In the wake of unprecedented recent tournament activity, youd think that now, more than ever, SF skill was really being pushed to new heights. For the average player, there are more chances to see the best in action, and for those near the top, more chances to face true challenges from around the country. Youd think so, only its not quite shaking out that way. Why not? Because of the emergence of a new form of scrubbery clouding the SF horizon: Ties.
Lets face it- ties are weak. From the kind you wear around your neck to the kind hippies are dyeing to the kind were seeing in SF finals. The recent South Florida Championships pushed things to new heights of non-competitiveness with the advent of the three-way tie for “first”. Maybe at SFC XXIII, we can work out an elaborate 128-man tie! In fact, Ill engineer a tournament with an all-tied bracket. Whats that? You want to know when and where it is? Why? We dont need to bother to show up and play- I mean really, whats the point? Were all friends here…
Apart from the somewhat lofty complaint that ties are “just weak”, and clearly diminish the top US skill levels (by not forcing the best to get any better), they have a more basic impact on the tournaments themselves. A tournament where the top two finishers have agreed to split a pot and so just joke their way through the finals is boring. Theres no anticlimax quite like flying somewhere, suffering through 12 hour days of smelly men, and staying up until 3am to watch a couple of friends joke their way through a formality.
Its more than boring, however- its an insult. An insult to the rest of the attendees. Most people at an SF tournament realize that theyre probably not going to win, so they come to learn a few things, earn some respect, to test themselves, and most of all, to see the show. Tournament attendees are fans of SF, first and foremost. They love the excitement of watching a live contest between two top players. And thats the only thing that even a double-elimination tournament can guarantee- the top two players. By playing a sham finals, you rob the crowd of what really should be the best match of the event- a real struggle between differing styles and mentalities. Ties turn the highlight into a lowlight that makes everyone wish theyd left 3 hours ago. It also adds to the sting of seeing some jerk from out of town sweeping up the top prizes, adding fuel to the fire of the movement to ban out of town players.
So we might agree that ties are weak, boring, and rob the audience of a lot of what they come to tournaments for, but is that all they are? Not hardly. Ties, or agreements that, should they meet before the finals, one player will throw the match to the other, are cheating. Straight up. The fact that its the top players doing it- those that already have the best chances to win- just makes it that much worse. How much better would you have placed in the last tournament if youd had a free pass through the 2nd, 4th, and 5th best guys there? When you compete as a “team”, or really any sort of organized unit, youre getting a major advantage, assuming everyone else is playing under the rules, as individual players.
You also get the psychological advantage of knowing you dont have to face certain tough matches- which can be a big deal. It might be argued that everyone has friends, and maybe this is a good way of advancing the player that “should” win. Well, its true everyone has friends- I play against lots of friends, in virtually every tournament I go to. And I play them straight up. Their wins against me meant they played the better match, and vice versa. As for who “should” win- thats exactly the type of idle theorizing that should be left at home. Lots of variously informed/biased people have ideas about who “should” win. However, who “should” win is what the tournament itself is a tool for deciding. It doesnt need any help from you, and its certainly not an excuse for cheating.
Part of the great fun of tournaments is that anything can (and will) happen. The best player has a bad day, the worst player finds the zone. A major part of what a tournament tests isnt just “whos best”, but also who has the consistency and the resilience to deliver repeatedly under pressure. This is compromised by any kind of arrangement between players, at the direct expense of everyone theyre competing against. As the winner, you can still share your money any way you like, but you dont have to cheat the other players to do it. Ive been taken out to dinner on tournament winnings, and done it a few times myself. But I didnt throw any matches to get the winner where he was, and no ones ever given me a free pass (in fact, in all the tournaments Ive played, I dont think Ive ever even gotten a bye, or a single no-show opponent. Waaah!).
