In Praise of Games

In Playing Games I offered my definition of game play, and suggested how that definition might help explain how it is that some games are good and others are not. In Kissing and Contract Bridge, I used that interpretive framework to show why a hypothetical kissing game was not a good game, and why contract bridge was, at least as played by my mother’s generation, also a bad game.

I’m concerned that, by focussing on those examples of bad games, I might be suggesting that playing games is a bad thing. It’s not, of course. If I didn’t have a deep affection for games and game play, I wouldn’t bother with this blog. I like to think that tourneygeek is, at its heart, my way of expressing thanks for the benefit of a lifetime of playing games.

I know many people who feel this way about a particular game or sport. One reason that I’m trying to make tourneygeek relevant to a wide range of games is that I have, at different times, benefited from playing a lot of different ones. Chess, fencing, darts, bowling, golf, bridge, cribbage, backgammon … at one time or another, each of these has been important to me.

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Big Round Robins: The Silverton System

Say you’ve got about 25 members of your clan descending on your city for a family reunion, and you want to have a tournament be part of the entertainment. There will be a few new in-laws this year, and you want them to have a chance to meet everyone. Individual games don’t take very long. So make it a round robin!

A daunting organizational task you think. But it’s actually quite doable. I’ve got your format.

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Round Robins

I want this blog to be about tournaments in general, not about one particular approach. There are many loose threads to be gathered in the discussion of elimination tournaments, which can, and probably will, keep tourneygeek busy more or less indefinitely. But it’s high time to open the conversation about that other basic form of tournament organization, the round robin.

Fortunately, the fundamentals are explained well in an unusually good Wikipedia article: Round-robin tournament. I’ll add round robin resources to tourneygeek at some point, but for now I’ll skip the basics. This first post will introduce round robins and relate them to the “FEPS” framework – fairness, efficiency, participation, and spectacle – introduced in four goals of tournament design. In subsequent posts, I’ll treat a few advanced topics that are not covered by Wikipedia or, as far as I know, anywhere else.

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Skill and Luck in Backgammon

In general, I want to make this blog about games and tournaments in general, not about backgammon tournaments, or any other particular kind of competition. But, as I often used to admonish colleagues when I worked, in a past life, developing information products for lawyers, you need to solve someone’s problem before you’re ready to solve everyone’s problem.

Backgammon is the only game I play competitively, these days, and it’s the one I know best. So It can, I hope, serve as a model for how to adapt insights about tournaments in general to help improve particular events by adjusting the general model to suit the specific game.

This is the first of three posts on Backgammon. It discusses the balance of skill and luck in the game, and how that affects tournament simulations. The second will explore what that means for how the game is learned and played. And the third will discuss computer players, and the curious fact that every decent computerized backgammon player is frequently accused of cheating.

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A Metric for Fairness (B)

There are four goals of tournament designfairnessefficiencyparticipation, and spectator appeal. The metrics offered so far offer limited help in assessing whether some of those goals are achieved, and none at all for others.

Fairness, so far, is measured only with respect to fairness (C), the extent to which it is the best players who win. Efficiency is measured only in terms of the number of rounds in the tournament – a measure that is not important at all for and event in which the number of rounds is not a limiting factor. Participation has been measured only so far as I’ve counted the number of repeated pairings likely to occur in a format. And spectator appeal has not been measured at all.

In this post, and another to come soon, I’ll introduce two new metrics: Fairness (B), and Competitiveness.

First fairness (B), a measure of the extent to which all entries are treated equally.

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