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Swiss ladder system

(This text is "stolen" from DIOK, university of Twente (Enschede/Netherlands).)

An interesting tournament format and ranking system.

The Swiss ladder tournament system has been used for several years now during our university (of Twente) badminton tournament and the International Student Badminton Tournament. As we've heard it originates from chess tournaments. It does indeed guarantee a certain number of matches, so you don't have to go home after one lousy match, and the resulting ranking is believed to reflect the actual strength of the players more than the traditional knock-out system. a bad draw does not play a role any more in this system and one bad played match does not have such a dramatic effect.

How does it work ?

First, a list of players is generated in random order (there are no seeds in this system). Then player number 1 on the list plays a match against player number 2, player 3 against player 4, etc. you have the option of playingtwo or three games per match. So in the former case a draw is possible. A player gets 2 points for a winning match,1 point in case of a draw and 0 points when loosing. Based on the results of these matches a new ranking list is generated.

The player with the most points per match played is placed on top, the player with the least points at the bottom. If players have equal points, then they are also ranked according to the points won and lost in the games they have played. so the ranking for the next round is given by looking at the match points/total matches, the total games/total matches,and finally the game points/total games of each player.

And next ... ?

In the second round the new number 1 plays against player 2, player 3 against player 4, etc. There is however an exception to this scheme. If, for instance, player 1 has already played a match against player 2, he will not play against him again, but will have player 3 as his opponent. Player 2 will then play against the next player he has not yet challenged before, being player number 4 or 5, etc. Thus you never play against an opponent twice and a player will encounter as many opponents as there are rounds. The above mentioned process will be repeated in each round.

The number of rounds that has to be played in order to achieve a fair ranking is (in most cases) equal to the number of rounds that would have been played in a knock-out system. In case of an odd number of participants, the player at the bottom of the ranking list is free that round. Because of the ranking method (a ratio, an average of points per match) this will actually not affect the ranking dramatically. A player never has two rounds in which he does not play.

Good or bad ... ?

The advantages of this system are obvious. There is no need to seed players, a certain number of matches can be guaranteed and the final result is more representative than with the knock-out system. Furthermore we experienced that it is quite easy to take someone off the list (or add someone to the list) without affecting the ranking. There is no walk-over because of injuries and such bad luck! All one has to do is take the player who drops out off the list and write new matches according to the new ranking list.

One of the 'disadvantages' of the system is that the total number of matches increases compared to the knock-out system, so one must have enough time and/or courts to do this.

Another, perhaps the biggest, disadvantage is that there is no real final match played. However, it is of course possible to have the numbers 1 and 2 of the final ranking list play a final, or, as we have done several times, to divide the players in two groups (poules), play the tournament according to the Swiss ladder system, and finally let the numbers 1 ranked of both poules to play a final match. The advantage of the latter solution is that alsothe total number of matches decrease, because a smaller group requires less rounds to be played.

The last disadvantage I can think of is that there is quite a lot of calculating involved. One of our former members has tackled this problem by writing a program which takes care of this. It generates a random list of players andthe matches that will be played during the first round and calculates and generates the new ranking lists (and prints them if wanted) and the new matches for the following rounds. You only have to type in the names of the players and of course the results of the matches, the program will do everything else. The program is available in the dutch and english language. Let us know if you are interested!


We think the Swiss ladder system is a very good alternative for the knock-out system, especially for tournaments among club members and others where it is more important to play than to win. But also for the "winning is all" tournaments this probably is a valid alternative, providing enough time to play all the matches needed to reach a fair ranking.

We hope our description of the Swiss ladder system is clear enough. If you are interested in getting more specific information on the rules or the computerized ranking-program (english or dutch version) let us know by letter or e-mail.

(This text with some modifications is taken from the original script of thijs van toor, university of Twente, the Netherlands.)

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