This section probably contains the term "I" all too often, for which I apologise. I am afraid to say that this system probably reflects my idiosyncracies far more than is appropriate. I also apologise for this.
Before I begin this explanation, it will be as well if you note that I am, possibly, an extremely sad individual (in the colloquial British sense of rather dull, technically inclined, mathematically keen, etc.) and probably more than a little bit potty (again in the British sense of borderline-insanity) to have embarked upon this rather excessively-technical algorithm. No doubt there are simpler and more approximate methods which would be more appropriate for what is, after all, a constantly-fluid and estimation-based system. However, I got carried away doing logarithmic calculations at 1 in the morning, and you see the result.
Paul Callaghan started this process by suggesting that given our recent influx of beginners, it was time we had a more formal system for considering improvement, so that we could measure progress, and to encourage people to improve. There seemed to be a concensus that this was a good idea and that the new website I was developing meant that such a "ladder" or system would be easily displayed. I therefore felt a certain responsibility to get on with it. I also thought that the mathematical complexities of it sounded highly interesting, so I started looking and thinking.
My first source of information was the old BGA Handbook which recommends an approximate scale for internal club ladders. As a mathematician, I dislike "jagged" scales like this when one could approximate them with a smooth function. As such, I set out to find one. The miracle of Excel's graphing function, a bit of trial-and-error, and an enjoyable couple of hours prodding later, I had a function displaying that "c" (my then-arbitrarily named rating) was equal to 70 timesed by 1.155 to the power of 0.71 times "k", where "k" is your kyu rating on a scale such that 4d is +4, for instance, and 15k is -15. Yes, I know, there's an inconsistency there, because there should only be a gap of one between 1d and 1k, where there is no "zero-point". At some point I may fiddle with the system further to remove this. I am embarrassed to say that I had forgotten about it, and I have yet to decide on how to remove it. I hate inconsistencies like that!
I will write more on this subject eventually, but for now I hope that you will accept that it is based on a logarithmic scale approximating to the description in the old BGA Handbook.
And the name? A silly pun on Simon Shiu's name, and the fact that it's a form of "stepping" up a ladder.
This description was written by Edwin Brady, the original creator of the Durham Go Ladder
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