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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Dominant Players
When Vera Menchik entered a 1929 tournament, a male competitor mocked her by suggesting that a special 'Vera Menchik Club' would be created for any player who lost to her. When the tournament began, he promptly became the first member of said club, and over the years it accumulated a large and illustrious roster.
Title text: When Vera Menchik entered a 1929 tournament, a male competitor mocked her by suggesting that a special 'Vera Menchik Club' would be created for any player who lost to her. When the tournament began, he promptly became the first member of said club, and over the years it accumulated a large and illustrious roster.

A large version of this comic is available here.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Probably needs more detail.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

The comic shows the rise and fall of players' strengths in two games, basketball and chess. For chess, there is an overall chart, and a women's chart.

For basketball, it uses a player efficiency rating.

For chess, it uses the Elo rating. It explains that since Elo is relatively new (it was adopted by the World Chess Federation, FIDE, in 1970), the rating is extrapolated backwards in time.

There are several references. Some are intended to provide context (such as "Loses to Deep Blue"), while others are tangents or jokes, including:

  • Jerry West - The Guy in The NBA logo
  • Kareem Abdul Jabbar - Airplane (a comedy film he had a role in)
  • Michael Jordan - Space Jam (a comedy starring Jordan)
  • Lebron James - The Decision (a reference to a heavily hyped decision as to which team he would play for)
  • Kira Zvorykina - It originally said "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). However, Zvorykina continued playing into the 21st century; her last games rated by the World Chess Federation date from October 2007. Randall has corrected the notation to say "into the 21st century."

The starbursts are references to a player appearing or disappearing in unusual circumstances:

  • Alexander Alekhine- Died under disputed circumstances in Portugal
  • Bobby Fischer - Text says "Vanished...". He did not actually vanish, but he did stop playing competitively for about 20 years starting in 1972. This is also probably a reference to the 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" is another reference to Fischer, who resumed playing competitively in 1992 for a brief time. "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 (including anti-semitism). 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.
  • Vera Menchik - She died in an attack by an early guided missile (a V-1 flying bomb) launched by the Germans in World War II.

Judit Polgar, the strongest woman chess player ever, is shown rising from the gender-defined ranks of women's chess and breaking into the top 10 in the world FIDA ratings. She ranked eighth in the world in 2005.

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 unknown why some NBA players were excluded from the NBA chart in favor of players with lower career and yearly efficiency ratings. Example: Tim Duncan, Charles Barkley, Oscar Robinson, Kobe Bryant, and Chris Paul should all arguably be included. Additionally, the names of three players are misspelled: Neil Johnston (misspelled as "Neal"), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (missing hyphen), and Julius Erving (misspelled "Irving".)

It is also unknown 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. It is possible that Randall is a huge fan of Carlsen and biased against Anand as evinced by the comic 1287:_Puzzle (Chess in a 'Go' board - there are no alternate coloured squares as required by chess), though the interpretation of the comic and its comment appear to be a double-edged matter of debate.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.

Dominant Players over Time

[Chart 1]

  • Basketball (NBA/ABA)
Player Efficiency Rating

[Chart 2]

  • Chess
Elo Rating

[Chart 3]

  • Chess (Women)
Elo Rating

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