Handicaps – The Whole Story

Handicaps have been around a long time, and for good reason; they enable players of significantly differing skill levels to compete in a “fair” contest of skill. Pros, or people who want objective and absolute information on their ability will choose to play without a handicap. These contests of pure skill work great for those at the highest echelons of their sport, but mere mortals often find it disheartening to lose every match while they work on improving enough to start winning.

With a fair handicap, two players of different abilities can have a match that each has a fair chance to win. The winner will be the one who plays best, compared to his/her typical level of play. The stronger player can win, but only if she plays hard and doesn’t let up. The weaker player could also win, but not if he doesn’t give it his best. And isn’t that wonderful, a way for any two friends to have a good competition no matter their relative abilities?

Creating handicaps is anything but easy, if you want them to be truly fair. Since everyone’s game varies from day to day, we can’t make a sound judgement without quite a bit of data. To judge if the system is fair, compare the number of wins by the stronger player to the number of wins by the weaker. This should be close to 50-50, with a slight edge (10% or less) to the stronger player. Our system does this quite reliably and has for 10 seasons (9 straight pool and 1 one pocket).

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