Various Playoff Systems

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Which of the following systems would you prefer to determine a tournament champion?

Full bracketed round robin with top n teams from each bracket
Partial bracketed round robin (you don’t play any other teams that advanced from your bracket)
Single elimination with either 8 teams, 16 teams, or the top n teams from each bracket
Double elimination with the same size restrictions as above
Triple elimination with the same size restrictions as above
No votes
Just play a final between the top 2 teams and have everyone go home afterwards
No votes
Total votes : 43

Various Playoff Systems

Postby cvdwightw » Mon Apr 19, 2004 8:47 pm

With the talk of the Vanderbilt tournament's playoff format, I thought it was time for people to argue about which playoff format is the best.

For the poll question above, assume that the tournament is a mid-sized tournament or division (15-30 teams), and that between 5 and 9 preliminary rounds were played in bracketed round robin format to determine playoff seeds.

Personally, I like the full or partial bracketed round robin with the top about 1/3 of teams (no less than 1/5 of the teams) advancing to the top bracket while the other teams play rounds in other brackets against teams of similar rank. This provides a great way to finalize top-to-bottom rankings. Most, if not all, Southern California tournaments with at least 15 teams use this type of format. While some teams not in the top bracket might complain about meaningless games, most of the teams I've seen are generally happy to keep playing even though they have no shot at the championship.

My least favorite format for small and mid-sized tournaments is single elimination, because if teams are allowed to complain that one loss in the prelims screws them over, there's no reason that teams can't complain that losing one game in the playoffs screws them over. I've been to a 16-team tournament before that was single elimination starting in the second game. I can understand where this playoff structure might work for large tournaments, but I think that if you're only allowing 16 teams (which is still more than half the teams at the tournament) into the playoffs, double elimination would work better.
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Postby Captain Sinico » Tue Apr 20, 2004 6:04 pm

I think that, for statistical comparison, the full bracketed round robin has to be the way to go and I really don't see how any other case can be made. While I am entierly aware that best actual comparison isn't always what people go for, I was somewhat (to understate things drastically) shocked that people prefer single elimination to, you know, a real format. I really don't see how playing "meaningless" games in a later playoff series due to the poor performance of your team in earlier rounds can possibly be worse than not playing at all after losing a single round. I generally go to tournaments to play quizbowl myself... but whatever.
I can understand how people would be upset if, say, only the top team from the initial bracket has a shot at the title and their bracket contains someone that they reckon unbeatable, but I fail to see how this is worse than (or even as bad as) drawing such a team in the first or second round of a single elimination playoffs, which is what is likely to happen to a second or third place team from an initial bracket anyway.
Anyway, I'm interested to see the explications of those pining for single elimination. All I know is, it really had to suck for those teams whose IHSA seasons we ended with a single match back in high school. Even IHSA has since seen the error of its ways.

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Postby Howard » Tue Apr 20, 2004 9:25 pm

Single elimination is the popular playoff format in the DC area. I chose it over double elimination mostly for this reason. I buy that double elimination is more accurate, but it adds to the complexity of the playoffs and requires extra questions. Sixteen teams in a single elimination will require four gamesets where the same number of teams will require 6 gamesets to guarantee enough gamesets to determine the winner. One of the quirks of high school quiz bowl is that nearly every team wishes to make the playoffs, but in a long tournament only about 50% of those that don't wish to play additional games. In all honesty, my basis here had more to do with familiarity than any other factor. Unless the teams seem to favor single elimination over double (which the poll does not indicate at this time), then the only real concrete reason I can find for single over double is that you can write the same number of rounds and have more preliminaries.

I agree that round robin is the way to go for true statistical comparison, but it is difficult to do the entire tournament in round robin if near the upper limit of teams. You could do it with 16 teams in 15 rounds, but anything more than that exceeds the limits of the tournament. Similarly, if you take the top 8 teams into the playoffs, the round robin will require an additional 7 rounds. This becomes unwieldy very quickly. A round robin playoff with tiebreaikers would be better suited if there were 6 or fewer teams involved with the playoffs.

Also, teams eliminated in a single elimination need not discontinue playing. They can continue playing just like anyone else in consolation rounds. I've been to single elimination tournaments where this actually happens. I'm a believer in taking approximately half the field into the playoffs. Of course, I'm also a believer in Swiss tournaments. My theory is that the 50% rule makes up for Swiss inaccuracies toward the middle of the preliminary pack-- that anyone who really deserved a playoff spot would get one. This would also go for bracketed tournaments because td's often do not really know the relative strength of some of the teams.

Eventually, nearly all tournaments come down to one game at some point. Round robins are about the only exception I can think of. The downside of single elimination is of course that every game is that one game where other formats provide more chances to reach that one game. I would argue that single elimination simply rewards consistency more than the other formats. And why shouldn't that be important as well?

Just like anything else, I think this, too, boils down to what elements the tournament director wishes to emphasize. All are reasonable formats. I'm discouraged by the number of people/teams who wish to complain about question difficulty or lack thereof, tournament format, the "one game" that cost us, or some other largely unimportant issue about the tournament. The fact is that nearly every tournament I have attended has been a good tournament. Variances on these items make small to moderate changes in the elements being tested. Granted, if enough people do not like your format, questions, etc., you will lose entries. But, there really is enough interest in most formats and question styles that most will draw a reasonable number of teams. Beyond that, it's up to the organizers to decide what they and their teams wish to test. I don't go around telling people that I thought they chose the wrong format for their tournament. In nearly every case, I knew what the format was prior to entry. It's our job as an entrant to be flexible enough to change our strategies to correspond to the tournament.
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Postby solonqb » Tue Apr 20, 2004 9:56 pm

While I like the idea of round robins, I think time and logistical issues make it prohibitive for the majority of tournaments. Try playing 13 straight rounds (like at Carnegie Mellon). The desire to play will go right out the window along with your energy.

Round robins belong strictly to prelim brackets. Reseeding based on prelim results folowed by single elimination is the the most practical, although somewhat merciless way, of determining the champion.

Swiss pairing would indeed be ideal for determining the champion, yet few organizations have the logistical wherewithal to do it; NAQT Nationals last year was a welcome exception (and even they made some mistakes in the power matching, infuriating some teams)

However, one loss teams (in the prelims) should by no means be excluded from the playoffs, unless you have like only 3 or 4 prelim matches.
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