What is a Tournament?

In other posts, I’ve been at some pains to define some essential words, such as “game”, “sport”, and “fairness”. But if there’s one concept at the heart of tourneygeek, it is “tournament”. Defining that word proves a bit difficult.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of the sense that’s closest to the way I’ve been using the word in this blog reads thus:

3. A contest in any game of skill in which a number of competitors play a series of selective games, e.g. a chess or lawn tennis tournament.

Webster’s Third offers this:

3 (c). A trial of skill in which many contestants compete for championship in a series of elimination contests.

Webster’s seems needlessly specific as to the format, and seems to realize that this definition is overly restrictive by adding a less specific sense for one particular sort of tournament:

3 (d). A fishing contest in which a large number of anglers participate.

I don’t find any of these definitions particularly satisfactory, but they do contain most of what I would consider the essential elements.

Here’s what I suggest:

An event in a game or sport in which a closed-ended series of individual matches or performances is designed to select a champion from among a number of participants larger than can be accommodated in a single match or one contemporaneous performance.

The key, in my mind, is that it’s a way to bring into a single event more players than play a regular game. The “or performances” language is my effort to make the definition work for competitions like golf, or athletic field events, or even fishing, in which the competitors are not playing directly against one another, but against a common challenge.

The requirement that the event be closed ended is intended to exclude competitions like the American’s Cup, which are intended to continue indefinitely, with only temporary champions. This still allows the definition to include competitions that last for a year, or for a season, which are rarely called “tournaments”.

The requirement that a tournament be designed to select a champion may be too strict. In some events, at least, it’s relatively common for the result to be ambiguous, with more than one participant sharing the laurels as co-champions.



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