Scheduling Guide

Scheduling is as much of an art as a science. In a world with an unlimited supply of packets (blind, of course), moderators, rooms, and time, drawing up a schedule is a relatively straightforward affair. However, very often, limited supplies of one or more of the above variables will severely constrain your schedule and force you to be creative in order to come up with a tournament format that everyone can enjoy. Thus, the main purpose of this page is not to merely provide pre-cooked tournament schedules, but to provide you with building blocks that you can use to construct your own schedule to fit even the craziest situation.

It is important to realize, however, as you construct your schedule, that these constraints are not fixed in stone. If you need one more team to balance your schedule, see if you can draft a few people for another house team, or split an existing house team in two. If you're one round short, write it yourself (getting help if necessary). Don't stick teams that are playing at your tournament with an inferior schedule because of something that you could have changed.

If you've already got all of those factors under control and just want something to help you with the tedium of actually making the schedule, there are several resources you can check out:

And now, on to the art.

Odd-Team Round Robin

The odd-team round robin is the basic building block of nearly every schedule you'll make in your career as a TD. It is very easy to draw up; a skilled TD should be able to whip out an odd-team round robin schedule in a few minutes under any circumstances. Knowing how to create one of these will give you a big advantage in scheduling.

As the name implies, the odd-team round robin is a round robin format (that is, each team plays every other exactly once) with an odd number of teams. It is perfectly suited for packet submission tournaments, as exactly one team will have a bye every round, so you can read that team's packet in the round.

Now, here's how to construct the schedule. For the example, I'll use 7 teams, but you can easily use the same procedure for any odd number of teams. Start out by drawing up a table with the appropriate number of rounds (which is equal to the number of teams) and the appropriate number of rooms plus the bye (you will need (n-1)/2 rooms). In the first row of the schedule, just put 1-2, 3-4, etc.

RoundRoom 1Room 2Room 3Bye

Now, to fill out the schedule. Take Team 1, and each round, move it one room to the right. When it reaches the bye room, have it "bounce" off and start moving back to the left.

RoundRoom 1Room 2Room 3Bye
2 1  
3  1 
4   1
5  1 
6 1  

Now repeat the procedure with the rest of the odd-numbered teams. Each team should start out moving right, and "bounce" off the right edge. There are two other things to be aware of: (1) when teams reach the leftmost room on the schedule, they spend two rounds there, and then start moving right again, and (2) since team 7 starts with the bye, they'll start out moving left.

RoundRoom 1Room 2Room 3Bye
2 13-75
3 71-53

Finally, to finish out the schedule, perform the same procedure for the even teams, with the exception that the even teams start out moving left. Team 2 will spend its first two rounds in the first room and then move right.

RoundRoom 1Room 2Room 3Bye

And now, you're done! A few consistency checks to make sure you've done it right: the exact middle round (round 4, in this case) will be the reverse of the first round (7-6, 5-4, 3-2, and 1 with the bye), and the team on the bye will always go odds down to 1 and then evens back up (7, 5, 3, 1, 2, 4, 6).

This schedule has a lot of nice features. It's perfectly balanced: each team plays exactly twice in each room, it's got a pleasing symmetry, and teams move in a consistent pattern.

Even-Team Round Robin

But let's say you don't have an odd number of teams; instead, you have an even number of teams. Well, if this isn't a packet-submission tournament, so you can have all teams playing in all rounds, constructing a schedule is really easy. Just construct the odd-team round robin for 1 less, and then add the last team in to play whoever's in the bye round. So if you have 8 teams, just take the 7-team schedule from above and stick the 8th team in the right column:

RoundRoom 1Room 2Room 3Room 4

This schedule has an obvious drawback: team 8 is in the same room the whole tournament. So you'll need to rearrange each row so that team 8 doesn't always end up in room 4. Here's a sample rearrangement:

RoundRoom 1Room 2Room 3Room 4

Now, of course, with each team playing 7 games in 4 rooms, it's not possible to have the schedule perfectly balanced. You might think that it's at least possible to have the schedule pretty well balanced (each team plays 2 games in 3 rooms and 1 game in the 4th), but in my experience, this isn't possible either. (I haven't proved it, but I'm pretty sure that it's true.) You'll end up with a couple of teams (the example above has two, teams 5 and 6) which are in one room 3 times. As far as I know, this is the best you can do. Just make sure that those 3 times aren't in a row or something else bad.

