1392: Dominant Players
A larger version of this image can be found by clicking the image at xkcd.com - the comic's page can also be accessed by clicking on the comic number above.
For basketball, it uses the player efficiency rating (PER), the most commonly used player statistic. Note that that player efficiency ratings and similar "aggregate scores" are the subject of much discussion in basketball due to known deficiencies.
For chess, it uses the Elo rating. Elo was adopted by the World Chess Federation, FIDE, in 1970, so the rating is extrapolated backwards in time (amongst other using Kenneth Regan's computer analysis - as written in the Chess panel) and are thus shown as dashed lines prior to 1970. Interestingly Elo ratings have been adapted to basketball, but the PER is more commonly used to rank basketball players.
The charts show the players career paths as a function of time with the rating on the y-axis. There is no scale on the y-axis.
Included are mainly players that could be said to have been among the dominating players at some time in their career. If a player has been the best player over a longer time period (a seriously dominating player) then their career path will be drawn in red, the rest are in gray. There can be more than one red path at a time, but only because the dominating player has played before or after they became dominating. It seems like it has to be at least five years, as there are at least two players that have been no. 1 for four years, without being upgraded to a red curve. The only ones that have managed this with three years or less (on the chart) are those that begin the chart, and thus could have been no. 1 a few years before. This can all be seen in the data tables below.
 Basketball vs chess
Basketball is one of the fastest sports in the world, with some of the tallest people in the world among the players. Chess, on the other hand, will by many not even be considered a sport. Although a general good condition of the body may help you think clearly, you by no means need to be an athlete to do well in chess. You do, however, expect a rather high IQ among the best performers. This is not necessary to become a great basketball player (although here it is not in the way either). Another very important difference is that basketball is a team sport, whereas chess is one of the most individual sports you can imagine.
So why compare to so different sports? And why the funny remarks for the basketball players against the more serious for the chess players? Maybe Randall wishes to make fun of basketball and the fact that several of the best of these at some time during their careers choose to be in a movie or documentary. Or that they return after they retired. The remarks for the chess players is more about who loses and wins matches.
It could also be to show how different the players’ career paths are. Basketball players peak early in their career, then have at most a decade at the top of their game (and as the best), and if they are lucky they get close to a career of two decades. Chess players can dominate for two decades, and have careers that last more than three decades. Also they often continue to improve a long time after they became no 1.
For the reason mentioned here there are 7 red basketball players from 1950-2014, whereas there are only 5 male and 3 female red players for the two chess panels. (And then one extra each for the Chess panels from before 1950). See the data tables below.
Except for women's chess between 1944 till 1957 and for chess until 1947 there are always at least two players’ career paths at any given time. So at least no. 1 and no. 2 are shown. But at some point in time there can be as many as 7 basketball players, 8 chess players and 8 women chess players’ career paths for a given year.
In 544: Pep Talk a group of chess players tries (and fails) to be competitive in the NBA, also because they are coached by someone with no understanding of basketball...
 Chess vs chess (women)
Why is chess divided in an overall (with only one woman included) and basketball not? First of all, there is very little focus on women's basketball (as for most women's sport). This may be the same for chess, but at least here the physical strength advantage for men is no direct advantage. Thus a great woman chess player may play just as interesting chess as a man. Whereas women would typically have no chance if playing on a basketball team with men. But why are women then not represented better on the overall chess ranking? This is explained and may be another reason it is included. In the Chess (women) panel it says: For a long time, sexism, a lack of role models, and institutional hostility largely kept women from pursuing serious chess careers. With the expansion of women’s tournaments and prizes starting in the 1970s, this has begun to change. So now at least one woman has shown that her skills is enough to compete with the best men. With the long careers chess players usually have, then maternity leave can destroy a womans chance at reaching the ultimate top. This could be the case for the number one woman who now has two children.
 References on the career paths
- There are several references at given times of a career path. These can either be noted with:
- A node on the path. An arrow will point to the note and state a fact.
