Match Formats

Match Formats


There are many variations on popular competition formats. The descriptions below are a layman's guide to the popular formats expressed in simple terms. This is not intended to be a comprehensive or authoritative glossary of every format but sufficient to familiarise those new to competitions not to be overwhelmed by quaint french terminology! However you describe it, competitions are great fun and players of all levels are encouraged to play. Bon Chance mes amis!


Competition matches can be between singles, doubles or triples. Teams can comprise men only, women only or be mixed, known as ‘Open’. A competition may choose to allow a mixed team to play in a men’s competition but a mixed team is not allowed to play in a women’s competition. There are also specialised shooting competitions based on individual competitors, not teams.

Mélée and Panaché

A Mélée (melay) is where individuals enter into a competition and are selected, randomly or otherwise, by the organisers to make up a team. Each team stays together and plays throughout the competition. A Panaché (panachay) is similar except new teams are selected after each round with the objective that a player does not play with another player more than once.

Age brackets

In major competitions teams may by separated into groups by age. The normal groups are Juniors, under 18, and Seniors, over 60. There is nothing to stop a Senior or Junior playing in an under 60 team.

Points to win

Most competitions play to 13 points. Sometimes a lower figure is nominated to speed up the match. Sometimes finals are played to 15.

Timed games

Games can be timed or not. Timed games are popular to keep competitions to schedule.

Timed games start by a ring of the bell and are timed to 45-60 minutes determined by the organisers. When the end bell is rung you may have got to 13 points and already won. But if not, you finish the end you are playing, then play either one or two more ends as determined by the organisers. If that results in a draw you play one further end as a tie breaker.

Confusion arises mainly from uncertainty when an end finishes. An end finishes when the last boule has been played and all boules and the cosh have stopped moving. The thing to remember is the next end is deemed to have started at the exact same time as the previous end finished. There is no time gap between one end finishing and the next end starting. 2 examples will help -

-The last boule has been thrown and all boules have stopped moving. That end is now over. So the next end has started. A moment later the bell goes. Even though no-one has yet thrown a boule for this new end, it had started before the bell went. So you finish this new end and play one more end (+ a tie breaker end if a draw).

-The last boule has been thrown but it hit another boule which is still moving when the bell goes. So that end had not finished when the bell went. So you finish that end and play one more end (+ a tie breaker end if a draw).

Principale and Consolante

These are two French words for the top teams in a larger competition. After a qualification process which places teams in descending order, the top 8, or maybe 16 in a larger competition, go into the Principale (Pranciparl) to play off by the chosen format to determine the competition winners.

The second 8 or 16 go into the Consolante (Consolont) to be consoled they didn’t make the Principale but they might still win the Consolante, which is still a good achievement.

The remaining teams play in the Social and console themselves in whatever way they choose! However the good news is this system provides for maybe 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes in the 3 different groups so people at varying levels of experience get a chance to win. It is often acceptable for a team to withdraw from playing in the Social if they wish. However they MUST inform the organisers immediately the qualifying rounds have been decided or they will upset the draws.

Different competition formats

Below are brief descriptions of the more popular formats used in competitions.

A good site to see more comprehensive descriptions of formats is

For an explanation of the more complex formats a good site to visit is

Wins and Delta Format

This is a simple, first past the post format. It is easy to administer and can be used for any number of teams, any number of rounds and for timed and untimed games. At the end of the competition teams are first ranked by how many games they have won and then by their delta. Delta is a Greek term used in maths to signify ‘difference’.

If the top team had won 3 out of 3 of its games with scores of 13-8, 13-12 and 13-5 their deltas for each game would have been +5, +1 and +8 totalling +14. If the team lost one of its games say 6-13 that game’s delta would be -7. Usually this is sufficient to place teams in descending order of success though occasionally there are draws. The main drawback is a lot depends on the luck of the draw who you are playing against. Wins and Delta are often used in qualifying rounds to sort the ‘chaff from the wheat’ before going on to more sophisticated and possibly fairer ways of producing final winners.

Round Robin format

In a Round Robin competition, each competing team plays every other team, and no team ever plays the same team twice. To play a full Round Robin requires one fewer number of rounds than the number of teams. That is, if there are 8 teams, a full Round Robin requires 7 rounds. This can make for a lengthy competition.

Knock Out format

This is the traditional format of an initial draw to determine which teams play against which teams for the first round. As each round progresses teams are knocked out till the final two teams remaining play off to determine the winner. The downside is if a team is knocked out early there is no more playing for that team. Knock Out format is often combined with Wins and Delta above. For example the top 8 teams are derived by Wins and Delta and these teams progress into a knock out to determine final placing.

Swiss System format

Like their clocks the Swiss system works perfectly but very few understand exactly what goes on in the works. It is usually run by a computer. It is based on the concept that the better teams should play other better teams to decide an eventual winner rather just get lucky by a random draw of opponents. In principle winners play winners and losers play losers. But there’s more! The draws are based on how many wins a team has had, either in qualifying rounds or even based on their performance record in previous competitions. This is done for all teams in the competition. The idea is that the final winners will have played against their toughest opponents and so they are truly the winners. To many this system is one you'd want to avoid, it tends to put you in your place!

Barrage or Poule format

In a Barrage, or poules, format the competing teams are divided into groups called poules. Each poule contains 4 teams. The teams in each poule play two or three games. In the first round, team A plays team C, and team B plays team D, in the order in which they were seeded. In the second round, the winners play winners and losers play losers. After the second round, there will be one team with 2 wins, one team with no wins, and two teams with 1 win each. At this point the team with 2 wins is qualified for the finals and the team with no wins is disqualified. The other two teams (with 1 win each) go on to play a third game called the “barrage”. The winner of the barrage is qualified for the finals; the loser is disqualified. Thereafter a Knock-out or elimination format can be used to determine the final winners.

Buchholz numbers

This is a means to separate draws in major competitions. In essence it reviews not the team’s performance but the performance of that team’s opponents during a competition. It ranks a team who has played against tougher opponents higher than one that has played against less tough opponents. Don't worry too much about this complicated system, if you ever come close to being judged by it you will probably by then know more than the organisers do!