As a strong club player (2100+ USCF), I have noticed that in local events (and even in some larger regional events), players either do not know the correct draw offer etiquette or else they disregard it. The proper method for a player to offer a draw is to make a move, say "I offer a draw" and then hit the clock, enabling the opponent to consider the draw offer undisturbed on his own time. If the opponent declines the draw offer, it is inappropriate to offer a draw again unless you have subsequently declined a draw offer or unless the position has substantially changed since you made your first offer. It is unacceptable to offer a draw (or communicate with your opponent in any way, other than to say "I resign") when your opponent's clock is running and it is unacceptable to harass your opponent with repeated draw offers.

IM Sarkar submitted these comments about his game versus IM Ruiz:

Here's my round 5 game as black against IM Joshua Ruiz. It was played just after my fine win round 4 against GM Holden Hernandez. As hinted in the (CLO) article, I felt it was also a "convincing win" by me.

On move 23 (after playing 23.Rh3), he offered me a draw. This might have bothered me slightly, because I knew that my position was better, possibly significantly better as I correctly realized (and I think there was no extenuating factor to justify the offer, such as me being significantly down on time). However, since it was made just after making his move (and just that one time), I didn't really have a problem nor read much into it.  

As for draw offers, unfortunately there have been players who violate the basic etiquette involved in offering, especially by offering during my thinking time (even a professional GM did that to me in the last year, from a position where I was much better but not yet clearly winning, while taking a long time to decide on my move). While I prefer to be shown proper respect in when to offer me a draw, especially by lower rated opponents (such as, not offering in a situation where I'm likely to decline), by far most important to me is for proper protocol to be followed. "Proper respect" in this context means different things depending on rating level: lower rated players should generally not offer draws unless they have a better, risk-free type of position (but are content with a draw) or they have a significant advantage on the clock and they consider their position at least acceptable, while equally rated players and higher rated players should not offer draws from a clearly worse position, except perhaps if they enjoy a big time advantage.

Regarding proper protocol, generally, offering in the midst of my thinking time is a no-no (except, maybe in a situation where I'm virtually certain to accept, such as when it's clear the opponent is the one pressing me), as is offering more than once before receiving one (except, again, maybe in a situation where I'm almost certain to accept the second one, such as my position being clearly worse or me being on the worse side of a drawn ending). As for the draw offer timing, if on a given move I'm taking a "long think" (as with that GM), getting impatient for me to move is not an excuse for offering a draw while I'm thinking. It's very distracting (except, maybe if I'm thinking for a long time on how to try and defend a worse or lost position; however such offers have usually come when my position is equal or better, including by lower rated players). Offering during their thinking time is also improper but not as bad, as I always have the option to just say nothing and let their clock run (or simply tell them to first make a move), while having the option to consider after their move on that turn.
IM Joshua Ruiz - IM Justin Sarkar [B12]
UTB Grandmaster Norm Tournament 5/15/13 (5)

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 h5 5.c4 e6 6.Nc3 Ne7 7.Nge2 Nd7 8.Ng3 Bg6 9.Be2 dc4 10.Nxh5 Nxe5 11.de5 Qxd1+ 12.Kxd1 Bxh5 13.g4 Bg6 14.Bxc4 0-0-0+ 15.Ke1 Rd4 16.Be2 Nd5 17.Nxd5 Rxd5 18.Bf4 Bb4+ 19.Kf1 Bd2 20.Bg3 Rc5 21.b3 Rc2 22.Bd1 Rb2 23.Rh3 Rd8 24.Bh2 Rd3 25.Rxd3 Bxd3+ 26.Kg2 Bc3 27.Rc1 Bd2 28.Ra1 Bc3 29.Rc1 Bd4 30.Bg3 Rxa2 31.Bf3 Rb2 32.Bd1 a5 33.h5 Kd7 34.g5 Be3 0-1

