A Guide to Tourneygeek

Tourneygeek grows in a haphazard fashion. For me, that’s what makes it fun to write – I can speculate when I’m feeling speculative, analyze when I’m feeling analytical, draw new brackets when I’m feeling (slightly) artistic, or add new features to my tournament simulator when I’m feeling geeky.

But readers can be forgiven for not sharing my mood of the moment. So in this post, I try explain how the various threads – theory, practice, individual games, resources, and geekery – have developed, and show how to follow the main themes from post to post.

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The Milan Miracle

The 1954 State High School Boys Basketball Tournament, known as the “Milan Miracle”, is a treasured memory in my adopted home state of Indiana. Milan High School, with an enrollment of 161, won nine consecutive games to best 750 other teams and take the state title, a feat that provided the inspiration for the 1986 movie Hoosiers.

Since 1997 the Indiana High School Basketball Championship has been split into four classes, which eliminates the possibility of another such miraculous win. But there are other sporting events that still preserve the possibility. Perhaps the most similar is the FA Cup, contested by 737 teams from nearly all levels of English football.

This post will consider what purpose is served by large tourneys with such heterogeneous participants, and what that means for how they should be run.

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Side Pools

An issue that arises in tournaments where the prizes are funded chiefly by entry fees is whether to have a low entry fee and small prizes, or a large entry fee and larger prizes. The better players often want the bigger prizes, but the players who don’t expect to win anything (or who are just shorter of funds) would often prefer lower fees and smaller prizes. Continue reading “Side Pools”

A Stealth Bracket?

A friend asked me about the brackets in use as a recent backgammon tournament held in California. The tournament is a popular one, but has to be played in two days. The organizers cap entry in the main event at 64 players, though more would like to play. Even with the cap on entries, however, the play ran late on Sunday night. It was a double-elimination format, with a progressive consolation. My friend suggested that the tourney would play more quickly, and accommodate more entries, if it were changed to a main – consolation – last chance format with slightly shorter rounds.

Those changes would make for a shorter tourney. He’d break even on the format changes – the round saved by not giving the middle-bracket winner a second chance at the main title would be offset by the extra round needed to accommodate the extra players. But the shorter rounds would speed things up. There are various other ways to make the event play more quickly also.

The brackets that were actually played have a number of curious features. Perhaps this tourney has an example of a stealth bracket – a bracket intended to conceal some of its features.

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Quantum Backgammon

One of the ways to maintain interest in a competition that might otherwise be a somewhat monotonous series of individual games is to make some of those games more valuable than others. Backgammon does this in a really ingenious way.

The backgammon boom of the 1930s is often attributed to the invention of the doubling cube, a device that causes some games to be more valuable than others, but does so in a way that opens new avenues for skill.

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Quantum Golf

One of the ways to keep games interesting for both players and spectators is to have quantum effects in the criteria for success.

A quantum effect is created when success or failure in a game is made to depend on a sharply delineated result according to a strict category criterion. The game of golf provides a useful example of this. No golf shot is definitively good except the ones that end with the ball in the hole rather than somewhere else.

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The Summer of ’81

As promised, a notorious example of using the fresh start technique to add interest to a professional sports problem. In the Major League Baseball season of 1981, the need to maintain interest in the season with a fresh start tempted tournament organizers to compromise all three of the maxims of tournament design.

A strike by the players resulted in the cancellation of about a third of the 1981 season. In order to recoup some of the revenue lost during the strike, when play resumed it was announced that there would be an additional round to the post-season playoffs, pitting the winner of the first half of the season against the winner of the second half. This arrangement threatened to compromise all three of the maxims.

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Hope Springs Eternal, at Least in Tennis

To win a match in a high-level professional tennis tournament, you need to win about 100 points (unless the match is in the men’s draw at one of the majors, in which case you’ll need about 150). So it should be possible to simplify the famously elaborate scoring system for tennis, and possible make the game more fair. Why fuss with love-15-30-40, with deuce and advantage, with games, tiebreakers, and sets? Why not just tally up the number of points won – first to 100 is the winner?

That’s a really bad idea, a recipe for truly boring tennis.

The scoring system for tennis is of the best examples of two related techniques for keeping it interesting: the fresh start, and the quantum effect. I’ll write more about the quantum effect in a future post, but for now let’s focus on the fresh start.

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