Wargaming in Auckland New Zealand since 1974!

AATB No.6Or Why Ancients competitions are better for using win/draw/loss ranking systems.

Probably the 2nd loudest “discussion” at NatCon (held in Auckland, Easter 1997) was the ranking system used in the DBM competition. Some players had thought that ranking’s in the Swiss Chess draw would be determined by accumulated victory points, and were surprised to find that win/draw/loss was being used. Clearly the umpire and/or organisers stuffed up badly by not telling players exactly what variety of “Swiss Chess” was to be used, but why all the angst?? Isn’t one “Swiss Chess” system the same as any other? Not in this case!

A brief summary of the two systems:

Victory Points:

DBM awards players from 0 to 10 victory points per game, so you just count these over the course of the competition, and the player with the most points wins.


Win/draw/loss (WDL) ranks competitors by several criteria, starting with the number of wins they have, i.e. highest number of wins is ranked higher. Any with an equal number of wins were then ranked by highest number of draws, or, to put it another way, by lowest number of losses. If still equal they were then ranked by accumulated victory points, again the more VP’s the higher the rank.

The debate:

Both systems use the ranking in the previous round to resolve any remaining ties, i.e. the higher ranked player remains higher.

Both of these systems have been used for DBM in the past, VP’s most recently being used in Hamilton (1996) and Palmerston North (apparently in 1995 – I thought at the time it was WDL, [so did I – Ed] but I’ve been corrected), and WDL at Christchurch (1994), and also for all the competitions at NatCons in 1987 and 1990, so both are well known to gamers [plus Auckland in 1997 obviously! – Ed].

The strengths and weaknesses of the two systems are closely related. The least important factor is complexity. WDL looks more complicated, but recent history shows it is still easy for players to understand, and even run by themselves – at NatCon 1987 some of the competitions did the entire draw for themselves after seeing it used for only the first round! So complexity is not really a problem.

The major bone of contention is the difference in emphasis each system puts on WINNING.

The weakness of the VP system is that DBM can give you the same score for a win or a draw, or a loss!!! So the VP system simply doesn’t care if you win, lose or draw. For example I had a 7-3 draw and a 3-7 loss at NatCon, among others. Using VPs the 7 points I got for a draw are worth exactly the same as the 7 points my other opponent got for beating me! In DBM it is possible to have any score as a win/loss or a draw – all the way from 5-5 to 10-0 – should 10 points from a draw be worth the same as 10 points from a win? In the unlikely event of a 5-5 win/loss result, both players would receive the same points, despite the fact that one lost and the other won! These results are extremes of the system, but they have occurred overseas and in friendly games in New Zealand, so they’ll crop up at NatCon one day too!

Winning is the major criteria in the WDL system, with draws and victory points used to resolve ties. Some critics persist in arguing that it ignores draws and victory points, but they either don’t understand the system, despite repeated explanations, or they’re just lying! The number of draws, losses and victory points are all used to sort out ranking’s between players who have an equal number of wins. In 1994 the DBM winner (Tim Driver – who was 2nd this year) had 5 wins and a draw, and the 2nd placed player 5 wins and a loss – who says draws are not important???? It’s also possible that a single VP could decide between two players, so how important would a 10-0 be instead of a 9-1 in that case? Players using this system are forced to do their utmost to win every game, and to win them all by as high a margin as possible.

DBM tournament games simulate that rarity the “fair and open battle”. The purpose of “fair and open battle”, to quote Phil Barker (admittedly from 7th edition) is solely “to crush the enemy’s ability to resist and destroy his political existence” – i.e. to annihilate them on the battlefield. Because winning is the only aim in a “fair and open battle” it should be our aim in a tournament too! The nicest thing that can be said about a draw is that at least it’s not a loss. A draw should not, and cannot be, equated to a win, not even a “good” draw” with a “bad” win.

Proponents of the VP system like to argue that there are many armies which have similar problems to the Greeks – i.e. poor chance of actually winning. So what? The Greeks (to use the example to hand) were not “competitive” outside Greece until the Macedonians made them so, why should they be competitive in a tournament? Tournaments are to find out who’s the best, and should not be rigged to smooth over the problems that armies have!

No doubt someone out there thinks that this article shows the worst of a “win at all costs” attitude. That reasoning is also a cop out. The reason we have National tournaments is to determine a winner, and the winner should clearly be the best player. Players are entitled to take these things seriously – many have spent hundreds of dollars getting there, and everyone wants to do as well as possible. By all means have friendly matches and enjoy yourself, but don’t confuse that with the reason for the tournament!

WDL requires the winner to win virtually every game he plays. He will have DEFEATED the other good players! This is a better basis for determining a National Champion than simply whoever managed the most “winning draws”!!

by Mike Campbell – AATB No.6 July 1997.

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