Saturday, November 15, 2008

So You Wanna Direct a Tournament? Funky Pairings - Part 2

Note: If you're looking for insightful analysis or another one of my crazy games, you can skip this post. Games will be forth coming in my next post. If you want a little behind the scenes angst from the tournament director's point of view, read on. If nothing else, you'll get the short course on Swiss system pairings.

In my last post, Funky Pairings - Part 1, I mentioned how the computer pairing program can sometimes go haywire and come up with some strange pairings. Since pairing programs came out in the early 90s I've seen some pretty strange pairings both as a player and as a tournament director. Usually on Monday nights I don't need my computer, and I can pair a tournament on a single piece of paper. I don't need a wall chart or pairing cards. When there's no school the next day we get a few more then normal. I wasn't prepared how many more came. So when 16 people, including two father-son combos show up it becomes a little more challenging trying to run a tournament with no computer and no pairing cards. Add to the mix that I was also playing in this tournament to make an even 16.

The first round isn't that difficult to pair. My list is in order of who gave me money first, but once I have all the names I number everyone by rating. Sometimes I mess up the numbering, and then have to start over again. I did manage to number correctly so no do-overs were necessary. After I flip a coin to see if number one will be black or white, I simply take numbers 1-8 and alternate white and black. My page will look something like this:

1 Lonnie-
- 2 John R
3 John K-
- 4 Alex
5 Mike A -
- 6 Mike B1*
7 Mike M -
- 8 Polly

Then I take numbers 9 - 16 and slot them in. After that's done the pairings look like this:

# White # Black
1 Lonnie - 9 Dan
10 Guy - 2 John R
3 John K- 11- Mike B2*
12 Alan - 4 Alex
5 Mike A - 13 Giancarlo
14 Silvio - 6 Mike B1
7 Mike M - 15 Connor
16 Joseph - 8 Polly

* I had 4 Mikes playing and 2 of them had a last name beginning with the letter B.

In an ideal world there would be no upsets. It's a piece of cake to pair round two. Numbers 1 -4 play numbers 5-8 and numbers 9 - 12 play numbers 13 - 16. Adjustments are made to balance the colors. The pairings would look like this:

# White # Black
6 Mike B1 - 1 Lonnie
2 John R - 5 Mike A
8 Polly - 3 John K
4 Alex - 7 Mike M
9 Dan - 14 Silvio
13 Giancarlo - 10 Guy
11 Mike B2 - 16 Joseph
15 Connor - 12 Alan

Blue = 1-0 Red = 0-1

Everybody will have had one of each color, and in the last round all the players in the various score groups will be paired amongst each other and will toss for color. No problem! Now that you've read this far you're ready to direct your own tournament. Piece of cake! Even a trained monkey could do that.....

Unfortunately my buddy Murphy likes to apply his law to pairings. It was upset city with numbers 2 (2202), 4 (2078) and 8 (1729) losing to numbers 10 (1596) , 12 (1540), and 16 (1082) respectively. This almost the worst case scenario possible. White won on 7 out of 8 boards, which meant 7 out of 8 one pointers were due black in round two, and 7 out of 8 zero pointers were due White. It's not the worst thing in the world to have a bunch of people getting two whites in a row in three round tournament. On the other hand it really sucks to have a bunch of people getting two blacks in a row. What makes it even worse when it's most of the first round losers who are faced with the two blacks in a row. (You still want to be a tournament director?)

The objective of Swiss pairings in round two is pair the players in each score amongst each other and balance the colors. Score has priority, so in the one score group I had three people getting two whites in a row, and in the zero score group I had three people getting two blacks in a row. All the remaining players were getting the opposite color they had in round one. It took awhile to sort out who was going to play who, and some players can be a snarky bunch when it's taking awhile to figure out the pairings. Finally I get everyone paired.

I wasn't overly concerned if there were upsets in the top group creating the possibility of having three players due black in round 3. Who's going to complain about getting 3 whites? However during my second round game I'm staring at the pairings I had written down and came to a horrible realization. Barring any more upsets there would be three zero pointers who had two blacks. I started thinking to myself, maybe I should have given the lower ranked player their due color so that after the higher ranked players won as black they could get paired with the 1 pointers who lost with white.