- Dashed path, not including chess player paths from before 1970 where they were all dashed as explained above. For basketball, an arrow will point to the dashed part and state a fact.
- The starbursts at the beginning or end of a path. A fact will be stated next to the node. These are references to a player disappearing (or reappearing) in unusual circumstances in either Chess panel.
- Some of these are intended to provide context (such as "Loses to Deep Blue"), while others are tangents or jokes.
- These references are listed below in order of appearance. If it is a dashed line or a starburst it will be mentioned:
- Wilt Chamberlain - "Becomes the first and so far only player to score 100 points in a game". (In 1962)
- Jerry West - "The Guy in The NBA logo" from 1969: read 5th paragraph in this wiki section
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - "Airplane": A comedy film from 1980 where he played the co-pilot Roger Murdock.
- Magic Johnson - "HIV announcement". This part of his path is dashed. The line is dashed from 1991 to 1995 - where the fear of Aids forced him to retire.
- He returned to play once more in the season from 1995-1996
- Michael Jordan - "Baseball career". This part of his path is dashed. From 1993-1994 he played Baseball - i.e. his first retirement.
- Michael Jordan - "Space Jam". (An animated comedy film from 1996 starring Bugs Bunny and Jordan - who was the only live character during most of the movie)
- Michael Jordan - "Second retirement". This part of his path is dashed. (He retired again from 1999–2001)
- He then came back to play two more years from 2001-2003.
- LeBron James - "The Decision," a television special from 2010 about a heavily hyped decision as to which team he would play for the next season.
- José Capablanca - "Terrifying chess God". An arrow points to the left of the panel with his name and the note beneath it. He was considered one of the greatest chess players of all time. As he died in 1942 this lies just outside of the chart. Anyway he had his best years all the way back in 1921-1927 where he was world chess champion
- Alexander Alekhine - This is the first starburst. There is no text except his name. He died in 1946 in Portugal.
- Bobby Fischer - "Vanished..." The second Starburst. (He did not actually vanish, but he did stop playing competitively for about 20 years starting in 1972. This is probably a reference to the 1993 film Searching for Bobby Fischer, which is not actually about Fischer, but about a player who partly models his career on Fischer's. The name Searching for Bobby Fischer may lead people to believe Fischer literally vanished, but that is not the case.
- Bobby Fischer - "...Reappeared then vanished again. He had problems." This is written below a double starburst with a short line between. This is another reference to Fischer - there is no name or clear correlation, except the text that relates to the first reference. He resumed playing competitively in 1992 for a match. He had problems is a simplistic description of issues and controversies in Fischer's later life, including an arrest warrant because he violated a U.S. embargo against Yugoslavia, unpaid taxes, controversy about his statements on anti-semitism, and mental problems. The U.S. eventually revoked his passport, and he was jailed for eight months in Japan. He then received Icelandic citizenship, and lived out the rest of his life there.
- Garry Kasparov - "Loses to Deep Blue". In 1997 Deep Blue became the first computer to beat the current chess world champion
- Judit Polgar - "(see below)". The text in the brackets is written beneath her name. She is the strongest woman chess player ever and can be seen rising from the gender-defined ranks of women's chess (below). She is the only women shown on this part of the chart. Below in the womans chart, there are several notes - see below.
 Chess (women)
- Vera Menchik - "Died in a missile attack on London". This is the Last starburst. She was killed in 1944 by an early guided missile - a V-1 flying bomb - launched by the Germans in World War II. For some reason her path does not seems to be dashed, as it should have been before 1970.
- Sonja Graf - "Rating particularly uncertain". This is written above her name, with an arrow pointing there. As a matter of fact, she was clearly the second best woman and her path should be parallel to Menchik's from 1930's. The path is already dashed indicating that it is a rough estimate, but there were probably very few data for woman chess players before 1960 explaining the note.
