The essence of go is competition, and tournament play takes that rivalry to its highest level. Running a tournament will strengthen your club. You will get to know new players from your area, and you may even build your club's treasury! Organizing a tournament is probably easier than you think, especially if you can put some of local club members to work. Size doesn't matter. A "tournament" can be held with as few as two players, and there are several interesting formats for as few as four players. Tournament game results can be submitted for AGA rating, a major attraction many tournament players.
The AGA Rules of Go: The AGA developed this rule set to suit the sparse nature of Western go, so that any group of players, even beginners, can successfully conduct a tournament without "expert" help. The AGA Rules also reconcile the main difference between and "territory" counting and "area" or "stone" counting. They are widely used in Western nations.
The Concise AGA Rules: Most everything you need to know.
Other Rule Sets: The basic rules of play are the same everywhere, but at six different rule sets vary in their approach to counting and the status of special situations. here is everything you need to know about all of them.
The Official AGA Tournament Guide: How to plan, organize and run a tournament.
AGA Tournament Regulations: Official AGA rules covering every aspect of tournament play.
AGA Ratings Qualifications: Requirements for AGA-rated games and how to submit them.
How to Run a Go Congress: Everything you need to know to bring the US Go Congress to your home town.
Types of Tournaments
Match Play: The oldest type of formal competition features a series of games between two players. Some of the most famous games in history were played in this way, such as Go Seigen's ten-game jubango matches of the 1930's, where he established a reputation as the world's top player. Players who meet regularly often use a kadoban system to keep track of the handicap between them. Any two players can measure their respective strengths in this way, and have games that are challenging for both sides.
Round Robin: Everyone in the tournament plays everyone else. The player with the most wins is the champion. For more than 8-10 people, you want to create bands or "tables:" 4 players + 2 sets = a 3-round tournament, then table winners can play off. Pairing charts for round robin events with up to ten players are available in the AGA Tournament Guide.
Leagues: A fun way to encourage competition at your club. Participants meet some or all of the other players in the league over a given period of time. "Let's play a league" will become a familiar refrain at the club. Most top professional titles are leagues. The Japanese Honinbo and Meijin championships are run as 8-person leagues, whose participants are selected through a series of preliminary tournaments. The league winner plays the title holder a best-of-seven match. League play can be extended over several months, giving everyone a chance to participate whenever they can.
Self-Paired: Pairings? Who needs pairings? Not the TD who uses the self-pairing system! Just match players based on strength for the first round, decide on a maximum handicap and post a signup sheet. As each game finishes and the results are reported, each player checks the signup sheet. If they see a player on the list who is 1) within the handicap range and 2) someone they haven't played, that is the pairing for the next round. If there are no suitable opponents, the player adds their name and rank to the list, and before long an opponent will usually appear. The self-paired format works well for casual events, where handicaps may vary considerably within a small field.
Knockout Tournaments: Defeated players are eliminated and removed from the tournament until only a champion remains. We mention this format mainly to say that we don't recommend except in very special circumstances. No one wants to set aside the day for a tournament and then get knocked out in the first round. Knockout tournaments are seldom used in AGA events. Fortunately, there are other pairing methods that guarantee every player an opponent in every round. If you must: Knockout Draw Sheet is an attractively laid out sheet for conducting a 16 player single knockout tournament.
Swiss McMahon: The Swiss-McMahon pairing system is an adaptation of the Swiss system used in most chess tournaments. In a Swiss tournament, all participants play all rounds, meeting other players with similar records. In 1970, Lee McMahon of the New York Go Club devised a variation that accounted for the differences in player strength that are so common in go. The Swiss McMahon system tournament format is commonly used within the AGA, particularly for larger events with more than ~20-25 players. The AGA has published detailed protocol standards for use of this system, as well as other material of special interest to programmers who may wish to create a Swiss-McMahon pairing program that interfaces with the AGA rating system. Information on the Swiss-McMahon system can also be found in The AGA Tournament Guide.
Accelrat: The Accelrat system uses the AGA rating algorithm to pair players of similar strength. Ratings are adjusted based on the game results of each round, and players meet opponents with the closest ratings as they go along.
People have been running huge tournaments since long before the PC was invented, but most TDs now use PCs to pair their tournaments. There are several programs used by AGA tournament directors to run their events:
Accelrat: Uses a sophisticated rating algorithm to "rate" players after each round, pairing those who seem closest in strength. Developed by Paul Matthews, the mianstay of the AGA rating system fior more than thirty years.
MGA GoTD Zack Grossbart of The Massachusetts Go Association developed this software, which pairs winners with winners and losers with losers to ensure a clear winner, while minimizing the handicap difference between players when possible. It works well for up to 80 players.
Go Clubs Online This go club management tool also has a module to help with pairing and uploading data to the AGA after the tournament.
There are also English language versions of several other programs such as OpenGotha, McMahon 3.3, and Agatha. These programs can handle larger fields. Their main drawback is that they will not generate tournament reports for AGA ratings.
