I've been having a conversation over at another popular blog about what the best way to handle uneven tournament entries might be. That is: you're hosting a tournament an 11 people show up. Now you've got uneven pairings. What's the best solution to accommodate everyone?
Option 1: Don't allow an uneven number of tournament entries.
This is a solution although it's clunky from a logistical perspective and is making a number of assumptions. How do you cut off your tournament entries? Do you only accept two entries at a time? How does this impact real time web registration? Do you just keep signing people up and then finally cut the last guy if he's an odd man out? What happens if you accept an even number but then have a no show? What happens if someone drops out halfway through the tournament pairings and now you have an odd number again?
This really isn't a solution because it doesn't solve all the potential problems. You might delay a problem but what you really end up doing is frustrating tournament participants and you don't have a way to accommodate drops or people who fail to show up.
Option 2: Use a ringer.
I find this practice totally bizarre but in the backwards world of 40k tournament play it's used and even accepted in some circles. Simply put, the odd man out at the tournament plays against a member of the TO team in a rated match. How does one make this fair? That's anyone's guess and frankly impossible to define in any sort of transparent way. What army should the ringer play? What is the ringer's skill level? Is the ringer bringing his A game that one early round and then going easy on subsequent opponents? Is he playing an army that he's familiar with or one that he is bound to make mistakes with? How powerful is the codex? Who built the list? I find it pretty ridiculous that a person actually involved with organizing the tournament should be influential in any way aside from establishing the rule-set and judging, but the ringer does just that: A party potentially looking to change the outcome of the tournament standings and being empowered to do it in the most direct way possible.
Option 3: Use a bye.
I consider this the most straightforward and elegant solution. One guy simply doesn't play each round and is awarded full points for his efforts. He is free to use that free round however he wishes: He can play a game of 40k for fun against a TO or spectator. He can go get an early lunch. He can go home and come back. Whatever. Why is this the best way? Because it allows an uneven amount of entries while also respecting that each person awarded a bye is done so in a totally random way and all byes are considered equal.
I'm working under the assumption that using bye's is the best possible solution when dealing with an uneven number of tournament participants. The remainder of the article talks about how to successfully implement that.
How to implement the bye.
What does the bye mean for the tournament participant? The player getting the bye is awarded full points for his pairing (or lack thereof). He is not punished in any way for drawing the bye. He simply has a free round and is awarded full points. It's important to award full points to ensure that the bye doesn't rob a player of the chance to run the table at the tournament with quality play. Giving only partial points puts the player and then the TO in the uncomfortable position of "playing from behind" without ever actually seeing a game of 40k.
Unless bye's are used as a reward for higher seeding, players will only ever get a single bye in any tournament. Players that receive a bye in an early round are ineligible to receive one in later rounds. Further, with the notable exception of the very first round, byes are never given to players on the "winner's track". That is, beyond the first round of the tournament, the bye is always given to lowest ranked player who has not already received a bye. This ensures that bye's have the least amount of impact possible on the actual outcome of the winner of the tournament. Players who win the tournament will almost always have avoided a bye (unless they got one in the first round) and a bye will rarely be a deciding factor between two top ranked players at the end of a tournament unless the byes were given as a reward for seeding.
This article aims to dispel a number of notions. One is that bye are bad for the player-base. While not ideal I think they are the least worst solution behind either using a ringer or simply enforcing an even numbered player pool (which really is unenforceable for the reasons I cited above). Those who point out that the player now has "nothing to do" during his bye round should be corrected that indeed the player can still play a game of 40k off the record. For our tournament circuit we aim to do just that and ensure players issued bye's will get a free game in during their round if that's what they wish to do. Unlike a ringer match however the game doesn't count in any way and the player has already "won" his round. To the detractors who say the bye is somehow unfair I say it's just as much chance as drawing a good or bad opponent in the first round. It's also a heck of lot more fair than playing a TO ringer with an undisclosed army. The player who gets the first round bye will surely be tested in subsequent rounds, and because no player will receive more than one bye, and all byes in the rounds beyond one are given to loser track players, the players will indeed be vetted before having any impact on the final rounds or the eventual winner of the tournament.
Bye's are not ideal, but they are an elegant solution to handling an uneven number of players at your tournament. They are meant to be the exception not the rule, and hopefully have as little impact on the tournament standings as possible.
May the best player win, with or without byes.
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