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Tournament Section Thoughts
Yep, it's that time of year again, where I've been set thinking about how we organise tournament sections by the existence of the Hamilton Stars-Barred, as well as by the Lothians Allegro last Saturday. When I raised some issues with the former tournament last year, one reply was the entirely fair point that the Open the year before had attracted 8 entries, whereas the Stars-Barred garnered a rather healthier 24. Moreover, this increase can't wholly be attributed to players simply switching sections - the Minor and Major dropped to 56 between them in 2012 from 64 in 2011, but no further than that.

A couple of people have, on occasion, argued on this noticeboard that since the lower sections tend to be larger than Opens then the occasional perks accompanying congress chess (prize money and live boards, for instance) should be doled out accordingly. After Saturday's tournament - where it was very noticeable that the Open was much smaller than the other sections, with 22 entrants (well, 23, but one didn't turn up) against an average of 46 in the Challengers, Major and Minor - I started wondering about the extent to which this is true.

Accordingly, I took a look at the entries to congresses last year (so there's a full set to compare; one year is a rather small sample, but I couldn't be bothered with more) to see what emerged. I considered the entries to all sections in the Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Glenrothes, Grangemouth, Lothian, Marymass, Oban, Perth and Prestwick Congresses - those that I considered qualified as full-scale weekenders with an Open section. To cut a long story short, there's not very much of a difference - Opens had a mean of 31.4 entrants, with 33.0 for the 28 other sections (most tournaments following the Open-Challengers-Major-Minor model, some eschewing the Challengers and Edinburgh having five sections). It occurred to me that the large prize funds at Edinburgh and Dundee might be affecting things: when you take those two congresses out of the dataset the averages drop to 26.6 and 30.8, which is a bit more of a gap, but still not huge. (For what it's worth, the single smallest section was the Lothians Open, at 17.) I'm not really sure where all of this points, but I thought it was worth taking a look at. (I was expecting a much bigger gap: this makes the Hamilton Open's tiny 2011 entry look very strange indeed, and I'd be interested to know if anyone has an explanation.)

The second issue I was wondering about is an idea I've had before. I'd like to know how players would react if the organisers of one tournament, rather than publishing grading bands, simply announced that there would be four sections (say) and that entrants would be allocated to one or another based on their rating, to ensure roughly equal numbers in each section, which has obvious implications for the speed at which a tournament can be run (accordingly, it might be especially handy for an allegro, where round-to-round turnover is more important). Obviously that would need some tinkering to work (perhaps players could be asked to indicate when entering if they would like to play up to face stronger opposition, in which case they could be placed in a higher section than their grade alone would suggest; some kind of system like this would be crucial for improving juniors, for instance), and the boundaries would need to be drawn with care to avoid isolating players, while it might also be a good idea to accompany this with relatively beefed-up grading prizes to compensate for the difficulty in entering tournaments looking to win the things. As a basic principle, however, it might solve some of the problems of lopsided tournaments like Saturday's.

Anyway, that's an extremely long and seriously rambling post, but any thoughts on any of it are very welcome.

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