Egyptology - Strictly for Fun
Kevin Carter's guide to Paul Hand's "Egyptian" - for events where it does not matter who wins!
(Croquet, March 1992, Issue No. 220, pp10-11, The Croquet Association)
In 1988 Paul hands devised a new way of running level play croquet tournaments and tried it at his local club, Cheltenham.
Paul had turned his attention to this because he had observed many shortcomings in the systems, such as draw and process knockouts, 'American' blocks and 'Swiss', currently employed.
Above all he saw the need for a way of maximising the use of available courts, avoiding bottlenecks caused by slow players or long games and providing the flexibility for young, eager players to fulfil their preference for many games while players of more advanced years the option to play less but not to be disadvantaged.
He envisaged a ladder in which any two available players reasonably close to each other could play a game, the result of which would affect their rating and hence their position on the ladder.
Often, the gap in ratings of two players would be great and a formula had to be used to adjust the resultant change of ratings. If the theoretically better player won then his rating should rise less than that of a victor who is theoretically worse.
The player that improves his/her rating the most over the course of the tournament
is the winner.
Needless to say, this amount of work did not suit us lazier managers. The system was, therefore, simplified and over the following three years modified to cope better with extreme ranges of ability.
The Hands System is now firmly established in this country in the croquet manager's repertoire. In fact, it is now probably over-used, in un-suitable situations.
The remainder of this article provides a description of the version which has evolved at the Cheltenham Club and then reviews the circumstances in which the system works well and those where it should be used with care or not at all.
Hands System Description
The organisation of a tournament run under the Hands System is best achieved by allocating each player a card. The example shown is reproduced from an event last year. (Cheltenham has had a supply of score cards printed - see below.)
Each player is initially assigned a rating based on his/her handicap according
to the table shown. Note that this table is not linear. For instance, the difference
in ratings between a 1 handicap and a 2 is 14 points but between a 6 and a
7 is only 9. This reflects the gap inability between players of differing handicaps.
(Note that this table was prior to the automatic handicap system and some handicaps are no longer used. Also the automatic handicapping system adds a non-linearlity into the handicap scale which is not taken into account here - Ian Plummer July 1999)
The mathematical theory behind the table is that, throughout the scale, a player at about 10 rating points above another should have a 60% chance of winning; one 20 points higher should have a 70% chance and one 30 points higher should have an 80% chance.
After the allocation of initial ratings the cards are arranged in that order, usually on a board, and the first match will comprise the first two, the second match the second pair and so on.
As players complete their games they will fill in their score cards (not much work for the manager here!) and they will decide whether to add their names to a 'waiting list' or maybe take a rest and do so later. if players want a late start, or even a whole day off, they simply add their name to the waiting list again when they arrive.
The manager's task is to continually examine the waiting list to make up an
appropriate match for the next available court. There will not, of course,
always be a pair of very similar ratings available. The difference in ratings
will determine the points won or lost according to the table.
In the example card shown, for John Evans, see how he obtained five points for beating Richard Brand with a ratings difference of 8, but six points for conquering John Greenwood who was 16 higher and four against Chris Williams who started 20 lower. On the other hand, he later lost seven points for losing to a lowly Francis Landor but only three for failing to topple David Foulser. Notice, too, how John's third and ninth matches were against the same opponent - another example of the flexibility afforded to the manager providing both players agree to do battle a second time.
Prizes will generally be awarded to those who improve their ratings by the most points over the course of the tournament.
With a large entry over a wide range of abilities it will often be a good idea to divide the field into three or four sets, perhaps with colour-coded score cards. Hence, all those up to handicap 2 might be orange, 2.5 to 6 are green and 6.5 to 16 red. However, the competition should remain one big ladder, with options for reds to play greens, and even oranges, should they rise high enough to meet one.
So, a prize could be awarded to the orange that has improved his rating the most, one to the most improving green and one to the reds.
A word of warning: a player who finds himself in the lead but with the option to take unlimited leave will sometimes unsportingly drop out to avoid losing points. To overcome this danger it is a good idea to introduce a rule that all must play at least twice on the last day to qualify for a prize.
Suitability of the Hands System
Fundamentally it must be recognised that the winner of a tournament run under the Hands System in its basic form is not necessarily the best player present. Hence, it should not be used for club championships or for 'serious' CA events.
No, the winner is the player who improves his/her position the most over the course of the tournament. This can be, and frequently is, somebody starting near the bottom of the ladder and climbing up to half way, rather than the top player maintaining his/her position.
Sometimes a very good player might enter, say, a weekend advanced level play tournament, win every game comfortably and go away without a prize.
On the other hand, lower rated players can enter the same competition, know that they will never be playing hopelessly outside of their class and stand a decent chance of winning.
On balance, the majority of players in a Hands tournament find it a good challenge and welcome its flexibility without worrying too much over the distribution of prizes.
However, this shortcoming has led to the Hands System being adapted in various ways, not all of them very successfully.
One modification is an attempt to overcome this problem of the best player not always winning. The starting position based on handicaps is dispensed with; everybody starts with the same rating. Then, of course, every game results in the same exchange of rating points and players are paired randomly at first with no attempt to match players of similar abilities.
Another modification seen with increasing frequency is the use of the system for handicap events. Again, everybody begins with the same rating and every match is played in the normal way, with the requisite number of bisques.
These adaptations are all right as far as they go but the implicit simplification of the original system results in many of its advantages being lost. In fact, the end result is almost identical to a 'Swiz' a Swiss without the rigid pairings for most rounds.
Finally, a word must be said about the use of the Hands System in a 'mopup' event within a tournament lasting several days and with several level class, handicap and doubles events. There is nothing worse than to get to day five, find yourself knocked out of everything and with no further games to play while there are several spare courts. Sometimes, managers resort to 'Z' events or one- ball competitions to keep these unfortunates busy and happy. The Hands System is ideal for coping with those knocked out of the main events. In fact the 'Y' events and 'Plates' can also be dispensed with, all resources being put into one 'Hands' into which everybody is automatically entered. Players are happy and the manager is happy.
Advantages of the Hands System
1. All matches will be between players of similar abilities. In particular, a lower rated player in a 'purple patch' will have a chance to pitch against higher rated opponents.
2. Maximum use will be made of courts; they will never be left empty awaiting 'the right players' while dozens of others sit out.
3. Every player can choose how many games to play. Some like four everyday (which is normally achievable in Hands events at Cheltenham; the record is six), while others choose just two. Additionally, late starts and leave, even for whole days, are easy to accommodate.
4. The manager has less work to do than in comparable systems and need never find it difficult to play at the same time.
5. The Hands System is ideal as a 'mop up' event within a major tournament for players knocked out of the main events
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