Pool players love the challenge of playing the game well and look forward to competition with one another.  However, there is a very wide range of skill present among players.  Lower level players attempting open-type events quickly refuse to attend when they realize the level of competition they are up against.  They may play in these events occasionally but will generally seek out events where they are only up against players of a similar caliber.  There are of course higher level players that also avoid the stronger competition so it becomes a never-ending game of players seeking and evading each other.

One approach to increasing and sustaining event participation is to limit the skill level of player that is allowed.  That generally leads to an undesirable situation where higher level players are excluded from most events and have difficulty competing despite wanting to do so.  It also greatly limits the lower level players from experiencing and learning from the better players.

So handicapping is a way to even out the playing field somewhat to encourage participation of all levels and bring the pool community together.  Most players are willing to give up weight to even things out, especially when the alternative is to not play at all. 

There are many different views about handicaps.  Some don’t like them at all.  Others like to handicap just enough so the weaker players participate.  Still others like the idea of having a 100% handicapped format where all players have an equal chance of winning.

The ratings and handicaps in most other systems are typically error-prone, subjective, and sometimes self-serving unfortunately.  This is because there is no objective definition for how skill translates into ratings.  Many times it just comes down to whether an individual has proven themselves at a particular organization's large tournament(s) over the course of some time period.  That is, if they chose to do so.  There are also many ways to get moved back down and stay there too. 

Pool players have a gut feeling of how we compare skill-wise (although some were probably not as good as they like to say!) so are quick to notice when things seem out-of-whack.  This leads to much heated discussion and division within the pool community.  Sandbaggers thrive in this controversial atmosphere and it alienates many honest players who just become disgusted with the rating/handicapping process in general.

As described earlier, the MyPoolStats Ratings are able to provide accurate matchup odds between players.  That information can be leveraged to provide any desired amount of handicap for various types of match formats.

It is important to note that MyPoolStats does not advocate any particular approach with regards to handicapping.  We merely look to provide the tools and information to allow people to implement their own philosophy in a fair and accurate manner.  The Performance Ratings are a useful and interesting source of information on its own.  Its ability to provide reliable handicaps is just another way it can be used.

Performance Ratings Handicaps

Handicaps are always based on the difference in player ratings.  The handicap is given in games; we do not provide ball or points-based handicaps.

The handicaps are more accurate and fair when more games are played in a match.  Each game represents a fraction of the available handicap so more games means that there is more room available for the handicap to work as intended.  The math is calculated exactly but the system needs to round the handicap to a whole game.  All rounding is performed to the benefit of the higher rated player and the lower rated player must always win at least one game.

The system is primarily intended for singles competition but team events can also be handicapped, see below for more information.

Comparison to a Common Handicap Format

A common way to handicap with other systems is based off of broad categories or divisions like the C, B, A, AA, Master format.  For example, lower level players race to a lower number and higher level players go to a higher number.  This simple approach is easy to use and explain but has a key disadvantage - it assumes players in each division are exactly the same.  In general of course there are obvious differences between divisions but that assumption breaks down in reality.  Inevitably there are situations where both players have basically equal ability but one player is getting a game from the other, e.g. when a low level A player is playing a high level B player.

Using the Performance Ratings Handicaps eliminates this problem because handicaps are only given when there is enough of a skill level difference to warrant it.  Players and tournament directors widely credit the system as a way to eliminate the controversy with handicaps and creating an atmosphere where players of all levels feel they can compete in the same tournament.

It effectively eliminates the arbitrary level difference that are a big source of contention with ratings in other systems - many players are reluctant to move up to the next highest division as being on the low end of a division is a huge hurdle to overcome.

Team Tournaments

There are a few things to keep in mind when using Performance Ratings Handicaps for team events.  Handicaps are for team events are based on the average of the teams members.  To be most accurate, each match should be a round robin format where each player on the team plays every player on the opposing team.  Each player should have the opportunity to play the same number of games so the teams cannot gain an advantage by having their best player play the most games.

