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.

One way to deal with this is to have a side pool. At the time entry fees are collected, each player has the option of contributing to a side pool, with the understanding that only those who contribute are eligible to win the extra money. In some tournaments, there are several different side pools available, so that players can buy into some of the side pools and not others.

This means some extra bookkeeping needs to be done by the organizers, keeping track of who bought into the side pool and who did not. One common practice is to put a colored dot next to the names of the side pool participants on the bracket so that it’s easy to see who’s still alive for the side pool.

It’s also a good idea to post the amount of the side pool, and the way it will be distributed, on the bracket before play begins, or at least shortly thereafter. Side pools are often winner-take-all, but not always. As not every entrant buys into a side pool, the side pool usually plays fewer places than the tournament itself does.

Where the overall winner has not bought into the side pool, the question sometimes arises who should win the side pool. This issue surfaced recently in a backgammon tourney in Florida that was run with a main draw and a consolation. The winner of the main draw was not eligible. Should the side pool be awarded solely based on who goes furthest in the main draw, of should it go to the player who goes furthest in the consolation.

The tourney organizer opted for the latter, and that’s the better result from a fairness (C) perspective. The average skill of the players who make it into the later rounds of a consolation are, on average, better than those who do well in the main draw but do not continue their winning ways into the consolation.

But if some of the side-pool-eligible players in the main draw are paid in the main draw, and thus do not drop into the consolation, it’s probably better to pay the side pool based solely on main draw performance. In any case, side pools should be split evenly among players with equal records, and in deciding what is equal to what, byes are counted the same as other wins.

As with many aspects tournament management, especially where prize money is concerned, having a written explanation of who will get the side pool in advance is highly desirable. It’s often more important to have clear rules than it is to have good rules. Of course, rules that are both clear and good are better still.

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