Understanding Fencing Competitions

A Guide to What Happens and Why

It is easy for organisers of competitions to forget that many young fencers and their parents may not understand how competitions are run. This information sheet is aimed at explaining some of the details involved.

Usually competitions will consist of one or more rounds of pools followed by direct elimination.


A round of pools involves dividing all the fencers up into small groups, usually of 5, 6 or 7 fencers. For obvious mathematical reasons it will rarely be the case that every pool will contain the same number of fencers; therefore more often than not there will be pools of 5 and 6 or pools of 6 and 7.

In every pool each fencer fights every other fencer. The fights take place in a pre-arranged order shown on the pool sheets. The winner of each fight is the first to score 5 hits against his/her opponent. lf the fight lasts as long as 4 minutes fencing time (sometimes 3 minutes for younger fencers) then the score at that time stands unless there is no winner. lf there is no winner the fencers draw lots (toss a.coin or other means) to decide who has priority. They then fence for a further 1 minute. The first to score a hit wins and that is the score for the fight. lf neither fencer scores a hit then the fencer with priority is declared the winner but the scores remain equal. The significance of this last point will be shown in the next seetion on ranking.

At the end of the pools every fencer will have the following achievements in his/her pool:

For a fencer who had won 4 fights out 5, scored 23 hits and received 15 hits, this information would be displayed, for example, thus:

Smith, John 0.8 8 23

Whilst each fencer may be interested to know how well they have done in their own pool, the more important fact is how well they have done in relation to all the other fencers. The organisers will establish this (or rather the computer program will) by calculating the information shown in the example for every fencer and then arranging them in their rank order. This rank order is based, first of all, on the percentage of victories. Those fencers with the same percentage of victories are further subdivided according to who has the highest difference between hits scored and hits received. lf that method fails to separate them then the number of hits scored is included in the calculation. After that fencers are declared to be of equal rank. For example, consider the following fencers and their scores:

Rank Name V/M HR-HS HS
25 Ashley 0.667 4 22
26 Hilary 0.600 10 22
27 Kate 0.600 2 17
27 Jennifer 0.600 2 17
29 Gael 0.600 1 20

ln these cases, Ashley was probably in a pool of 7 and won 4 out of her 6 fights. The remainder were in pools of 6 and won 3 fights out of 5. Kate and Jennifer are equal 27th because their scores are equal. Gael is 29th because her "difference" score (HR-HS) is only 1 although she scored more hits than Kate and Jennifer.

Why do we rank?

Basically fencers are ranked so that we can move on to the next stage in the competition in an orderly fashion. lf we have another round of pools then the ranking from this round wiil decide the way the next pools are drawn up. This is not the place to explain the drawing up of pools in detail but suffice it to say that the idea is to make each pool more or less as balanced as the next pool with regard to the strength of the fencers.

If we have completed the pools then the ranking will decide how many fencers go through to the direct elimination and whereabouts in the tableau (see below) each fencer is placed.

Direct Elimination (DE)

This stage of the competition is exactly what it sounds like, i.e. sudden death so to speak, as in the FA Cup, Wimbledon, etc. The number of fencers in the direct elimination will dictate how many rounds there are. For a small number of fencers, say 8 for example, there will be 4 fights followed by two semi-finals followed by a final. For a large number of fencers, say 128, there will be 7 rounds. Notice that the number of fencers is a multiple of two. The display of who fights whom from start to finish is known as a tableau. Although there might not be exactiy the right number of fencers for multiples of two, the tableaux are always known as tableau of 64, tableau of 32, etc.

Let us say there are 40 fencers promoted to the DE then there would be an incomplete tableau of 64 in which the bottom ranked 16 fencers would fight each other in pairs so that the next round would consist of a complete tableau of 32 (24 fencers having a bye in the tableau of 64 plus the 8 winners from the tableau of 64).

For all fencing competitions the arrangement of fencers in the tableau is fixerl. The top ranked fencer will always appear at the top of the tableau; the second ranked fencer will always appear at the bottom of the tableau (so that they meet in the final if everything works out right - which it rarely does). All the other fencers fit into their appropriate place in the tableau according to their ranking after the pools.

After that the completion of the competition is fairly straightfonrrard with the winner of each DE fight being the first to 15 hits. The fights are for three periods of three minutes each with a one minute rest in between each period. (Younger fencers may have the winner as first to 10 hits with shorter periods.) If the hits scored are equal after the end of the last period a further one minute is fenced with the same conditions described earlier in the pools.

It is hoped this helps in some way. lf you are still not clear, please ask - just choose your time appropriately! That is to say preferably not when the organiser has just received a complaint that a result from the pools entered twenty minutes ago might have been wrong.

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