District 25
NEBridge - Knockout Events in New England

by Peter Marcus, Tournament Director

New England regional tournaments are very pleased to offer players chances to play in knockout events. They were once very popular, then interest fell off, and for about a year we did not hold them. Then, two years ago we inaugurated the “Monster KO” events, and they have proven very successful in drawing people back to this most enjoyable form of bridge competition.

Knockouts are really fun events. You don’t have to change tables (and opponents) every fifteen or twenty minutes. Instead, you get to play a lot of boards against one or two opponents and make new friends. Also, knockouts are divided, “bracketed,” into groups based on how many total points each team has. So, as much as possible, each team plays against teams with similar experience and ability and doesn’t have to play against players with thousands more points. Not only does this make the event more enjoyable for everyone, but it also means this is one of the best ways that the ACBL has for players to win gold points.

However, some players have expressed confusion about how these events work. In addition, the ACBL has approved a new way to run knockouts that has proven very successful in other regions. This article is intended to help everyone understand how both kinds of knockout events are organized and run. A primer to the operation and scoring of team games in general can be found here

Traditional Knockout Format

In its most traditional form, knockout matches involved two teams, generally playing a 24-board, head-to-head match, scored by IMPs, where any win, whether by 1 IMP or 100 IMPs, is good enough to win the match. This leads to the event name “knockout” since, if you lose, by a lot or a little, you are eliminated from the event. To stay in the event you must keep winning. The goal is always to reach the later rounds and the overalls, which in regional knockouts refer to the final four teams,

If a lot of teams enter, it can take a long time to whittle down the field to a final winner. To complete the event in two days, all the entrants are divided into brackets based on the total masterpoints of each team. Bracketing not only allows a large field to be split in a way that the event can be completed in two days, but it also allows for more overalls (one set of overalls for each bracket) and generally means that teams are playing other teams with similar point totals. It is extremely important for the event to draw as many teams as possible. As the number of brackets increases, it becomes much more feasible to limit each of them to teams of similar experience and ability.

In a perfect format, a bracket will have sixteen teams, each playing eight head-to-head matches in round 1, with eight winners then playing four head-to-head matches in round 2, leaving four teams to go on to the second day of the event. These four teams are all guaranteed overall positions/gold points. The third round will consist of two head-to-head matches with the two losing teams tied for 3/4th. The two winners will play a final match, with the winner being first overall in that bracket and the loser getting second overall.

Unfortunately, the number of teams entering is rarely evenly divisible by 16. Furthermore, the “perfect format” may create lopsided brackets. It is quite possible that, if 32 teams enter, the top 9 or 10 all have over 10,000 points, but the 11th, 12th, etc., top teams by points may have much less. So, rather than creating two sixteen-team brackets, we might create a nine-team bracket at the top, then an eleven-team bracket and a twelve-team bracket. Not only is this fairer to all the teams in that, as much as possible, no one is playing against teams with many more points, but it also means that twelve teams will get overall places and gold (four teams in each of three brackets) rather than just eight teams.

This brings up a very important point. While some players may prefer head-to-head matches, these occur most often in brackets with larger numbers of teams—16, 15, 14, etc. But, more teams in each bracket means fewer brackets and, therefore, fewer teams that can win gold points in the overalls. So, if directors divide the field into fewer brackets to create more head-to-head matches, each bracket has a wider range of total points for the teams, and fewer teams will be winning gold points.

Brackets with fewer than 16 teams generally have some 3-way matches in which each team plays a 12-board match against each of the other two teams in the 3-way. Each team still play 24 boards, but they aren’t all against the same team. In a 3-way, two of the three teams will get to advance to the next round.

So, for example, in a bracket of 14 teams, six will play in two 3-ways, with two teams from each 3-way advancing to the second round as “winners.” The other eight teams will play in four head-to-head matches. This will produce 8 winners for the second round, to play in four head-to-head matches. In District 25 the decision of which teams are assigned to head-to-head or three-way matches is totally random; directors shuffle the teams in the bracket before assigning them to a head-to-head or three-way match.

