Forum Archive : Tournaments

Swiss format

From:   Osman Guner
Date:   24 May 2001
Subject:   Swiss or not swiss
Google:   H4_O6.11007$

[To Michael Crane] Why choice of swiss format for your tournaments?  Is it
because you have too many participants and too few rounds?  For some time I
thought swiss would be a nice format for backgammon tournaments, but I am
starting back off from this idea.

First, the obvious problem with the dependancy on the quality of ratings
for more accurate pairings.  A bigger problem, I think, is the level of
granularity (or lack thereof)... whereas in chess you can divide the group
into three piles after the first round, in backgammon you will have only
two: winners and losers.  Hence, you may have to put more rounds into the
tournament in order to have a better differentiation of performance.  The
increased number of rounds will also minimize the unfortunate consequences
of forced "unfair" pairings, etc.  However, this may defeat the purpose of
swiss (to obtain a clear winner out of a large group of players within a
small number of rounds).

On the other hand, I can see some benefits too like everybody gets to play
all the rounds.  What is your reason for chosing a rather unconventional
format?  ... or maybe this is the norm in the UK.

Osman Guner

Michael Crane  writes:

Biba has both Swiss and KO tournaments. Initially, when I founded Biba we
had just four tournaments a year and to give players maximum playing
opportunities I ran them all as Swiss. Because they were Ranking
Tournaments the main benefit was that everyone played the same number of
matches and their rankings were dependent upon their performance.
Gradually, over the years I have grown from four to twelve tournaments a
year and now offer both formats and a combination of the two.

Many players prefer the Swiss format as they are never 'knocked out' in the
first round. If you read Paul's Epistle you'll see that this fact is the
reason for his letter - the big problem with Swiss is deciding a position
within the tournament; hence I have used the sum of opponents' scores. It
might not be an ideal way but no-one, even Paul who devised that one, has
come up with anything better.

Douglas Zare  writes:

In my experience, the Swiss system is very good when the number of players
is about 2^(# rounds). There are quite a few hybrid systems that one can
use such as using a Swiss system to seed single elimination rounds if you
have between n and 2^n players and want to have time to play n rounds.
However, if one tries to follow the Swiss procedure with too few players,
the result might be that the top players play each other repeatedly,
possibly with meaningless matches at the end.

One problem with the Swiss system: The incentives are often unequal for
"odd" opponents who have different scores, particularly in the last two
rounds. For example, in the last round of a minor tournament (5 rounds, 29
players), I played the only person with a perfect record. Since I won, I
split first place with 5 people (worth $150), and if I had lost or drawn I
would have gotten nothing, whereas my opponent would have had a clear first
place finish ($400) if he had won or drawn, but instead he shared first
place. So, between the two of us, we would get $400 if he won and $300 if I
won. This imbalance means that it would be rational for him to offer me
$200 to resign once I had a winning position; we would both be $50 better
off, and 3 people would be $33 worse off splitting second place. Of course,
in chess, this would result in a double forfeit if caught. In backgammon,
though, players may be used to hedging, and who would fault a player with
no chance of winning money for giving up against an opponent who can while
trailing Crawford 7-away at 2 am? This suggests that one should use a
hybrid system, or make sure that there are at least token incentives for
players not to throw matches in the last round. Of course, the problem is
much smaller for the Swiss system than for a round robin format.

On the logistical side, most people don't have to wait for the last game of
the previous round to finish for the next round of a round robin tournament
to be played, but by some pairing rules for the Swiss system one does have
to wait. Tournament directors seem to look more stressed under the Swiss
Did you find the information in this article useful?          

Do you have any comments you'd like to add?     



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