Guide to Pokemon TCG Tiebreakers

More and more in the game, there are instances of tournaments—especially in smaller age divisions, and most especially with mixed age groups—being decided by mythical tiebreakers that lack general community understanding. In order to help further players’ understanding of what happens after that point, and to provide a general guide to how Pokemon’s tiebreakers work, this guide was assembled.

This document has largely been created by information sourced from section 3.1.4.1 of Pokemon’s Tournament Operations Procedures and Christopher Schemanske’s experience of years of doing math in the game. It is current, as of January 7, 2019. If you have any question or comment, contact him on Twitter.

It should be noted: if a player receives a late tag at any point in the process of a tournament, they simply have the worst tiebreakers possible and will always be ranked below players of the same Match Point level that do not have a late tag associated.

As a word of caution to newer TOs: It is very easy to accidentally invoke a late tag when adding a player that was accidentally left off the initial roster. Ideally, make sure that the “Is late?” question isn’t checked when adding new players. However, in the event this does occur, when it affects final standings in divisions without Top Cut, a support ticket written by the TO explaining the situation is an ideal way to have it remedied.

Opponents’ Win Percentage: First Defense

The very first tiebreaker, don’t be fooled by the simple-sounding name: it’s anything but when you try to calculate it. To calculate, you need to determine the win percentage of each of your opponents, then average. To start off, let’s go over the rules bounding the calculation of Opponents’ Win Percentage:

  • For this math, think of each win as 1 point and each loss as 0 points.
    • Critically, for TCG players, ties should be considered halfa win, not the one-third Match Points would seemingly indicate.
  • When calculating the win percentage of one of your opponents, remember that the minimum “contribution” any player can make toward another players’ opponent’s win percentage is 25%.
    • If a player is 0-2, TOM treats them as having a 25% win percentage for the purpose of their opponents’ calculations.
  • Similarly, if for some reason a player were to have a win percentage above 75% but then drop from the tournament, his contribution to your tiebreakers is capped at 75%.
  • When making these calculations, only rounds played count—someone who wins 1 match while playing 3 Rounds in a 6 Round tournament contributes 33.33%, not 16.7%.
  • It doesn’t matter what age division an opponent was in—if you’re a Master paired to a Junior, it counts the same as if you played against another Master.
    • (This is commonly misconceived because the days of ELO Ratings didignore out-of-division pairings.)
  • Wins awarded via Bye do notfactor into this in any way. As a player, if you get a random bye, it simply is as though it never happened—it’s like you played one less round. If an opponent gets a bye, it’s similarly like it never happened—if they went 3-2 with a bye, they really went 2-2 and contribute 50%.
    • (Of course, awarded byes of Nationals 2016-prior did not follow this template, but that’s history now.)

It’s not the most intuitive concept ever, so let’s look at an example. For our purposes, our player will have gone 4-1 throughout our test tournament, facing opponents of the following records:

Round 1: Opponent’s Final Record: 3-2 (with a bye)
Round 2: Opponent’s Final Record: 1-2
Round 3: Opponent’s Final Record: 1-4
Round 4: Opponent’s Final Record: 4-1
Round 5: Opponent’s Final Record: 3-2

So, to get our hero’s opponent’s win percentage tiebreaker, we first need to break down each opponent’s win percentage, as defined by TOM:

Round 1: 50%
Round 2: 33.33%
Round 3: 25% (not20%)
Round 4: 80%
Round 5: 60%

When we take the average of those win percentages, getting 49.67%. Presto—our player’s opponents had a just-below-average day.

Opponents’-Opponents’ Win Percentage: Headache Incoming

With this metric, we’re looking to average the opponent’s win percentage—that thing we just calculated—for all of a single player’s opponents. In high-volume tournaments, we’re considering a lot of data points for each player, meaning there’ll almost never be a tie by this metric. This makes it highly effective as the second tiebreaker.

I’m not going to delve into the computation of it, as it’s a headache to walk through an example for. It’s calculated the same way as opponents’ win percentage, though—simply with an extra step of averaging all opponents’ values, so if you need to do so, the tools are here.

Head-to-Head: Niche, but Critical

This one’s pretty simple:if two players are tied on the prior two factors, but have played each other at some point in the event, the winner of that match gets the higher standing. Unfortunately, it’s oddly rare that such ties get to use head-to-head as a tiebreaker, so we have one last reality to look at.

The Last Frontier: Standing of Last Opponent

So, you’ve managed to tie a fellow competitor not just on opponents’ win percentage, but on opponents’-opponents’ too? Pretty unusual day, to say the least! While this should happen highly infrequently, the number of Pokemon tournaments occurring each year does mean it happens more than zero times, so let’s take a look at it.

Very simply, this looks at one player’s final Swiss opponent, another player’s final Swiss opponent, and ranks one ahead of the other based on whose opponent finished higher. Notably, when determining “higher,” TOM will use the tiebreakers we’ve already covered to sort the tied-pair’s opponents. If both opponents have the same record, TOM will look at their opponents’ win percentages, opponents’-opponents’, etc. to determine a higher seed—then seed the two that are deadlocked accordingly.

Bonus: When All Else Fails…

In theory, standing-of-last-opponent is the absolute last necessary tiebreaker:there should never be a scenario where two players are each other’s last opponent and need to be sorted by another means (Sure, you could argue that two players of like record could tie and setup such a scenario, but for reasons I won’t delve into here, a tie on tiebreakers would be almost-impossible due to the mathematical factors at play at that point).

In practice, though, sometimes nightmare scenarios do occur. Consider:

Player A: 50% OppWin%, 50% Opp-OppWin%, Win over Player C
Player B: 50% OppWin%, 50% Opp-OppWin%, Win over Player A
Player C: 50% OppWin%, 50% Opp-OppWin%, Win over Player B

So, if we look at Player A, he has head-to-head advantage over Player C, meaning A>C.  But, then we look at B and need to seed him above A.  But wait…C needs to be higher than B!

There aren’t enough documented cases (there have been exactly 2 to this writer’s knowledge) of this behavior to really get a grasp of what happens next. From what can be determined, there is a level of arbitrary decision making necessary to resolve this dilemma. TOM has to start somewhere, and depending where it starts, it’ll end up picking one set of rankings over another. Theories vary as to what it does. However, I can definitively debunk the idea that it resorts to alphabetical order.

Both scenarios in which this has been brought to the public eye after happening have been age-modified tournaments where there are extraordinarily small numbers of players in a given age group. Hopefully, it simply never happens again!