IM Sarkar adds that 10.Nxh5 is "dubious, though a consistent follow-up, and his 9.Be2 was a slightly dubious novelty, maybe decided upon at the board." 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Djokovic Secures Status as Best Tennis Player in the World

Novak Djokovic claimed his third Wimbledon title, his third Grand Slam singles title in the past five Grand Slam events and his ninth Grand Slam singles title overall with a convincing 7-6 (1), 6-7 (10), 6-4, 6-3 win over Roger Federer. Djokovic has not only clearly established himself as the best tennis player in the world right now but he is staking a claim to be mentioned among the top players of the Open Era. His mental toughness during matches used to be questioned but Djokovic has refuted that criticism.

Federer is in an interesting stage of his career. He is in excellent physical condition and not plagued by injuries but because he is 33 years old there is a tendency to say that every new win adds to his legacy but that when he loses his age is a valid excuse. The reality is that Federer is the second ranked tennis player in the world and age had nothing to do with what happened in his match with Djokovic. In fact, prior to the Finals, none other than Bjorn Borg--arguably the greatest tennis player of the Open Era--declared that Federer was at the peak of his powers. Federer's 7-5, 7-5, 6-4 semifinal win over Andy Murray impressed Borg so much that he predicted that Federer would beat Djokovic: "That's the best I've seen him play for many years, the best for maybe 10 years. He's serving so well. It was great tennis. On Sunday, Federer will definitely be the favorite to win. He is playing well, moving well, he was doing everything he was supposed to. He is hitting the ball so cleanly and playing with a lot of confidence."

If Federer had beaten Djokovic, we would be subjected to an endless series of articles declaring that this result once again proves that Federer is the greatest tennis player of all-time. Federer's loss, though, will likely be dismissed because Djokovic is five years younger than Federer. By this way of thinking, Federer has an unbreakable hold on the greatest of all-time title: if he wins, then he further distances himself from the competition but if he loses that is no problem because he should not have been expected to win. I cannot recall any other athlete's legacy being treated this way.

Djokovic's win over Federer should be analyzed not in the context of the age difference between the players but rather in the larger context of Federer's career, which is that Federer has been remarkably durable and he has dominated lesser lights--a consistency for which he deserves credit--but he has not been dominant against the two other great players of his era, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Federer's struggles against Nadal are well documented--Nadal leads the head to head series 23-10, including 9-2 in Grand Slam matches--but Djokovic's Wimbledon triumph improved his head to head record against Federer to 20-20. Djokovic has beaten Federer two out of three times in Grand Slam Finals and 10 out of 15 times in Finals overall, meaning that when both players are at their best Djokovic has been better. Why should it be taken for granted without any discussion or analysis that Federer is better than Nadal and Djokovic, let alone the great players from previous eras?

Federer has had a remarkable career. He holds many records that testify to his longevity, including most Grand Slam singles titles (17). He is the Emmitt Smith of tennis and there is no shame in that. Emmitt Smith was a great running back who lasted long enough to set the NFL's career rushing record, eclipsing Walter Payton--but no serious NFL commentator would rank Smith ahead of Payton or Jim Brown or at least a half dozen other NFL running backs. Borg is the Jim Brown/Sandy Koufax of tennis, setting a high standard that may never be matched and then retiring at the peak of his powers. Borg's Davis Cup record is impeccable; he holds the mark for youngest player to win a Davis Cup match (15 years old) and he also won a record 33 straight Davis Cup singles matches. Borg won at least one Grand Slam title for eight straight years (a record later matched by Pete Sampras and Roger Federer before being broken by Rafael Nadal, who accomplished the feat for 10 straight years). Borg also pulled off the Wimbledon/French Open double for three years in a row (a mark that may never be equaled).

