Ever though about handicap squash tournaments? – In my squash club, the standard of player varies tremendously, from complete beginners to A-class players. We have run quite a few tournaments, but the only impact the various players’ different abilities have on the way we ran the tournament, was the way in which we seeded the players. The results are therefore fairly predictable, and this means that we don’t tend to get as many players interested in playing as we might. I was very interested, therefore, to hear about handicap squash tournaments – an alternative way of running squash tournaments, whereby players are each given a handicap reflecting their abilities. If this is done well, this has the effect of ‘leveling the playing field’ and the best players are not guaranteed to finish in the winning positions, but instead weaker players who play better in the tournament than they usually do, end up going further than they would do otherwise – and may even win the tournament.
This definitely sounds like it’s worth a try – so I have been doing some research and thought I would share my findings here.
It turns out that several clubs run this type of tournament from time to time. However, it seems that there are several different ways of running a tournament like this.
The common feature of the tournaments (at least the ones I have read about) is that they are run as knock-out tournaments – usually with those players knocked-out in the first round being automatically entered into a separate “plate” competition. This is a good idea, since it means that everyone who enters is assured of at least 2 matches.
That’s about the only thing that’s common, though, with everything else being open to variation. For example, some clubs play matches based on a fixed time (say 20 minutes), and the winner of the match is the player who is leading at the 20 minute mark. Other clubs play best of 3 games to decide the matches, swapping to best of 5 games for semi-finals and finals. Some clubs play using the “American Scoring” system or Point a Rally (PAR) – this means you do not have to be the server to score a point, whereas others (especially in the UK) still adhere to the “only the server can score a point” system. There are also differences in terms of how many points a player must get to win the game (assuming it’s not a “timed” game as described above).
How do the handicap squash tournaments work?
Assuming you have some way of deciding what each player’s handicap should be (see later), then how the handicaps are used is also different in different clubs. In general, the two players’ handicaps determine either how many points each player starts each game with, or else how many points each player must win, to win the game – or sometimes a combination of both.
Some clubs just start each game with the players score set to their handicap score – so one player might start at minus 15, while the other player starts at plus 6 – and hence if the games are being played to 11 points, then one player would need to win 26 points (to go from -15 to plus 11) to win a game, whereas the other player would only need to win 5 (to go from plus 6 to plus 11).
Some clubs adjust the starting points by “netting off” the 2 handicaps of each player so that the weaker player always starts on zero, and the stronger player will start on a negative score. For example using the same handicaps as before (-15/+6), the stronger player (with a handicap of -15) would start each game at -21, and the weaker player would start at 0. If the handicaps of the 2 players were -5 and -3, then the stronger player would start at -2, and the other player at zero.
A variation to the last method is to equalise the starting points of each player either side of zero as much as possible – so in the case of -15 v’s +6 (a difference of 21 points) starting the score at -11 v’s+10. An added complexity to this method introduced by some clubs is to place a maximum on the (positive) number of points that any player can start with – for example limiting any players positive starting point to no more than 8 points. In the example above, this would mean that the games would start at -13 v’s +8.
How to determine a player’s handicap?
Calculating or more realistically estimating a player’s handicap is something you also need to know how to do, if you are to run a handicap tournament. This is less of a science and more of an art, it appears. Most clubs give very little detail on this part of the exercise, referring to existing handicaps of the players. If you already run a league or a ladder, then the current standing in these can be used to allocate a handicap to each player. Otherwise, it seems that some body of officials (e.g. the sports committee) together determins players’ handicaps.
Do handicaps change during the tournament or are they fixed?
This is again a factor that seems to vary club to club. Some keep the handicaps of each player constant throughout the tournament, while in other clubs, the handicaps are re-assessed after each match – and in some cases even after each game.
Which handicap squash tournaments system to use?
So – a lot of variations to consider, and since I haven’t personally tried any of these it’s difficult for me to say which is “best”. I suspect that each of these methods has some advantages for certain players/situations and disadvantages for others. If you are interested to read how some clubs run their own handicap squash tournaments, here are links to three clubs, chosen at random, with quite different sets of rules:
We are about to try handicap tournaments at my club, and I have no idea which method to use. I will discuss this with my fellow committee members very soon, and we will make a decision – and then see how it turns out in practice – I’ll keep you updated in this Blog! – Stay Tuned! 🙂
P.S. I also found this great document that explains how to run so many other types of squash competitions – thanks to NZ Squash for this great resource!