- Kira Zvorykina - "Kira Zvorykina (born 1919) continued playing in tournaments into the 21st century". Zvorykina was never very high on the list, but can be seen twice centered on 1960 and 1980. She played her last game rated by the World Chess Federation in October 2007 aged 88. She was still alive when this comic was released. Zvoryinka passed away in September 2014.
- She is the only player in all three panels whose path falls below the panel only to enter again later. This second entry is labeled with her last name - Zvorykina - on top of the path
- Judit Polgar, Susan Polgar and Sofia Polgar - "Sisters". These three chess playing sisters are linked by a thin dashed line, snaking between their names on the chart. Judit is the youngest, Susan the oldest. Judit has now overtaken her sisters, Sofia never reaching the other two sisters level.
- Judit Polgar - "Wins a game against Kasparov, making her the first woman to beat the world #1". It took some attempts and some controversy before she managed to beat Kasparov in 2002, in a tournament that was played under rapid rules with 25 minutes per game and a 10 second bonus per move.
- Judit Polgar - "Becomes first woman to rank in the overall top 10". She is so far the only woman to break into the top 10 in the FIDE World Rankings. She ranked as high as eighth in the world in 2005.
 Scales of the axis
The x-axis is divided in decades from 1950 until 2010. In the Basketball section the curves begins to appear right after 1950. For both chess panels there are curves further back than 1950 (with even a reference to a player from before 1940). For all three panels the paths continue up till present day (2014).
In all cases there is no scale on the y-axis with the rating, thus it is difficult to find the absolute scale. It is also difficult to compare between the two chess panels. The scale on the two chess panels are, however, the same, as can be seen by comparing the curve of Judit Polgar on each chart. This curve is exactly the same, with the same elevation between the point where her curve enters the Chess panel up to the top point. This also means that any women player whose curve rises above this entry point (around 1989) should also be visible in the Chess chart. See below for inclusion criteria.
 Player inclusion criteria
In general not all possible players are included in these charts. For instance it is mentioned that Judit Polgar was the first woman ranked in the over all top 10. But only six players are shown on the over all chart around 2005, where she was ranked 8th. So some male players, better than her at that time, have not been included. This is a general trend for all three charts.
From the Woman's panel below it is also clear that some of the other women would be ranked high enough to be visible on the upper chart as mentioned in the Scales section above. But still only Judit is shown there. 9 out of 12 of the women that are on the chart after 1989 would be visible if included in the overall chart. However, none of them could be called dominant when comparing to the best men in the same time period. And thus they are not included. Maybe the same could be said about Judth, but then she is included for scale, and because she is so good that she can compete with, and sometimes beat, the best.
Similarly can be mentioned for instance the no. 1 ranked chess player Veselin Topalov from Bulgaria, who was ranked first both in 20062007 and in 2008-2010 for a total of less than two years. And there are likely several others (see below).
An example of the above for Basketball would be the 2008–2009 season which was unique in that it was the only season in which more than one player posted an efficiency ratings of over 30.0 on the Player efficiency rating (see at the bottom of this section on Wikipedia). In that season three players broke this barrier: LeBron James (31.76), Dwyane Wade (30.46), and Chris Paul (30.04). LeBron is shown to top that season, But Dwayne is far below (thus the scale does not fit?) and Chris is not on the list at all (i.e. he was not deemed to be a dominant player).
So is this Randall's subjective list of players that he has deemed to be Dominant Players and not a full list of the best ranked players during the time period? Of course it is his choice which players he put into the list, but missing players (when worse has been included earlier) can be explained if the missing players never were among the most dominant player over a length of time. It is not a list of the best players of all time, or of a single season, but a chart of the dominant players over a longer time period.
If a player only has had a very short time where their careers peaked - they should not be included. Also if there most of the time where at least two others that were more dominant than they ever where - they should not be included. To tell if this explains all the excluded players mentioned/referenced above, that would take some investigation. An investigation we can assume Randall has taken upon himself before posting this comic. This of course will still make it his subjective list.
