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CardShark Content - Enrique Huerta (8/27/2002)

Often when I direct tournaments, I get players that complain about their tie-break scores and resulting placement. The complain is that the tie-break system is ´´flawed´´ or it ´´screwed them out of the place they deserved.´´ My response is always that the system worked perfectly. The system took players with the same score and used a method to separate them without having to take the time to have them play against each other. The system is designed to differentiate (aka ´´screw´´) one person, or enough persons, to determine final standings. Unless a player wins all of their games, there is always something that could have been done (by the player) to improve their own score and therefore final placement. If a player's actions or inactions, no matter how minute, is what kept them from being undefeated and finishing in first place, then they have to accept the results of those actions or inactions. They have to accept their placement as determined by the tie-break system. How they accept it is up to the individual player. But instead of complaining about ´´how the system screwed you´´ why not try to find ways to improve your own skills/deck/score, so that next time you don't have to worry about the system.

This is the story of Michael Kelsch. He is 6 years old and will be attending Lineweaver Elementary this fall. It is his first year at the school and he is very excited. He is excited because this year he'll be playing for the school's chess team. Last year Lineweaver finished 2nd in the K-5 Division at the State Championships. With only 2 graduating 5th graders, Lineweaver looks set to return as one of the top schools in the state again this year.

But today is Michael's day. Michael has only been playing chess for half a
year. He learned how to play in school and immediately loved the game. He
plays it whenever he can. He's taught his older brother to play, and he's
currently teaching his 3 year old sister to play. He goes to the Wednesday
night chess club and plays against people that have been playing chess since before he was born. But none of that matters to him because all Michael wants to to be able to play. Michael's first tournament was earlier this summer. He played in the scholastic section of an adult tournament. Playing all day, he won only his last game and finished 1-3. Later this summer he finished 2nd in the K-1 section in a tournament at the Wednesday night chess club. There were only 2 players in that section...

Today is the Scholastic Warm-up, a relatively small tournament of only 120+ players. The players are broken off into 8-16 player sections, separated by ratings. Michael is in the ´´Unrated Group 2´´ section. The lowest section in the tournament, and also the biggest. But as luck would have it, he won all 3 of his games and will receive a trophy for his effort. (His first ever!)

The names are called off and Michael gets his trophy. ´´Unrated Group 2, 2nd Place´´ 2nd Place?! How can that be? Michael had a perfect score... 3 and 0. Three up, three down! No losses, no draws, no errors, no walks... a perfect game! But as it turned out Michael still only won 2nd Place. You see, because the section was big enough, it was possible for there to be more than one perfect score. In Michael's section there were two. As a result, the owner of the 1st Place trophy was determined by a tie-break system.

Because the two players did not play each other, in order to determine their placement, the directors must look at their opponents and how well they did today. The player that faced tougher opposition is the one that deserves the 1st Place trophy. Oddly enough, the opponents all finished with the same scores. Two finished with 2 and the last only won 1. So we move to the next tie-break. And then the next... and finally at the fourth tie-break, we have a difference. One of Michael's opponents won his only game in the last round of the tournament. Because the other player's opponent won their only game in the 2nd round, it is determined that that player had a tougher schedule and is therefore a stronger player. And if he is a stronger player, then the other player with a perfect score must have faced tougher opponents than Michael. If the other player faced tougher opponent's, then he deserves the 1st Place trophy. First place was determined not by who played perfect chess, or by who beat which opponent. It was awarded because out of two players that won only 1 game, one won in the second round and the other won in the last round.

For Michael the system did screw him. He played to the best of his
abilities. There was nothing that he could have done differently that would have improved his score or placement. Yet when it came time for Michael to receive his prize, he did not complain. He did not yell, he did not get mad. I've seen players 4 times Michael's age complain about the tie-break system or their placement after a tournament when they've lost 2 games. I've read, or have been told, about players in other areas that have thrown tantrums or fits because of their final placement (again, having lost at least 1 of their games).

I direct 1 or 2, sometimes 3 tournaments, in a weekend and Michael is the
first person in over a year of tournaments that I've met that had a
legitimate reason to complain about a tie-break system. Today Michael showed more maturity then I've seen in some adults over that same time span. Michael didn't complain, because he plays a game he loves. (And he wins too!) Even at age 6 he knows that if he keeps it up, his day will truly come. And when he looks back he will not remember some random tournament on some random Saturday afternoon. Instead he will look back at a lifrtime of enjoyment and many tournaments. If Michael continues to focus his efforts on improving his skills, instead of complaining about a tie-break system, he will also look back at tournaments where he did receive the first place trophy. Michael had a reason to complain, but he didn't. Why do others that don't even have a reason to complain about the tie-break system feel the need to do it anyway?

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