Thursday, August 2, 2012

Round robins/group play to qualify for KO

So, I think tournaments that have a round robin to qualify for a knockout are generally a good format for an event. Several big events in bridge use this format. This format ensures that every team plays a significant amount before being declared out of the competition. It also prevents a top team from being knocked out very early due to one bad day. However, as we’ve seen (or mostly read about) from badminton at the Olympics, this round robin format can lead to some tanking in the latter stages of the round robin. Sure, things like this have happened before but usually they did it for a healthy sum of money.
It seems that there was no monetary motive for the badminton players who intentionally lost their last round robin match to get what they perceived to be a better draw in the KO stage. The Chinese pair of Xiaoli and Yu were the first to be accused of intentionally losing their final group stage match yesterday. They were already assured of qualifying for the KO but thought they if they were the #2 seed from their group, it would yield an easier path to the final than if they were the #1 seed. With the #1 seed, they would play in the first round of the KO another Chinese team who they perceived as being the best team. I can’t blame them for trying to get out of that match. Is this really any different than a 13-2 NFL team resting their starting quarterback the last regular season game or a baseball team who has clinched the division title playing mostly reserves the last week of the regular season? It’s not their fault that the format of the tournament is that way and they already knew who they would draw in the next round depending on their outcome. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
I’m kind of hoping some allegations about these badminton players were being paid $100,000 to lose the match but that seems pretty unlikely. That would justify them being disqualified. Who benefited from them losing? No one. All it did was swap the seeds of the 2 qualifying teams from the group.
When money is the primary motivation (theoretically some third party paying to get a team to lose), it is clearly wrong and everyone involved should be punished. When aiding another team’s chances of winning the event is the motivation, that is also wrong, but this part can be virtually eliminated by having teams who might have that sort of motivation play each other in the first round or two of the round robin, before one team gets essentially eliminated. However, when a team’s match-throwing is solely in an effort to improve one’s own chances of winning the event, I think it is not inherently wrong. Yes, it’s not ideal and doesn’t make for a very fun match to watch, but they’re still trying to win in the grand scheme of things, and they shouldn’t be punished for that. I assume we all agree that winning the entire event, not just one’s group in the round robin, is or should be the goal of every team or individual or pair in an event.


  1. I agree, along as losing to the other team doesn't affect them or some other team making the knockout stage. I think in this case both badminton pairs had already clinched, so I don't think there is anything wrong with what they did. It's the fault of the conditions of contest.

  2. Yes, Bridge has had this issue for years, culminating (for now) in the current rules:

    1. 1-4 select QF opponents from 5-8 (which would fix help the badminton situation)

    2. More carryover for placing higher than one's opponent in the final table than vice versa (which somewhat penalizes any RR loss, particularly a tank)

    Dana is also right: it's almost always the fault of the CoC, not the players.

    By the way, curling sometimes uses a method called triple KO which avoids RR but makes sure a team plays three matches before being eliminated. Google triple knockout format if interested.