Perhaps most impressively, Borg still holds the all-time record for Grand Slam tournament winning percentage (he won 11 of the 27 Grand Slams he entered) and Grand Slam match winning percentage (89.8%). He reached the Finals in 16 of his 27 Grand Slam appearances (59.3%). To put those numbers in perspective, consider that Nadal has won 14 of the 42 Grand Slam events that he entered (33.3%), Federer has won 17 of the 65 Grand Slam events that he entered (26.2%) and Djokovic has won nine of the 43 Grand Slam events that he entered (20.9%). Nadal, Federer and Djokovic have each reached the Finals in less than 50% of the Grand Slams that they entered.

The tennis ranking system perhaps rewards durability over greatness/dominance but even in that category Federer has not established an edge over his two main rivals during the time that their careers overlapped. Federer holds the record for most overall weeks as the number one ranked player in the world (302) but he accomplished that before Nadal and Djokovic hit their primes. When those three players have been in or reasonably near their primes (from late 2008 to the present), Federer has held the number one ranking for 65 weeks but Nadal has been number one for 141 weeks and Djokovic has been number one for 154 weeks.

Federer is lauded for his tennis artistry and, subjectively, his game may be more aesthetically pleasing to some people's eyes than the games of Nadal and Djokovic--but all-time greatness should be determined based on results, not aesthetics, and by that standard Borg, Nadal and Djokovic deserve a lot of the praise that is showered in Federer's direction. Appreciating Federer's durability should not come at the expense of recognizing the accomplishments of other great tennis players.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

American Enterprise Institute Scholars Question Methodology and Conclusions of Wells Report

The NFL-sponsored Wells Report accused New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Jim McNally (the Officials Locker Room attendant for the Patriots) and John Jastremski (an equipment assistant for the Patriots) of participating in a plan to intentionally deflate NFL footballs in contravention of league rules. In Putting the Wells Report in Proper Perspective, I described the evidence used to punish the New England Patriots and Tom Brady as "flimsy even regarding McNally and Jastremski"  and "almost nonexistent regarding Brady."

A friend of mine who has math and law degrees directed my attention to Deflating "Deflategate," which describes the American Enterprise Institute's thorough debunking of the methodology and conclusions of the Wells report. Authors Kevin Hassett and Stan Veuger conclude:

Our study, written with our colleague Joseph Sullivan, examines the evidence and methodology of the Wells report and concludes that it is deeply flawed. (We have no financial stake in the outcome of Deflategate.)

The Wells report’s main finding is that the Patriots balls declined in pressure more than the Colts balls did in the first half of their game, and that the decline is highly statistically significant. For the sake of argument, let’s grant this finding for now. Even still, it alone does not prove misconduct. There are, after all, two possibilities. The first is that the Patriots balls declined too much. The second--overlooked by the Wells report--is that the Colts balls declined too little.
The latter possibility appears to be more likely.

The entire AEI report can be found here. My friend points to this passage as particularly relevant:

The problem here is that ideally, measurements would have been taken simultaneously for all balls, outdoors, at the end of the half, and with the same gauge that was used before the game. Instead, the balls were taken inside and measured there, but not measured simultaneously. The pressure was checked twice for the Patriots balls (once with each gauge), after which the Patriots balls were reinflated and the Colts ball pressure was measured. Only 4 of the Colts balls (instead of all 12) were measured because halftime ended and the officials ran out of time. The fact that the officials ran out of time is highly material: it implies that the Colts balls were inside a warm room for almost the entire halftime before they were measured and thus had a chance to warm up.

Based on using his mathematical training to evaluate AEI's scientific analysis and on using his legal training to identify the flaws the Wells report's logic, my friend reached the following conclusions, which he permitted me to quote as long as I did not reveal his name (the quoted remarks have been edited slightly for length and clarity, but without changing the analysis and conclusions) :

As I view things, there are several (potential) problems to consider here: 

i) From a legal standpoint is there adequate "foundation" to admit the original air pressure results into evidence?; in particular: 

ii) Were the original notations/recordings of the individual ball pressures, both before the game, and at halftime, accurate? (Note: I think all commentary I've seen as to this point the values are...each and all...a correct "recording" of the various values, but "in court," this would almost certainly be "tested.")

