What’s a Shake-n-Bake?

Time for a follow-up on the “What’s a DYP?” post from a year ago. What’s a shake-n-bake tournament? And as a tournament director, when is it a good choice as a format?

When is a shake-n-bake a good idea?

Shake-n-bake is a good format when you want to have a Bring Your Partner (BYP) tournament, so people can practice with their preferred partners against strong opposing teams, but you’ve also got a more casual player base that would like to show up and play without finding a partner first. You split these players into the “Bring Side” who have partnered up already, and the “Draw Side” who don’t have partners yet.

Note that the draw side is at a disadvantage in this tournament. They don’t know who they are playing with, but it will usually not be the strongest players in the tournament. If you don’t balance this out by giving them some advantage in the format, the draw side tends to drop out of the tournaments all together. We also typically charge a different entry fee for bring vs draw players. In the SF Bay Area we charge bring team players based on their rank ($15 for expert and up, $10 for rookie and amateur, $5 for beginners). Draw team players pay a flat $10 entry fee. Note that beginners on the bring side have a large disadvantage, which is why they pay the lowest entry fee.

Once you’ve figured out who is on the Bring and Draw sides, you randomly partner up the draw teams. If you have an odd number of players, it’s best for you (as the tournament director) to drop out to make the tournament even.

So now you’ve got your teams. How do you draw up the tournament?

Tournament Format

The main goal of the tournament format is to make sure that people get to play to their level. It’s no fun for a couple of pros to beat up on a couple of beginners. It’s also no fun if great players lose because of an unfair handicap that let a weaker team win with slop. You want just enough of a handicap to keep things interesting for everyone.

There are three different formats that can work: swiss system with a handicap, a split bracket, or double elimination with a handicap.

Swiss System

Swiss system is fairly easy to run, but software helps (I like kickertool.com.) To keep it fair, we apply a handicap whenever a draw team plays a bring team: the bring team needs to play to 6 points to win. The draw team only needs 5 points. This format is excellent, in that teams tend to find their level pretty quickly, and everyone gets to play lots of competitive matches. After 5-6 rounds, we’ll typically do a seeded single elimination playoff for the top 8 teams. We keep the handicap during those matches.

The main downside to a swiss system tournament is that it requires a lot of tables and a lot of matches, so the tournament can run long. I have four tables available in my tournament venue. For fewer than ten teams, I prefer Swiss System. For ten or more, I switch to split bracket or double elimination.

Split Bracket

If you have a roughly even number of teams on the bring and draw side, a split bracket works well. I like to use this if I have six bring teams and four draw teams, for example. This is also a good format to use if the draw and bring sides are very lopsided in strength. Everyone plays to their level pretty quickly, but the draw side also gets a significant advantage in the tournament overall: the best draw team is guaranteed at least 3rd place.

For a split bracket, you start by running two separate double-elimination tournaments. You put the bring teams into a seeded bracket where they play each other. The draw teams do the same in a separate bracket. The two tournaments meet in the semi-finals, once you’re down to two undefeated bring teams and two undefeated draw teams. This example bracket illustrates how it works.

Note that there is no point handicap in this format. Instead, the draw side has an easier path to the finals. In our tournaments, it’s not uncommon to have a strong draw team take 1st or 2nd place. The winner of the draw side is guaranteed at least 3rd place.

This format isn’t as much fun if you don’t have the right balance of teams on the bring and draw side. If there are many fewer draw than bring teams, the draw side ends too quickly.

Software for running split bracket shake-n-bakes is not great. The simplest way  is probably to draw up two separate double elimination tournaments, and then merge them yourself as in the example bracket. You could also try the split bracket shake-n-bake format implemented in NetFoos, but the setup is complex. You need to do the seeding yourself, and you must remember to select the “shake-n-bake” bracket and not the normal double elimination bracket. Once you have the seeds and the right bracket, you assign teams to spots in the bracket as follows:

Bring Teams: 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12, 13, 16, 17

Draw Teams: 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 14, 15

If you manage to do that correctly, NetFoos will take it from there. I usually do the extra work to set this up, because it gives me a nice merged view of the brackets and makes calling matches easy. When I mess this up (which is common), the usual clue is that bring teams play draw teams too soon. If you notice that happening, don’t call those matches. Instead re-do the tournament setup, being sure to set up the seeds and brackets properly. The first round of matches is equivalent in both bracket types, so you can re-enter the first round of results into the new bracket to get things back on track.

Double Elimination with a Handicap

This format is simple and good. You draw up a seeded double elimination tournament. Whenever a draw team plays a bring team, the bring team needs 6 points to win, and the draw team only needs 5.

This works for any number of teams on either side. The main downside to this approach is that the draw team advantage is sometimes not enough, and the draw teams are all eliminated quickly. Over the long-term, this can discourage newer players from attending.

This is complicated. What about handicap doubles?

I do not fault anyone for not wanting to run shake-n-bakes. They require more work to set up, and sometimes the advantages aren’t worth the trouble.

It turns out there is a well-established and fair way of mixing weaker and stronger teams so that matches are even: use handicaps based on team strength, not on whether a team came from the bring or draw side. For example, if a Pro team plays a Rookie team, the Pro team plays to 8 points, and the Rookies only play to 5.

We’ve tried this a bit. The general feeling was that while it makes the matches even, it’s not great training, and the outcomes didn’t seem fair: the best teams weren’t the ones that won! The milder handicaps from the shake-n-bake work better for us.

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