Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Tournament seeding – what it is and how it is done

Fencing Tournament SeedingTournament seeding in fencing can be a confusing and complicated concept to grasp and understand. Especially for a first time competitor or new spectator to the sport. Hopefully I can help you break down what you need to know in a simple and concise way.

Seeding is conducted several times throughout a competition. There is a preliminary seeding that happens before the pools begin, and another seeding after the pool round.

Seeding occurs in order to create a sense of balance and order. Stronger opponents will be scattered equally amongst other less strong fencers. If there is no seeding, it’s possible that all of the stronger fencers could be fighting against one another within one single pool or the same branch of a tableau. Spreading them out in this way allows for a more fair competition, and allows other less higher seeded players to compete against the higher seeded fencers.

Preliminary Seeding

Before any competition the only way to assess the competitive field strength is through a record of a fencers previous achievements.  There is no other indicator of the competitive field strength other than a record of their previous achievements. Which means either national points or rating. The idea of the seeding is as we explained above – to balance the strongest competitors throughout  all of the tableaus.

What will actually happen that one by one fencers will be assigned to their pool from strongest to weakest, making the pools to have similar number of similar strength fencers. Preliminary seeding is conducted based on national points in fencer’s age/weapon category and rating.

All national and regional events do require national points seeding within each category of course. A local event however, is not obliged to consider national points, but sometimes organizers chose to do this anyway.

If national points are used in a seeding method, then the national ranking counts first. So the fencers ranked higher nationally will be seeded first, then the second ranked person will be seeded next, and so on until the last ranked person is seeded.

At this point, the rating will come into play. Fencers with higher ratings will be seeded higher than those with lower ratings. In fencing, an A-rated fencer is a higher rating than B-rated fencer, and so on. E is higher than U.

Additionally, the most recent year of ratings precedes the previous years. So a  C2018 is higher than C2017. If there are several fencers with exactly the same ranking or rating, then these people are just randomly seeded among themselves.

It’s important to note that , only the category that you’ve been seeded in for national points will be considered toward your seeding. For example, if you compete in Y14 in a regional competition, yet possess Y12 national points, then your Y12 points are irrelevant. They are only applicable toward the Y12 category.

Second Round of Seeding (After Pools Are Complete)

After the first round of pools are completed the final seeding is done based on the pool results.

Final seeding after the initial pools is a much better indicator at that point in time of where the fencers are, competitively speaking. Some fencers might not have national points because they skipped last year national competitions, but are very good fencers, so they will be seeded low initially, and some strong fencers from last year might be having a bad season this year.

There are many different scenarios. So while preliminary seeding provides a good theoretical indication of the strength of each competitor, final seeding is close to the real strength indicator in TODAY’s competition.

This is done based upon 3 major factors:

  1. Number of wins.
  2. Number of touches a fencer succeeded to score total in all pool bouts.
  3. Number of touches a fencer received from all his/her opponents in all pool bouts.

These three numbers are taken into calculation as following:

  1. First, the seeding begins by calculating the Win/Lose ratio which is done in percentage. For example, in a pool of 7 fencers, each fencer will fence  6 bouts. So 6 wins in this pool would be 1.00 = 6/6, and 4 wins would equal 0.67 = 4/6.
  2. This is followed by the indicator, which is total touches in every pool bout scored minus total touches in all pool bouts received or TS -TR. So for example, if total touches scored by a fencer is 23 and total touches received  is 30, then the indicator is -7=23-30.
  3. If the Win/Lose ration for several fencers is the same and the indicator is the same, the next parameter that is taken into consideration is Touches Scored (total in all pool bouts). The more touches a fencer scored, higher the seeding.
  4. Finally, if everything is equal, then the fencers are placed randomly and their placement is indicated with the same position and letter “T” for “Tied’. Let’s say we have three fencers with Win/Lose ratio of 0.87 and an indicator of +10, and TS is 25, each would get a 5th place in the seeding. Each will be listed as seeded 5T. But their position in the tableau (which we explain later) will be randomized among themselves (meaning 1 fencer will take 5th place, 1 fencer – 6th place and the last one will take 7th place in the tableau)

Final seeding plays an important role not only in who fences against whom in the next round, which is typically a Direct Elimination round, but also at national level tournament it might mean that a fencer does not fence at all.

It’s important to note that at a National Tournament (NAC’s, Championships, or the July Challenge) the bottom 20%-25% of all categories, excluding Youth Categories (10/12/14) are automatically eliminated after the first round.

All of the seeding affects the size of the tableau and as such the amount of rounds a fencer may compete in. The Tableau size would be the lower part of the two which is bigger than the number of seeded competitors. So for example, if there are 96 people, they would start with a tableau of 128, and 129 fencers will start with tableau of 256.

Who Will You Fence Against?

The idea of how the tableau is created is very simple and is followed almost in every sport – we do not want the two strongest fencers to fence against each other in a first round and then eliminate one another so that a weaker fencer will advance to the next round. So in general, the tableau is generated such that stronger fencers will meet with their weaker opponent (well, all is relative – stronger means higher in the seeding table, and weaker means lower in the seeding table.)

Figuring out who you will fence against is not that  complicated and requires a bit of math. It’s helpful to utilize this simple formula:

The size of the tableau in which you fence + 1 – your seeding.

So for example, if you are seeded 96 in a tableau of 128, your next bout would be calculated as such: 128+1-96=33.

If you win this bout, then you advance into the tableau of 64 and would “take” the place of the higher seed whom you beat.  If you were the higher seed, then you continue to keep your seed number. Lets see how it works.