Double-Bye Even-Team Round Robin

Now, things get a little ugly. Suppose you have an even-number of teams and it is a packet-submission tournament, so you have to have byes. Well, there's no way around it -- you'll have to have two byes every round. You might think that we can construct the schedule in a similar way to how we made the even-team round robin: make an odd-team round robin and then designate one of the teams as a "bye" team, so that whoever is playing it also gets a bye. Let's try to make a 6-team schedule out of our trusty 7-team round robin using this method, making 7 our new "bye team".

RoundRoom 1Room 2Room 3Byes
22-41-6---3, 5
34-6---1-52, 3
4---4-52-31, 6
5---3-61-42, 5
63-5---2-61, 4
71-32-5---4, 6

Obviously, if two teams have a bye, we can scrunch everything into two game rooms, so we should only need two moderators:

RoundRoom 1Room 2Room 3Byes
22-41-6---3, 5
34-61-5---2, 3
44-52-3---1, 6
53-61-4---2, 5
63-52-6---1, 4
71-32-5---4, 6

But we're still left with an ugly problem: we still have that extra game in Round 1 where the "bye team" has the assigned bye so there's no team to get the bye. Furthermore, there's no packet to read in this round (if you have exactly one packet per team), since you'll have six submitted packets which are being read in rounds 2 through 7.

If you have a blind round available, you can read it in this first round. Of course, this also means that you'll need to have an extra staffer for this first round. Maybe you can use the statkeeper, if you have a separate statkeeper; after all, there's no stats to enter at the beginning of the tournament. Or if you have a staff member who's only available in the afternoon, you can schedule the round so it falls then. If you don't have the staff, you'll have to move the 5-6 match into its own round. This solves the staff problem, but now you need two extra rounds (one for Round 1 and one for Round 8), so you've traded one problem for another. (Actually, you can solve the packet problem by moving the 1-2 and 3-4 pairings to the end of the schedule at Round 7, and then reading the 5-6 match in Round 8 using the same packet as in round 7. This is not ideal from a question security standpoint, but the risk is slight -- just keep 5 and 6 away from the other four teams and you'll be fine. This still lengthens the tournament by a round, though.)

Using the Building Blocks

If you've made it this far, you should be able to knock off a round-robin schedule in a matter of minutes. But schedules are not always one (or more than one) uninterrupted round robin. Usually you'll need more.

Splitting the field

At a certain number of teams, running a full round robin becomes impractical. This point is at around 14 for untimed tournaments, and NAQT sets it at 19 for NAQT timed tournaments. After that point, you'll have to split the field. Exactly how the split works depends on how many teams you have:

Note that if your two divisions are non-interacting (e.g., one is Division I and one is Division II), then of course there is no need to balance them.

Playoffs and tiebreakers

At the very minimum, you'll need to plan a final game or games. This is fine if your tournament is just one (or several) big round robins. The most common formats are:

You can remove the "within one game of each other" requirement, but this is likely to make people very unhappy, and I would tend to agree with them. If a team has proved itself substantially better than its opposition over the round robin(s), they shouldn't be forced to play a final.

Beware the circle of death! Round robins have an annoying habit of breeding the "circle of death": team A loses to team B but beats all others; team B loses to team C and beats all others; team C loses to team A and beats all others, producing a three-way tie which cannot be broken by head-to-head record. Make sure that you have some procedure to resolve this (and also simpler ties). NAQT requires that all ties be broken by playing games or half-games, and I would recommend this as the best solution in general, but if this is not feasible for reasons of question availability and/or time, you can use an alternate solution such as point differential. Just make sure that you have a tiebreaking procedure decided and announced in advance.

