Seeding in Fencing Competitions – The Impact on Your Tactics

Not all fencers are equally talented, technically or tactically. If they were, running competitions would be absurdly easy. Any fencer could be assigned to any pool or to any position on an elimination table, and the organizers could still be assured of the fencer winning who was best of the identical athletes. But reality does not work that way. As a result, there has to be some method of dividing fencers so that the outcome reflects the skill level present – enter seeding.

The objective of seeding is that the bouts result in the best fencer winning the competition, the better fencers surviving further into the competition (the rounds of 16, 8, and 4 of an elimination table), and the weaker fencers being the first athletes eliminated. This means that for you, the fencer being seeded, it is to your advantage to maximize the advantage that seeding can give you.

The initial seeding lists the fencers from strongest to weakest based on their competitive record before the competition starts. This listing may be based on fencer classification or on a division or the United States Fencing Association national point system. It may even be based simply on the best judgment of the bout committee or by administrative convenience. Regardless of how relative strength is determined, it is to your advantage to achieve the best result you can in every competition as the prior results may influence your seeding in future competitions.

Seeding determines the distribution of fencers to pools. For example, if there are 24 fencers to be distributed between 4 pools, the goal is to have each pool of relatively equal difficulty. The fencers are distributed to pools in their order of strength based on the seeding. This process sometimes is skewed by the necessity to separate fencers from the same club, and some pools can appear to be stronger than others because of the way the distribution works, but when done properly the cumulative strength of pool 1 and pool 4 should be nearly equal.

What happens in the pools determines the next round of seeding. What this means is that you want to emerge from your pool with (1) the best possible percentage of victories and (2) the best possible indicator. The number of victories is not the measure because you may have pools of unequal sizes, but in practice you get a better victory percentage by winning more bouts.

In any competition, there will be several fencers with the same victory percentage. Their seeding relative to each other is determined by indicators (the number of hits scored minus the number of hits received). This means that every hit in the pool round counts. When you win a bout you want to win by as large a margin as possible. And when you lose a bout, you want to score as many hits as possible. If you can deny the opponent a full 5 hits, that is also to your advantage. Because tournaments usually do not result in even multiples of 2 (rounds of 64, 32, 16, etc.) even a difference of 1 indicator may mean that you do not have to fight to get into the first full round. The pools are a game of winning as many bouts as possible and scoring as many touches as possible.

Seeding based on the results of the pools determines the initial bouts of an elimination table. In this case the strongest fencer is paired with the weakest, the next strongest is paired with the slightly less weak, etc., until the two bouts at the middle of the table are nearly equal in strength. You want to rank as high as possible in this seeding, as the higher you rank, the weaker your first opponent will be. And this seeding also determines your overall result among the fencers in a round in which you are eliminated before the semi-final round of 4. It is important to note that the direct elimination table bout scores do not influence your placing in a normal direct elimination competition; now a victory is a victory, and tactics that accept a hit as a tactical tradeoff (such as the double hit in epee) become useful.