For basketball any given player will at least have been the 2nd best (of those included) at some (longer) period of their career. And to become selected for a red curve, they need to be the best for at least five years - the first players curve is no. 1 less than five year, but he could have been no. 1 also before 1951.
The same is valid for the Chess players (again the first players curve is red, but stops just as it enters the panel). Only exception is Judit Polgar. She is never better than 3rd of those selected. And she was never better than 8th in the world. So her inclusion is a mentioned probably only to compare her with the men.
For the woman chess players there are the same criteria for red, except that Sonja Graf is not red although she is the only chess player on the list for more than a decade. Maybe you need to be better than someone else to become red? There are also included several women who never reaches 2nd place on the chart. Three of these reaches 3rd place and two only 4th. One of these, Anna Muzychuk, is still on the rise, so she might be on the chart, because she could possibly become first or second if she can continue to improve. The other, Sofia Polgar, is included to show that all three Polgar sisters are chess masters.
 Where is Viswanathan Anand
None of the above can explain why former World Champion Chess Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand has not been included in the Chess Chart. Anand is one of six players in history to break the 2800 mark on the FIDE rating list. He occupied the number one position in several rating lists between 2007 and 2011. The reason could possible be because Randall may be a huge fan of Magnus Carlsen, and thus biased against Anand - there is some evidence for this in 1287: Puzzle. In the title text of that comic it seems that Randall makes fun of Anand in a match against Magnus. The interpretation of the comic and its comment, however, appear to be a double-edged matter of debate.
Anand can for instance be found in the Chessmetrics devised by statistician Jeff Sonas. In the graph from 1995-2005 of Sonas famous research from 2005, Anand becomes the best during 2004. It can, however, also be seen that Randall does not agree with Sonas - this is very clear in this graph from 1940-1960. Here Mikhail Botvinnik clearly plays way better than Alexander Alekhine in 1946, where Alexander dies. This is not shown like this in the comic. Maybe the death of Alexander becomes the more interesting in the comic, if you believed he was the best at the time. Note that all nine (male) names listed in the comics chart between the lines at 1950 and 2000 are included in this graph from 1950-2000. In this chart it is clear that Bobby Fischer was by far the best in the years before he disappeared. However, he was caught by Anatoly Karpov just before which is not shown in the comic. On the other hand, he seems to have reached a significant higher rating than Kasparov ever did, which is also not the case in the comic.
 Entwined career paths
Chess players Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian, who have faced each other on multiple occasions in the 2010s, are shown as having their career paths entwined. It is a general trend observed every time two players paths cross each other more than once. The one on top the first time, will be below the second time and so forth. It is just more clear with these two than anywhere else. In two cases these crossing path occurs with so long time between the first appearance, that the names is written twice on the path. In the Chess panel it is Mikhail Tal and Boris Spassky and for the Chess (women) panel it is Pia Cramling and Xie Jun. This can make it difficult to get an overview of how few chess players there are compared to basketball players.
- Dominant players
- over time
- [Below this heading there are three panels with charts showing different players career paths - that is their rating a function of the year. Most of the paths are grey, but some are red (there will be a note for these). Some parts of several paths are dashed. Somewhere on each path the players name will be written curving along so it follows the path. Several places an event or some information is noted and points to a given time on the path. If it is not clear where it belongs an arrow will point to the correct place. Each chart has a heading and for the two last charts there is an explanation. There is no scale on the y-axis (rating) but the x-axis (time) has the years given in ten years interval. A thin line indicates these decades. The years are all written at the top, except the first for the first chart, which is written below, and this year is missing in the bottom chart.]
- [Below the transcript for each chart will follow this order: Heading/sub heading, explanation, time scale, player names with any information for this player, in the order their name appear on the time scale.]
- [Basketball chart:]
- Basketball (NBA/ABA)
- Player Efficiency Rating
- 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
- [Red] George Mikan
- [Red] Bob Pettit
- Neal Johnston [Neil misspelled.]