You can also adopt a more sophisticated playoff system. A common procedure is to take the initial teams and break them into an upper and lower bracket (or three brackets, even) and play another round robin within each bracket. (When making playoff brackets, you don't have to worry as much about making the brackets even; the teams in the upper bracket have earned more rounds by virtue of doing better, and probably will want more rounds anyway. So if you have, say, 10 teams in a non-packet-submission tournament, a 6/4 split is probably better than a 5/5 split.) If you adopt this procedure, make sure to specify whether the final standings will depend on the cumulative record throughout all rounds or the playoff record only. (If all of your teams started in the same pool, it's probably better to have total record, since there's no real reason to throw out the records from the initial round-robin. If your initial field was split, then total record is less valid since the initial brackets may have been of different quality, so playoff record is probably a better way of determining the winner.) Of course, you will still need to plan for a final round or rounds in case teams are still tied or near each other by the end of the playoffs.

If your initial field was split, some kind of playoff round robin like this is pretty much a necessity (since pretty much the only way you can legitimately determine a champion is by having the top teams play against each other). If you have two even brackets, then just split them evenly in half, and put the top half of each bracket in the upper playoff bracket. (Remember, again, that you might need tiebreaking procedures!) If you have, say, two brackets of 7, then making the playoff brackets equal is very difficult (there's no real fair way to pick the 7th team in the upper bracket). You're probably better off just making two unequal brackets (8/6, or vice-versa). If your initial brackets were unequal, then sweep the inequality into the bottom bracket; the top bracket should be an equal number of teams from both brackets.

Note that with a split initial field, you can run the playoff round robin two different ways: either a full round-robin in each playoff bracket, or a round robin such that each team plays only teams from other brackets (that is, if two teams from Division A are in the upper bracket, they don't play each other in the playoff round, since they've already played each other in the initial round). The decision here will probably be driven by how many rounds you want to get. Note that NAQT prefers the latter format.

Using submitted packets in playoff rounds is not recommended. If it is guaranteed that every team will have at least one bye during the playoff rounds, you can try it, but otherwise there's no way to ensure that the team whose packet you want to use will have a bye when you need to use the packet. Also, you want the playoff rounds to be higher quality than the main rounds, if at all possible. So if you have any blind rounds at your disposal, you should use them in the playoff rounds. The final, of course, requires blind rounds, as (theoretically at least) any two teams could be in the final.

Advanced Considerations

Moderator Assignment

In the ordinary odd-team round-robin, you can optimize your moderator assignment slightly. If you have a reader that's slower than the others, put him or her in the rightmost room. That way, since one of the teams is going to a bye, you'll only hold up one other room, rather than two. Similarly, since one of the teams is returning from a bye, they shouldn't be late. Similarly, if you have a reader that's really, really good, put him or her in the room directly to the left of the rightmost room, so that he or she can try to make up for the slowness of the rightmost room. If you have two slow moderators, put the other one in the leftmost room, so that they're separated by the most possible distance.

These tricks pretty much only work with the odd-team round-robin, since the movement of teams isn't systematic in the other arrangements.


Up to now, the discussion here has assumed that each packet was written by only one team. Unfortunately, this isn't always true. Sometimes packets from two different teams are combined in order to make one usable packet; I call these packets "chimeras". Chimeras can make the job of laying out a workable schedule even trickier.

Dealing with chimeras is one of the few advantages of a double-bye schedule; just assign the teams so that both of the teams have a bye when their packet is read. If you have a more ordinary single-bye schedule, you're pretty much stuck if you only have one chimera packet -- you pretty much can't read it at all. If you have two chimera packets, you can at least salvage some of them by reading them both in the same round (read the A/B packet in the C-D match, and the C/D packet in the A-B match). This, of course, consumes an extra packet than if you didn't have to deal with the chimeras, but at least it allows you to get some usage out of them.

Two-Bracket Packet-Submission Even-Team Round Robin

As noted above, the case where you have two brackets, each with an even number of teams, in a packet-submission tournament can get rather dicey. The naive way is to construct an even-team round robin for each bracket, but then you'll end up with four byes every round. This is clearly suboptimal. You can do better.

Let's say you have two brackets of six (not that I would recommend using brackets if you only have 12 teams, but it makes the explanation simpler). First, draw up two round-robin brackets without byes in either bracket (I haven't bothered to shuffle the rooms yet, since that will come later):

RoundRoom 1Room 2Room 3Room 4Room 5Room 6

Now, add a new round to your table. Move exactly one game from each round into this new round (moving five games in total, in this case). Obviously, each game must have different teams (so you'll end up moving exactly one game for each of the teams in the first bracket and one game for all but two of the teams in the second bracket). The two teams in the game that are moved become the bye teams for that round. The two teams that never get moved are the bye teams for the new round, as you can see.

