Running a Pool Competition

A group of friends want to hold a pool competition to find out who is the best on the green baize, to make up the numbers they would like to open the entries to anyone.  Being the most organised of the group, you offer to run the event.  It should be straightforward, shouldn’t it?

In theory, yes.  In reality it is never that easy.  A pool competition can easily go wrong for the inexperienced organiser, so to save embarrassment, we offer here our top tips on tournaments.


Before you do anything, you need to decide on the format for your event.  There are literally hundreds of options.  Singles, Doubles & Team events.  8 Ball, 9 Ball & Straight Pool.  How many frames is it over?  Is it played on one night or over several weeks?

We will discuss formats in more detail in future articles.  For the time being, let us assume our event is a Singles Competition, best of 5 frames, played on a single evening.

Time and Date

When and where.  Is the venue suitable, has it got enough pool tables to get through your event in the timeframe?  If you are using more than one table, are they of equal standard?  If the standard of tables varies you will have arguments about who plays where – much of the art of running a competition is heading off the arguments before they start.


To play your competition, you are going to need players.  It’s usually a good idea to set a minimum and maximum number of players for your event.  There is no point running a competition for two players, and if you have too many you won’t get through all the games in an evening.  Best of 5 frames, you need to allow an average of 45 minutes a match so you need to work out how many matches you have to get through on the available tables, or you might not get to bed!  (or have an argument when your semi-finalists need to get home to theirs!)

The standard of entries may be something you might worry about.  Is your competition invitation only or is it open to everyone?  Are professionals allowed to play?  You need to state any entry restrictions clearly on the entry form

How are you going to get your entries?  You could get fancy entry forms printed (then you have to distribute them).  Are you going to announce the event on the internet and put the word out via email or social media?  Are you going to put posters up in the venue?  If it’s a big event you want to do all of these things, and allow yourself plenty of time before the event too.

Entry Fees and Prize Money

There are lots of options here.  You need to set your entry fees at a level to pay for the prize money.  A popular method of doing that is the ‘all in-all out’ format.  All the entry money collected is paid out as prize money, and usually split in percentages between those who reach the later stages.   Another approach is offering Guaranteed Prize Money.  That means that you pay out the prize fund no matter how many players turn up.  This should encourage entries as players know it’s worth making the trip as the prize fund will be paid out no matter how many turn up.  If only one player makes it, then he gets the lot!  Obviously the downside is you can lose a lot of money this way, so you want to set your Guaranteed Prize money at a reasonable level, usually around 25% under the entry fees you would take for a full turnout.   So if I said a maximum of 32 players at £10 entry fee each, I might set a guaranteed prize fund of £250.  If you do decide to set guaranteed prize fund, you must pay it out whatever.  Even if you do get a handful of players turn up and you are faced with making a loss, pay it out anyway or those players will never trust any event you run in the future.

As a player you should always beware of events that advertise Guaranteed Prize Money (Subject to Entry) – this means nothing!

Table fees

If you can persuade the venue to donate the table time then you could advertise free table for the event, the venue may then profit from drink and food sales.  Alternatively, you could still have your players pay for the games and this could be your fee as organiser.

Where players have to pay for the table time, a popular method is to split the fees, or alternate the cost of each frame.  Another good method is to have the losing player pay for the match they have just lost.  That means everyone in the event (other than the winner) pays for one match, and one match only.

Playing and tournament rules

You need to announce or publish on your entry form what playing rules you will be using for the event.  It’s a good idea to use a set of rules published by one of the sport’s governing bodies – that way players traveling to the event will know what the rules are before they make the trip.  It’s no good playing the special rules you have in the pub when new entries don’t know what they are.

You need to set any tournament rules too.  Is there a dress code?  What happens when a match takes an excessive amount of time?  By thinking through what might go wrong and writing down what action you will take in the rules before you start, you can save a lot of arguments later on. If you are producing entry forms, it’s a good idea to have a space where the entries sign to acknowledge that they have read and accept the rules.

Running the event

The first problem is getting the draw done.  Get this wrong and you might end up with three players in the final – we have seen this happen more than once.

Many organisers get confused between byes and preliminary matches and make a mess from the start.  Trouble is you generally don’t find out until the later stages that it has all gone wrong.

The easiest way is to forget any talk about preliminary matches and concentrate on the byes.  Basically you need your entries plus your byes to equal a binary whole (2,4,8,16,32,64 etc). 

So if you have 23 entries, you need to stick 9 byes in the draw to round things up to 32.  If you then want to talk about prelims, then 9 of your players will go through to the first round, leaving 14 players to play preliminaries – from those 7 will go through, join the 9 and give you 16 players… great hey?

This works however many entries you have, just round up the byes to the next binary number.  51 entries?  64-51 = 13 byes.   8 entries?  8-8 = 0 byes.  65 entries?  128-65 = 63 byes.  Simple!

The next problem is to avoid byes playing byes in your preliminary round.  Your competition would still work out, but a lucky player might get a bye in a later round to everyone else.  The easiest way is to put the byes on the draw sheet before you start, that way you can make sure that they are split up evenly throughout the draw.  The usual way is to put a bye at the top, then one at the bottom.  Then add a bye to the bottom of the top half, followed by the top of the bottom half.  Continue spitting the draw this way until you have all your byes in place, and the draw out your players straight down the sheet, filling in the gaps top to bottom.

Paying out prize money

Once you get to the latter end of your competition, then you need to pay out the prizes.  If it’s cash, then it’s a good idea to get the lucky winners to sign something to acknowledge that they have picked up the money – a scribble on the draw sheet will suffice for most events. If you are running a bigger event, then you might want to create a collection sheet for players to sign.

That is certainly enough information to get you started promoting your own pool event.  I could probably write a whole book on the subject, but the topics covered here will help you avoid the major pitfalls, and run a smooth event.  The main thing is – think about everything that can go wrong and have a rule, a policy, or at least some idea of what you are going to do when things don’t work to plan.

Local events like these are the lifeblood of the sport, so even if you have never thought about running an event before – I urge you to get out and give it a go. It’s a great way to meet new people, socialise and to promote the sport.