Association of British Scrabble Players

The early days

In the days of high score, ratings were simply a player's average points total. With the introduction of matchplay (play-to-win) tournaments, a different method was needed. But how were the first ratings calculated when everyone was unrated? Here are the recollections of the first ABSP ratings officer, the late Terry Hollington

As far as I remember, only the British Chess Federation methods and Professor Arpad Elo were considered. Not many people were familiar with either. Elo had written comprehensively in a book and compared the BCF and other systems to his methods and the variant that grew out of ELO for the Chess world.

I had served on the BCF Grading Committee and had been a grader for Hampshire covering 3,000+ players, although only about 500 had a published grade. None of us on the committee seemed too keen on the higher mathematics and probabilities of Elo's system. Thus when I offered to try and produce a feasible rating list it was accepted.

I chose the first BMSC (British Matchplay Scrabble Championship), when it was run by Philip Nelkon and not the ABSP. What I thought I was going to do and what I actually did were two vastly different things! I naively assumed I would get enough cross-data to make successive datum points. This idea was a non-starter - I just could not string enough information together.

In the end I decided that the Sum Of Opponents scores was a crude form of rating. So my finger in the wind told me I wanted the Average Player to have a rating of 140. I cannot remember the detail now but broadly I converted SOS to a rating and then rated the whole tournament. The drawback was that whilst SOS is reasonable for splitting players on the same score it was useless for comparing people on differing scores. This was highlighted by Allan Simmons who was a runaway winner, with the result that his mostly beaten opponents failed to contribute to his SOS rating.

I believe I kicked figures about a bit and then rated the event three times before I was satisfied that I had something reasonable. I documented all of this and why I did it and then presented it to the ABSP (then called APSP) committee as a reasonable basis from which to rate two or three tournaments in the background to see how it might turn out. To my surprise (and delight) the committeee were very impressed and decided to issue it as it stood as the first rating list! It is a long while ago now but that's how I recall it.