How to Run a Tournament

I am sure most of you have participated in a pool tournament or two. Sometimes, the tournaments seem to go off without a hitch, run very smoothly, and finish on time. Other times… well… they don’t go so well. This is usually due to the tournament director not being very prepared, and organized. Hopefully, I can impart some advice here that will help you get the most bang for your buck, and encourage people to attend your next tournament.

There are a lot of considerations, and not a lot of space, so let’s get to it!


What game are we playing? 9-ball? 10-ball? One pocket? It’s best to pick a game that most people want to play, and are familiar with. Some games are inherently quick, while others can take a long time. If you run a One-Pocket tournament, you might run into hour-long games. Then you may have to consider time limits on games and/or shots, which many players do not.

As for the tournament, will it be double or single elimination? Modified Single? Round Robin? Will the final match be a true double elimination, or a longer race? How many games to win a match? Most players like longer matches, do reduce the luck factor.

Don’t just pick a game and random format… do some research, and see what people are most interested in. Double elimination tournaments take longer, but give people a bigger incentive to play. When choosing your formats, consider the following variables: How many tables do you have available? How many players will you limit the tournament to? How many days will it run?

This, of course, leads us to:

Time Management

When running a tournament, time can sometimes be your enemy, in many ways. Let’s try to make it work for you.

Make sure you advertise your tournament well in advance. If it’s a national tournament, you may want to plan it a year in advance. If it’s local, a month or two might suffice, but you must allow people to plan their day/weekend/week well ahead of time. If you only allow a week’s notice, many people will already have other plans, and you wont’ get a good turnout.

Second, when running the tournament, make sure you start your matches on time. Don’t delay the tournament start, and be sure your players know there will be penalties if they don’t show up for their matches on time.

In the Mezz West State Tour, for example, there are no specific match times. Everyone is expected to be at or near the facility, and Desiree and Oscar will put you on the clock after they call you. After a short time (10 minutes, I believe), you will forfeit your match. Put the responsibility on the players. They will respect it.

In other tournaments, you will have specific match times. This is nice, because it allows players to leave the venue and return for their match at the appropriate time. The U.S. Amateur Championships are run this way, and they do a fantastic job of keeping things moving.

Time will continue to march on, and will not stop. Make sure you keep things moving, and encourage your players to respect it as well.

One final note on time: if you consider using a shot clock, be aware that some players might be turned off and won’t participate, and it will change the dynamic of the game. Pool is a thoughtful game. The shot clock is best used for televised matches to keep the spectators from being bored. That shouldn’t be a concern for most locally run tournaments, but do encourage your players to keep things moving.


You might not have much of a choice about where the tournament is going to be run, especially if it’s a locally run tournament in your pool room. If you do have a choice, however, here are a few things to consider:

Is there food available, or accessible close by? How about a bar? Many players like to drink, and if there is no bar, you might be limiting the number of participants.

Is there room for spectating? Family members, spouses, and friends may want to watch, and you definitely need some place for players to rest and watch matches when they are not playing. While the U.S. Amateur Championship is run very smoothly, they are fairly limited on space for spectators. A place with stadium seating would be ideal, but unfortunately, is a rare thing. One of my favorite venues with ample spectator seating is Hard Times Billiards in Sacramento, CA.


Be very clear on the payouts for your tournament. Some tournaments spread the winnings over many places, while others give a very large proportion to the winner. Consider how you want to spread the winnings, and be very clear about it.

Other considerations include:

  1. Putting bounties on previous winners
  2. Running a Calcutta Auction before the tournament (make sure you allow for this when considering time management. Get through it quickly and efficiently!)
  3. Is the house willing to add money to the price pool? The Mezz West State Tour adds $2000 for each stop in their tour. It’s a great incentive.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of considerations for your tournament. If you take anything away from this, it should be that you need to plan ahead. There are many online resources you can use for rules, tips on running tournaments, and even some great tournament bracket apps. Above all, make sure it’s fun! You want people to enjoy themselves, and come back for your next tournament.

Good Luck!

Do you have any suggestions for future articles? Drop me a line at You can also find me hanging out at various pool rooms in the East San Francisco Bay Area. Be sure to say hello if you see me!

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