Be Squirrelly Early

In the last post, I started showing how to build a bracket for the consolation in my friend’s tourney, which he expects to draw up to 48 entrants. In showing the method, I digressed to show how it generated the more familiar 64 brackets. Now let’s return to the problem of building the 48.

Along the way, I’ll introduce a new half maxim of tourney design: be squirrelly early.

Recall that the drop groups for the 48 consolation, paying two places above, is {16, 16, 8, 4, 2}. Here’s what I did the first time around:

16, 16 > 16 > 8
8, 8 > 8
8, 4 > 6
6, 2 > 4 > 2 > 1

which yields this bracket in a AB.|. C.D.E.|.| pattern: 48Consol22Xv3.

My friend, who’s run my brackets at his events in the past, has some issues with this bracket, and he has a point. What he gets complaints about are matches where players with significantly different records meet each other. And that’s going to happen here.

The first issue is dropping the A’s and B’s together into the F round. Now, this is a natural thing if you think of the 48 bracket as a truncated 64. In the 64, all of the A drops go to a round F, but since there are only 16 of them, they all get byes, and the F round disappears.

But the problem is compounded by the fact that the next set of drops, the C’s, come after a consolidation round. Now, consider a C drop who was lucky enough to get one of the initial 16 byes in the main. That player arrives in the H round with an earned record of 1-1, but might well meet a player from the B round who hadn’t had a bye, and so needed wins in the A, F, and G rounds to get to round H with a record of 3-1. My friend can see that, with byes and such, you might need to match 1-1 against 2-1, but it seems too much to have 1-1 playing 3-1.

So, let’s try a different approach:

16 > 8
8, 16 > 12
12, 8 > 10
10, 4, 2 > 8 > 4 > 2 > 1

Which comes to A.B.C.DE.|.|.|: 48ConsulAlt. Note that this pattern still requires a double drop, with the D’s and E’s coming together in round I. But all three of the consolidation rounds come after the last drop, so they won’t be a further source of matchups with unequal records. The event might also run a little faster, as you don’ have to wait for the B round to finish before calling a start to the Consolation with the F round.

The players with the biggest complaint may be the E drops. They were one round away from the big money in the main, but lost in the semi-final. Now they find themselves three rounds away from the consolation money, and, to add to the indignity, they’re now in the same round as the player they beat in the quarter-final.

In general, when a bracket needs to do something inequitable somewhere, I choose to get the bad stuff in as soon as possible. Be squirrelly early. My notion is that the closer you get to the money rounds, the greater the scrutiny the bracket will get. And people know that in any tourney with byes there will be some inequities early on, but they expect the later rounds to be more scrupulously fair.

Assuming a standard payout structure, the be-squirrelly-early approach tends do better with respect to fairness (C). That’s because the players who suffer from the squirreliness early are ones that are very unlikely to win money anyway. But maybe the psychology of the situation is such that fairness (C) is not capturing the true feelings of the players. The ones with an early loss are, perhaps, the ones who are in a bad mood – more in the mood to see if there’s something about the brackets that is contributing to their ill humor. In contrast, the folks who have be doing well enough to become E drops have been doing pretty well, and though they haven’t won any money yet, can still point to a pretty good run. And in any case, there are fewer of them.

My friend, who actually runs the darned things, likes the idea of my be-squirrelly-late alternate bracket, and I defer to his wisdom on this point, and on any number of other matters of practical tournament administration.

So does that settle the matter? Should we embrace the alternate bracket structure?

Not so fast. Remember that this tourney has a third bracket, a Last Chance. In the next post, I’ll show how the last chance brackets are built for both of the possible consolations, and that may help decide between the two.

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