Understanding fencing scoring is so essential to becoming successful as a competitor. Fencers are required to sign their scoresheets as soon as they have completed their bouts, but most often novice fencers just sign without thinking, assuming that the judges and competition runners are the experts and that they must be right.
Unfortunately this truly is not always the case. It is not uncommon for scoresheets to have serious mistakes. This isn’t necessarily because there’s something nefarious going on, these errors are most often simple oversights. Fencing competitions are large and complex, and getting it all perfect is a lot to expect from organizers who are usually stretched thin. In particular, the final responsibility for getting those scoresheets correct ultimately falls onto the individual fencer. It’s actually a great lesson in personal responsibility for young fencers!
We’ve had several situations with our very own young fencers when they signed their incorrect scoresheets and we were powerless to fix the mistakes. That kind of problem can be devastating! We’ve even experienced this at the highest level of U.S. fencing competition!
A mom comes to us with the scoresheet from her son’s recent RYC. The scoresheet had been recorded saying that all of his bouts were defeats, when in fact he had won one of them! Since this is the official record of the event, it must stand as is and his hard won victory is lost. We had a similar thing happen to a young fencer at Summer Nationals in 2014. The score of his match had been reversed and his win recorded as a loss. We worked hard to change it, but he’d already signed the scorecard and so it was no use. You can read in much more detail about what happened at Summer nationals on our previous blog post.
Possible Consequences of a Wrong Score
As you can see from these our scenarios, this is a real problem that really happens! It only takes it happening one time for it to cause a fencer to be seeded significantly lower, or in some cases at national tournaments to be cut from the pools and eliminated right from the DE stage. Above all, it can be very discouraging for a fencer who has worked so hard. However given all of those bad things, it’s also a very valuable life lesson about how much we are each responsible for advocating for ourselves and for keeping track of our own victories and defeats (in fencing and in real life).
The answer to the problem is to educate fencers and their parents about how to read scoring sheets, and that’s what you’re going to find right here. Luckily this is a problem that’s easy to fix just by learning the basics and by taking a few minutes to check those scoresheets.
How to Read a Fencing Scoring Sheet
Many novice fencers have never looked closely at a fencing scoring sheet before competition, and thus do not know how to read and interpret the cryptography there. But in reality understanding the scoresheet is not that difficult. The scoresheet might look intimidating, but it’s really simple to understand and you’ll feel as smart as you are once you get it!
First thing is to have a look at a fencing scoresheet. You can see the USFA official pool scoresheet right here. It’s printable, so you can print one off and have a closer look at it and make marks on it. There are screenshots that we’ve highlighted portions of below as we describe what’s going on so that you can really see what it is that we’re talking about.
Most of the fencing competitions use software called Fencing Time (FT). It looks a bit different but it serves exactly the same purpose and provides exactly the same functionality for a specific pool. You are likely to see it in most if not all domestic competitions that you participate.
We will use the scoresheet available at US fencing website as it is contains a bit more information and thus can teach few additional items.
Have a look at the image above (you’ll notice it’s exactly the same as the top portion of the USAF fencing scoresheet we directed you to above). Now let’s break this down. Frankly out of all these fields only 3 have any importance – the number of this specific pool, the strip where this pool is fenced and the name of the referee. Other fields are provided on USAF scoresheet to allow it to be used widely, but are completely dropped from FT sheet. So we will ignore all these unnecessary fields (and so you can as well)
A. Ignore this section – just pretend it’s not there.
B. The logo of the USAF.
C. Tournament name (not on the FT).
D. The event.
E. Ignore this one.
F. The Pool is the pool that’s competing in. In every fencing competition pools are numbered starting from 1. In general, 1 pool is 1 strip and based on pool number and strip number the fencer knows where to go to start their pool. However, during the pool round there can be double or triple strips on one pool if time and personnel demands it. So if one pool finishes early then you might see another pool split between several strips in order to get things done more quickly.
G. The Strip number (or name) tells which strip the pool is being fought on. Again, this can vary fairly widely, based on the venue. Some clubs or tournament organizers number their strips numerically, starting with 1. Some number them alphabetically. At national level competitions, such a NACs and nationals, strips are organized into pods, and each pod has 4 strips. Pod A will have four strips, labeled A1 to A4. Pod B would be B1-B4, etc. Regardless of the naming convention, once you are at the venue and look around you at different strips and locate where they put their numbers, you should easily realize where the pool is fenced and where to go.
