Saturday, June 25, 2011

Improving ACF Tournament Divisions

As many of you know, the American Checker Federation currently uses a three-tiered system to divide players in its National Tournaments: minors, majors, and masters.  In general, players have been allowed to self-select which division they play in, with the exception of previous years’ division winners and with only occasional enforcement of rating cutoffs.  This has led to more than one controversy about players “sandbagging”—deliberately playing in a lower division to improve their chances of winning—and, less commonly, of players spoiling a higher division by advancing too far.  These controversies often sow discord among what is already a shrinking group of tournament checker players, and occasionally spill over into very public feuds that hurt our organization’s and our game’s reputation.  To handle questions about tournament divisions in a more amicable fashion, and to encourage fair play, I propose a new system for our national tournament divisions, to be placed in the official ACF Tournament Rules, under Section IV (“Classification and Seeding”).  I am also posting a copy of the proposal on the ACF Forum and distributing it by email, in an effort to get useful feedback and revision ideas from a range of players.

Much of the existing confusion about tournament divisions, I believe, has stemmed from the lack of reliable ACF ratings, a weakness that has now been rectified thanks to the work of several dedicated volunteers.  Now that we have more useful data, I believe we should take the opportunity to rethink the three-tier system, and replace it with a four-tier system, as outlined below.  Over the past ten years, we’ve averaged about 56 players per Nationals, including the youth tournaments held from 2003-2009.  Even accounting for declining attendance in the past five years, I believe 45-50 is a reasonable expected attendance for an NT, given sufficient promotion.  Under those conditions, my proposed model would still allow for divisions of about 12 players each—certainly enough for a standard Swiss tournament, with possibilities of a round-robin depending on the style and turnout.  More importantly, though, they set out clear boundaries for tournament divisions, and outline specific procedures for assigning players into the appropriate division. Your feedback is welcome, and I hope we can integrate these changes into the 2011 National Tournament.


1. Replace the current divisions with a four-tiered rating system: 2201+, 1901-2200 (U2200), 1701-1900 (U1900), and 0-1700.  These rating cutoffs are similar to those suggested in the most recent ACF 3-Move Tournament Rules, and are based on player performance in the last few National Tournaments. Tournament directors should acquire a copy of the most recent ACF ratings before the tournament starts, and must use those ratings to assign divisions.

2. Players within 100 rating points of the next-highest division may petition to play up one division.  Unrated players may petition to enter the U2200 or U1900 divisions based on state tournament performance or, in the case of no previous tournaments, based on the testimony of at least one established tournament player.  Players are encouraged to prepare these petitions ahead of time.

3. First-time tournament players who wish to play in the U1700 division must offer evidence (preferably combined with the testimony of another ACF player) that playing there is appropriate given their playing strength. This rule is not meant to discourage beginners from entering the Nationals, but rather to ensure that experienced but unrated players compete at a fair level.

4. Pursuant to the existing ACF rule about auto-promoting division winners, previous Majors winners (currently Phil Schwartzberg [2008], Albert Tucker [2009], and Teal Stanley [2010]) will play in the 1900-2199 division, unless they place into a higher division. The previous Minors winners (currently Corey Modich [2008], Willis Shewcraft [2009], and Nick Addante [2010]) will play in the 1700-1899 division, with the same exception. Following this pattern, future division winners will move up one category automatically, for the same three-year period. If a division winner has not reached the next rating threshold within three years of his or her respective division victory, he or she will return to his or her regular division.   State tournament victories will not trigger this auto-promotion, but they may be used in consideration of petitions to play up. 

5. State tournaments may combine rating divisions at the tournament directors' discretion, but the first round matchups must be between players of the same division whenever possible.  TDs may also consider using mini round-robin tournaments between players of the same rating division, to improve rating accuracy, but the majority of the tournament rounds should use Swiss pairings.

6. In cases where TDs need to adjust the number of players in a given division (for instance, to avoid awarding a bye or to allow for a round-robin tournament), they may ask the lowest-rated player in a division to move down, or the highest-rated one to move up.

7. Any remaining questions about placement should be referred to a four-person committee with representatives from each division.  If insufficient representatives are available, the tournament director may assign the remaining committee seats.

Thank you for your time and consideration.  Please feel free to email me your comments at, or post them on the ACF Forum (  I look forward to your feedback!