- Elgin Baylor
- [Red] Wilt Chamberlain
- Becomes the first and so far only player to score 100 points in a game
- Jerry West
- The Guy in the NBA logo
- [Red] Kareem Abdul Jabbar [Missing hyphen between the two last names.]
- Bob Mcadoo
- Julius Irving [Erving misspelled.]
- Moses Malone
- Magic Johnson
- HIV announcement [A part of the path is dashed after this.]
- [Red] Michael Jordan
- Baseball career [A part of the path is dashed after this.]
- Space Jam
- Second retirement [A part of the path is dashed after this.]
- Larry Bird
- Karl Malone
- David Robinson
- [Red] Shaquille O'Neal
- Kevin Gariett
- [Red] LeBron James
- The Decision
- Dwyane Wade
- Kevin Durant
- [Chess chart.]
- Elo Rating
- The modern Elo rating system dates back to about 1970.
- Computer analysis (like Kenneth Regan’s) lets us rate historical players, but this has only been done rigorously for a few tournaments.
- Dashed lines are rough estimates only.
- [All paths are dashed up until the late nineteen sixties:]
- 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
- [The first player has no path, as his time was before 1940. An arrow points toward the left to these earlier times:]
- José Capablanca
- Terrifying chess God
- [Red] Alexander Alekhine [His path ends in a starburst.]
- [Red] Mikhail Botvinnik
- Tigran Petrosian
- David Bronstein
- Mikhail Tal
- Mikhail Tal [his name is written twice on the path, the second time above Boris Spassky when their paths intertwine.]
- [Red] Bobby Fischer
- Vanished… [Text under a starburst.]
- Reappeared then vanished again. He had problems. [Text under two starbursts connected with a path. This appears much later than the first starburst.]
- Boris Spassky
- Boris Spassky [his name is written twice on the path, the second time below Mikhail Tal when their paths intertwine.]
- Victor Korchnoi
- [Red] Anatoly Karpov
- [Red] Garry Kasparov
- Loses to Deep Blue
- Judit Polgar
- (See below) [The text is written beneath her name.]
- Vladimir Kramnik
- Levon Aronian
- [Red] Magnus Carlsen
- [Chess (women) chart:]
- Chess (women)
- Elo Rating
- For a long time, sexism, a lack of role models, and institutional hostility largely kept women from pursuing serious chess careers.
- With the expansion of women’s tournaments and prizes starting in the 1970s, this has begun to change.
- [All paths are dashed up until the late nineteen sixties.]
- 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
- [Red] Vera Menchik
- Died in a missile attack on London [next to a starburst.]
- Sonja Graf
- Rating particularly uncertain
- Olga Rubtsova
- Elisaveta Bykova
- Kira Zvorykina
- Kira Zvorykina (born 1919) continued playing in tournaments into the 21st century [Text above Elisvetas path, no arrows.]
- Zvorykina [Written on top of the path when her path reappears much later.]
- Alexander Nicolau
- [Red] Nona Gaprindashvili
- Alla Kushnir
- [Red] Maia Chiburdanidze
- Pia Cramling
- Pia Cramling [her name is written twice on the path, the second time below the path of Xie Jun after their paths have intertwined.]
- Xie Jun
- Xie Jun [her name is written twice on the path, the second time above the path of Pia Cramling after their paths have intertwined.]
- Susan Polgar
- Sofia Polgar
- [Red] Judit Polgar
- Sisters [The three Polgars are linked by a thin dashed line, snaking between their names.]
- Wins a game against Kasparov, making her the first woman to beat the world #1
- Becomes first woman to rank in the overall top 10
- Antoaneta Stefanova
- Anna Muzychuk
- Koneru Humpy [In western style the name should be Humpy Koneru, but the comics version is the native form.]
- Hou Yifan
- The original comic said about Kira Zvorykina "Continued playing in tournaments into the 20th century". The 20th century is the 1900's in which Zvorkina was born (on September 29, 1919 according to Wikipedia). Randall has corrected the notation to say "into the 21st century."
