Thursday, October 29, 2015

Professional Tennis is Plagued by Match Fixing

In The Secret World of Tennis Match Gambling, Tomas Rios details rampant match fixing in the professional ranks. Rios explains why corruption is so pervasive in professional tennis:

Tennis is perfectly suited--in every way--for match fixing.

Tennis is the third-most bet upon sport in the world and, between the ATP and the Women's Tennis Association, there are 126 tournaments making up this year's tour. The sheer volume of betting and matches makes spotting suspicious activity virtually impossible in all but the most obvious and reckless cases.

Then there's the sport's inherent vulnerability to "spot fixing." European sportsbooks allow bettors to wager on not just matches, but sets, games, and even individual points. A corrupt player could easily throw a handful of points over the course of a match and not even the keenest observer would be able to spot it.

Of course, a player needs motivation to go corrupt. Tennis does a fine job of making sure players have the best motivation of all.

The "motivation" is that it costs well over $100,000 to play on the ATP or WTA tours when one includes travel costs and the cost of a full-time coach. While the top-10 players make more than $1,000,000 per year and thus have much less incentive to cheat, most tennis professionals can make more money--and guaranteed money at that--by fixing matches than they can make by trying to win prizes honestly.

A 2014 study by Ryan Rodenberg and Elihu Feustel titled "Forensic Sports Analytics: Detecting and Predicting Match-Fixing in Tennis" used betting market analysis and predictive tennis models to determine that it was likely that at least one percent of first round tennis matches over a span of more than two years were fixed. That works out to an average of 23 matches per year--and that does not include the sets, games and points that may have been thrown in "spot fixing" scams.

Rios cites a specific match from 2007 pitting the fourth ranked player in the world versus a player who barely cracked the top 100. The wagering on that match reached a fever pitch--10 times the average--and the match ended with the fourth ranked player conceding the match after claiming that he was injured. The ATP investigated the situation for over a year but could not prove any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, within the tennis community it is widely believed that the match was fixed--and that type of corruption casts a pall on the entire sport.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Emory Tate Will Long Be Remembered For Slashing Attacks and Spirited Conversation

I was shocked and saddened to find out this morning that International Master Emory Tate passed away yesterday while participating in a California chess tournament. Tate was originally from Indiana and he was a fixture on the Midwest chess scene for many years, winning six Indiana state championships in addition to claiming five Armed Forces championships and a host of other tournament wins. Tate did not receive the International Master title until he was almost 50, a testament to his hard work and persistence.

Of course, for years before Tate became an IM he was a threat to anyone he faced, even a former World Championship Candidate like Grandmaster Leonid Yudasin, who was the eighth ranked player in the world in January 1991. No article about Tate is complete without including this brilliant and beautiful game from the 1997 U.S. Masters:

FM Emory Tate vs. GM Leonid Yudasin

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bc4 e6 7. Bb3 Nbd7 8. Qe2 Nc5 9. g4 b5 10. g5 Nfd7 11. Bd5 Bb7 12. Bxb7 Nxb7 13. a4 bxa4 14. Rxa4 Nbc5 15. Ra3 Qb6 16. O-O Be7 17. Kh1 O-O 18. b4 Na4 19. Nf5 exf5 20. Nd5 Qd8 21. exf5 Re8 22. Qh5 Nab6 23. Rh3 Nf8 24. f6 Nxd5 25. fxg7 Kxg7 26. Bb2+ Kg8 27. g6 Bf6 28. gxf7+ Kh8 29. Rg1 Re1 30. Rxe1 Bxb2 31. Re8 Nf6 32. Rxd8 Rxd8 33. Qh6 Ne4 34. Qh4 Nf6 35. Rg3 N8d7 36. Qh6 1-0

Tate justifiably loved to show that game to anyone who was interested. I personally watched Tate rattle off those moves from memory on several occasions. His descriptions of the lines he analyzed during the game were mesmerizing and entertaining. It is important to note that when Tate showed the game it did not feel like he was showing off; Tate loved chess, loved to talk about chess, loved to analyze chess and that passion shined through when he discussed this game, so what an observer experienced was Tate's joy and the wonders of chess, as opposed to someone bragging about beating a top GM.

I faced Tate six times in over the board play from 1997-2008, scoring two draws and four losses. In the first round of the Oberlin (Ohio) Open on 4/29/2000, I missed a chance to defeat Tate (who candidly admitted after the game that he had stood worse) and he finished the game in his typical style:

David Friedman (2096) vs. Emory Tate (2443)

1. Nf3 Nc6 2. g3 e5 3. d3 d5 4. Bg2 Bg4 5. Nbd2 f5 6. c4 d4!? (6... e4) 7. Qa4 Qd7 8. Qb5 Bd6? (8... e4 is a better try, but White has a clear advantage after 9. Ne5) 9. a3!? (9. c5 Bf8 10. Qxb7 is winning for White.) 9... Nf6!? (9... Rb8 is more prudent but definitely not in keeping with Tate's style.) 10. Qxb7!? (I could not resist the bait. White is better after 10. c5 Be7 11. Qxb7. The point is that e5 is not adequately defended. White is winning after ... Rb8? [11... O-O is Black's best try, leading to a White advantage after 12. Qb3+ Kh8 13. Ng5+=] 12. Nxe5 Rxb7 13. Bxc6 Qxc6 14. Nxc6+-) 10... Rb8 Black has a lot of play for the sacrificed pawn. 11. Qa6 O-O? (11... e4 is more in keeping with Tate's style.) 12. c5!? (12. Ng5) 12... Be7 13. Ng5 Nd5 14. Qc4 Rbd8 15. Qxd5+ Qxd5 16. Bxd5+ Rxd5 17. Ne6!? (17. Nc4) 17... Rc8=+ 18. h3 Bh5 19. g4 fxg4 20. hxg4? (20. Ne4 is a better try.) 20... Bf7-+ The Ne6 is trapped. Black is winning. (20... Bxg4? 21. Nxg7 Kxg7 22.Rg1 h5 23. f3=) 21. Nxc7 (21. Nxg7 is a better try.) 21... Rxc7 22. b4 a5 23. b5 Nd8 24. a4 Rdxc5 25. Ba3 Rc3 26. Bxe7?? A blunder in a lost position. Rc1+ 0-1

Shortly after I played this game, my friend NM Mark Kalafatas told me, "There are NO better tactical players in the country than Emory Tate. He has a genuine and very rare gift in that regard and has beaten most of the best players in the country at one time or another. I think he is the Earnie Shavers of chess...He (Shavers) gave Ali a good fight and was a terribly powerful puncher that could knock out anyone with a single blow."

Tate loved to talk about a variety of subjects and he was willing and eager to analyze chess games with anyone at any time, regardless of a person's rating or status. I enjoyed the time that I spent with him at various tournaments over the years and regret that I will never again have the opportunity to watch him analyze his win against Yudasin.

IM Emory Tate will be long remembered and dearly missed by anyone who was fortunate enough to cross his path.