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What is the Swiss System?

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In most chess tournaments you participate in, you’ll hear that the tournament is using the “Swiss system” in order to determine pairings. In fact, virtually every tournament that a club player participates in will use this system, with the exception of occasional round-robin events. Here’s a quick look at how this popular tournament format works.

The Swiss system was first used in a chess tournament in Zurich back in 1895, which is how the system earned its name. In a Swiss system tournament, players are never eliminated. Instead, players are paired in every single round (the number of rounds being predetermined) and the winner is the player who earns the most points at the end of the tournament. In chess tournaments, players typically earn a single point for a win and a half-point for a draw, though other scoring systems are possible as well.

In each round, players are paired against an opponent that has the same (or a very similar) number of points as them so far in the tournament. This is true of all Swiss system tournaments in any game or sport. However, there are some additional rules that apply specifically to chess tournaments.

For instance, in a Swiss system chess tournament, all efforts are made to give each player a similar number of White and Black games by the end of the tournament. In addition, players in a given score group are ranked by rating, and are separated into a top and bottom half. The top half is then paired against the bottom half. For instance, if there are six players in the top score group, #1 will play #4, #2 will play #5, and #3 will play #6, if such pairing make sense for color balance. Players are not permitted to play the same opponent more than once in the same Swiss system tournament. In addition, in larger events, players from the same club or school are often prevented from playing each other in early rounds or in games that won’t have implications on the possible awarding of prizes.

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