The Swiss System

In a round-robin tournament, each competing team plays every other team. Such a tournament format is simply not feasible for a competition in which there is a large number of competing teams.

A Swiss System tournament is a round-robin-style tournament that has been modified to make it usable with a large number of competitors. In a Swiss System tournament, instead of each competitor playing every other competitor, each competitor plays only other competitors that have won a similar number of games.

The basic idea is “winners play winners; losers play losers”. After the first round, each team that won its first game plays another team that won its first game. Each team that lost plays another team that lost. After the second round, each team that has won two games plays another team that has won two games; each team that has won one game plays another team that has won one game; each team that has won no games plays another team that has won no games; and so on for the successive rounds. Even if a team loses its first game, it is still possible for it to finish high in the final rankings if it wins all of its other games.

A Swiss System tournament is played to a predetermined number of rounds (not as many as in a round-robin tournament, but at least as many as would be required by a single-elimination tournament).   After the last round, competitors (teams) are ranked by their scores.

Swiss System tournaments can result in ties.  One option for producing a clear tournament winner is to use a supplementary tie-breaking system such as the Buchholz System.  Another option is to use the Swiss System for an opening or elimination round of a tournament.  The elimination round is used to produce a smaller group of competitors who then go on to participate in a final single-elimination round.

One desirable feature of a Swiss System tournament is that (unlike a single- or double-elimination “knockout” format) all teams play the same number of games, and no team is eliminated before the end of the competition.

The basic idea is simple, but (especially for large competitions) the processes for scoring and pairing up competitors can be complicated. Tournament organizers often use a computer program to help run a Swiss System tournament.

Here are a few useful resources for information on Swiss System tournaments. Note that there are many variations on the basic Swiss System idea (see the Wikipedia entry).

  1. A good place to start is the Wikipedia entry for Swiss System tournament.
  2. Tom Bricca has written a useful overview of the Swiss system. Our archived copy is HERE.
  3. A good discussion of the problems and benefits of the Swiss system is available online HERE. Our archived copy (without user comments) is HERE.
  4. Petanque New Zealand has a useful discussion of Swiss system pairing rules.
  5. Petanque New Zealand has a useful discussion of the Buchholz System.
  6. Mike Pegg has written a description of how the Swiss System will be used for Eurocup 2013. It may still be available online HERE.   Our archived copy is HERE.
  7. The official FIPJP tournament software is called SPORT.  The vendor’s web page is   The SPORT manual has useful descriptions of the tournament systems that it supports, including the Swiss system. The SPORT manual is available HERE.