A deep dive with Elo ratings 

June, 10, 2010
06/10/10
12:01
PM ET

Research has shown again and again that experts, including soccer coaches, journalists and gamblers, don't do significantly better than complete novices at forecasting the outcome of World Cup games. But with opening action kicking off tomorrow, there is an elegant statistical way to predict which teams will make it to the second round: Elo ratings.

Elo ratings (the best description of them is here) are a way to measure the skill level of players or teams in sports in which you can't or don't play all your opponents in one season. They were invented by Arpad Elo, a Marquette physics professor, though they are called "E-L-O," like the band. And they are grounded in two basic concepts:

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.

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