Getting the Drops Right

Today’s topic is arranging the drops in a double-elimination tournament. By drops, I mean the guides that show where the loser of a winner’s bracket match should reappear in the losers bracket. The goal is to avoid, as much as possible, repeating a pairing that happened earlier in the winners bracket.

First, let me show you why the drops matter, using as an example the simple 16-team double elimination format I introduced in an earlier post. Continue reading “Getting the Drops Right”

Fairness in the World

Today I’ll ruminate a bit more about fairness. It strikes me that elaborating fairness into the three elements of fairness I suggested might be useful in helping to explain how people can disagree so completely about what’s fair. I’ll see if I can apply that insight in the context of trying to determine what is and isn’t fair in the world at large.

To review, there are three somewhat distinct virtues that all get called “fairness”. I’ll restate them a little to help generalize the context:

Fairness A: Fairness is meeting people’s settled expectations, and honoring past practice;

Fairness B: Fairness is treating everybody equally; and

Fairness C: Fairness is rewarding good performance (and punishing bad). Continue reading “Fairness in the World”

Measuring Participation

Participation is the value players derive from playing in the tournament.

Unlike fairness, participation has a simple and obvious metric: the number of games played. Thus, a 16-team single elimination involves playing 15 games or matches, and so has a participation score of 15. The double elimination tournament gets a score of 30 involves 30 games (or possibly 31 – more about this in a future post).

This simple and obvious measure can be refined in any number of ways, most of which are more complicated and debatable. Continue reading “Measuring Participation”

Measuring Fairness

Now that we’ve spent some time outlining the virtues we seek in our tournament designs, we can begin to get geeky. In this post, I’ll introduce a simple way of testing various tournament designs by running simulations to produce an estimate of the tournament’s fairness.

Fairness is not, of course, a simple concept, and some aspects of it are more measurable than others. Continue reading “Measuring Fairness”

The Four Goals in Tournament Design

As I see it, the goals we have to keep in mind when designing tournaments call into four main categories: fairness, efficiency, participation, and spectator appeal. One of the keys to designing tournaments is to keep in mind how these different values interact, and in knowing which values are paramount in any particular context.

(This framework is used in other posts, where I refer to it as the “FEPS” framework, where “spectator appeal” is condensed to “spectacle” so that it doesn’t have to become “FEPSA”.) Continue reading “The Four Goals in Tournament Design”


“That’s not fair!”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that at a tournament (including many times that I said it myself), I’d buy something rather nice. When someone sees something happening at a tournament that they don’t like, there’s a good chance that the complaint, whatever its origin and merit, will be couched in terms of fairness.

Fairness is, indeed, crucially important. If your participants see the tournament as unfair, it’s likely in for trouble, not matter what its other virtues. So it’s worth spending some thought, early on, to unpack the notion of fairness. Continue reading “Fairness”

Welcome to

There is a wealth of information available about how to run various kinds of tournaments-chess tournaments, tennis leagues, darts tournaments, and so forth.  But there seems to be precious little available that discusses tournaments in general.

Some of what you’ll find here is intended to be practical – showing how to select the right kind of tournament, and providing sample brackets and such. This practical advice will be supported by some research into how various kinds of tournaments can be expected to operate, particularly by running millions of tournament simulations, and tallying the results.

But I also discuss some more philosophical points. What does it mean to say that a tournament is fair? Why do we play games in the first place? What is a game, anyway?

Continue reading “Welcome to”