Forum Archive : Tournaments

Swiss format

From:   Hank Youngerman
Date:   15 March 1998
Subject:   Tournament Format

One of the main reasons I don't play in real backgammon tournaments is
the format.  (The other is the emphasis on money - not that I can't
afford it, I just think that it makes the beauty of the game somewhat
secondary to winning.)  I was inspired to write this by a recent post
asking how to orgainize pairings in a consolation.

I wonder if someone can explain to me why tournaments can't be
organized on a Swiss format.  For those who may not understand, let me
explain the basic format:

1. For the first match, pairing are random.
2. For each subsequent match, players are paired, insofar as possible,
with other players with the same record.
3. There are no rematches.  (This could be waived for the final round,
particularly if it involved the players in first and second place.)

Typically, you would organize the tournament so that there are about
6-8 matches (I'm assuming a full-day tournament).  There would no
longer need to be a "consolation" bracket.

The advantages:

1. Everyone gets to play all day.  Depending on the size of the field,
it might be mathematically impossible to win after two or three
losses, and players might choose to withdraw, but they wouldn't have
to.  But you wouldn't be automatically eliminated after two losses.

2. A single loss is no longer fatal.  Backgammon is still a game of
luck, and particularly so when a single 1/36 chance roll can swing a
long match.

3. Sociability.  Players would get to play 6-8 other players in the
course of a day.  (Or are tournament backgammon players just plain

4. It would present a possibility that does not exist now - that of
combining players of different levels.  Imagine this: There is a
single draw.  Players are given the option to enter the Advanced,
Intermediate, or Novice divisions, with the associated entry fees, and
of course stronger players are prohibited from playing down.  The
matches are paired without respect to division.  However, rankings and
prizes are based on standings in division.  If a Novice player wins 4
matches, but no other Novice player wins as many, he is first.

From a pure competitive standpoint this might be somewhat inferior, in
that - well, imagine that two Advanced division players are tied.  In
theory they might play a 5-point match against each other and each
might play a 5-point match against a weaker player, instead of them
playing a 9-point match against each other.  As against that, it would
permit weaker players to play against stronger players, and I think
that this is a MAJOR advantage.  It's about the only way that weaker
players will get the experience of playing against stronger players
without playing money games (usually for larger stakes than they want)
or entering a tournament in a division where they have no chance and
usually have to pay an entry fee far larger than they care to lose.

5. It would eliminate problems associated with byes.  You no longer
need an even power of two for a perfect movement, you only need an
even number of players.  Byes, IMHO, are pernicious.  A player getting
a first-round bye has twice the chance to win that a player not
getting a bye does.

6. It would permit - if we wanted to - a slightly different format for
play.  Match play is fine, but we could also play as follows:  Each
match consists of 5 games.  At the end, you tabulate the score based
on the difference in points won.  If the winner wins by 5 points or
more, he gets 10 "Victory Points" for the match and the loser gets 0.
A 4-point differential is a 9-1 VP score, 3-point differential is 8-2,
etc.  This is more similar to money play.  You could have a rule that
if the point difference reaches 5 the match ends (to avoid a game in
which one player can lose but not gain).  The scale also does not have
to be linear - it could be something like:

Point Difference:

10+     12-0
7-9     11-1
5/6     10-2
3/4      9-3
2         8-4
1         7-5
0         6-6

7. It might, to a modest extent, mitigate the problem of matches
taking different lengths of time.  Right now, if one match takes 30
minutes and the winner is to play the winner of a match that is taking
much longer, there is a long wait.  With Swiss pairing, there is
nothing to prevent, at least in the early rounds, matches being made
as soon as two players with compatible records are available.

8. I think it might make tournaments more exciting.  Particularly if
the "Victory Point" scoring were used, it could cause a real "horse
race" mentality, rather than "Hey, you lost a match, you're history."

The only real disadvantage I can see to all of this is that it goes
against tradition.  Ah, but - so what?  OK, it might cause problems in
that in the later rounds, the differing length of matches could cause
problems in pairing, but this occurs now also.  I suspect that with
experience, tournament directors would find solutions.  It's also true
that - if we use the "stratified" approach (different divisions
combined) you could have two novice players at 4-3 going into the last
round - one plays a weaker novice who's having a good day, the other
plays a strong player who's having a bad day. It might be that in this
case, these two players should play each other, definitely if they
haven't played before, and possibly even if they have.

