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Battle of the Bay (May 10) @ Kennedy's Irish Pub
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Triple Shot Tournament (Jul 18) @ Cuetopia Billiard
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What’s a Shake-n-Bake?

Time for a follow-up on the “What’s a DYP?” post from a year ago. What’s a shake-n-bake tournament? And as a tournament director, when is it a good choice as a format?

When is a shake-n-bake a good idea?

Shake-n-bake is a good format when you want to have a Bring Your Partner (BYP) tournament, so people can practice with their preferred partners against strong opposing teams, but you’ve also got a more casual player base that would like to show up and play without finding a partner first. You split these players into the “Bring Side” who have partnered up already, and the “Draw Side” who don’t have partners yet.

Note that the draw side is at a disadvantage in this tournament. They don’t know who they are playing with, but it will usually not be the strongest players in the tournament. If you don’t balance this out by giving them some advantage in the format, the draw side tends to drop out of the tournaments all together. We also typically charge a different entry fee for bring vs draw players. In the SF Bay Area we charge bring team players based on their rank ($15 for expert and up, $10 for rookie and amateur, $5 for beginners). Draw team players pay a flat $10 entry fee. Note that beginners on the bring side have a large disadvantage, which is why they pay the lowest entry fee.

Once you’ve figured out who is on the Bring and Draw sides, you randomly partner up the draw teams. If you have an odd number of players, it’s best for you (as the tournament director) to drop out to make the tournament even.

So now you’ve got your teams. How do you draw up the tournament?

Tournament Format

The main goal of the tournament format is to make sure that people get to play to their level. It’s no fun for a couple of pros to beat up on a couple of beginners. It’s also no fun if great players lose because of an unfair handicap that let a weaker team win with slop. You want just enough of a handicap to keep things interesting for everyone.

There are three different formats that can work: swiss system with a handicap, a split bracket, or double elimination with a handicap.

Swiss System

Swiss system is fairly easy to run, but software helps (I like kickertool.com.) To keep it fair, we apply a handicap whenever a draw team plays a bring team: the bring team needs to play to 6 points to win. The draw team only needs 5 points. This format is excellent, in that teams tend to find their level pretty quickly, and everyone gets to play lots of competitive matches. After 5-6 rounds, we’ll typically do a seeded single elimination playoff for the top 8 teams. We keep the handicap during those matches.

The main downside to a swiss system tournament is that it requires a lot of tables and a lot of matches, so the tournament can run long. I have four tables available in my tournament venue. For fewer than ten teams, I prefer Swiss System. For ten or more, I switch to split bracket or double elimination.

Split Bracket

If you have a roughly even number of teams on the bring and draw side, a split bracket works well. I like to use this if I have six bring teams and four draw teams, for example. This is also a good format to use if the draw and bring sides are very lopsided in strength. Everyone plays to their level pretty quickly, but the draw side also gets a significant advantage in the tournament overall: the best draw team is guaranteed at least 3rd place.

For a split bracket, you start by running two separate double-elimination tournaments. You put the bring teams into a seeded bracket where they play each other. The draw teams do the same in a separate bracket. The two tournaments meet in the semi-finals, once you’re down to two undefeated bring teams and two undefeated draw teams. This example bracket illustrates how it works.

Note that there is no point handicap in this format. Instead, the draw side has an easier path to the finals. In our tournaments, it’s not uncommon to have a strong draw team take 1st or 2nd place. The winner of the draw side is guaranteed at least 3rd place.

This format isn’t as much fun if you don’t have the right balance of teams on the bring and draw side. If there are many fewer draw than bring teams, the draw side ends too quickly.

Software for running split bracket shake-n-bakes is not great. The simplest way  is probably to draw up two separate double elimination tournaments, and then merge them yourself as in the example bracket. You could also try the split bracket shake-n-bake format implemented in NetFoos, but the setup is complex. You need to do the seeding yourself, and you must remember to select the “shake-n-bake” bracket and not the normal double elimination bracket. Once you have the seeds and the right bracket, you assign teams to spots in the bracket as follows:

Bring Teams: 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12, 13, 16, 17

Draw Teams: 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 14, 15

If you manage to do that correctly, NetFoos will take it from there. I usually do the extra work to set this up, because it gives me a nice merged view of the brackets and makes calling matches easy. When I mess this up (which is common), the usual clue is that bring teams play draw teams too soon. If you notice that happening, don’t call those matches. Instead re-do the tournament setup, being sure to set up the seeds and brackets properly. The first round of matches is equivalent in both bracket types, so you can re-enter the first round of results into the new bracket to get things back on track.

Double Elimination with a Handicap

This format is simple and good. You draw up a seeded double elimination tournament. Whenever a draw team plays a bring team, the bring team needs 6 points to win, and the draw team only needs 5.