RoundRoom 1Room 2Room 3Room 4Room 5Room 6Byes
1---3-45-6a-bc-de-f1, 2
22-41-53-6---a-ec-fb, d
34-52-31-6d-eb-c---a, f
4---1-42-6c-ea-db-f3, 5
51-32-5---a-cb-ed-f4, 6
61-23-54-6a-fb-d---c, e

Now all we have to do is squeeze down into five rooms and shuffle the rounds a bit so that teams 6 and f aren't always playing in the same room. You can choose to mix the two brackets together or keep them (mostly) separate (the middle room will always end up with games from both brackets, however), depending on your aesthetic preferences.

RoundRoom 1Room 2Room 3Room 4Room 5Byes
13-45-6a-bc-de-f1, 2
23-61-52-4c-fa-eb, d
34-52-31-6d-eb-ca, f
42-61-4c-ea-db-f3, 5
52-51-3d-fb-ea-c4, 6
61-23-54-6a-fb-dc, e

At one Caltech tournament, I saw a particularly clever, yet sinister, variant of the above. Rather than create a new round, put all of the selected matches into a new room:

RoundRoom 1Room 2Room 3Room 4Room 5Room 6

In this new room, you read the same packet in every round (in this case, the packet by either c, e, or both). This obviously puts a strain on question security (on a less serious note, it's also pretty boring for the moderator, since he or she has to read the same packet every time), so you should not use it for any tournament where anything serious is at stake. But it does have the dual advantages of eliminating byes for everyone and shortening the tournament by one round. Overall I would think very, very carefully before using this format instead of the one above, but it is an option.

Other Formats

As you can see, I believe that most schedules should be round robins, but I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention the other possibilities.


Single elimination used to be a popular playoff format; you don't see it much any more, but it is awfully simple to draw up. Here's a sample 16-team bracket. This assumes that your teams are seeded 1-16 (presumably by the preliminary rounds) in some fashion.

RoomRound 1Round 2Round 3Round 4
1A: 1-16I: winner A vs. winner BM: winner I vs. winner JO (championship): winner M vs. winner N
2B: 8-9   
3C: 4-13J: winner C vs. winner D  
4D: 5-12   
5E: 6-11K: winner E vs. winner FN: winner K vs. winner L 
6F: 3-14   
7G: 7-10L: winner G vs. winner H  
8H: 2-15   

The only tricky thing about drawing up a single-elimination schedule is getting the seeding in the first round right. Just follow these simple guidelines:

After doing the initial seedings, the rest should be pretty straightforward. Note that if you so desire, you can have the championship be a best-of-three or similar. If you have a number of teams which isn't an exact power of 2, then you can just replace the lowest seeds with byes, although this is fair only if the initial seeding is accurate.

Some organizations (e.g. the NHL) with single-elimination playoffs do them slightly differently than above. Instead of having a fixed bracket, the bracket is redrawn each round so that the highest-remaining seed always plays the lowest-remaining seed, the second-highest remaining seed plays the second-lowest, and so forth. This gives an even greater advantage to high seeds, so, in my opinion, it's probably not appropriate for quizbowl tournaments, since the high seeds aren't necessarily well-determined (certainly not as well-determined as they are over an 82-game regular season).

Now, of course, the bad thing about single-elimination is that once you lose, you don't get any more games to play. If you want, you can make a "complete" single elimination schedule where everyone plays the full complement of games.

RoomRound 1Round 2Round 3Round 4
1A: 1-16I: winner A vs. winner BQ: winner I vs. winner JChampionship: winner Q vs. winner R
2B: 8-9J: winner C vs. winner DR: winner K vs. winner L3rd place: loser Q vs. loser R
3C: 4-13K: winner E vs. winner FS: loser I vs. loser J5th place: winner S vs. winner T
4D: 5-12L: winner G vs. winner HT: loser K vs. loser L7th place: loser S vs. loser T
5E: 6-11M: loser A vs. loser BU: winner M vs. winner N9th place: winner U vs. winner V
6F: 3-14N: loser C vs. loser DV: winner O vs. winner P11th place: loser U vs. loser V
7G: 7-10O: loser E vs. loser FW: loser M vs. loser N13th place: winner W vs. winner X
8H: 2-15P: loser G vs. loser HX: loser O vs. loser P15th place: loser W vs. loser X

Now everyone gets to play four rounds. Of course, teams may not be too enthused about playing a 15th-place matchup, so you may want to cut off play at some point.