The USCF rule book has 25 pages devoted to pairing subsequent rounds following round one. Buried on page 145 is variation 29E4a "priority based on plus, even, and minus score groups." Using this variation I could have given the lower ranked players their due color. However when the TD is in "time pressure" so to speak she is not thinking about obscure variations of the rules that may be buried somewhere in the rule book.

The only way the color crisis in the zero score group was going to resolve itself was the higher ranked players lost with white aginst their lower rated opponents who got the two blacks in a row. Somehow I didn't expect the master and expert to fall victim again in round two. I also didn't expect the 1722 to lose to a 1200. The only realistic "upset" possibility would have been Silvio (1474) beating me (1729), but that wasn't really going to help because the two of us were the only zeros that were getting their due color. It wasn't going to matter which one of us won.

True to form, Murphy allowed no more upsets except Silvio holding me to a draw. (Our 29th draw in our 90 games we've played.) However that still didn't resolve the color crisis. Pairing the last round was nuts. It was easy to pair the 2 pointers. They had played one game with each color. Now came the fun part. I kept making pairings and then realize for some reason or another they were wrong. I suppose considering how little money was on the line, I shouldn't have been so anal about exact pairing order. I also should have not worried so much about score group. But that's not the way I think when I'm in "time pressure". A couple of players are ragging on me about whether we would get round 3 in before next week. (Good natured kidding, but it didn't help my concentration.) I finally paired everyone, or at least I thought I had when Mike M. asks me "Who am I playing?" I couldn't remember who else had been left out, so I ask who else doesn't have a game. When Dan spoke up I said "Dan plays Mike."

Then the father of one of the kids complains that his son has to play a kid from his school, and that he lost the toss and got the third black. He wants me to change the pairings. I said "No, it's late. People want to play. I'm not changing the pairings again." I apologized for the third black, and offered to give him back his son's entry fee. He declined. Afterwards I found out he was more annoyed that his son had to play somebody from his school. It happens. In round two Silvio and I had played our 90th rated game against each other. Sometimes you have to play people you play a lot.

After all was said and done we had 2 players at 3-0 and 5 players at 2-1. Ideally you need 4 rounds to have a clear winner in a field of 16. Unless people wanted to play until 1:00 AM there wasn't going to be an unadvertised round four. The two 3-0 got $50. The twos got their entry fee back. This wasn't exactly big bucks everyone was playing for.

When I got home I put the results in on the computer, in order to submit the results online. The computer made pretty much the same pairings as I had for the first two rounds. The third round differed because the computer was set without the "3 consecutive colors OK" on. In hindsight I should have paired out of the score group. The bright spot was Murphy didn't totally get his way. The kid who lost the toss and got the third black, beat his higher rated opponent.


chesstiger said...

Round one and two is fairly easy to do in a swiss tournament. Especially since the higher rated player of the two get the benefit of the switching colors (Black - white or White - black) in round 2.

Third round can be a pain since one has to work with floaters and has to keep attention to the colors which means that you sometimes have funny pairings.

Anyway, it seemed that you in the end had a succesfull tournament as director.

Polly said...

I've been directing for many years. I did lots of tournaments with index cards befor computer programs were used. The first two rounds are normally easy, but all the upsets it made it virtually impossible to balance colors.

It's funny a little tournament like this one can be more difficult then the 190 player scholastic tournament I had directed the day before. Because the computer does things much faster I'm not in such a hurry.

It may have been a success from a directing point of view. Unfortunately I can't say the same about my playing.

chesstiger said...

Balancing the colors for everybody is never possible unless you play a one by one match. :-)

Polly said...

Odd numbered round tournaments will usually give everyone x of one color and x+1 of the other color. Sometimes one may have an odd thing such as x of one color and x+2 of the other color. In this tournament everyone ended out with 1 of one color and 2 of the other, except the one player who got the 3 blacks.

In an even numbered round tournament the ideal scenario is x of each. Doesn't always work. I played in a 12 round tournament where going into the last round I had played white 5 times and black 6 times. I got black the 11th round, so I figured on getting white in the final round. In round 12 I got black again so ended out 5 whites and 7 blacks.

Usually in the 2nd round you can balance colors, except when you have a situation like I had where white won on 7 out of 8 boards.