iii) The AEI report, quoting/referring to the Wells report, says there were two pressure tester devices (gauges) used, one with an NFL logo on it, one without. The NFL on site official (Anderson) remembers using the "Logo" gauge on the balls before the game. The AEI report says that the Wells report concluded, notwithstanding Anderson's (stated, according to AEI) memory, that Anderson used the non-Logo gauge to run the tests before the game. The AEI report (correctly) notes the significance in the gauge used to test the air pressure before the game because the "Logo" gauge "reports" pressure (apparently consistently, if I'm understanding the AEI report) at .4 pounds per test greater than that reported by the "non- Logo" gauge. For example, if a particular football had been tested using the "Logo" gauge as having 12.0 psi, then presumptively had the same ball been tested instead using the "non-Logo" gauge, then the pressure would have been reported at 11.6 psi.

iv) Were all the NFL personnel involved in testing the footballs at the game equally skilled in each relevant aspect in using the gauges? [For instance--and here I'm confessing specific lack of knowledge--if the gauges "report" psi either by displacing a "ruler" (like an car tire gauge) or by causing a thin pointer to spin on a clock style display ... (I'm not being argumentative here... I have not seen a photo or video of the device(s) used. Here's a link to images turned up via a yahoo search using search terms "NFL football pressure gauge":
https://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images;_ylt=A0LEV0vt6H5V5j0AcXJXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTE0dGo2bWE1BGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQTAxMDRfMQRzZWMDcGl2cw--?p=nfl+football+pressure+gauge&fr=yfp-t-252&fr2=piv-web )

 .... then whether a particular "tester" accurately reads the gauge's reported result is potentially an issue. Not so much (or not at all) if the psi is "reported" via...for instance...an LCD device.]

v) Not trivially, it seems all the Patriots footballs tested at halftime were tested twice. An article by a team from Purdue at Columbus (an initial engineering report [yahoo search terms: "NFL football pressure purdue columbus" will yield a link to "Deflate Gate Examined"]) noted that "The football pump needle made a very poor seal when inflating the football. A noticeable amount of air was felt coming around the side of the needle when inflating the football. The amount of air leaving the football when removing the pump needle from the ball also released a small amount of air each time. The team estimated that with each removal of the valve 0.1 psi was released as we closely observed the behavior of the interaction between the needle and the football. Thus, it could be plausible that if a ball is inspected several times in succession without being inflated could be subjected to a significant loss in pressure and should be noted for further testing."

In other words, when the Patriots’ footballs were each tested twice at halftime, it is possible that the second test on most or all the balls reflected a lower value than the first test. Depending on how the “halftime/Patriots” psi results were reported (i.e., did the refs take the average of the two tests, and report this?) this has the potential to affect the overall likelihood that a reviewer might conclude that the Patriots footballs were improperly deflated.

vi) In light of something I frequently hear engineers say when trying to get a point across: "Do the math." Relevant here, because the AEI report (though rather obliquely and politely) seems to attack the accuracy of the simple math/statistics calculations contained in the Wells report.

OK, all that said, what does this all mean?

In front of a competent judge, the NFL could expect to have significant difficulty in getting the halftime psi results admitted into evidence.

Even if the results were admitted into evidence, I think it unlikely that they would be accorded much evidentiary weight.

In particular, I think a judicial fact-finding might look something like this (what follows is intentionally compressed):

Acting as finder of fact, the Court noted Defendant Brady’s objection to admitting into evidence the reported values of the psi testing of the Patriots’ and Colts’ footballs as measured before the game, and at halftime. The objection was a lack of foundation. The Court admitted the evidence, under the proviso that the Court would later evaluate them “for what they are worth.”

As it turns out, the Court finds they are not worth much.