Warning: while the AGA often provides assistance to programmers tournament directing software, we do not currently certify programs as being "AGA compliant." Many programs released in the past have had quirks and bugs, some of which have only shown up in the middle of a tournament. Be sure to thoroughly test your program of choice before using it to run a tournament.
Before the Tournament
The AGA's Tournament Guide is a valuable resource for any TD. It's also a good idea to have a copy of AGA Tournament Rules on hand. The AGA can also help you in several other ways as you plan your event:
Line up the space and equipment. If you need additional playing sets, the AGA can help you borrow from nearby clubs or find another way for you to have the equipment you need. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Publicize your event. The days of stuffing and labeling hundreds of envelopes to publicize your event are over! Free publicity is available through the AGA's online tournament calendar and E-Journal. We can also send a special announcement of your event by e-mail to AGA members and chapters in your area.
Rate your players. For many people, one of the attractions of a tournament is getting an AGA rating. You'll need to know the current rating and membership status for everyone who enters. You can use the AGA ratings page to confirm the strength and membership status of any known player.
Encourage Membership. Encourage attendees to sign up or renew online their lapsed membership to the AGA prior to the tournament.
At the Tournament
Getting Started: At a certain point, you will need to cut off registration so you can pair the first round. Murphy's law tells us that three people will probably arrive one minute later. Use your judgment, but at some point you have to respect the people who came on time, and pair in late arrivals in round two. (Of course they will probably not qualify for prizes.)
Membership: AGA membership or payment of a single-event rating fee is required for all players. This requirement can be waived for players living outside the US if they have documentation that they are members of their own national association. Set up a laptop hooked to the Internet and players can renew their memberships on the spot. New members will get an immediate ID # which you will need when you report the tournament results to the AGA. Some people may not want to use the Internet, so have some AGA membership forms, AGA Chapters-only promotional rate forms, and rating fee/waiver forms printed and ready. Only the official AGA forms are acceptable. Make sure players fill out ALL required information so they are properly identified in the player database. It is especially important that players supply their legal name, not nicknames or “handles.” Please ask renewing members to fill one out too, in case any information needs updating.
Unrated Players: When players have AGA ratings or other statements of strength (e.g., a rated go server account) it is fairly easy to decide where they belong in the field. Rated players should play at their rated strength.
The Optimist -- A few players may ask to play above their actual strength, hoping to gain rating points if they "get lucky". Those players may not realize it, but they're actually harming their opponents by "playing up." If they don't do well, their opponents could lose on tiebreak. TDs often break ties using "sum of scores" (SOS), the total number of victories a player's opponents "scored", on the theory that the player with the highest score faced the toughest field. Occasionally, a player will have reasonable cause to request an upgrade, such as recent improvement in online ranking. TDs have the discretion to honor such request, and for children that are rapidly improving it may be the only way for their rating to keep up with their actual strength.
The Sandbagger -- The reverse is also true. Some players like to "sandbag" -- playing below their actual strength to assure victory, or perhaps because of a lack of confidence. This is considered impolite and unethical. The Swiss-McMahon and Accelrat systems compensate for this to some degree, but the AGA encourages honest competition at all times. This is a way in which go teaches us tolerance of our imperfections. An honestly rated player will lose about half the time.
The Mystery Player -- If an unknown player appears, a first step toward determining rank is a discussion of the player's online record if any. The TD may also ask one of the stronger players to play through a few openings with them and offer an assessment of strength. The TD may also make adjustments later. may make adjustments later. If a new player is crushing his/her opponents or being crushed, he/she is at the wrong rank. The TD has complete discretion to move new players up or down in the field, depending on their results. The goal is to give each player the best possible games.
- Disputes: Problems occasionally arise during the course of a tournament. Players may complain about the conduct of an opponent, playing conditions or even the outcome of a game. Like a referee at a sporting event, the tournament director's word is final. Experienced TDs have seen most common problems and know how to respond. If you're new to directing, recruit an experienced TD to advise you -- if you've got more than a dozen players, there's probably someone playing in your event that can help. At important tournaments, TDs sometimes appoint an appeals committee at the start of the event to review difficult decisions.
After the Tournament
When your tournament or event is over, your job isn't quite finished yet. You have three more important tasks:
Publicity: Send the names and ranks of winners and a brief report immediately to email@example.com for publication in the next edition of The American Go E-Journal. A nice photo will make your piece stand out.
Ratings: Send game results to the Ratings Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org in the standard ratings submission format. If you use Accelrat or MGA GoTD you can generate a ratings report automatically. Tournament results more than 30 days old may be rejected, so do not delay the ratings report.
Finance: If you collected any membership dues or ratings fees in cash or checks, mail the appropriate fees (CHECK only, cash and money orders are not accepted by the AGA Treasurer) and a completed AGA membership, AGA Chapters-only promotional rate or rating fee/waiver form for each person including renewing members and foreign guests to the [AGA Treasurer's "Financial Correspondence" address](/who-aga#treasurer.
To save processing time and postal delays, you can scan (PDF) or take photos of the paper forms (one form per image, please!) and send the scans/photos as email attachment to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Then send the payments as a lump sum via PayPal to email@example.com, with a note telling the Treasurer what the money is for.