Some Thoughts on Round Robins
Not that robin

Let us take a second to discuss pooled round robins.  For those unfamiliar with the format, the essence is that everyone gets to fight everyone else once (each fight can be one and done, best two out of three, etc.) and the winner is generally decided by total number of wins/points.  For those familiar with voting methods and or stayed awake during high school discrete mathematics as you found it significantly more relevant to your life than pre-calc, this is essentially the Condorcet method.  If the tournament happens to draw enough people, the fighters get split into separate pools where they fight everyone in their pool and the top 2-3 people make it out only to fight the winners from the other pools, generally in a double-elim format. 

After close to 11 years of fighting in the SCA, I can firmly say that this how the plurality of tournaments are structured, at least here in the Middle Kingdom. Were I a betting man (I’m not), I’d say they consist of the majority of tournaments.  The reasons for this are likely that they’re fairly easy to run (no seeding or complex ways of figuring out who has to fight whom), that they rewards skill over speed (bear pits reward those fighters who can finish the fastest, but not necessarily those with the best win-loss ration), and that they provide for a lot of fighting (as opposed to single or double-elim).  The only real downside to them, is that they can be aggravatingly slow.

The reason behind this is rarely due having to wait to figure out pairings.  Instead, it comes down to having to wait too long between fights.  Full disclosure, I may be a bit biased here as I don’t perform as well if I cool down too much between fights.  However, I think that the reason most people enter tournaments is to fight and my guess is that most people don’t derive particular joy from having to wait in line for more than a couple minutes at a time.  To solve this, I offer two suggestions.

Now, these aren’t in reaction to any particular tournament, but are more just thoughts I’ve either had floating around for a while, or are things that have come up in conversation lately, and I figured it’d be best for me to put them mostly in one place.  Alright, so getting the chance to fight absolutely everyone there can be a ton of fun, but can often tire people out (preventing them from giving their best) and tournaments generally run between an hour to an hour and a half, so working within those constraints is important.  To best illustrate my thoughts on how to make this all work just a bit better, lets take as an example the Cut & Thrust tournament I myself ran last year in April at Rivenstar’s “Three Saints and a Tournament of Defense”. 

Despite being first thing in the morning, my tournament got a decent turnout, especially due to it inherently being niche plus it being up against another tournament that appealed to a broader base, of roughly 16 fighters.  Now, not all of those fighters showed up at the beginning, and although I cut people off from joining half an hour in, imposing a stricter cutoff and ensuring I started on time (instead of on SCA time) likely could have made it run smoother.  Next, for the first half of the tournament I only had one fight going at a time.  Looking back, this was a grave mistake as the point of this wasn’t for it to be a spectacle viewed by a crowd, but more as something fun before the main attractions of the day began.  On top of that, a lot of people (myself included) tend to have longer fights and the math just doesn’t add up to let everyone there get all 15 of their fights in one at a time in the hour given.  Eventually I grabbed another marshal to have a second list running, and towards the end grabbed a third marshal so that we wouldn’t go too far over time.  Going forwards, I plan on doing my best to start any tournament I run to include a second marshal in order to help people get through the line easier.  The other issue was that 16 is just too large a number for any single pool.  I have found that any tournament with pools of more than 10-12 people is inherently going to run longer than the hour given.  So, were I to have used my noggin and grabbed that second marshal earlier, I would have not only had them help more fighting go on at once, but handed them a list and told them to run their own pool.  My inability to think ahead meant, though, that the whole thing ran 10-15 minutes late which was disrespectful not only to the marshal in charge, who had many wonderful things planned that day.  It was also disrespectful to the fighters who I’m sure were looking forward to participating in everything else the day offered.

Hopefully you, my reader, can learn from my mistakes here and help to make one of our favorite formats, as well as events overall, run just a bit smoother. 

Written by Arik Mendelevitz

Known in the SCA as Warder Raphael di Merisi, Arik has a great love for the art of the sword and specializes in the Italian rapier of Niceletto Giganti. From time to time, though, he can be seen playing with Pacheco's version of Destreza, Bolognese sidesword, or Fiore's art of grappling.