Suppose you won the first round of DE. You seeded 96, fenced in the table of 128 against seed number 33, won this bout and now you are in the table of 64. You “assume” the seed 33 placement now.

So your next round would be against seed number 32: 64+1-33=32.

If you win this round, then 32 is higher than 33, so you would assume their position in the table of 32.  In this case, you would now fence against seed #1: 32 (size of table) + 1 – 32 (your assumed seed) = 1. So you are fencing against seed Number 1 for the top 16!

Confirm Your Seeding After Each Round

While organizers rely on computers and software such as Fencing Time to calculate your seeding before the pools and after them, mistakes can and will happen. Most often mistakes happen due to incorrect input of the numbers, aka human error.

Before the pools started, organizers might download an outdated record of fencers, for example, without the latest update of the national points or ratings. After the pools the bout committee might record pool results incorrectly, or the referee wrote your score wrong.

It’s crucial to confirm the information that’s used to calculate your seeding before each round. And it’s rare that there is a mistake that is made as most things are computerized, but it’s best to verify your records on your own. Notify the organizers immediately if it’s incorrect. You MUST do this before the start of the round, not after, and within an allocated time that organizers announced, as the organizers will not abort the round (in most cases) that just started.

How To Check Your Seeding

Because the seeding is calculated by the machine, do not simply rely on the number posted. What you need to do is check that all the details of the pools are recorded correctly. This includes your wins and all the touches. If this information is correct, then everything’s great and you can assume the number calculated by the computer is correct.

Often at big regional or national tournaments, the preliminary seeding is published ahead of the event. So you are able to check in advance.  However, do not assume that the information translated correctly to the venue and the event’s computer program. Mistakes can happen. Double check everything. Trust, but verify!

Remember that only the official USFA information (NRPS and rating) are used to calculate your seeding. So if you earned national points or a new rating last week and it’s not yet updated by the USFA, this new data about you will not be included in your seeding rating for the tournament this week. And it does not matter that you can prove this to the organizers via askFred or even via the USFA results page of the last NAC. As long as it is not updated officially – both in your profile for rating and in USFA-maintained NRPS list – it is not valid. . You will unfortunately have to fence with an old rating/ranking until the new information is recorded at the USFA by the time of the seeding change deadline of your next tournament.

What To Do In Case of Mistakes

As we wrote above, people make mistakes, regardless of how organized or how experienced they are in calculating the intricacies of seeding details. For example, it’s possible that the USFA may have updated your new rating but organizers of the tournament did not verify this information and you arrive at the tournament and have to fence under an old rating.

This actually happens more frequently than not, and may happen to you or to your fellow club members.

This may also affect the overall tournament ratings. Perhaps several fencers are newly C rated but their rating at the tournament is still lower. The competition might then end as not rated (NR) and nobody receives a rating. But if the organizers pay attention and update participants ratings in a timely fashion, the tournament might have some rating, perhaps a D1 and some finishers could benefit from their new rating.

In this instance, everything would be seeded incorrectly in the preliminary preliminary seeding, which affects also final seeding.

While it’s not super common, it’s possible this scenario could happen. If this happens try not to panic and do not resort to blaming the organizers. Calmly send an email to the organizers and Divisional officers (of the division the competition was held) and state the facts as best as you can. Try to present as proof the official records of the USFA for the person in question and do it as soon as possible following the end of the tournament.

After this is resolved it’s important to remember that the only result that really matters is what is the fencers final placement. And that information, once fixed, will be applied to your rating eventually. Everyone will eventually get their correct rating if they deserve it.

When all is said and done, it’s the responsibility of the fencer to keep track of these details, and to verify that everything is correct. It’s helpful if you have a friend or family member help you to keep track of touches and wins throughout the competition so that you can focus on your bouts and concentrate. But ultimately you are your own best advocate, and must be involved in this process every step of the way.

Now that you have the tools that you need, you’ll be more prepared for what to expect at your next competition. While seeding can seem complex, once you experience a few competitions and practice the steps to figure out who you will fence against, it will start to become much easier, and like second nature. Often other veteran fencers and their families will be able to assist you if you have questions.



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  1. R

    1. At the local level, fencers might be separated into strong fencer pool(s) and weak fencer pool(s). Their pool results are used to calculate a tableau with the stronger fencers at the tableau’s top, i.e. 1…..last strong fencer, and the weaker fencers following thereafter. This is known as sharks versus minnows.
    2. “If the *number* of wins for several fencers is the same…” should be “*ratio* of wins” in the case of unequally-sized pools.
    3. Fencers have classifications. Referees have ratings.

    • Igor Chirashnya

      As always, thanks for the comments R!
      1. USFA sanctioned tournaments have a well defined seeding method, and that’s what is used for local sanctioned events (such as Bay Cups in our area). But clubs can do whatever they want for non sanctioned events to make it more fun for participants
      2. Thanks for pointing to the typo! Fixed it.
      3. Fencers do have rating! A-rated fencer, not A-classified fencer.

      • R

        From “Athlete’s Handbook”: 2.2.1 What are Classifications?
        Fencers are classified into the following letter classifications: A (highest), B, C, D, E, U (unclassified, lowest) as well as by national ranking, for those who achieved points at national events.

        • Igor Chirashnya

          Sure, widely used as rating. You can consider these two synonyms. Even in the official classification chapter – the chapter title in Athlete Book, Chapter 2.2 “Classification (Rating)” – Page 13.

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