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 … Continue reading “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.


I hope that there isn’t a sharp division between theory and practice – I’d like to think that understanding some of the theoretical underpinnings informs practice. That said, there are some posts that are distinctly more airy and abstract than others.

Playing Games begins the discussion of games in general by defining what a game is. Sports and Physical Games and Sports that Are Not Games offer some definitions for the related concept of sport.

Spartan MadballKissing and Contract BridgeIns and Outs, and The Implicit Wicket build on the definition of games, exploring the way various kinds of rules work, and trying to show why some games are better than others. In Praise of Games celebrates the use of games as a social enabler. Cheating at Solitaire discusses the issue of cheating in general. Sports and Physical Games and Sports that Are Not Games offer some definitions for the related concept of sport.

The Four Goals of Tournament Design (fairness, efficiency, participation, and spectacle) is the starting point for the theory of tournaments.

Of these four goals, a good deal of attention has been paid to fairness: FairnessMeasuring FairnessFairness for Everyone, and Fairness ($). The metrics I currently use to measure fairness are discussed in Generalizing Fairness (B) and Fairness Turned Upside-Down. A recent series focused particularly on Fairness (A): Fairness (A)Fairness (A) and the Recharge Round, and Fairness (A) and Reliance.

Other goals are considered in Measuring Participation, Competitiveness, and Measuring Competition. The tension between participation and spectacle that arises from drawn matches is discussed in Kissing Your Sister.

Three Maxims of Tournament Design offers some high-level rules that should inform pretty much all design.

Fairness in the World and A Nation of Losers attempt to apply the theory of tournaments to life more generally.


So far, the one form of tournament that’s been examined in some depth is the double-elimination tournament. In the fullness of time, I hope to explore other formats. The central issues in the design of double-elimination tournaments are the architecture of the lower (losers) bracket, the way that the upper and lower brackets are connected through drops, and the allocation of byes.

The main architectural issue for brackets is whether it’s OK to shift them, and, if so, how. This was one of the first issues addressed by tourneygeek, but has recently been revisited in a series of posts starting with Building a Better Bracket Redux, and continuing with a series of posts discussing particular bracket sizes: BBBR:16sBBBR: 32sBBBR: 64sBBBR: 128s, and BBBR: 128s, results; and one looking at the iteration between bracket shifting and seeding: BBBR: Seeding. The chief learnings about bracket design are summarized in Rounds and Skill Progression. Older material can be found with the original series of posts, starting with Building a Better Bracket, and elaborated in BBB Part II, Fairness and the Lopsided Bracket, and Shifting a 32 Bracket.

Making a Double Elimination Run Faster is a good introduction to the various ways that the basic double-elimination can be altered to make it less time-consuming. Slow, Shifty Brackets shows a disadvantage to bracket shifts that occurs when on bracket is played with longer matches that the other.

The crucial issue of how to arrange the drops from the upper bracket to the lower bracket is introduced in Getting the Drops Right, and the method for solving the problem is described in Getting the Drops Right, Part II. Words of caution are found in Beware printyourbrackets.com.

Seeding has been discussed in some depth, usually in the context of tennis, which has a distinctive style of seeding. The ATP Knows How to Seed is a good summary of tennis’s seeding. The bad old seeding system (which is still the one currently in use nearly everywhere except tennis) is mentioned in several places, and critiqued in Remaking March MadnessRemaking March Madness, part II, and Remaking March Madness, Part III. The interaction between seeding and drops is considered in Dropping Seeds.

The discussion of byes begins with Good Byes to All That, and continues with Bad ByesMore Bad ByesMore Better Bad Byes, and Still More Better Bad Byes. Perhaps the best general discussion of how byes should be allocated is in Pay Now or Pay Later.

The issue of whether or not to include a recharge round – a possible rematch between an undefeated team and a once-defeated team that wins a first match between the upper bracket winner and the lower bracket winner was first considered in The Recharge Round, Fairness and Recharge Rounds, and Recharges and B1G Baseball. But the recharge issue has more recently been treated in more depth, with better tools, in Recharge Redux.

The addition of a third bracket, either to make the tourney into a triple-elimination, or just to add another layer of consolation or last chance is discussed in Double and Triple Eliminations, and practical advice for drafting such brackets is found in Adding the Third Bracket.

A Big, Peculiar Bracket discusses the issues involved in the creation of a new, unusual format that raised issues relating to bracket architecture, byes, and drop allocation. The bracket discussed in that post was never used, but a similar bracket was used, and it was analyzed in The Big, Peculiar Bracket, a Postmortem, Part IPart II, and Part III

An introduction to round robin tournaments can be found in Round Robins, and a curious way of runnnig large round robins is described in Big Round Robins, the Silverton System. A Little Round Robin is also discussed.

The allocation of prize funds is considered in Dividing the Pie. Calcutta auctions are treated in Oh! Calcutta! The concept of flow is introduced in Going with the Flow.

Individual Games

Issues relating to the particular game of Backgammon, both theory and practice, are developed in a sequence of four posts: Skill and Luck in Backgammon, All That Luck, Learning Backgammon, and Your Cheating’ Bot. There’s also a sequence of four posts about the roll of dice in backgammon: Rolling the Bones, Part IPart IIPart III, and Part IV.

Tennis is discussed in detail in a series of posts beginning with Modeling Tennis. Particular tournaments are modeled and discussed in a number of posts: Brackets at the Western and SouthernGreat ExpectationsDrawing the Western and Southern, and a number of other posts from about the same times.

Cricket is discussed in  The Implicit Wicket, Draws in First-Class Cricket, Cricket for the MassesSuper Overs and Duckworth-Lewis-Stern, and Picking the Team.

Other particular games are sometimes discussed in some detail in connection with other issues. Bridge in Kissing and Contract Bridge, and Tennis and table tennis in Ins and Outs, and Quidditch. Some features common to card games are discussed in Card Sense and We’ll Send a Car for YouRugby Sevens: The Twitter of Team Sports? brief describes that odd sport.

Briefer mentions of Chess, Golf, Backgammon, Darts, Bowling, Billiards, Skating, Gymnastics, Ski Jumping, Outdoor Sports, and Baseball can be found in the linked posts.


So far, the chief resource page is the one for Printable Brackets. There are analyzed brackets sprinkled through various posts, and at some point I’ll see about gathering these together and making them easy to find. I also anticipate that there will be a glossary, and perhaps things like an index of games discussed.

There is a book review at Knowing the Score.


Details of my tournament simulator can be found at Retooling the Simulator and Taking the New Model for a Spin. Information about the most recent revision of the program is in Building a New Simulator, The Current Iteration, and Simulating Flow.

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