Results for team tournaments are typically not used to update player ratings.  They certainly can be used but it requires keeping track of the result of each game of the match.  That would be a lot of work for the relatively few games each player actually plays in a team event.

Choosing a Format for Handicapped Tournament

There are a lot of decisions to make when coming up with a format for your tournament.  We will discuss amount of handicap, length of race, match type, break format, and dealing with unrated players.

As described above, there is no right or wrong answer to what level of handicap to use.  It really comes down to what style event you want to run and what you feel will attract the most players.  A commonly accepted format is about one game handicap per skill level division which is about the same as the 50% level in the Performance Ratings Handicaps.

The length of race is an important question as in most cases there is a limited amount of time and tables available and you want to keep those as full as possible.  Pool players want to play pool so a format with more games is desirable.

The match type used is actually a factor with both of these. 

The "race to" format is familiar to many players used to other handicap systems.  It is also slightly easier to use as the higher rated player always knows what number of games they need to go to for the match.  Games are spotted to the lower level player.

However, the "chart #" format offers some unique advantages over the "race to".  You may note that the number of games played per match using the "race to" format depends on the difference in skill level of the players.  In the "chart #" format however, the maximum number of games for each match is always about the same which allows for more consistent match times.  It also offers more flexibility for the system to determine handicaps which allows the lower level players to get more games in.

The break format is not a major factor in the ratings and handicaps.  It is fairly rare for a player to string together a large number of games when their opponent is helpless to stop them.  When it does, it can happen regardless of whether it is winner, loser, or alternate break.  These sorts of incidents are averaged into a player's rating - better players are more likely to string together games, especially when they get hot.  Alternate break is probably the most fair as both players break about the same number of games; however you are free to choose winner, loser, or alternate break using the system.

There will be times when you have unrated or relatively unestablished players that wish to play.  You can choose to make a best effort to determine a rating for new player.  Then the Algorithm Calculator can be used update these player's ratings after every match until they reach a certain Fit threshold.  If you want, you can simply choose not to allow any players with a Fit under a certain threshold for high-payout and/or skill-limited events.

Running a Tournament

As you take entries for your tournament, look up the players and record their Performance Rating next to their name.  If you have players without a rating, put the work in to get a good initial rating.  Look up and cross reference based on the rating comparison chart or estimate their rating based on known ability.  Don't hesitate to err on the high side for a new player if there is ANY question and remember the burden of proof is on the player, not the tournament director.  It is better to mess up a new player’s tournament than to wreck it for all the regulars.  Let them know their rating will quickly adjust to their performance.  If desired, the Algorithm Calculator can be used revise a player’s rating after every match which can be helpful if you think you have a mis-rated player.  This won’t update their rating on the site; it is just for your tournament.  The ratings on the site will be updated when you submit the match results.

The Handicap Calculator or a chart is then used to determine the handicap needed, if any, for each match.  Just enter both players’ ratings using the game and handicap choices made earlier.  The Calculator will tell you how many games each player needs to go to.

Tournament Idea

The Quad-rangle style tournament is a very successful format with this system.  Basically, entries are taken like it is one big tournament.  Then the entire field is sorted in order of their ratings.  That list is then broken into 2 or more (typically 4 as you can guess by the name) separate divisions which are then run as independent tournaments.  Each division gets their share of the entry fees and money can be added as desired to contribute to each prize fund. 

Handicaps can be used if desired.  An advantage of this format is that it limits the amount of handicap in each division because the skill level of the players is also divided.  The range of skill in each bracket is a fraction of that of the entire field.  That means that each match will have about the same number of games for every player.

Many players entering the tournament won't know what division they will end up in.  The lowest and highest players will be in the lower and upper divisions respectively but it is somewhat unknown for the middle players.  Where the cutoffs for each division end up depends on how many players show up and what their skill levels are.