Sports that Are Not Games

In defining “sport”, I’m mindful of the fact that it seems to be desirable to characterize an activity as a sport – so much so that there’s a distinct tendency for games with any physical component to claim to be sports. And even games with no obvious physical component, like chess, show an increasing tendency to characterize themselves as “mind sports”, and to dream some day of having their claim to sport-hood ratified by being included in the Olympics.

Thus, I’ve reconsidered my initial inclination to define “sport” strictly as a subset of “game”, knowing that would only enrage the practitioners of anything I didn’t admit to the pantheon of sport. But I still think there’s a useful distinction to be made between sports that are, and those that are not, games.

Though there are, as usual, difficult cases where the classification is arguable, I think it’s helpful to consider two kinds of sports that are not really games: artistic sports, and nature sports.

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Sports and Physical Games

In Playing Games, I offered a definition of game playing as the pursuit of arbitrarily-assigned value. In this post, I’ll offer a definition of the closely-related word “sport”.

Briefly, a sport is an activity that, like a game, is constrained by rules and limitations, and for which one of those limitations is a natural limitation on some extreme aspect of the player’s physical performance.

Most, but not all, sports are also games – I’ll explore the world of non-game sports presently.

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Measuring Competition

Measuring the competitiveness is, in some ways at least, easier than measuring fairness. Fairness is a complex notion, and even if you’ve clearly identified the aspect of fairness you’d like to measure, it may be difficult to know how fair a result is. Fairness (C), for example, is defined as rewarding merit. In my computer models, merit is simply a number, and so fairness measures relating to it can be calculated precisely. But in the world, what constitutes merit is not so clear.

Competition, in contrast, is more readily visible, though there are still some serious questions about how it might be measured. In this post, I’ll work through some of the issues, and suggest a couple of competition measures that I plan to test further. Continue reading “Measuring Competition”


Fairness is such a complicated and compelling topic that it seems to have a way of taking over tourneygeek. But let’s leave it to one side, at least for a post or two. Recall that fairness is only one element in the FEPS framework for the goals of tourney design: Fairness, Efficiency, Participation, and Spectacle. Let us, in honor of March Madness – that great annual spectacle of a tournament – shift attention to the fourth element, spectator appeal, and see whether we can reach into tourneygeek’s bag of tricks and find something that will help us design tournaments that are compelling to watch.

What can we do to make our tourneys produce close games? In particular, can anything be done about the NCAA basketball tournaments ridiculous tendency to produce blowouts in its early rounds?

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Exotic Brackets Spotted in the Wild

Here’s a bracket I found in the unfamiliar morning paper I read this morning in the hotel restaurant. (Please excuse the crude rendition – I’m on the road (at a tournament, naturally), and the laptop I brought doesn’t have my good drawing tools on it). See if you see what it is about this bracket that caused me to steal its page from the paper:

Lakeville South                  5
–                                                Lakeville South
#2 St. Thomas Academy 2

#3 Moorhead                      4
–                                               Moorehead
Hill-Murray                        2

#1 Eden Prairie                  3
–                                               Eden Prairie
Wayzata                               1

#5 Grand Rapids               6
–                                               Grand Rapids
#4 Maple Grove                4

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Rounds and Skill Progression

After looking a quite a number of analyzed brackets, I’m finally beginning to see some patterns that should have been obvious long ago. I now begin to think that I can explain why the bracket shift works for some events, and not for others.

I’ve been distracted by the question of bracket balance. Balance is, to be sure, important, and I’m not going to lighten up on my crusade against bad drops and grouped byes. But two other features are more important: the number of rounds in the path to success, and the progression of skill levels.

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Follow the Money

Today, a different kind of analyzed bracket.

Most of the brackets posted here have shown the prospects of the player occupying a certain line in terms of the chance of winning the tournament as a whole from that line. In this new bracket, the outlook is couched in terms of expected prize money – the player’s aggregate chance of winning any of six prizes.

The bracket I’ve analyzed is one of the possible brackets for the main even at this weekend’s Viking Classic backgammon tournament in Minnesota. The analysis gives me a chance to show a few new things besides the money, also.

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