Pickleball Tournament Formats

With USA Pickleball National Championships just around the corner, there has been much speculation (and apprehension) among players about what type of format will be used due to the massive number of entries in many of the age/skill divisions. This has prompted me to research the various types of pickleball tournament formats that could be used.

USA Pickleball sanctioned tournaments can take one of these forms at the discretion of the tournament director/officials.

BRACKET TOURNAMENTS

  • Single Elimination – This is typically your “one and done” type of tournament. Once a team has lost a match they are completely eliminated from the tournament. The final two undefeated teams play for gold/first and silver/second place. The determination of the final standings of the remaining teams is left to the discretion of tournament director/officials.
  • Single Elimination with Consolation – The winners advance all the way to the finals and the losers end up playing in a “consolation” bracket. Since the format is single elimination, there is no way to come back to play for the championship like in a double elimination type of tournament. The final two teams who are undefeated will play for gold/first and silver/second place. The teams that lose in the main bracket are moved into the “consolation” bracket where the best they can win is bronze/third place if they are the last team standing. Sometimes, this format is also referred to as double elimination with no come-around.
  • Double Elimination – In a double elimination tournament, teams are not eliminated until after they have lost twice. When a team loses in the main bracket (sometimes called the “winner” bracket), they are moved into the “loser” bracket or “backdraw.” The team that loses in the loser bracket final gets bronze/third place while the winner advances to the championship match to play against the winner of the main bracket. If the winner of the loser bracket defeats the as yet undefeated team from the main bracket, then a tie-breaker match of one game to 15 points (win by 2 points) must be played in order to determine gold/first and silver/second place teams. Many refer to the loser bracket in this case as the “opportunity” bracket because you still have a chance to win the championship even after losing in the earlier stages by defeating the winner of the main bracket twice or “double dipping.”

ROUND ROBIN TOURNAMENTS

  • Round Robin – All teams play against each other. The winner is determined based on the number of matches won. If two or more teams are tied, ties will be broken as follows:
    • first tie-breaker: head-to-head matches among the tied teams (e.g. if Team A and Team B are tied in number of wins but Team B defeated Team A in their round robin match, then Team B is the winner)
    • second tie-breaker: point differential of all games played (e.g. Team A wins their first 11-8, 11-4 for a point differential of +10 and then wins the second match 11-9, 2-11, 11-6 for a point differential of -2 so their total point differential would be +8)
    • third tie-breaker: head-to-head point differential
    • fourth tie-breaker: point differential against next highest team (e.g. if the teams are tied for second, use point differentials against the first place team)
  • Non Pool Play – The teams play against each other as they do in round robin format and are placed in a seeded bracket based on the results of the round robin to determine the ultimate winner. The bracket would be either single or double elimination at the discretion of the tournament director/officials. These matches could be best 2 out of 3 games to 11, one game to 15, or one game to 21 (win by 2 points), also at the discretion of the tournament director/officials. This is probably my most favorite tournament format because it guarantees the players lots of games.
  • Pool Play – The participants are divided into two or more groups/pools. Each pool plays a round robin to determine the qualifiers that put the players into a either a single elimination or double elimination playoff. In a pool play format, some teams may not advance into the playoff bracket based on their performance during pool play.

These are the basic tournament formats that are used in USA Pickleball tournaments but if the tournament isn’t sanctioned by USA Pickleball then the organizers have more flexibility to employ any type of format they wish to use based on various constraints such as the number of courts available, time limits or schedule considerations, or simply the preferences of the tournament organizers and sponsors. Which tournament format is your favorite?

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