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January 23, 2023

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By Bob Unetich

Question: I’m thinking of running a small tournament for my pickleball club. How do tournament directors select the formats for each bracket?

Answer: While most tournaments have classic Double Elimination and Round Robin brackets, there are other options. Tournament directors (TDs) should consider the capacity of an event when they set limits on registration, but those limits need to consider the number of matches that will be needed for the published types of bracket formats.


Players typically dislike a Single Elimination bracket, since they can be out in one match, but they may also not be pleased with playing seven or eight or more matches in a large bracket, especially if play is spread out over a full day. So TDs need to choose carefully.


USA Pickleball will sanction tournaments with any of five types of bracket formats and these same formats are often used in non-sanctioned tournaments. These types are listed in the Rule Book in Section 12.C. and here are some comments on why a particular bracket format may be selected.


The first bracket format listed in the rules is Single Elimination with Consolation (see Rule 12.C.1.). This is a good format for large brackets, like 16 teams and up, since it takes considerably less time than regular Double Elimination. It is the format used at the US Open. In this format, a single loss places a team in the “Consolation” bracket, which plays for the bronze, while the “Winners” bracket has a final match between teams that have not lost a match and the winners get the gold while the losers get silver.


The next format listed is Double Elimination, which permits the winner of the “Back Draw” to come back to play for gold. That adds a couple more matches to a bracket, which adds an hour or two, but it is very popular for brackets of six teams or more.


With fewer than six teams, TDs typically use Round Robin brackets, where each team plays every other team once or twice. Winners are then decided by which team wins the most matches. In case of a tie, there are defined ways to determine the winner. The 2023 Rules change how winners are decided if a team withdraws from the bracket and there is a tie. Section 12.C.3.a., b., and c. explain this in detail, but the essence is that ties are first decided by head-to-head competition (Section 12.C.3.a.) between teams that did not withdraw and if a tie remains, “point differentials” are used. The point differential is the total difference between a team’s points scored and their opponents’ points scored. It is simpler to figure out than it may sound, so read Section 12.C.3.a. through d. of the rules to see some examples.


There are two other formats that are becoming more popular, and they are called Pool Play with Playoff and Round Robin Play with Playoff. The recent USA Pickleball Diamond Amateur Championship used Pool Play with Playoff for most brackets. In that format, players enter Round Robin pools and the results are used to “seed” a playoff. The top two teams from each pool move on to a medal round, based on how they finished within their pool. This format usually provides players with more matches, and it has a set of medal matches, which regular Round Robin brackets lack. This can be an excellent format for clubs and smaller groups.


If you are planning a tournament, you should consider all these options and select the one that maximizes play while using court capacity effectively.  •

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