In particular, the evidence shows that Referee Anderson tested all the footballs before the game using a gauge that reported values--each time, each test--0.4 psi higher than the other gauge used, in part, to measure the footballs during halftime. The Court finds the evidence does not demonstrate precisely which gauge or gauges were used to test each football during halftime. However, it is clear that both gauges were used. Also, it is clear that each “Patriot” football was tested for pressure twice during halftime, while only four “Colts” football were tested for pressure at halftime. Clearly, the Patriots’ footballs were tested first, and there was insufficient time to finish testing all twelve Colts’ footballs.

A significant difficulty in assessing the evidentiary weight of the test results arises from the lack of clarity as to which “gauge” tested each football during halftime. If all of the Patriots’ footballs were tested with the same gauge that Referee Anderson used to test them before the game, then the comparative results between the pre-game and halftime tests are sensible in a “math-physics-engineering” sense. However, if some or all of the Patriots footballs were tested at halftime using the second gauge, then the halftime test results would generate results that would unfairly and incorrectly support a conclusion that the Patriots’ footballs had been improperly deflated after the pregame testing, but before the game started.

Moreover, while the evidence and simple high school chemistry teach that application of the Ideal Gas Law (pv=nrt) mandates a conclusion that both teams’ footballs would have been found to have “lost pressure” between the pregame testing and the testing at halftime, another problem for assessing the weight and meaning of this evidence arises because of the specific circumstances of the halftime testing. All the game balls were taken into the warm “testing” room at halftime for the required testing. Testing on the Patriots’ footballs began immediately. Testing on the Colts’ footballs began after all the Patriots’ footballs had been tested. The evidence establishes that all the footballs that
“waited” to be tested underwent some increase in pressure due to being in a significantly warmer environment than that existing outside, during the game. However, this “re-inflation” was not uniform.

The end result is that the halftime testing was improperly skewed to support a conclusion that the Patriots’ footballs had been improperly deflated after the pregame testing. The Court finds that the total impact of this improper skewing is contained within a range of 0.6 to 1.0 psi as to each Patriots football. Adjusting the reported results to remove this improper skewing means the Patriots’ footballs did not demonstrate evidence of having been improperly deflated when they were tested at halftime.

To conclude this discussion of the pressure testing and the conclusions that might be drawn from it, the Court notes the criticism the AEI report (and Defendant Brady) level against the accuracy of the statistical calculations contained in the Wells report (and asserted in these proceedings by Plaintiff NFL). While the Court finds the AEI report’s conclusions in this regard to be well founded and accurate, the Court does not rely upon this point to reach its final decision. In other words, the Court assumes, arguendo, that the Wells report’s statistical calculations are accurate.

I have no advanced mathematical training and I am a second year law student, not a lawyer, but my friend's take on the AEI Report's numbers and how that evidence would be used in a hypothetical court setting comports quite well with my understanding of math and law. If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell does not rescind the four game suspension that he levied against Brady it seems as if a competent judge would rule in Brady's favor if Brady decided to sue the NFL for suspending him based on evidence that lacks proper foundation.

The mathematical and legal issues in this case are interesting but there are some deeper questions here as well pertaining to the NFL as a whole and to media coverage of the NFL:

1) Who "tipped" the NFL with (apparently false) information that the Patriots were deflating footballs and why did this person do so?

2) A false allegation of cheating is a punishable offense under FIDE (International Chess Federation) rules. Since there is no credible evidence that the Patriots cheated, will the "tipper" be punished in some fashion by the NFL?

3) Who holds media members like Bob Kravitz, Mike Wilbon and others accountable for their baseless speculations and for their overwrought calls for punishing the Patriots in general and Bill Belichick in particular? Even the Wells Report, which appears to be incomplete and flawed at best, exonerates Belichick from any wrongdoing. Freedom of the press is a cherished and essential American right but accountability of the press should exist in some fashion as well. If media organizations, editors and writers/commentators will not hold themselves accountable then the public should be aware that anything written or stated by media organizations is highly suspect, particularly if that information is delivered by someone who has a track record of being more interested in self-promotion (or the promotion of some other personal agenda) than in seeking out the truth.