Design for a small-group competition

[Revised: 2020-10-18]

We want a format for a one-day local competition. We expect 12-14 teams to compete. Teams have not been seeded (ranked for relative skill) before the competition. We want the competition to allow most teams to play several games, but we don’t want the competition to be too physically grueling. We want the competition to fit into a specified time-frame of three or four hours for qualifiers, approximately one hour for two simultaneous semi-final games, and approximately one hour for the final game.

The competition has two parts. The first part is a qualifier phase using a snake format of short-form games. The second part is a single-elimination phase.

In the qualifier phase, teams compete in short-form games, that is: in games played to 6 ends. Note that playing a fixed number of ends, rather than to a fixed score, means that at the end of 6 ends the two teams may have the same score, and it is even possible for one or both of the teams to have 13 points or more.

A game of 6 ends should take approximately 30-40 minutes to play. Scheduling short-form rounds at 45-minute intervals allows all games in a round to finish and for players to have 5-10 minutes of R&R time between games. Scheduling 15-minute breaks after every other game guarantees players a reasonable rest period and builds a certain amount of flexibility into the schedule. Five short-form rounds means that each team is guaranteed about 2.5 hours of playing time.

08:00‑08:45am COMPETITION BEGINS. Team registration and check-in
08:45‑09:00am Team match-ups are announced, along with competition-level rules, etc.
9:00‑09:45 short-form round 1
9:45‑10:30 short-form round 2
10:30-10:45 15 min break
10:45‑11:30 short-form round 3
11:30‑12:15 short-form round 4
12:15-1:00 LUNCH BREAK (45 minutes)
1:00‑1:45 short-form round 5
1:45‑2:00 15 min break. The control table assess the results of the qualification phase and announces the teams to play in the semifinals
2:00‑3:00? PLAYOFF PHASE STARTS. Two simultaneous semifinal games are played to 10 points
3:00?-3:15? 15 min break
3:15?-4:30? final game played to 13 points
4:30? COMPETITION ENDS. Congratulations and prizes to the winners

Note that the schedule is flexible and ad hoc changes to the schedule are possible. For example short-form round 5 could be eliminated.

For each short-form round, the games will be played between teams paired at random, with the proviso that no team shall play a team that it has already played, and no team shall be forced to sit out more than one round. A team may drop out of the competition after any round.

The results of the short-form games will be determined using the following procedure. For each short-form game that it plays, a team’s margin is the number of points by which it won or lost the game. (If team A beats team B with a score of 9-6, team A’s margin is 3 and team B’s margin is -3. In case of a tie, both teams have a margin of zero.) After all short-form rounds have been played, an average margin is calculated for each team (the sum of the team’s margins, divided by the number of games that it played). Teams are ranked by their average margins. The team with the highest average margin is ranked #1; the team with the second highest average margin is ranked #2, and so on. In the semi-finals, team #1 plays team #3, and team #2 plays team #4.

Why not use the proper Swiss system instead?
We are assuming a small group of casual players without prior experience in organizing competitions. We need something that is simple to understand and can be administered easily with simple paper forms and a pencil.

Why not use a 3-round snake?
In a “snake” format, teams play a predetermined number of games against randomly-selected opponents. If only a few games are played, the competition outcome is determined more by luck-of-the-draw than by relative skill. Using short-form games, we can play 5 rounds rather than 3, which is more likely to rank teams fairly.

In a snake format, teams are typically ranked by number of games won, then by winning margin, then by total points scored. We feel that ranking teams by average margin is more likely to rank teams fairly. Using our system, a team that (on average) scored 4 points more than its opponents will be ranked higher than a team that (on average) scored 2 points more than its opponents, even if both teams won the same number of games.

Ranking teams by average margin also avoids one of the problems with a snake— the necessity to have all teams play the same number of games, and to make special arrangements when there is an odd number of teams or a team drops out before the end of the competition.

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