Extending this schedule to more rounds should be relatively straightforward. The key to constructing it is that if you win in the first round, you're guaranteed a place in the top half, while a first-round loss puts you in the bottom half. Then, the outcome of the second round determines which half of the half you've been placed in by the first round you end up in. The third round determines which half of the quarter determined by the first two rounds, and so forth until everyone has a final position.

This format, while it provides a final ranking for everyone, places heavy emphasis on when you win (a team that goes WWWL will finish 2nd, while a team that goes LWWW will finish 9th). You can argue that if the initial seeds are accurate then this is the intended result, but if they are not there's no reason to think that the final results will be very reliable (other than the overall winner and loser, of course).


Double-elimination is single-elimination's slightly more respectable older brother. In this format, you need to lose twice before you're eliminated. Here's a sample double-elimination bracket for 16 teams. Regular text indicates the "winner's bracket", while red entries indicate the "loser's bracket". To save space, "winner" and "loser" are abbreviated as "W" and "L".

RoomRound 1Round 2Round 3Round 4Round 5Round 6Round 7Round 8Round 9
1A: 1-16I: W A vs. W B Q: W I vs. W J S: W Q vs. W R T: W S vs. W nU: W T vs. L T
2B: 8-9J: W C vs. W D R: W K vs. W L    (if necessary)
3C: 4-13K: W E vs. W F       
4D: 5-12L: W G vs. W H       
5E: 6-11a: L A vs. L Be: W a vs. L Ii: W e vs. W fk: W i vs. L Qm: W k vs. W ln: W m vs. L S  
6F: 3-14b: L C vs. L Df: W b vs. L Jj: W g vs. W hl: W j vs. L R    
7G: 7-10c: L E vs. L Fg: W c vs. L K      
8H: 2-15d: L G vs. L Hh: W d vs. L L      

To construct this schedule, make the top bracket (the "winner's bracket") a normal single-elimination schedule, except after round 1, the top bracket only plays in even-numbered rounds. The lower bracket (the "loser's bracket") collects the losers from round 1, and then alternates behavior: in the odd-numbered rounds, the winners of the previous round play against a new set of losers from the winner's bracket in the previous round, while in the even-numbered rounds, the winners of the previous round play against each other. Thus, the loser's bracket must play two rounds for every one the winner's bracket plays. Finally, the winner of each bracket is determined (matches "S" and "n" in this case), and they play against each other in the final. The undefeated team must lose twice in the final to lose, while the team which has already lost once only needs to lose once.

The double-elimination format is rather inefficient from a quizbowl standpoint, since it consumes a great number of packets which are read to relatively few teams (the last five rounds require five packets for 11 games), and even teams which haven't been eliminated will spend a fair amount of time being idle.

Like the single-elimination bracket, it is possible to construct a "complete" double-elimination bracket, though to be honest, I have no idea why you would want to. Nevertheless, here it is. The guiding principle is that teams which are eliminated (suffer their 2nd loss) earlier are always ranked lower in the final rankings, and if multiple teams are eliminated at the same time, they form a single-elimination mini-bracket to determine the final ranking within that group. These matches are listed in black.

RoomRound 1Round 2Round 3Round 4Round 5Round 6Round 7Round 8Round 9
1A: 1-16I: W A vs. W B Q: W I vs. W J S: W Q vs. W R T: W S vs. W nU: W T vs. L T
2B: 8-9J: W C vs. W D R: W K vs. W L    (if necessary)
3C: 4-13K: W E vs. W Fe: W a vs. L Ii: W e vs. W fk: W i vs. L Qm: W k vs. W ln: W m vs. L S  
4D: 5-12L: W G vs. W Hf: W b vs. L Jj: W g vs. W hl: W j vs. L R(Loser m is 4th)(Loser n is 3rd)  
5E: 6-11a: L A vs. L Bg: W c vs. L Ky: L e vs. L f7th: L i vs. L j5th: L k vs. L l   
6F: 3-14b: L C vs. L Dh: W d vs. L Lz: L g vs. L h9th: W y vs. W z    
7G: 7-10c: L E vs. L Fw: L a vs. L b13th: W w vs. W x11th: L y vs. L z    
8H: 2-15d: L G vs. L Hx: L c vs. L d15th: L w vs. L x     

