Finals formats and "driving the bus"

One of the players in my league came to me with a question (probably closer to an opinion tbh) regarding the finals format which rewards the top seeds with choice of game or position throughout the finals. We do what is commonly referred to as a PAPA finals format (in our case 2 rounds of 3 games with 4,2,1,0 scoring). Basically, he doesn’t like it and I told him to suck it up, I have no intention of changing things.

It’s got me wondering though, when, where and why did this format originate? I have been participating in tournaments for about 8 years now. My first real event was PAPA 15 and this was also the first time I played this finals format. Any of the folks that have been doing this for 20-30 years remember when this format started becoming the standard?

Keeping people already safely set for finals interested in keeping playing for a better seed, and priviledges, may be perfered for one reason or another. Maybe for the fight within the fight. Maybe to boost the intake. Maybe because it is seen as fair for the best man wins.

If you do not like it, do something else.

Personally, I like to let all finalists pick a game each. With no repicks same player in later rounds.


I like it because it helps smooth the already volatile nature of finals play… after playing all weekend you only get 3 or 4 games to show your stuff. It should be your best stuff. Qualify higher!

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I believe this format was first used at Pinburgh 2000, the tournament that eventually became PAPA 7 in 2004. (Thus the name “PAPA finals format”.)

The prior PAPA tournaments, at least PAPA 2-6, used a fixed bank of games for finals, and players had to play them all; the addition of more machines led to the game choice rule.

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But what caused the change to allow top seed to pick ALL games?

It was a bank of games to start, and you had to play all of them (which I think is awesome), then you expanded the games so that choices can be involved (I also like this), but why only top seed given the choice?

Do your own thing. Maybe use PAPA finals format when choosing game and positions for the first game, then reverse that for subsequent games - ie loser of the previous game picks first, then third place etc.

That still gives an advantage to the top seed in qualifying, then after the first game it gives the losers a chance to make a comeback (which I think is important on 4,2,1,0 scoring)

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I think PPL has a great compromise for game selection.
Game 1: 3,1,2,4
Game 2: 2,1,3,4
Game 3: 1,2,3,4
Top 3 seeds all get a game choice and they are ordered so that the top seed gets game choice for the final game - which is when everything is on the line (hopefully).

It feels pretty fair (to me it feels more fair than giving selection to the player who lost the round before). Driving the entire bus is a bit brutal and leads to a lot of repeats on streams.


Especially with the policy of following the top seed on some streams lately.


Does that mean the fourth qualifying seed never gets to pick anything? (And so likely plays first every game, and never gets game choice?) If so, sucks to be that guy!

…Or am I misunderstanding?

Driving the bus isn’t necessarily tied to repeat selections.

I know a bunch of events (Free Play Florida comes to mind), where you can’t pick the same game twice during finals, until you’ve picked ALL the games available.

This leads to some interesting strategies of the top seed holding back on their ‘favorite’ game for potential later rounds, or deferring their selection by picking order when the opportunity arises.

You can have your cake and eat it too with respect to giving that bus driver ‘right of first refusal’ with respect to making a decision by simply limiting the selections available through the format.


You are correct. Unless the other three defer, they are looking at 1st or second on each game.

My general thinking of how much advantage to give to the top seed is it depends on the qualifying format. For out leagues were we spent 6 nights establishing how makes the playoff and the seeding, I will give a large advantage for the top seed, they earned it. Drive the bus all the way.

If I do a balanced pairing match play for a few hours, then I consider the ordering a bit random. I will have a more balanced selection rule in the final, like top seed for game 1, reverse order of finish (or standing) for subsequent games.


With respect, if I’m in the position to drive the bus and win the tournament, I’m really not concerned with how it’s going to look on a stream. I want to win.


Interesting replies… thanks. I’m surprised to hear some events aren’t using this format as it’s pretty much the only group based finals format I’ve ever played.

In case it wasn’t clear from my post. I prefer the bus driver format as is. Otherwise, what are we playing for? If there are no byes, once I’m in a qualifying position it would barely matter at all where I finished.

I also don’t think game choice is always such a huge advantage. Personally, my best results have almost all come in events where I didn’t choose anything other than a middle of the pack playing position. My experience is fairly limited here though, I don’t qualify for A finals in big tournaments and I mostly just run my league these days.

A couple years ago, after talking with a friend about why one might choose to play last and disagreeing about how much advantage it was, I spent time doing a bit of (quite non-scientific) research looking over PAPA finals brackets posted on the site. It seemed pretty clear that results were more heavily driven by IFPA ranking than they were by order of play. I was surprised to see that actually.

It would be fascinating to see these playing advantages quantified with some data analytics. My theory is that game choice is an advantage that would be noticeable but not so big to skew the results of every tournament towards the top seeds, and winners (or group advancers) would correlate more with ranking than playing position. The old “play better” mantra I think is quite real.

We do this exact format in our regular season playing 6 games/night but currently, bus drivers drive the bus throughout finals, which I personally like and plan to stick with unless enough league players tell me I should do otherwise. Being that this is the first time in all my years of playing and then running events, and that I’ve never heard this format questioned before, I feel it’s unlikely to happen without a lot of lobbying going on behind my back.

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Top players gain a big advantage by knowing the feeds and bounces of a specific table. They have the skills to utilize this information and translate it into fewer out of control situations.

Mediocre players like me it doesn’t matter much. If your flipper and recovery skills are not good enough you can utilize the information then you’re probably not making strategy changes based on different things available because the list of available things is much smaller to someone without skills like alley pass, loop pass, and other things most top level players can do.


I like that compromise myself, not that I am pretty much ever top 4 or higher overall but INDISC is doing it and it keeps game selection interesting. It still provides a significant advantage to top qualifiers while adding some diversity and strategy to it in my opinion.
Downside is that you need to make sure you have a large selection of games to avoid repeat.

We ran a Herb style tournament in the Bay Area recently where the finals format was PAPA-style, but the top seed had to defer game selection on (at least) one of the three games of the round, so the number two seed of the group was guaranteed a game selection. I think it was pretty successful. It gives players at different positions during qualifying something to play for (byes, two game selections, one game selection). It also adds a bit of strategy for the top seed in when they want to defer game selection.

That’s your reward for qualifying high.

If you are in a pump format… certainly want people to strive for top seeds and not just qualifying :slight_smile: When you have group play and a big qualifying field, you want to keep an incentive (and reward) for all the effort that goes into qualifying.

Radical variation: after qualifying, let the top 4 seeds in the rounds of 24, 16 and 8 get choice of opponents as an alternative to game or order. If they choose opponents, they get last choice for game and order. Curious to see how that would go. Yes, I can see some collusive potential and some knowing who likes what game issues, but until it’s tried, we won’t know how much of a problem those are.

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