OK, there's one other disadvantage.  There won't be money on the line
in every match.  There will be matches where both players are
eliminated from winning money and they're just playing for the pure
love of the game.  Wouldn't that be awful.

Anyway, I'd love to see someone actually try this.  In fact, perhaps
it would be a GREAT thing to try in a FIBS tournament.  The main
drawback - the time factor - is a non-issue.  Players could easily be
stratified based on FIBS rating.  The only problem would be that
players would have to find a mutually agreeable time to play their
matches, and there would be many more matches played.  But the shorter
match length would mean that players could easily agree to find, say,
one hour to play twice a week, and then an 8-round tournament could be
completed in four weeks.

Any takers?  Hey, I'd run the tournament on FIBS, if whomever runs
them now wants to co-operate with me (you get the signups and handle
the money - I'll do the pairings and record-keeping and write
Conditions of Contest.)

Comments from Kit Woolsey (and any other backgammon players who happen
to also be tournament bridge or chess players) would be especially

Butch Meese  writes:

I run the Labor Day in Indianapolis.

The format in Indy fits number 1, 2 and 3 above.  Labor Day weekend
provides an extra day to play, so Sat and Sun are used for 8 rounds
of Swiss.  Players are eliminated after four losses.  On Sun evening,
the format switches to eliminated with a main and consolation flights.
Players with three losses are in the consolation.  Players with less
than 3 losses are in the main (plus the players who did cash in the
main are fed into the consolation).  There are side events to fill
any empty time and those who have been eliminated.

The format has been used for over 3 years and the players really like
it. It gives the players a lot of play and all the matches have

The format for the Interm. and novice division provides for more
backgammon.  What I have learned is the different divisions play
for different reasons.  The higher divisions are more competetive
while the lower divisions are more social and want play for

Anyone interested in more details, flyers should be ready
sometime in May.  I will be glad to mail you one, just email
me your street address.

Butch Meese
Hoosier Backgammon Club
Home Page:

Daniel Murphy  writes:

Swiss format may or may not work well for a one-day tournament in your
particular location. Much depends, I think, on whether:

1) players attending your tournament are prepared -- or are given an
extra incentive -- to play all scheduled matches. Too many dropouts
makes for an unsatisfactory tournament experience for winners, losers
and tournament directors.

2) tournament directors are well prepared to handle uncompleted
matches, slow players, etc. -- anything that may throw your tournament
off schedule.

Software programs for running Swiss tournaments are named in the FAQ. The old DOS program -- the name escapes me --
used at many Danish monrad tournaments is not mentioned there but it
works well. These programs do all pairings, track results, and settle
between-round and final ties through "corrections" (factoring in
opponents' win/loss records).

I've attended one Swiss format one-day tournament and one combination
Swiss qualifier / knockout final two-day tournament. Both tournaments
went well, I thought, for directors and players. I especially liked
the format of the two-day tournament.

One day tournament: 54 players, 6 rounds of 5 point matches with chess
clock, 15 minutes per player per match. Actually, they had many more
people show up than expected so some matches were played without a
clock but the tournament remained more or less on schedule. The
directors had no computer but they were very, very fast.

Two day tournament:
First day: Swiss Qualifier.
44 players, 6 rounds of 9 point matches. 1 and 1/2 hours scheduled per
Second day: Knockout Finals and Consolation
The top 16 players from the Swiss Saturday's rounds entered a seeded,
single elimination final.
Auction before the round of 16. This was fun and only took about 40

*All* players who did not qualify for the finals entered the
consolation flight -- 7 point matches, single elimination, and also
seeded -- an incentive to complete all Swiss format matches.

A separate "B" flight only attracted about 8 players. The Swiss format
in the Open -- with 6 rounds guaranteed and consolation for all --
seemed to encourage players of all skill levels to participate in the
Did you find the information in this article useful?          

Do you have any comments you'd like to add?     



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