From reader Ben Eshbach:
I have a question that has no practical purpose, but it's something I've wondered about.
Starting from scratch, what's the minimum number of consecutive wins one would need to become world champion?
Here's the setup of this imaginary situation with me in the role: I win every game I play (this is the big stipulation.) I only play rated tournament games. My first tournament game I'm unrated and then start rising in rating from there. I actively pursue the tournament path that leads to the world championship (ie. I don't just play in my home town over and over.)
I realize there's no firm numerical answer because of unpredictable contingencies. But what is the ballpark? Dozens? Less than a hundred? A thousand? What's your intuition?
Thanks! And thanks for your blog. I read it every day.
That's a fun question, and it might remind some of us of our childhood ambitions to become world champion. My attempt to answer it only applies to a route through the United States chess system; different countries will have different answers. Here's my proposal; maybe someone can improve on it.
The first step is to qualify for the U.S. Championship. There are various ways to do that, but I think the simplest would be by means of rating. One needs 25 rated games to achieve an established rating, and to get one that's as high as possible one should play in the championship section of various major opens (the Chicago Open, the National Open, etc.). If one goes 25-0 in such tournaments they will easily achieve the rating they need to qualify for the U.S. Championship.
Nowadays the U.S. Championship is a nine-round event, so after 34 total games one is off to the next World Cup. That's a seven round knockout tournament, with the first six rounds being best-of-two mini-matches and the final round a best-of-four. That mission can be accomplished with 15 consecutive wins, and thus 49 wins in a row gets one to the Candidates.
At present the challenger for the world championship match is settled by a Candidates tournament with eight players in a double-round robin. Thus 14 more wins are added to the total, making 63 wins leading up to the final stage.
The rules for the next world championship match after this one haven't been set (as far as I know), but it's at least reasonable to think it'll be another best-of-12 like every match since the reunification of the title in 2006. Seven straight wins will do the trick, meaning the job can be done with a mere 70 wins in a row. Piece of cake!