Zachary Klein is a junior at Rowland Hall who created the first-ever Elo ranking system for high school policy debate. The Elo is a ranking system that, according to Chess.com, “measures the relative strength of a player in some games, such as chess, compared to other players.” This system is highly complicated, but Zach was able to replicate this ranking system to be able to rank policy debate teams in the United States. If you are curious about the Elo, Zach explains it in further depth as well as the process that went into making it.
What is the Elo ranking system?
The Elo ranking is used in lots of things like chess and dating websites in order to rank different people. It is a system that uses statistical evidence to determine how good you are at a certain activity. You get more ranking points for beating a better team and lose fewer ranking points for losing to a better team because it’s harder. What I did with the Elo ranking system was for the debate season. It takes all the data from all the debates on the national circuit, compiles it, and makes the nationwide ranking.
What inspired you to create the Elo ranking system?
Well, I kind of just didn’t have anything to do over the summer that had to do with programming, so I decided to create this because, one, it has to do with a topic I’m interested in, and two, it’s something that is difficult to program, so I thought it would be a fun challenge.
How many hours and how many lines of code did it take to make the Elo?
It says 24,00 lines of code, but a caveat to that is that lots of the code is auto-generated from storing numbers from each team. So that’s probably most of the code, and some of the code is copied so it’s not actually that long. It probably took around 100 hours just because a lot of the time is spent adding data, and I also wasn’t too confident in the process that went into creating the system, so that also took a while.
What reactions have you received from the public so far about the ranking system?
They have been mostly positive! I got an email from a couple of coaches and some other people that were interested in some of the specifics I used to make it more personalized to debate and how I structured my program and if I added some other statistics. I did also get some emails that told me stuff was inaccurate, but it was mostly constructive criticism that helped me out.
What was your favorite part of creating the Elo?
My favorite part was when I got to read the data. I really enjoyed dissecting it and seeing what was accurate and inaccurate to see how I could create the best possible system.
Would you ever consider creating an Elo ranking system for a different activity?
Probably not. I’m not as interested in other topics, and it was a lot of work to create, so I doubt that I would be willing to put that work into creating another system.
Zachary’s creation of the high school debate Elo ranking system has been spread throughout the debate community and has brought a new perspective to how teams should be ranked. Zachary’s decision to create the Elo has given him the ability to create ranking systems for countless other activities if he were to decide to. For example, outside of debate, the Elo is used “in A LOT of other games, including basketball, American football... [and] board games such as Scrabble,” says Raghav Mittal from Purple Theory. The widespread use of the Elo has made Zachary’s skills versatile and applicable to varying activities. Concerning the world of policy debate, Zachary’s contributions are helping to make rankings more objective and unbiased. If you would like to keep up with the website to see how Zachary furthers the Elo, it is linked here!