I suppose the Japanese bear mentioning here, since as some of you know, they traditionally consider a tie the best possible outcome of a competition. Whether were inclined to agree with them isnt even relevant here, however, because their conception of a “good tie” isnt what were seeing at these tournaments. An honorable tie in Japan is the result of two evenly matched competitors both giving their all, and fighting to a draw. But that isnt what weve got, at all. Weve got two guys in the same general ballpark of skill (meaning one might beat the other, maybe), and theyre barely even trying. No one could look at results like this and feel they were the best anything.
So assuming that the SF-consuming public agrees that ties suck on many levels, the real question then becomes “what to do about it”? The knee-jerk response here would be “just ban it”. Yes, the mantra of the lazy mind rears its head again, and is just as unhelpful and unilluminating here as it usually is. While we all agree wed like to see it “banned”, the question of how to implement this change is a difficult one. Just as some people might like to ban having certain thoughts, no one bothers passing laws against just having them, because we realize that enforcing the law would be impossible. Similarly, in the case of “banning ties”, the question would be “how”? Since were dealing with sometimes substantial amounts of money, pride, etc., tournament directors get into dangerous territory by just deciding “they were in this together- that was a sham final”. Finally, tournament directors are often players as well, with biases, loyalties, and their own friends (though tournament directors do a fantastic job of keeping things fair overall- its a hard and thankless job)- so any decision they made where the stakes were that high would be highly contentious either way. The issue at hand would essentially be “what was in the mind of the accused tie-ers?”. While its pretty obvious from time to time, its virtually impossible to prove. Too much is at risk, and it opens up the potential for abuse.
So even if I think messing with the prizes as a penalty, etc., is asking for trouble, tournament directors should want to avoid this kind of outcome at all costs. It makes a joke out of their (unpaid, thankless, hard) work, as well as wasting the time of the other players, leaving a sour taste, etc. If were forced to less draconian measures, what else could be done? The easiest remedy would be simple peer pressure. Call them out on their weakness. The funniest thing about ties is that everyone participating feels like theyre “secretly” better than the other guy anyway- they just apparently lack the guts to test their little hypothesis. If the players themselves are too complacent (re: chicken) to feel they have anything to prove, demand it from them. Loudly. Dont just sit and watch some lame tie. Boo. Throw things. Slash their tires (Editors note: shoryuken.com does not endorse the throwing of non-Javi items, or the slashing of non-Javi tires). Theyre cheating you. Dont sit back and chuckle about it, jackass. This sort of thing goes on because people either dont know about it, or they just take it lying down, figuring they can do what they want, since theyre better than you were, youre out anyway, etc. Those arent good excuses to sit there like a sucker, and watch yourself get cheated. Stand up and demand some truth in advertising- demand your quality finals.
SRK and other sites might play some role as well. At the discretion of tournament directors, perhaps the avatars of reportedly tying players could be replaced with something to signal to everyone exactly what kind of competitor they really are- Mr. Wizard suggests a “pink taco” icon that could follow you around.
Since even these proposals still effectively lack real teeth (icon or no, they still get the prizes, right?), we might also consider an additional penalty: Tournaments placings earned under suspicion of ties (or complicity of any kind with other players) will not be considered when seeding future tournaments. Decide to coast to an uncontested “first” by tying? Welcome to a first-round match with the #1 seed in the next tournament, punk. This doesnt prevent anyone from winning, it doesnt ban anyone on the basis of circumstantial evidence, and it doesnt touch anyones prizes- it just makes repeating the offense a little harder. To succeed, this would require the cooperation of tournament directors in lots of different places, but come on- these guys are cheating the other players, and you (as the tournament director) most of all. They take advantage of all your hard work, and then they cant even be bothered to play a decent finals? Please. Tournament directors should be grateful for some way to control this insidious kind of cheating. These penalties are mild enough that they can be imposed with merely good circumstantial evidence (strong suspicion of throwing matches, etc.), but could end up making a big difference in future results.
Next tournament, please let any tie-ers (re: cheaters) know exactly what you think of them.