Swiss-style/Power Matching

Swiss-style (or "Swiss-system") tournaments are a popular format for tournaments with a very large number of competitors (such as chess tournaments) where round robin is simply impractical. Most quizbowl tournaments are nowhere near this size, but the format bears mentioning.

The basic principle of a Swiss-style tournament is that in each round, teams with the same record are paired up against each other (this principle is also called "power-matching"), obviously with some provisions in place to prevent teams from facing each other multiple times. Clearly, for N rounds, a tournament should have no more than 2^N teams, since otherwise there is the possibility that multiple teams will emerge undefeated and so there will be no clear winner.

The big drawback of the Swiss system is that it requires your logistics to be flawless. The next round cannot begin until all of the matches in the previous round have been finished, entered, and processed to generate the schedule for the next round. (Furthermore, everyone has to return to a central location between every round, which can be a big disadvantage if your rooms are not clustered close together.) For this reason, I would strongly advise against considering a Swiss-style tournament unless you have software to do the schedule-generating task and a very competent and well-staffed stats crew. (I have not-so-fond memories of high school debate tournaments where multiple-hour delays between rounds were common, thanks to a combination of wildly varying round lengths, far-flung rooms, and understaffed, overworked, and/or undertrained stat rooms.)

You can ease the burden on your stat room somewhat by "lagging" the pairings (the pairings for round N+1, instead of being determined from the preceding N rounds, are determined from the first N-1 rounds, so you can work on the pairings while round N is in progress), but this makes the matchups even more imperfect; it is quite possible that you will end up with multiple undefeated teams which have never faced each other due to the lag. Avoid this if at all possible.

SQBS can do Swiss pairings automatically for you, though I've never tested this (having never run a Swiss-style tournament myself).

Since Swiss-style tournaments were developed for chess tournaments, the most extensive documentation can be found there. See, for instance, FIDE's official Swiss System regulations. Actually, the Swiss system is much more complicated for chess than quizbowl (since draws are commonplace in chess, and you also have to worry about the color each player is assigned), so the FIDE regulations are overkill in many ways.

There are probably other links you can read if you're really interested; this only scratches the surface.

Ladder Play

Several quizbowl tournaments have attempted to come up with a ladder play system for quizbowl, but in my opinion, none have really succeeded.

The basic principle of ladder play is that contestants are placed onto a ladder, and paired against other teams near them on the ladder. Teams that win move up the ladder, while teams that lose move down the ladder. The process is then repeated over a number of rounds until final standings are determined.

In practice, however, ladder play is fraught with many difficulties. The two main ones are that it's difficult to avoid repeat matches between teams, and that since teams often don't play an equal schedule, the final standings are not necessarily fairly determined. (Or, to phrase it another way, it's easier to move up the ladder from below than it is to hold a high position on the ladder.)

To illustrate these problems, consider the simplest case: a 4-team ladder with three rounds of ladder play. We'll call the teams A, B, C, and D, and start them out on positions 1, 2, 3, and 4 on the ladder. In the first round, A (1) plays B (2) and C (3) plays D (4). A defeats B, and C defeats D, so we move C up to position 2 on the ladder and B down to 3 (A and D obviously stay in their positions). Now, in round 2, A (1) plays C (2) and B (3) plays D. A defeats C, and B defeats D, so B and C swap positions again. Finally, the third round ends up as an exact replay of the first round. Now, the disadvantages of this are obvious: we had repeat matches, and the final ranking between B and C is not decided fairly; C would end up on the 2nd position on the ladder, but this is really only because they only had to play A once and B had to play A twice. In fact, B and C never get a chance to meet directly, which would obviously be the best solution.

I've never seen a ladder system which eliminates these basic problems for quizbowl play, so I would not recommend it as a format.

That's all!

I hope you found this guide useful. If you have any comments or suggestions, send them to me at plujan <at>