Using the Swiss Pairing System in 40k

In chess tournaments winners are usually paired with winners and strength of schedule matters. In 40k this isn't always the case because the Swiss pairing system isn't always used.

Swiss pairing is one of the most common ways to run competitive tournament games. It is commonly used for chess tournaments, and also bridge, backgammon, and Magic: The Gathering.

40k tournaments eschew Swiss pairing and instead use a variety of methods for pairing. Some are based on army composition scores. Some are based on schedule strength, and some completely random. Many tournaments use any and all of these but almost none of them use pure Swiss pairings.

These inconsistencies in how pairings are done at tournaments can really warp a meta-game. Quality lists are often comp paired with other "competitive" lists in the early rounds of grand tournaments. This forces players with top tier lists to play against each other in the early rounds regardless of tournament performance, and forces players with low tier lists to do the same. The result in later rounds when comp pairing is abandoned are often bizarre mismatches of highly competitive and low competitive lists. When the battle point blowout scores are then factored in things can really get out of hand.

True Swiss pairings always randomize the pairings in round 1, and then pair off winners in the later rounds. This results in the players with the best results playing each other as the tournament progresses.

Can Swiss pairings and win, lose or draw scoring be applied to 40k tournaments? Most certainly. The challenge is putting together a functional tie-breaker system that is satisfactory to players. One component of Swiss pairings is that the more players you have the more rounds you need to play. In 40k, especially at the RTT level, this is often not possible. However, if proper scoring methods and proper tie breakers are employed then most tournaments winners can be determined fairly.

For scoring, points are awarded based on a win, loss, or tie result. In sanctioned chess tournaments, 1 point is granted for a win, .5 point for a tie, and 0 for a loss. This is a system that can also be easily applied to 40k. Unlike many 40k tournaments, massacre scoring or margin of victory scoring is not relevant in this type of scoring system. All that is relevant is a win, loss or tie.

Tiebreakers are always employed using a priority method. You determine which tiebreakers are going to be used and then assign a priority to each. If the first tiebreaker cannot determine a winner because that tiebreaker is also a tie, then you go to the second tiebreaker and so on down the line.

In our recent RTT we employed the following tiebreaker methods in the order listed:

  1. Head to Head
  2. Solkhoff
  3. Cumulative
  4. Sonneborn-Berger
The above methods are commonly used in competitive Swiss tournaments. The explanations are as follows.

Head to Head: This one is straight forward. If two opponents played each other during the tournament but happen to finish the tournament with an identical record, then the winner of their game becomes the tiebreaker.

This one is obvious, completely fair, and can resolve a tie between two 2-1 records quite easily. However it may not be applicable if the two players don't play each other or if they play each other and tie their game.

Solkhoff: Outside of chess circles this is more widely known as the strength of schedule tie breaker. The better the results of a players opponents' during the tournament the higher the Solkhoff score will be.

Cumulative: Cumulative scoring places more weight on games won in the early rounds of the tournament and less weight on later rounds. The rationale for this system is that a player who scored well early in the tournament has most likely faced tougher opponents in later rounds and should therefore be favored over a player who scored poorly in the start before subsequently scoring points against weaker opponents.

Sonneborn-Berger: This is essentially a modified version of the Solkhoff tiebreaker method, but places less weight on ties.

More explanation on the above along with additional tie breaker methods can be found here:

With 4 tie-breakers used, the chances of an actual tie that cannot be broken at the end of tournament are rare. In our most recent RTT we did end up going to tiebreakers. This was to be expected in a tournament with only 3 rounds of Swiss and Eleven players. Both players finished the tournament 2-0-1 and their tie was against each other. This made the head to head tiebreaker moot so we moved onto Solkhoff where it was determined one player had a tougher schedule than the other. While this might disappoint the second place player with this result, it was pointed out to him that he did have an opportunity to win the tournament outright had he simply won his game against the champion instead of tying.

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