Tie Breaks

You just finished your very first tournament and won a lot of games!  Will you win a trophy?  Read the following article on Tie Breaks to help you figure it out before the award ceremony!

Ollie LaFreniere
Associate National Tournament Director

Ollie LaFreniere was the original author of the Washington Scholastic Rating System, which has since morphed into the Northwest Scholastic Rating System.  This article was written several years ago (before Ollie passed away), but it still holds true today.  Many thanks to Jon Licht for sharing this great explanation of tie breaks!
Tie breaks are an unfortunate necessity of chess tournament life. Frequently players, parents and coaches do not understand why certain players in a winning score group receive awards, and others do not. All realize that tie breaks, despite inherent fairness, are out of the control of the players.

Three tie break systems are common to Washington scholastic chess. They are figured at the end of a tournament by the computer pairing program and may or may not be printed on the final results sheet. Rest assured that they have been properly applied, whether or not they appear. The Washington Scholastic Rating System uses the same tie breaks.

Here are the systems and a brief explanation of each:

1) Solkoff. The first applied, this system adds the scores of all a player's opponents and compares them to the addition of the scores of opponents of others in the score group.

Example: Elizabeth and Timothy have won 5 games each and are tied for first.

Elizabeth has played opponents scoring 2, 4, 3, 4, 4 = 17 Solkoff points.

Timothy has played opponents scoring 2.5, 3, 3, 4, 4 = 16.5 Solkoff points.

Elizabeth has played, in theory, a stronger field (by their results, anyhow) and wins first place.

A fairer variation of Solkoff is the Harkness Median, in which the highest and lowest score of opponents the compared players have faced are thrown out and the central scores only are added. However, the Median is used only in tournaments of at least 6 rounds, preferably 7 like Nationals, because with only 5 rounds it breaks few ties.

2) If the event is large players may still remain tied after Solkoff is applied. In those cases, the unbroken ties are further broken by the Cumulative tie break system. The simplest to use, it theorizes that a player must have faced a tougher field in a tournament if he won in the early rounds, thus upping his opportunity to meet stronger players. Mikaila has a cumulative wall chart reading 1, 1, 2, 2.5 2.5 (she won round 1, lost 2, won 3, drew 4, lost 5), has a cumulative of 9. She is being compared with Gray, who has 1, 2, 2.5, 2.5, 2.5 (he won round 1, 2, drew 3, and lost the rest.) He has a cumulative of 10.5, and gets the higher place.

If players still remain tied after these two tie breaks are applied, the final tie break "Opponents' cumulative" is applied. All the cumulative scores of all five opponents are added, producing a large number which is nearly certain to break all remaining ties. If it does not, the computer simply puts remaining tied players in the order of their ratings at the start of the tournament.

Lesser values are given players who score unearned points (forfeits). (So it behooves directors to conduct good check-ins to avoid lots of first round forfeits.) There are as well some other fine points too lengthy to be detailed here.
Note:  Over the last few years, blitz tie breaks have become very popular in scholastic tournaments to break award level ties.  This takes the final result out of the hands of the tie break systems and leaves it up to the players.  Having control of your own destiny really appeals to chess kids in the Pacific Northwest!

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