A new format for Manille tournaments

Today we are introducing a new type of Manille tournaments on Whisthub, called Team Cups. In this type of tournament, each round will be played with a single partner instead of switching partners during the round. The partner does change however between the rounds, so you don't play the entire tournament with the same partner. If you want to know the reasons for this, read on!

If you regularly participate in Manille tournaments, you're probably familiar with the fact that they currently work a little different than a normal game of Manille. Instead of playing with a single partner until one team has 101 points, you play 3 sets of either 8 or 12 deals, each time with a different partner. The sum of the score each player obtained in each set is the final score, which in turn decides which players advance to the next round, or which player eventually wins the tournament. Everyone hence ultimately plays for themselves, and only one player can win the tournament.


Knockout Thursday, May 16
First round 3 × 8
Second round 3 × 8
Final 3 × 12
Example of a typical timeline for Manille tournaments

There are a few reasons why Manille tournaments currently work this way. The main reason is that I thought this would be fairest. If you're only playing with a single partner - or worse, with an AI player - then there's a possibility that you get paired with someone less experienced. I know how competitive the players on Whisthub can get, so it can be frustrating, but it also makes it more daunting for less experienced players to participate in tournaments as they might be scared to make mistakes. If everyone is playing with everyone in the same round, then this problem is eliminated. Admittedly this problem exists with Colour Whist too, but to a lesser extent as the teams are dynamic and not fixed.

However, over time it has become apparent that there's a problem with this approach. If you're in fourth place at the start of the last set, then it becomes really hard to qualify for the next round as you need to obtain second place for this. The only way to close the gap, is taking big risks with going Along and going Against, or by often choosing No Trump. These risks rarely pay off, and if your partner started the set in second place, they have to helplessly watch being dragged down and eventually end up being eliminated, without being able to do something about it.

As you can imagine, I regularly received complaints about this. Yes, I fully agree that it's not really sportful behaviour, and yes it makes it feel unfair, but it simply cannot be prevented. And I'm sorry, but I cannot examine either what happened in each game and determine whether the behaviour should be sanctioned or not. In case you did not know yet: tournaments are fully automated, so I am often not around on the website to see what's happening in real time.

"Okay, so let's see what it would give if Manille tournaments could be played in fixed teams then" is what I thought. From a technical point of view, it was easy to implement, but soon other questions popped up. The most difficult one is what should happen when there is a tie or when there's an AI player in the winning team. The idea with tournaments is always to avoid AI players as much as possible, so AI players never qualify for the next round.

But who will qualify then for the next round in those cases? Well, first of all we look at the amount of deals won. A deal is considered won when the team scored points in this deal, meaning they won more than 30 of the 60 available points per deal. If the amount of deals won is equal between two players - which is always the case of course for two players of the same team - then we look at the total contribution of each player to the points of the team by keeping track of how many points they collected in tricks that they won. If that measure is equal too, then we fall back to the reputation score of the players. Below are two examples to make it more clear what these rules imply.

Example 1: Winning team contains an AI player

Assume the result of a round looks like below. Ross and Phoebe are the winning team, but Phoebe is an AI player - for example because the human player that Phoebe replaced lost connection during the game. Rachel and Joey are the losing team, but as AI players never qualify for the next round, who will?

  • Ross 120
  • Phoebe 120
  • Rachel 73
  • Joey 73

As Rachel and Joey are in the same team, obviously they both have the same amount of wins, so in this case we will look at the total amount of points that both Phoebe and Joey scored individually in all tricks that they won. Turns out that Rachel scored the most points, and hence she qualifies together with Ross for the next round.

Example 2: All players are tied

In this example, Monica and Chandler are a team and ended up with the same amount of points as the other team, Ross and Rachel. Who qualifies for the next round?

  • Monica 101
  • Chandler 101
  • Ross 101
  • Rachel 101

In this case, the amount of wins of each team becomes relevant. If Monica and Chandler have won more deals than Ross and Rachel, they both qualify for the next round. But what if the amount of wins is equal too - for example because nobody scored points when the other team chose the trump suit? In that case we look again to the individual contributions of each player to the total amount of points, which means that it's possible that two players of different teams - so for example Ross and Monica - might qualify!

I realize these rules are a bit complex, and in a way even make no sense, but it's a consequence of playing in fixed teams where we sometimes just need to make a distinction between two players of the same team. By the way, this was in fact another reason why I initially opted for the "everyone plays for themselves" approach as these problems simply get eliminated.

Note that there's also a good reason why we don't just use the reputation score in case of a tie. Imagine a situation where you're playing against a team that contains an AI player. If you know that you have the highest reputation score of all players, then you have no incentive to play well anymore because if you end up in the losing team, then you know you will always qualify based on your reputation score! The system based on points contributions prevents this.

Now, if you ever end up playing against a team containing an AI player, please do not fixate on taking over your partners winning tricks to achieve a higher contribution, it's very hard to keep track of this anyway. Just try to play well and end up as the winning team with your partner and everybody will be happy.

Of course there's also the risk of collusion, which is unfortunately inherent to playing games online. While collusion cannot be fully excluded, we try to mitigate it by not playing the entire tournament with the same partner. Also, the teams are only formed right before the game is started, so you don't know your partner beforehand. This also means that when the next round has not started yet, the order that the players appear in the schedule is not relevant! Also, if there's clear evidence of collusion, you can be suspended permanently from participating in tournaments.

Last but not least there's still the issue of being paired with less experienced players. That's simply something you will have to live with: sometimes you get paired with good players, sometimes you don't. Sometimes you will even have to play with the AI, which is undoubtly a disadvantage, although you could consider it an additional challenge. Do not insult your partner if you feel like they made mistakes as these can happen to anyone. Tournaments should remain fun for everyone. In case of disrespectful behaviour towards you partner, you can get permanently suspended from participating in tournaments. No exceptions. Also, please do not send me emails about being teamed up with an AI player or a less experienced player. I am aware that the system is not perfect, but then again, no system for Manille tournaments will be, so I will just refer you to this blog post if you send me complaints about it.

The future

The upcoming Team Cup is just a first experiment in trying to find a better system for Manille tournaments. For the time being, they will coexist and they are not yet considered to be the official championship, so you don't get a next to your name if you win it for now. It's possible the Team Cups might in the future replace the regular "Solo Cups", or that they will both keep existing next to eachother. I haven't decided this yet, and I first want to see how the Team Cups work out, because as it often goes, you can come up with an entire system that seems bulletproof, until it gets tested in practice and you discover that it has major flaws.

One benefit though of team cups is that they can be a lot shorter than than the regular cups. In regular cups, the amount of deals was 24 in the first 3 rounds, and then 36 in the semi final and in the final. This was necessary to make switching the teams worthwile: it wouldn't make sense to play just 4 deals with a given partner! In team cups this is no longer needed, so they will mainly consist out of rounds of 12 deals. This means that a tournament can now be finished in a single evening, rather than needing to be spread over two.

Anyway, I'm excited to see how this new system will play out. Will it be better? I don't know. But I do know that it has been requested a lot, so let's give it some time to grow and time will surely tell us!