This works for any number of teams on either side. The main downside to this approach is that the draw team advantage is sometimes not enough, and the draw teams are all eliminated quickly. Over the long-term, this can discourage newer players from attending.

This is complicated. What about handicap doubles?

I do not fault anyone for not wanting to run shake-n-bakes. They require more work to set up, and sometimes the advantages aren’t worth the trouble.

It turns out there is a well-established and fair way of mixing weaker and stronger teams so that matches are even: use handicaps based on team strength, not on whether a team came from the bring or draw side. For example, if a Pro team plays a Rookie team, the Pro team plays to 8 points, and the Rookies only play to 5.

We’ve tried this a bit. The general feeling was that while it makes the matches even, it’s not great training, and the outcomes didn’t seem fair: the best teams weren’t the ones that won! The milder handicaps from the shake-n-bake work better for us.

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Beginner tournament? How about a whole league?

We’ve gotten a lot of interest in our beginner event, so we’re kicking off another season of Beginner League. This is a great place to build your skills. Each beginner league event will have both coaching and matches. Hit us up at SF Foos on facebook for more details.

Beginner league events will be held at California Billiards.

Kick-off: Saturday Feb 15, at noon.

League nights are Fridays at 8 PM at California Billiards. League will run from Feb 21-Mar 13.

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Foosballers Movie in SF, and a beginner tournament!

The long awaited Foosballers documentary is coming to the big screen in SF! Please join us at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on Tuesday, Feb 11 for a special one night showing. Guest writer and producer Mike Wagstaffe will be there for a live Q&A after the show.

If the movie wets your appetite for a little competition, good news for you! Show your ticket stub for free entry to the Beginner Foosball tournament on Saturday, Feb 15. The tournament venue is California Billiards in Fremont, and the tournament starts at noon. No partner necessary, partners will rotate throughout the event.

After the beginner tournament, stick around to watch the local pros battle it out in open singles and a shake-n-bake. Hope to see you there.

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Polishing Bearings

Table maintenance time. This week: when should bearings be cleaned, when should they be sanded, and when should they be mocked on the internet and discarded? The worst-of-the-worst photos are at the end of this post.

I’ve experimented a bit, and I’ve come to three conclusions.

1) Clean your bearings whenever they seem at all sticky. If a drop of lube doesn’t help, pull them out and wipe them clean. Clean bearings make a huge difference in play.

2) Check the feel of the interior when you remove the bearings. If the inside collar of the bearings feels smooth after cleaning, reinstall. If the inside isn’t smooth, but is evenly worn, polish them. If there are scratches or pits, they are hopeless and should be thrown away.

3) Do not over-tighten when you reinstall. Over-tightening will destroy the bearings. Use just fingers to tighten at first, and then a slight turn with a bearing wrench to get them snug against the wall so they don’t rattle. This is not the time to prove how strong you are. You can see from the photos below that the worst-of-the-worst bearings were all over-tightened.

Cleaning bearings is easy: pull them out of the table, get some cleaning solvent on a rag, and wipe out all the dust and dirt. Then drop them back in the table and add a drop of lube.

For sanding, the thing to remember is that the collar of the bearing should feel smooth to the touch. If you feel friction, it’s time to sand. Ryan Knapton’s video on NextLevelFoosball has some suggestions on how to refurbish bearings with fine-grit sandpaper:

I had over 100 old bearings, so I decided to record the process of polishing them. Most of them look great. I documented the very worst, though:

The bearing on the left is the worst I’ve seen. The collar of the bearing was completely worn away, and the entire length of the bearing had scratch marks. For comparison, the bearing on the right was in OK shape.

Here’s a side view of the bearings. On the right you can see that the plastic on the badly worn bearing was paper thin. It’s amazing this was still in one piece. I took a moment to appreciate the service this bearing had provided over the years, but it was definitely time to retire.

There is a deep curved scratch in the collar. My guess is someone tightened the bearing and turned the rod while there was a bit of sand between the bearing and the rod. Oops. Note the opposite end of the bearing is also worn: this bearing was too tight. Sanding didn’t help. I threw this one away.

This looks like a severe wear pattern from lateral rod motion. You can see at the bottom of the photo that the opposite end of the bearing was also worn. This is not normal. This bearing was too tight. Sanding didn’t help, and this bearing went in the trash.

Something created many small pits in the bearing collar. Not sure how this happened, since the wear pattern doesn’t make it look like the bearing was too tight. Sanding didn’t help, this bearing was retired from service.

This bearing was in OK shape. Here’s a photo after refurbishing. You can see the wear marks in the collar, but the collar surface is buttery smooth to the touch. This bearing will go back on a table!

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Saturday Double Header, November 16

We’re doing another Saturday Double Header on November 16th, at California Billiards.

Tables open at 1 pm.

Open Singles at 3 pm.

Shake-n-bake at 7 pm. Bring a partner if you’ve got one, draw one if you don’t.

Looking forward to seeing everyone there.

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