There are four primary pickleball tournament formats used during sanctioned and nonsanctioned tournament play. Each format type has features that make it better for a certain court scenario, so it’s important to know the basics of each type.
Round Robin Format
The round-robin tournament format is one of the most popular. With this format, all players or teams play against each other at least once.
Whichever player or a doubles team wins the most matches wins the tournament.
Tournaments can also happen in a double round-robin format. This means that instead of playing against each player or team once, you’ll play against them twice.
The round-robin rotation can be done in a specific order or through a round-robin draw.
Using a draw makes things a little more exciting because you never know who you’ll be playing against next!
Round robin is a format that can be used in any size tournament, but it’s most popular in smaller tournaments with six teams or fewer.
Games played during a round-robin tournament are played to 11 or 15 points, win by 2.
If there is a tie in a round-robin tournament, there are a few ways to break it. It’s up to the tournament director which tiebreaker is used.
First, you can go based on the total number of matches won. Whoever wins more matches wins the tie. Second, you can look at the total point differential from the total points scored during games. Third, a head-to-head point differential can be used.
Since round-robin is such a popular format, there are a lot of different ways it can be used! You can stick to the basics or branch out to play as many rounds as you like.
Round-robin matches should still be separated by age brackets and skill levels to keep things fair.
Players seem to favor round-robin tournaments at all skill levels. A round-robin tournament allows players to play against more people in their division.
Not only is this a great opportunity to meet new friends in the pickleball community, but it’s also an excellent way to put your skills to the test with a variety of players.
Round-robin is a favorite for tournament directors too. The tournament director can sit back and let the tournament run itself for the most part since round-robin tournament rotations are almost impossible to mess up.
Double Elimination Format
Double-elimination tournaments require a player or team to lose two matches before being eliminated. For the first match, many tournament directors will have players do three games.
Whoever wins 2 out of the 3 is the winner, while the other team or player takes their first loss. These games are typically played to 11 points and win by a 2-point differential.
Once you lose a game, you’re moved to the consolation brackets. Matches in the consolation bracket are played as one game to 15 points and won by a 2-point differential. The loser of a consolation match is eliminated from the tournament.
The final winner from the winner’s bracket will compete against the winner of the consolation bracket to crown the tournament winner.
If the consolation bracket winner beats the player from the winning bracket in a 2 out of 3 game match, a final game will be a tiebreaker. If the consolation player wins again, they’ll receive a gold medal.
Double elimination is popular among players. Players like this pickleball tournament format because it gives anyone the opportunity to come out on top, even after a loss.
If you lose a game, you can still redeem yourself in the consolation bracket and win gold by the end of the tournament!
Single Elimination with Consolation Bracket Format
A single-elimination tournament with a consolation bracket is very similar to the double-elimination format. Once a player or team loses a match, they’re moved to the consolation brackets.
The key difference between this format and double elimination during the tournament is that single elimination does not allow a player in the consolation group to win gold or silver. Once you’re in there, you’ve lost the opportunity to compete against the winners in the winner’s bracket.
The winner of the winner’s bracket gets gold, the second place in the winner’s bracket gets silver, and the winner of the consolation brackets gets bronze for third place.
The biggest benefit of the single-elimination tournament format is that it keeps things moving quickly. Pickleball players who lose once are immediately moved to the lower bracket and eliminated from there.
For pickleball tournaments with many players, a fast-moving format is essential. The US Open is one of the largest sanctioned tournaments, which uses the single elimination with consolation format.
Pool Play Format
The pool play format is similar to round-robin tournaments. In the beginning, players or teams are divided into pools. The pools are usually determined by skill level to keep things fair.
Each player or team plays against every other player or team in their pool at least once. Games go to an odd number, usually 11 or 15, and win by 2. The winners from each pool are then crowned qualifiers for single or double-elimination tournament formats.
Pool play can be used during sanctioned and unsanctioned tournament play. If it’s a sanctioned tournament, pools but be divided using both an age bracket and skill levels.
Pool play is frequently used in league play because it gives players a chance to play with others of a similar skill level. A league with six or more teams can use pool play to narrow down the players for single or double elimination.
If you allow all players to compete in a single or double-elimination format from the beginning, it will take a lot longer than if you lower the numbers using pool play.
Who Determines Acceptable Pickleball Tournament Formats?
The USA Pickleball Association is responsible for making the official rulebook for pickleball tournaments. They have standards in place regarding what types of tournament formats can be used, how players should be separated by age group, scoring, and more.
View the complete list of USAPA guidelines here.
The Best Pickleball Tournament Format
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to decide which of the pickleball tournament formats is the best. Each tournament has strong points, but it depends on a lot of factors.
It’s up to the tournament director to consider all of those factors before choosing a tournament format. Some of the factors worth considering include the following:
Some formats are quicker than others – how long do you expect the tournament to be? Choosing the wrong format could leave you rushing to finish in time to crown the winners.
A venue with more courts can accommodate different formats than a small venue. If you have enough courts to run a round-robin tournament, that’s great! If not, single elimination may be a better fit. Set reasonable expectations based on the space you have available.
If you have a pickleball league or club, the players should have a say in what tournament type works best for everyone. Ask players what they prefer based on past experiences at your next club meeting!
If you have a club of newer players, learn through trial and error with different tournament formats moving forward.
What are the four pickleball tournament formats?
The four pickleball tournament formats are double elimination, single eliminations with a consolation bracket, round-robin, and pool play.
Does it matter what tournament format is used?
Pickleball tournaments can be played using any of the four approved tournament types.
Certain formats are easier in certain situations. For instance, double elimination likely won’t be the first choice if you have a large tournament with a lot of players.
Find more information on hosting a fun, successful pickleball tournament by browsing our other pickleball content! We’ve got everything you need, from paddle recommendations to information on other tournaments in your area, to help you host a tournament that works for everyone.