The good old rule of thumb suggests that stronger competitors, on a general basis, are likely to do better at longer tournaments. However, the chances of an underdog to find success in a short competition are higher. Therefore, is there a relationship between the tournament format and its impact on the runner-ups’ winning chances?
The study conducted by David R. Appleton from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne (UK) determines the impact the tournament setup has on a team or a player, by comparing various tournament designs.
Types of formats
Every sport usually has its predominant format type, which fits the nature of the particular game the best. Football competitions like English Premier League and its FA Cup usually utilise the random draw scenario for each round. However, in basketball (NBA), the playoff stage is designed in a way where your league seeding determines your further fate in a best-of series. Please, take a look at the most popular tournament formats and the sports which use them.
This type of tournament is also called single-elimination tournament, single penetration or sudden death tournament. It is a type of elimination scenario where the winner takes all. It usually finds its application in European football cup contests. It is also used by the NFL in all of its playoff stage games.
This type’s main idea is to keep favourites apart till the later stages. It is said to improve the quality of competition and bring out the most excitement for the fans. Such a format requires an official league/competition standing according to which the bracket is designed. The sport that is mainly using this format is tennis, which explains why we don’t get to see Nadal playing Federer in the rounds.
You are probably very familiar with this one if you’re keen on football. That is exactly how most of the European football leagues are designed. Every team meats all the other ones in turns (weeks). The best examples would be the Premier Leauge and La Liga.
Another tennis-prefered format. Best-of competitions are head-to-head matchups between two contenders where you have to win a number of rounds (games/matches) in order to advance. Such a format is commonly used in the Grand Slam clashes and NBA Playoffs.
A less popular format with a non-eliminating nature. It uses a predetermined number of matchup rounds. It is similar to a round-robin scenario, but with fewer rounds. Some participants of such tournaments might not face each other at all, as the rounds are played between the teams/players of the same score/standing.
Mainly, you have to get the highest amount of points in order to win. The Swiss system is perfect for competitions with a large number of participants. The first-ever Swiss tournament was a chess one, held in Zurich, where it got its name from. Nowadays, you can find the Swiss system in various esports tournaments and also Magic: The Gathering.
The aforementioned study has shown results based on a 10,000 simulations analysis. The below table summarises the data acquired, representing the percentage of times the favourite won in each type of the tournament.
*h - tournaments with participants of a somewhat same level (Champions League)
**non-h - tournaments, where the gap between the participants’ levels is uneven (FA Cup)
The first thing that becomes obvious is how the chances of favourites’ winning go up as the number of contenders goes down.
If you’re an odds-on favourite, you probably would like to have a best-of-three format, as it shows the highest frequency of outright favourites claiming the W. It also means, that such tournaments have a greater loss tolerance, giving a winner a room for mistake. The complete opposite is observed in the tournaments of a knock-out format. Such competitions provide the lowest number of favourite winners. As the famous British saying goes: “It takes a good team to win the league, but you need luck to win the cup.”
Interesting fact, the Swiss format gives teams/players an equal opportunity to win. Still, favourites are generally ending up at the top tier. It is a less-favoured type of tournament design in most of the traditional sports. The chances of winning are fairly even in the best-of-three and robin round tournaments. Though, the contenders’ ability plays the key role here.
We wanted to show you guys how important the tournament format is for picking the outright winner. Remember to keep this in mind the next time you will bet on the La Liga or Seria A winner. Happy betting!