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Scrabble Swiss Tournament Basics: Understanding the Popular Format

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Like any game with a competitive scene, Scrabble uses various tournament styles. The chosen tournament format for an event depends on what works best for the players. Single- or double-elimination tournaments are usually the go-to, but another popular format is Swiss-style. The Swiss tournament and its rules provide contestants with more chances to play throughout the entire event.

What Is a Swiss Tournament?

Also popular in chess and sports, Swiss tournaments offer modified rules that allow everyone to keep playing through an entire event. 

This format works well when you don’t have enough entrants for a standard elimination system or if you have too many players for a round robin. With a round robin, every player competes with every other player at least once. That’s not a requirement for Swiss tournaments. (We’ll further explain the other tournament styles below.)

Scoring Big in Swiss

A Swiss style tournament uses a specific scoring system to determine the final ranking of participants. The player with the highest aggregate points will be the winner. Second place, third place and so on for the rest of the rankings go to the players with the next highest scores.

  • Winning a match earns one point.

  • Losing a match earns no points.

  • A tie earns a half-point for both players.

  • A “bye” earns a player one point.

Rounding Up the Rounds

To create the player pairings, you need to know what everyone’s rankings are in relation to each other. For the first round, higher rated players typically play lower rated players. After that, winners play winners, and losers play losers. 

To determine the rounds, calculate the square root of the total number of participants, rounding up or down to the nearest whole number. For example, if you have 20 players, your tournament would have 4 rounds. This system allows everyone to play a reasonable number of matches while also helping to avoid any repeated pairings.

The Good and Bad of the Bye

If you have an uneven number of players, this is where the bye comes into play. A bye is when a player has no opponent and automatically earns a point. Getting the bye point isn’t always a good thing, though. These points are considered “as good” as the points you win, so if a tie occurs, then a better ranking is awarded to the player who didn’t have the bye.

Benefits of Swiss Tournaments for Scrabble

Swiss tournaments have their place in the competitive Scrabble scene. That much is for sure. It isn’t always the first choice of format, but no one can ignore its advantages.

  • Creates a low-pressure experience: Sometimes, it’s nice to play in a tournament without the stress of elimination looming over you. Playing Swiss style, though there still are rankings, reduces that intensity factor.

  • Is more inviting to newer players: It’s never fun being the new Scrabble player who goes to a tournament and gets eliminated right away by a veteran player. This format gives new players a chance to practice while they compete.

  • Encourages more player interaction: Since people don’t get eliminated, they have the chance to play against other people they might not get to play otherwise. This is a great way to connect with other players and potentially make new friends.

  • Allows for the right duration: The Swiss system allows you to hit that sweet spot for how long a tournament should be. This is why, if you’re organizing a Scrabble tournament, it’s essential that you understand how long a match takes on average.

Competing Tournament Systems

The Swiss tournament format has its uses, but no system is the end-all, be-all for competitive events. There are too many variables that can spring up for that to be the case. This is why it’s so important to have an assortment of formats to choose from. 

In the Scrabble competitive scene, the most prevalent tournament formats are Swiss, elimination, round robin and king of the hill.

Elimination Style Scrabble Tournaments

This is probably the most common tournament format. At least, it’s the one that most people initially picture when they discuss tournaments. It’s the “one-or-two strikes and you're out” style of competition. 

Players are placed in a bracket, and they progress through the rounds as best they can. The number of brackets and rounds change depending on whether you use single-elimination or double-elimination. Losing your match or matches will result in you getting knocked out of the tournament.

Modified Swiss Tournaments

There is also a format that works as a hybrid between the regular Swiss and traditional single-elimination systems. This is commonly referred to as “modified Swiss.” 

For tournaments using this style, the majority of rounds use the Swiss rules. Once the last round of Swiss style play ends, the top players move onto a single-elimination bracket. The number of players who move on will vary, depending on how many entrants you have.

Round Robin Tournaments

The round robin tournament format is very similar to a Swiss tournament. There is no elimination process and placements are determined by a similar scoring system. The major difference from Swiss is that every competitor plays against every other competitor in a round robin tournament.

Since everyone plays each other, round robin style is suited for tournaments with a smaller number of entrants. If you’re now wondering how many players constitute too many or too few, there is no broad answer for that. Tournament organizers need to assess the situation and make the decision for which style they will use. 

To decide if round robin is the right choice, it helps to ask yourself these questions:

  • How long a single game or match takes on average? 

  • Will all of the players be cooperative and start their matches on time?

  • How much time do we have to play in all?

King of the Hill Tournament Format 

King of the hill is a more hectic format. This one implements a free-for-all style of play. As such, it’s useful for either helping tournaments move quickly or handling a large number of entrants.

Everyone plays in groups rather than one-on-one. Scrabble is a four-player game, after all. The king of the hill format lets tournament organizers take advantage of this fact. After the first round, the best player from each group advances to play the best player from another group in the next round. This usually means that they will start to play one-on-one after the first couple of rounds.

Spelling Out How to Excel in Tournaments

Knowing how Swiss tournaments work in Scrabble is certainly beneficial. That said, there are other details you’ll want to learn about tournaments before you join one. Most tournament organizers strive to create an organized experience for everyone. That’s why they follow the official and community-generated rules for competitions. Our guide to everything you need to know about Scrabble tournaments will teach you the crucial details. Absorb the information and put yourself on the right path to your first big tournament win.


Zac Pricener has been a content creator for the past eight years. He’s a bit of an all-around nerd, and he has a bad habit of working movie and TV show references into conversations whenever possible.

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