Some people really like 3-ways, since their odds of winning and going on to the next round are 67% (2 out of 3) rather than 50% (1 out of 2) in a head-to-head match. Others don’t like them as much because there is more “moving around” and the team doesn’t play all 24 boards against one opponent. Both are standard knockout formats, and no one can ever be guaranteed to play in a head-to-head match or a 3-way before the event begins.

To allow for four full matches in a knockout, each bracket must have between 9 and 16 teams. It is almost impossible to have a bracket of 17 teams (that would mean something has gone “wrong” somewhere) and it is very unusual to have less than 9 teams except, sometimes, in the top bracket if enough very good teams do not enter the event, and we do not want to force teams with a lot fewer points to play “up” against top teams.

Traditional Knockout Formats

Regardless of the numbers of teams in the bracket, the 3rd round (first match of the 2nd day) will have four teams playing two head-to-head matches. The two losers will be knocked out, finishing 3rd/4th overall. The two winners will play one final head-to-head match, on the afternoon of the 2nd day, with the winner winning the bracket (1st overall) and the loser getting 2nd overall.

Number of Teams IN BRACKET

1st Round Format

2nd Round Format

9 teams

3 3-way matches with 6 “winners”

2 3-way matches with 4 “winners”

10 teams

2 3-way matches with 4 “winners” and 2 head-to-head matches with 2 winners

2 3-way matches with 4 “winners”

11 teams

1 3-way match with 2 “winners” and 4 head-to-head matches with 4 winners

2 3-way matches with 4 “winners”

12 teams

4 3-way matches with 8 “winners”

4 head-to-head matches with 4 winners

13 teams

3 3-way matches with 6 “winners” and 2 head-to-head matches with 2 winners

4 head-to-head matches with 4 winners

14 teams

2 3-way matches with 4 “winners” and 4 head-to-head matches with 4 winners

4 head-to-head matches with 4 winners

15 teams

1 3-way match with 2 “winners” and 6 head-to-head matches with 6 winners

4 head-to-head matches with 4 winners


8 head-to-head matches with 8 winners

4 head-to-head matches with 4 winners

New Knockout Format

In 2018 the ACBL Board of Directors approved a new way to run knockout events. All the teams are still grouped into brackets based on total points. However, the first day is a Swiss or round-robin within each bracket. In Swiss teams each team plays 6-8 matches of 6, 7, or 8 boards against one team in its bracket. The score in IMPs is converted to Victory Points. Each team then plays another team with about the same number of Victory Points. A round-robin is basically the same with fewer teams, so each team plays every team in the bracket once and opponents for each match are not based on how many Victory Points each team has at that point.

Then, after an all-day Swiss or round-robin, the top four teams will progress to the second day semi-finals, where the four teams will play two head-to-head matches. The winners of those head-to-head matches will play a final match, with the winner 1st overall and the loser 2nd, and the two losers will play each other in the consolation match, where the winner will be 3rd overall and the loser 4th. But, all four teams, even the one that loses both matches on the 2nd day, will be in the overalls and will receive gold points.

This format has one big advantage: every team is guaranteed to play all day long, so each team is “in” the main event all day. No one gets knocked out after the first match and then has no chance for gold points in the 2nd session. Even if your team does badly in the first Swiss matches, the team can still make a comeback in the second session and finish among the top four teams at the end of the first day. Every team that finishes in the top four moves on to the second day, and everyone on the team is guaranteed gold points. Each of the top four teams is guaranteed to play all day on the second day . No one is knocked out with nothing to play in after the morning match of the second day. If your team isn’t in the top four at the end of the first day, it can enter some other gold-point event for the second day.


Hopefully, this will help you understand how knockouts work, when (and why) you might be playing in a 3-way match and not a head-to-head match, and why, sometimes, it is to the advantage of all the players to play in smaller brackets, with more 3-ways, because the matches are more competitive and the chances for winning gold points are greater.

If you have any questions about how knockouts work, ask any tournament director and they can give you more information. Hopefully you will join us in these events and come to see that they are great fun and a really good way to win gold points.