Summary: If we have more than 4 players, we will follow the current tournament format (main bracket plus consolation bracket; 5-point matches; split prize 50/30/20). If we have exactly 4 players, we will play a winner-takes-all bracket.
We are always willing to tweak our tournament format, hoping to make our gatherings as much fun as possible for as many players as possible. Recall that we used to play 7-point matches, but realized that often the tournaments ran too late into the evening, thus the current 5-point format.
For a while now we have been using a consolation bracket. I think folk like that format, given that it guarantees a minimum of two matches to everyone. Hey, not bad for a $10 entry fee. The question is: what format should we use when we don’t have lots of players, for example, last week where we had 6?
Whenever you have more than 4 players (but less than 9), we use an 8-player tournament bracket, albeit with lots of byes. Take the simplest case where we have 5 players. This means that one of the two players who do not get a bye will need to play and win three matches to win the tournament. If those matches take longer than usual, we will run late into the evening—as happened last week, just as if we had a full 8-player bracket, where the tournament winner will necessarily have to win three matches.
Thus, not always, but potentially a 5-player tournament takes as long as an 8-player tournament. So, should we change format whenever we have few players (i.e., 5 to 7)? I think we should not.
Our prize splits are 50%, 30% and 20% (rounded to the nearest $5) respectively to the main bracket winner, runner-up, and consolation winner. Let’s assume we have 5 players in a tournament. If we follow the usual format (main bracket plus consolation) we will have a workable $25, $15 and $10 prize split while still ensuring that everyone gets to play at least 2 matches. Thus, with only 5 players we can run our tournament as usual.
What if we only have 4 players in a tournament? We have two reasonable choices: (1) a 4-player bracket winner-takes-all, or (2) a round-robin, also winner-takes-all. The round-robin format has a couple of peculiarly negative aspects.
First, after playing three matches (in the 4-player tournament) there may be a tie, thus conceivably requiring a fourth match to declare a winner. Note that in an 8-player tournament, the most we would need would be three matches. The result would be fewer players yet more matches, again possibly running late into the evening.
The other quirk is that there will be matches where a players may not be playing for the prize. Say a player who has won 2 out of 2 matches plays a player who has won 0 out of 2 matches. No matter what happens in that match, the 0-win player will not be able to win the tournament, so he/she will only have the incentive to play for pride (or may even have the incentive to tank the match to help his/her opponent win the tournament). I don’t think we should have round robin tournaments.