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Deciding Round Robin group ties

Updated: Aug 17, 2022

Discussion about how to decide the group winner’s (or other places) in a Round Robin tournament group.

I raise this issue after a recent discussion with a fellow Tournament Director (TD) and after recalling a personally unsatisfactory outcome based upon one particular method of resolving this issue.

But before we get into gory details some thoughts about what is the point of playing Round Robin. My perspective is simply that it allows players to opportunity to garner more court time (fun) and then go on if they do well to either win outright or perhaps qualify for a play-off round. So to that extent it’s my opinion that for the best outcome for those participating in the tournament we want the fairest way possible to determine who the best players in a group are.

There are quite a number of scenarios that a TD can face depending upon what options he or she allows as far as how the matches are played in the groups. The simplest option is to limit matches to one or two games no set. But some people want to play best of three and others may find that half way through they have to switch to a reduced format because of time constraints. Say from 2 games to 21 to 1 game to 25 or 21 or even 1 to 15. How then do we resolve the imbalance in the points.

In my opinion the lazy way is to simply look back at matches, find the head to head result between the contestants vying for the position and award it to the team who won, which is all well and good as long as one team did win. (I recently tied a match 21-19, 19-21) and the group decision came down to our two teams.)

My preferred solution is to use the point differential (Won points – lost points). Using total points ‘for’ works if you have a group where all of the matches are played to the same length. Points against can be used to decide if the points for is a tie. But we might as well jump directly to that solution and use the difference immediately. That way groups with uneven point counts are less biased one way or another.

Why do I want to do that, rather than take the simple winner of the head to head match to take the position being decided? My thinking is straight forward on this. I want the BEST teams in a group to go forward in the right order if there is a play-off possibility. Badminton is a game of skill, and luck. In a tournament where a group consists of a number of matches it makes no sense (in my opinion) to award the win based upon a head to head result which may have been decided by a fluke shot. IF this was a straight elimination I would say, “them’s the breaks”. But it isn’t. The contesting teams didn’t just play between themselves. They also played the other teams in the group and each match is a contributor to assessing the strongest teams in the group.

In my own particular case which I think serves to illustrate the point nicely. My partner and I played in a group of 5. There was a similar group which was the other half of the bracket. We played all of the teams in our group and lost one match by a split 1 game each. The points were very close in that match.

The team we lost to also dropped a match to a third pair. So the matches won was the same. The TD chose to use the head to head to award the group winners slot to the team we lost to. Here’s the rub. Our other wins were substantially better than the “first place” team, recall they lost to another pair. So the point differentials were greatly in our favor. The net effect of this was that the two group winner played off for the final Gold and Silver and we played for Bronze. Our match was a blow out. We won comfortably. The other match was a blow out the other way, the winning team from the other group easily defeated our group winners. The two teams from the other group were actually very close points wise so I suspect the results might have been very different had points been used to determine the group winners instead of the head to head decision.

The reader might see this as a case of sour grapes. It was a long time ago and is not the only instance I have witnessed where this head to head rule has had a similar effect. But more to the point, what that rule does is to completely disincentivize a strong team from bothering to try to make up lost ground if they lose a match. Why bust a gut if no matter how your opponents fare, given that they too might lose a match, there is scant possibility of clawing your way back into the winner’s slot. ( I recognize of course that this argument depends upon the other team also losing a match, but that’s the point – it’s how the need to decide comes about). The counter argument is always, “well they beat you so they should win.” To which I say, “And they also lost to a team we beat so why does only the direct head to head decide the result.”

Using points makes for a more exciting tournament because it pushes all of the teams to fight for every point in every level of the group. And I believe, it puts the strongest teams where they should be in terms of the final group positions.

How do you feel about this?

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