H. This one is important as the referee is the person who is in charge of recording those scores!
Middle Section (part 1)
A. This is just a notation for the name of the club that a fencer is from (note that in FT club is omitted). This is of course important for the pool order (which you’ll learn more about below!).
B. The column for the names of each member of the pool.
C. These numbers are important, as these are the numbers that are assigned to each fencer. A fencer is often called up by their number, and referees will reference fencers often this way at larger competitions where there might be competitors with the names that might be a little difficult for referees to pronounce.. You’ll notice that the numbers are the same across the top and the bottom. Where they intersect is where the fencer’s score is written. We will discuss in more detail how the scores are recorded in the next section.
D. The number of victories that each fencer has gotten in the pool. A score of five is a victory, or if the time ran out and the match didn’t get to five before time was up then the victory will come with a lower score. Some judges mark these scores with a V next to the score in the main part of the card (even for full 5 touches bouts, like V5), and some don’t and leave it as plain 5. The number of victories is the most important component in determining the standings of fencers. V = Victory
E. Touches scored against other fencers. This number is the total of a fencer’s row. If there is a tie between number of victories for two fencers and the “Indicator” is the same (see what Indicator means below), then this is looked at next to determine standings. TS = Touches Scored.
F. The touches received from other fencers. This number is the total of a fencer’s column. TR = Touches Received.
G. This column is the “indicator”, or the difference between touches scored and touches received. If the number of victories are all the same, then judges will go to the indicator. If the fencers tied all parameters (number of victories, indicator and touches scored) then the fencer’s will be listed as tied in the final standings (which is quite common in fencing!) I = Indicator.
H. This final column is important as well, because it indicates which place a fencer stands in their pool.
However, the placement is the pool, while interesting in itself, is not what really matters. What really matters is overall final seeding for all fencers from all pools. The seeding places first fencers with highest number of victories (not absolute number as in the pool, but relative number, which indicates a percentage of victories in the pools against number of bouts fenced in the pool by that fencer), followed by higher Indicator (in case two or more fencers have same amount of victories), then by touches scored (if indicator is the same). In case all these parameters are the same, then fencers are all tied and placed in the same place in the random order (notes with letter T near the final placement number, like 21T).
Since final seeding is extremely important and it determines the elimination table, every parameter in the scoresheet carries an important weight and the fencer’s goal in every pool is to maximize the relevant parameters to get better final seeding placement.
Middle Section (part 2)
Now to look at an actual scoresheet. You’ll notice that all of the numbers from the previous section are right here. Normally they won’t have all of these colors and most often the referee will just use a pencil to write scores down, but we’ve included them just to make it all easier to see.
You’ll notice that everything adds up. This is something that you’re checking for! Quite often those last five columns (V, TS, TR, Ind, Pl) will be blank when you go up to check the scoresheet. That’s ok! Today with so much digital scorekeeping it’s common for this part to be added up automatically when added to the computer and left blank on the handwritten sheet. Some referees still do the addition themselves, which is ok too.
Let’s talk about some of these numbers and how the referee will write the score up using imaginary names from the above example scoresheet.
- Let’s say Paul fenced with Jack and won 5:1. That means that Paul scored 5 touches against Jack and Jack scored 1 point against Paul. Paul won the match. In the pool Paul’s number is 1 and Jack’s number is 2. Thus the referee then will write 5 in the cell of first row & second column, and will write 1 in the cell of second row & first column. As alternative he can write V5 and D2 in the same cells, to make it clearer who won and who lost in this bout. Either way is valid and there are no requirements on the handwritten scoresheet: however, it will always be V5 and D1 in the online results.
- Now let’s say Simon (fencer number 4) fences against Jack (fencer number 2). Simon won his match against Jack with the score 2:1 (this means the time ran out before somebody reached 5 touches) Respectively in the cell of 4th row and 2nd column the referee will write V2, and in the cell of 2nd row and 4th column the referee will write D1
Now to review some of how we get to the numbers in columns V, TS, TR, Ind.
- Paul’s scores are all in green – so look across his row.
