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What Is a Tournament?

By Jesse Lanclos

A tournament is series of games or matches that are used to decide the winner of a competition. In sports, a tournament is often used at the conclusion of the season to crown the league's champion. Tournaments are usually conducted over a short time period. In addition to sporting events, tournaments are often staged for card games like poker, rummy and bridge. The tournament format indicates the matchups and the criteria for advancement and elimination.

History of Tournaments

According to "John Cannon's Dictionary of British History," tournaments began as military competitions. The first tournaments were equestrian and military competitions that were held in Europe at around the year 1000. Tournaments were contested as a means of displaying military prowess and proficiency, elaborate displays designed to impress spectators. Such early tournaments included jousting, chariot racing and other military contests.

Elimination Tournaments

The most common type of tournament in United States sports is the elimination tournament. In each round, half the teams are eliminated until a champion is crowned. In the National Football League, for example, the top teams from regular season play to advance to the playoff tournament. This tournament is a single-elimination format in which the winners advance and the losers are eliminated. Other sports employ a double-elimination tournament, wherein teams compete until they have lost two games or matches.

Some elimination tournaments involve multiple games in each round. In the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, each round pairs two teams in each matchup. Each matchup is a best-four-of-seven game series. The first team to win four games advances to the next round until a champion is determined.

Round Robin Tournaments

A round robin tournament is one in which the competitors each face every other competitor a set number of times. At the end of all matches, the competitor with the best win-loss record is declared the champion.

Stage Tournaments

Some tournaments are conducted in multiple stages. The FIFA World Cup of football, for example, divides its 32 participants into groups of four. Each foursome plays the other three teams in a round robin format during stage one. The top two teams in each group then advance to stage two. At that point, the 16 remaining teams compete in a single-elimination format until a champion is crowned.

Alternatives to Tournaments

Some competitions use formats other than a tournament to crown a champion. In American college football's highest classification, the champion is crowned after the regular season. But unlike in a tournament, there is only one game to determine the champion. The NCAA uses a complex combination of human voting and computer analysis to rank the teams at the end of the season. The top two then compete for the championship.

In boxing, each weight class has a champion. The champion competes against challengers and remains the champion until a challenger defeats him. The challenger who defeats him then becomes the new champion.

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