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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Bad Byes

Yesterday began the discussion of using byes to fill out a bracket when you don’t happen to have a number of entries that is a power of two. I illustrated how the seeding lines could be used to ensure an even spread of the byes through the bracket, and showed how this played out in a sample 24DE tournament.

Not all directors, however, use the seeding lines to distribute byes. There are some who like to group the byes together so that the second round can begin immediately. This is usually a bad idea. Continue reading “Bad Byes”

Good Byes to All That

It’s time to address the thorny issue of byes in elimination tournaments.

So far, we’ve been considering only tournaments that conveniently happen to have a number of entries that’s an even power of two: 16 or 32. If you’re running an elite tournament, with people clamoring to get it, you can, if you like, decide to accept only such an convenient number of entries. But many tournaments are not at all elite, and gratefully take more of less everyone who shows up. And if the number of people who show up is not a power of two, you generally award the number of first-round byes necessary to bring the number of entries up to a power of two for the second round.

In this post, I’ll begin to discuss the effect this has on the tournament. In later posts, I’ll look at a number of other issues, but here I’ll just offer one analyzed bracket so that you can begin to see the effect byes have on a tournament.

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A Guide to Tourneygeek

Tourneygeek grows in a haphazard fashion. For me, that’s what makes it fun to write – I can speculate when I’m feeling speculative, analyze when I’m feeling analytical, draw new brackets when I’m feeling (slightly) artistic, or add new features to my tournament simulator when I’m feeling geeky.

But readers can be forgiven for not sharing my mood of the moment. So in this post, I try explain how the various threads – theory, practice, individual games, resources, and geekery – have developed, and show how to follow the main themes from post to post.

Continue reading “A Guide to Tourneygeek”