- He has a V (victories) of 4 because he won 4 of his matches
- The touches he scored are recorded in his row, which is marked green. Add up the green numbers to arrive at his TS (touches scored). 5 + 3 + 2 + 5 + 5 + 3 + 5 = 28
- His TR (touches received) is his column. Go to the number 1 column and add up the rainbow below. 1 + 4 + 3 + 4 + 3 + 4 + 2 = 21
- The Ind (indicator) is just the TS minus TR. 28 – 21 = +7
- Now look down the final Pl (place) column. The one on the very end. You can see that Paul is in 4th place based on his total number of wins and Indicator (his indicator is +7 which is lower than +11 of Lucas, who has same number of won bouts, thus placing ahead of Paul).
The bottom section is not the one that of real interest to a fencer, but mostly to the referee. This is a section which referees use as a guideline to bout order and if they issued any cards to any fencer. Fencers mostly look at the bout order part during the pool to know when they are to be called, and that’s pretty much it.
Preventing and Addressing Fencing Scoresheet Mistakes
As we discussed before, mistakes in the scoresheets happen, sometimes quite often. If you found one with your scores, don’t worry – your win will not transform into a loss if you follow the following tips below
1. Check regularly
Check the scoresheet regularly. Experienced fencers often check after each bout, and that’s really not a bad way to go. If the ref has made a mistake, then it is most easily fixed right there and then. The goal is to catch something right after the bout or shortly after the bout, when it’s still fresh.
2. Stay calm
Always stay calm and professional. The ref deserves your respect, as any mistakes made are just those – mistakes. I make mistakes. You make mistakes. Refs make mistakes. Sometimes refs can make mistakes because fencers confused their side when called to fence and the refs actually made the correct notation based on how the fencers were placed during the bout.
3. Wait for the check
Sometimes the referee won’t remember the correct score. Normally what happens now is that they call over a third party to verify the score (typically the opponent). We have never had an experience of a fencer lying about a score, as fencers are usually incredibly honest.
4. Take video and pictures
It’s pretty usual for parents to either video their child’s fencing bouts or to take lots of pictures. It’s a good idea to take video and pictures, panning over to the final score sign at the end of a video or snapping a shot of it on your phone or camera. A visual record can help to make the process easier if there’s a problem as it’s an unquestionable verification.
5. Keep your own record
You could also make it a habit to keep a record of all of your child’s bouts. This doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t require a bit of special equipment. You can use your smartphone, a notebook or even just a sheet of paper to keep some simple notes – “My child-Other fencer1: 5-2, My child-other fencer2: 3-5, My child-other fencer3: 5-0, etc.” This offers one more level of insulation in the case of a problem, so you can be confident of your own memory! And of course, use your child’s fencing journal if they have one.
6. Look before your child signs
You are allowed to look at your child’s scoresheet before they sign! Look over those notes that you made from the last tip to make sure that everything lines up.
7. Check each bout, not just the number of wins/losses
It’s not enough to look at the number of wins and losses when you’re verifying the scoresheet, you have to look at the score of each bout. Every score of every bout, every touch (both scored or received) contributes to the indicators. Eventually all wins, indicators and scored touches contribute to final seeding, and that’s something that you want to be correct!
8. Check computer results after your bout when published by the Bout Committee (IMPORTANT)
Even if the scoresheet is correct, those correct scores can still be input into the computer incorrectly. After a bout, the scoresheet is sent to the Bout Committee (BC), who could potentially enter those scores incorrectly. Again please keep in mind that this is not intentional but just human error. If this happens, then you need to go to the BC to point out the mistake. There is an allocated time to fix these errors (normally 5-15 minutes after all pools are published). If you can look at the livestream of the results, then this is the best way to keep an eye on it immediately after the bout finished and published.
The BC will first check the results against the scoresheet. If you’ve caught it in the allotted time, then this is usually a pretty easy fix. But if you’ve signed the scoresheet with incorrect information or if you’re past the allotted time, then the official rule is that you’re out of luck. How strict that rule is depends on the level of the competition, the BC and other human factors, including #9 below.
9. Be nice
You get more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Translation: if you want to have the best chance to fix a mistake, then you’re best served to be nice. Referees deserve your respect, and are most often sympathetic to the fencers who are working so hard to compete. Don’t blame them for the mistake, rather be respectful of their status and realize that everyone makes mistakes. If the scoresheet is incorrect and signed then realize that any fix that is made is them doing something extraordinary for you and at their discretion. Rules are rules for a reason, and it is our responsibility to do our best to follow them.