Chess psychometrics – Ethnic Elo Gaps in the US

In the last post, we showed that US-American Ashkenazim have a higher average Elo rating than the average US chess player. In this post we extend the analysis to the ethnic and racial minorities African Americans, Asians and Hispanics.

Originally, I was just curious whether Asians had overtaken the Ashkenazim. This seems to be happening in several other measures of academic excellence. I assumed that to be the case, because chess rating first and foremost reflects how much work you have put into chess. So it likely responds strongly to the Asian work ethic.

When comparing Ashkenazim to the general US player I was methodologically quite lazy. I didn’t bother correcting for age because I assumed that the age structure would be similar enough. When looking at the Asian Elo this assumption no longer holds: Most current Asian chess players in the US are likely the kids of relatively recent immigrants.

Indeed, the average birth year of Asian chess players in the US seems to be 2001 vs 1986 for all players. Instead of using Elo directly, we look at the deviation from the average global Elo for the given birth year. This allows us to eliminate the effect of age.

Global average Elo rating by age

We use the 2010 US Census [1] to create samples of Asian, Black, Hispanic and White chess players. These are all players whose names belong with a >90% probability to the respective ethnic group. (For blacks we choose >80% probability, because otherwise the sample is almost nonexistent.) I restrict the samples to male players and birth years >1950.

I also create an additional Ashkenazi sample using my list of Ashkenazi names that occur among Israeli chess players and are not obviously mostly non-Ashkenazi (I excluded Perez, Miller, Brown).

This results in 420 Asians, 60 Hispanics, 66 Ashkenazim, 391 Whites, 14 Blacks. The low number of Whites and Blacks is a result of the difficulty of clearly distinguishing these two groups by surname. The high number of Asians is a result of uniquely Asian names. Ashkenazim are probably much more over represented than they are in my samples.

These are the age controlled deviations from the global average Elo for each group:
Asians 339
Ashkenazim 250
Whites 189
Hispanics 140
Blacks 125

With a White standard deviation of 215 we transform these numbers into IQ for a more intuitive comparison:

Asians 110.4
Ashkenazim 104.2
Whites 100.0
Hispanics 96.6
Blacks 95.5

The differences are probably distorted by weaker groups being more predominantly sampled from the right tail. But the ranking is quite unsurprising. After all, the 2019 US chess champions are called Hikaru Nakamura and Jennifer Yu [2]. With the much younger age structure US chess is bound to become much more Asian dominated in the future, with the ex-Soviets fading into the background.

[1] US census 2010

[2] US chess championship 2019

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