- The names of three NBA players have been misspelled: Neil Johnston (misspelled as "Neal"), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (missing hyphen), and Julius Erving (misspelled "Irving".)
- The order of the names of an Indian chess playing woman has been given in the native version in the comic, where the western version would use the reverse as here: Humpy Koneru.
 Data tables
- Below are three sortable tables, with the original order as the players name appear in the transcript i.e. chronological.
- One of the objectives of the tables is to make it clear what is the criteria for a player obtaining a red path. Thus there is an x for red path and an x for being no. 1 on the charts. Also the number if years a player has been no. 1 is given.
- All data in these tables are taken from the comic - except the names - they are taken from Wikipedia. See trivia items above.
- The total years as no. 1 is not the same in each table, as those players entering the panels from outside (before 1942), do not get a length of time as being no. 1. For basketball the chart first begins in 1951 (together with the rating system?)
- Since the years as no. 1 has been roughly estimated from the charts (with a ruler) the sum total can also not be expected to fit with the first entry and today (and they miss with at least a couple of years each), as all years have been rounded to the nearest whole year.
- In the comments column, there is references to the relevant section in the explanation if there are any notes/references in the comic for the player. Also references are made to the trivia section for errors etc. Other comments are for special observations regarding said player.
- So use the comments if you have any interesting but short note to add for a given player.
- In case of longer info: If they are regarding the table, write them in bullets below the relevant table (and make a note on the players comments), or add it to the trivia section above.
- More general things or info on players missing from the comic should be added to the explanation above.
|Player name||x if Red||x if no. 1||Years as no. 1||Best placement||Comments|
|George Mikan||x||x||3||1||His path begins in 1951 where the chart begins|
|Neil Johnston||0||2||His path begins in 1951 where the chart begins. Name misspelled in comic|
|Wilt Chamberlain||x||x||11||1||There is a note|
|Jerry West||0||2||There is a note|
|Kareem Abdul-Jabbar||x||x||10||1||There is a note. Also the hyphen has been left out in the comic|
|Julius Erving||x||1||1||Name misspelled in comic|
|Magic Johnson||0||2||There is a note|
|Michael Jordan||x||x||8||1||There are three notes|
|LeBron James||x||x||8||1||There is a note|
|Kevin Durant||x||1||1||He became no 1 in 2013 and still is|
|20 players - Total:||7||14||65||1-2|
|Player name||x if Red||x if no. 1||Years as no. 1||Best placement||Comments|
|José Capablanca||x||1||There is a note. He is outside the panel|
|Alexander Alekhine||x||x||1||Path begins outside panel and ends in a starburst|
|Mikhail Botvinnik||x||x||17||1||No 1 over two separate periods|
|Mikhail Tal||x||4||1||Name written twice on the path|
|Bobby Fischer||x||x||8||1||There are two notes in connection with three starbursts|
|Boris Spassky||0||2||Name written twice on the path|
|Garry Kasparov||x||x||23||1||There is a note|
|Judit Polgar||0||3||There is a note. Only woman in this chart.|
|Magnus Carlsen||x||x||6||1||He became no 1 in 2008 and still is|
|15 players - Total:||6||10||73||1-3||Only with a 3rd place as the best is Judit from the womens chart|
|Player name||x if Red||x if no. 1||Years as no. 1||Best placement||Comments|
|Vera Menchik||x||x||1||There is a note. Path begins outside panel and ends in a starburst|
|Sonja Graf||x||13||1||There is a note|
|Kira Zvorykina||0||3||There are two notes, see also Trivia|
|Pia Cramling||0||2||Name written twice on the path|
|Xie Jun||0||2||Name written twice on the path|
|Susan Polgar||0||2||There is a note|
|Sofia Polgar||0||4||There is a note|
|Judit Polgar||x||x||26||1||There are three notes. She became no 1 in 1989 and still is|
|Humpy Koneru||0||2||Alternate version of name used in comic|
|18 players - Total:||4||6||68||1-4||One no. 4 is a sister the other is still active|