Defaults and Rating

April 25, 2013

Defaults and Rating

There's been an email exchange among some USATT officials, of which I was CCed, on the subject of players defaulting tournament matches to protect their rating, It was instigated by a gentleman who was the victim of this - a player didn't want to play him, perhaps because he had long pips, and so defaulted, apparently to protect his rating. The question raised is why don't players who default matches lose rating points? It's a good question - and below is my response.

I'll jump in and give the reasons for why they do not give away rating points for a default, and then (at the end), I'll offer a possible solution.

It would be somewhat unfair to take away rating points for certain defaults. So the only way I see for a rules change that would allow a rating loss for defaults is if the referee were given the responsibility of determining if the default was "legitimate" or not. That would not be easy to determine, as someone who wanted to avoid playing a match for rating purposes could easily fake one of the below reasons. Here are some legitimate reasons why players default that have nothing to do with avoiding rating point losses - and over the course of 37 years of play, I've defaulted matches at least once for each of these reasons (except for #3 and #8), as have many others. (I'm sure there are other reasons I haven't thought of.)

  1. Tournament runs late, and player has to leave.
  2. Player is injured or sick.
  3. Player is too tired. This happens all the time - sometimes someone older or out of shape advances in multiple events, and simply can't play all of the matches, and has to default some. This especially happens to elderly players.
  4. Player is unhappy with the playing conditions and decides to drop out. If a tournament has poor lighting, a background where you have trouble seeing the ball, slippery floors, or some other such problem, a player might decide to default rather than play in such poor conditions.
  5. Player's equipment is broken, defective, or stolen.
  6. Player is unable to attend a tournament he entered, or is called away from the tournament unexpectedly. Some people are on call, such as doctors. Players have defaulted out of less important matches at big tournaments to do table tennis TV interviews, or to do commentating, or some other function. Or a player may be called away due to a family or work emergency.
  7. Player is also a tournament official or volunteer, and he is unexpectedly needed, and so he drops out (i.e. defaults) to help run the tournament.
  8. Player unexpectedly advances in a major event, and so defaults a less important event. This happens at the U.S. Open and Nationals quite a bit. When I have a top junior who is pulling off upsets and has a chance to win a major age event, I'm almost always going to advise him to drop any rating events so he can focus on the age event and a national title. The problem is the player might not know in advance he'd do so well in the age event, and so enters the rating events as well. This also happens in Men's and Women's Singles, where a player might find himself advancing deep into the draw, and so not want to tire himself out in another event, such as a rating event, some age events, hardbat, sandpaper, etc. When Dan Seemiller, in his late 50s, pulled off some upsets and advanced deep into the Men's Singles event at the 2011 USA Nationals, he defaulted his senior events to save energy for that event.

Some would argue that if a player chooses to default, he should always lose the rating points. But besides being unfair in some cases (such as reason #1 above), that would just make the rating system less accurate. We have enough trouble with under-rated players showing up and sweeping the rating events and messing up the seedings; do we really want to take away 50 points in a default from a player - and possibly multiple times if the player defaults several matches - knowing what this will mean when he shows up at his next tournament? Suppose a player is rated 1830, but defaults out of two round robin events for one of the reasons above. That could be six matches, and perhaps 200-250 rating points. His next tournament he shows up way under-rated and playing in events he should not be eligible for.

What I would suggest as a solution is to have a player who defaults lose rating points unless the referee approves the default, i.e. the defaulting player must give the referee a reason for the default, and the referee must accept it, based on guidelines from the bullet points above. I'd also limit it to a maximum of 50 points lost in one tournament from defaults. I don't think players should gain rating points from a default. There's no perfect solution, and a liar would still get away with defaulting matches to protect his rating, but it would happen less often as many players might have some difficulty flat-out lying to the referee, and sometimes the player's actions would convince the referee he is lying. Also, if a player defaults regularly, then the referee could turn him down.

I'd rather not get into a long discussion of this - I have a busy day coaching and writing tomorrow. But hopefully the above will offer some grounds for thought, discussion, and possible action by those in a position to make changes.

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