I would like to run a tournament. Format suggestions?

I recently put 3 machines on location at a local pool hall. I would like to run a tournament. I believe I can get about 16 - 24 players. I would like to keep players entertained for 2-3 hours total so I don’t want to do a double elimination turny where you could play 2 games and be done.

Anyone have any format suggestions for 3 machines, 16-24 players under a 2-3 hour range? Let me know thanks!

Round 1: Three 4-player matches. 4 to 12 players have a bye.
Points awarded based on finishing position (e.g., 5, 3, 2, 1)

Round 2: Same as Round 1, but the players who previously had a bye get to play.

Repeat for as many rounds as you have time for, and make sure everyone gets to play the same number of matches.

Optional: Finals for the top 4 point winners at the end – ideally, one game on each of the three machines.

What are the machines? If any of them is a long-playing machine, you probably want to set it up tougher than usual to keep game times down so you can get more games in.

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PAPA has resources for tournament directors, including a run-down of tournament formats. Given what you’ve described, I’d say a single game, double elimination bracket might be your best bet. I run this format for 30-ish players on 5-ish machines on a weekly basis and it typically takes about 3 hours, so make of that what you will.

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Thanks for the reply. Games are Dr Who, Eathshaker and No Fear.

You might be right with the double elim format.Plus the pool hall already has the software and overhead screen set up. When you run this format each match is a single game correct?

Also how are the game choices decided? Whatever is available? Flip to decide?

Knockout on Brackelope app or group knockout on matchplay.events would both be a easy way to run your first tournament.

Particularly if you have 16+ players playing on 3 machines. Group knockout would probably ensure the least amount of waiting to play.


24 players and 3 machines will make for a whole lot of sitting around for a double elimination tournament. Even 16 won’t be great. With that few machines, I strongly suggest a format that includes 4-player matches.

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The list on the PAPA website is… small. I have a longer list of tournament formats here: https://matchplay.events/tournaments

You need to mentally add double elimination to my list (it’s not there because Match Play doesn’t support it).

I would suggest a group knockout like @ClevelandPinball suggests. With 3 machines you can have 12 people playing at all times and half the field receives a strike just like a head-to-head knockout tournament.

With four-player groups people feel like they are playing even when they are just waiting for their turn because they are invested in the outcome of the game. Head-to-head might not take much longer but people will feel like they are waiting a lot more because they are waiting for games they are not invested in to finish.

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While this does give less down time, it is a much more difficult format to run. And “down time” is relative; you still have the same amount of down time for each player, since only three players can be on a machine at a time. It’s just that people are “in a game” more often.

I agree with the recommendation of a double-elim or a Brackelope knockout, since they are ready-made and easy to run.


3 games, 16-24 players in 3 hours where everyone gets to stay in for the majority of the time is kind of a tall order.

You could do a six-hole pingolf by using each game twice. The first goal could be a score goal and the second could be an objective goal. For example, the score goal for Scared Stiff might be 3M, and the objective goal might be to light Cast a Spell. Those two goals require very different styles of play.

Players should be placed in groups of 4 or 3 and not allowed to leave their groups. This keeps players from wandering off or dragging their feet.

Once a group finishes a game, a waiting group can be rotated in. When you see a group on ball 3, you should get the next group “on deck”, and remind them to go to the bathroom or change machine as needed, player order, fill out scoresheet, etc. so you’re not herding cats while the game sits unplayed and the clock ticks.

You should have a waiting list for the groups: Next Available (for groups who haven’t played anything), Game 1, Game 2, Game 3 (for the ones who have).

That said, this kind of tournament is a bit more technical to set up, explain and run, so something like knockout as suggested is probably the better way to go.

Group match play and group knockout are both super easy to run with MatchPlay!

Thanks everyone for your help. I’m really loving this forum. I did the 14 day trial on matchplay and ran a test (3 strike) group elimination tournament with 12 players. The software was very easy to use and I really enjoyed it actually. There were 8 rounds total and if each round is about 20 minutes then that would be about 2 hours and 40 min. Does anyone see any potential hiccups with attempting this format?

On the other hand I agree with Bowen that the double elim format is likely way easier to run (I used to run pool tournaments with this format).

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If you’re really keen on maximizing the number of games for everyone, then you simply need to have more machines if you’re expecting that many people.

I would not do 3 strikes. I’ve seen a 3 strike tournament take 4+ hours with that number of players…at a location with 15+ machines.

If you have a few good players, 20 minutes is not enough time for 4 player games. They’ll go over on playing time alone, not to mention time wrangling between matches (and someone being in the bathroom, or at the bar, or outside smoking when it’s their turn).

And, the huge detriment for a knockout format is that you have to wait for a round to finish before you continue. So 20 people will have nothing to do while one group takes too long. With a double elim, you don’t have to wait for the entire round to finish.

Also with four player games, yeah, all four people are “playing”, but if you’re not in one of the first groups to play - it’ll be 30 minutes before you get to go. And if you have 16 people show up, then the first 12 will play…while four people wait, and then those 4 people will play while the other 12 people sit there waiting with two open machines.

Long story short: I vote for double elimination, 2 player matches. Have the game determined randomly, but maybe don’t let either player play a machine they played in the previous round.

Tough since this is your first tournament, but for me, I’ll brainstorm a few different formats ahead of time - and go with whatever makes sense for how many people actually show and the number of machines there are.

It’s easy to be optimistic that you’ll get 20, and then only have 10 show up. If it’s 10, maybe you do a 3 strike knockout tournament with 2 player matches. If it’s 12, that’s the perfect number for 4 player matches. If you have 16, maybe that’s a double elimination bracket.

You bring up a lot of great points. That makes a lot of sense. This is valuable info for me and I think I will do the double elimination format afterall. Do you think I should have the last 2 players play a best of 3 (one game on each of the 3 machines if it goes to the last game)?

I always do something like that in most formats I’ve run.

However, with a double elimination, when you get to the finals, one person has a loss, and the other doesn’t. So, the person with the loss already has to win two games back to back to take first place.

Not sure how to account for that in making it a best-of X match between the final two players.

Good luck! Let us know how it goes.

Right! I forgot about that. Ok will do. Will give IFPA my 30 days notice soon :slight_smile:

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The IFPA asks for your format when you submit a tournament to the calendar, but as far as I know, that’s not binding. You can use a different format.

(When I submit, it’s more general: “$5 buy in. 100% back to players. A format that maximizes games played but ends in 2-3 hours.”)

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I actually have submitted before. I help run our local pinball league. We are in our 3rd season. It is going great! League night is tonight actually :smile:

That is exactly what I was thinking too: $5 buy in and 100% paid back to the players. Maybe top 4 or 6 spots paid out.

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This is probably common sense, but tournament run time is going to be largely based on how long each game is playing. If you are worried about it running long, make the games tougher. Clean and wax them, raise the legs up, take rubbers off the posts, tighten that tilt a little, take the outlane posts out completely if you have to, etc., etc. I ran a 22 player three-strike knockout on three machines and it lasted about three hours if I recall correctly. They were short playing games to begin with, and I made them tougher (Eight Ball, Rolling Stones (Stern), and Doctor Who). The next year I had less players (about 16) and the tournament lasted twice as long despite having one more game. However, RBION and 24 were in the lineup and they really backed things up (despite my efforts to make them harder to play).

The games you have in your current lineup should be relatively short playing games if they are made to play fast and tough.