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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Extreme Sorting: the Paralympics

As discussed in the last post, there are some difficult problems associated with deciding what players are entitled to participate in what events. Perhaps it will comfort organizers who are wrestling with such problems to consider a context in which the sorting problem is exceptionally complex and difficult: the Paralympic Games.

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Sorting Out the Entrants

In my friend’s tennis league, the players prefer “interesting” matches, which in this context means matches between teams of roughly equal skill. In the last post, I showed how I generated partnerships, but not matches, for the league. Presently, I’ll discuss how the matches are done, which will also explain why I’m calling this format a “social Swiss”. But first it’s worth discussing the idea of interesting matches in general.

A concern for interesting matches is most common when choosing which players or teams are eligible to enter an event. The tournament will generate more interesting matches if the range of skills among the entrants is small.

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A Social Swiss

A friend asks for help with pairings for a tennis league he runs.

There are eleven people in the league, and the league has two tennis courts reserved once each week for 24 weeks. Each week, the league will play a doubles match on each court, eight people playing in four partnerships, with three people getting a bye each week.

Here are the parameters he’d like to observe:

  1. The schedule needs to be determined in advance, so that everyone knows which weeks they’ll be playing, and with which partner. It’s not necessary for them to know who there opponents are;
  2. Each player should play nearly the same number of times over the 24 weeks;
  3. Everyone should play with everyone else at least once, but no more than twice;
  4. No one should draw a bye two weeks in a row; and
  5. The pairings should, as far as possible, encourage “interesting” matches, with the better players tending to play other good players, and the weaker players drawing other weak players.

I’ve got a format for that. I’ll call it the “Social Swiss”. In this post, I’ll show how the first four criteria can be met, leaving the fifth criterion for a later post.

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Whose Game Is It Anyway?

Watching this year’s U.S. Open tennis tourney has a certain morbid fascination, somewhat reminiscent of the last U.S. Open golf tourney. In both cases, the weather has been so extreme that any sensible person who had a choice would simply decline to play. This brings attention to the disconnect between two main constituencies for games: the players themselves, and those who like to watch. When a marketable spectator event has been scheduled, it matters little that the play itself has more to do with the players ability to withstand suffering than their ordinary game skills. The game must go on.

This seems to me to pose some clear ethical questions. When do spectator sports become so dangerous to the well being of the athlete that it’s no longer justifiable to present them as entertainment?

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The Luck of the Draw

There’s a remarkable pairing in the first round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament. At noon tomorrow (August 27), Grigor Dimitrov plays Stan Wawrinka, just two months after they happened to draw each other in the first round of Wimbledon (Wawrinka won).

Both Dimitrov and Wawrinka are among the elite of men’s tennis, and it’s matchups like this one that most tourneys are designed to avoid through the use of seeding. But there’s always some degree of variance between the ATP point totals used by tournaments to make their seedings and the actual skill level of the players. Let’s take a close look at the details of this particular pairing.

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Shedding Tiers

The U.S. Open tennis tournament, like the other tennis majors, has a 128 draw that’s seeded in tiers along much the same lines as the Western and Southern. The first six tiers are the same: {1, 2, 3-4, 5-8, 9-12, 13-16}. To this, the U.S. open adds two new tiers: {17-24, 25-32}, which doubles the number of seeded players, from 16 to 32. There are no byes in the U.S. Open, so the tier boundary between 5-8 and 9-12 is less significant. But apart from this, the tiered seeding system has much the same effect on players’ expectations.

Next year, however, the Grand Slam Board – a body that sets policy for the tennis majors – has decreed that there should be only 16 seeds, which will presumably be accomplished by shedding the 17-24 and 25-32 tiers. For much interesting background on this chance, see here.

What effect should we expect from such a change?

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