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Fencing 101 for Parents

Your First Tournament – Part Two: Pools

Benjamin Kim (Avant Garde Fencers Club) vs Joshua Li (Z Fencing) in Y14 Men’s Saber at the SoCal Division Summer Nationals Qualifiers, April 2, 2017.

How exactly does a tournament work?

An event in a fencing tournament consists of two parts, the first – Pools, and the second part, Direct Eliminations, which is based on the outcome of the pools.


One of the biggest questions that new fencing families have is how long will an event take? My experience? If there are over 30 fencers, plan to be at the event all day. If there are less than 30 fencers, plan for at least three hours. There can be all kinds of delays, some small, some huge. An example of a small delay, at a small tournament, a fencer who has signed up is caught in traffic and because he has called ahead and is making all efforts to arrive on time, the organizers agree to hold the close of registration a few more minutes. A large delay? Sometimes, at larger tournaments, if there are not enough referees or strips, pools can be flighted. This means the pools will be divided into two groups. The first group will begin at the original, announced time and the second group will either begin at a later specified time, or will simply be assigned to a strip and will begin when the first pool has concluded. This past Junior Olympics in Memphis, TN, Cadet Men’s Epee was flighted, so the first round of pools started at 8:00am, and the second one at 10:00am.

If your fencer is a beginning fencer, chances are he or she will be nervous at the prospect of fencing in a tournament. Whether the tournament is large or small, if you can make the tournament the focus for the day, it can help your fencer feel more confident about fencing. This doesn’t mean focus on results or winning. This means try not to have other events competing for attention with a tournament, so your focus is not pulled away from supporting your child to worrying about whether or not you will be able to make the next event, etc. Another recommendation is to maybe plan a celebratory family dinner, or even go to dinner with other fencers after the event. Whether or not your fencer comes home with a medal, he or she will have new experiences to review, things to celebrate as well as learn from, and always a story to tell. Enjoy!


Things to know before Pools begin-

Pools are posted generally 15 minutes after the close of registration (though there can be unforeseen circumstances that can delay the start, right?). When check-in closes, the bout committee take a few minutes to figure out the seeding based on who has checked in to the event. Then the pools are assembled. This cannot be done ahead of time because it is always possible that a fencer has not shown up for whatever reason. Be sure and listen to the loudspeaker or referees calling out fencers’ names and strip assignments.

When pools are announced, fencers should be ready to grab their gear and make their way to the strip where the pool will take place. If a fencer is late reporting to the strip, he will be “called” to the strip. After second call, the fencer can get a yellow card.

Pools for bigger tournaments will be available online. Ask at check-in for the link if available. Pools for smaller tournaments will be printed out and posted on walls of the venue.

At the strip, fencers “check in” with the ref assigned to the pool. Checking in means letting the ref know he or she is at the strip. Fencers will also need to show the referee that all of their equipment passed inspection and that they are wearing chest protectors if required, and underarm protectors beneath their jackets. Fencers are required to have two working weapons. For more info on what you need to know before a tournament, go to: Your First Tournament – Part One: Getting to the Strip.

Prior to pools, fencers should check their weapons and make sure they work. They can do this by hooking the weapon up at the end of a strip and then testing the tip. You can also invest in a kit so that you are able to test the weapon at home before you arrive. The referee will check the weapon on the strip at the beginning of each and every pool bout, but your fencer should check and make sure his or her weapon is good to go before reporting for the pool.

They should check and make sure that no screws are missing from the tips prior to the start of pools.

Weapons that do not work will be taken from the fencer when the ref is checking the weapons prior the bout. Fencers should remember to get the sword after the conclusion of the bout. A parent can take the sword to the armorer to get it repaired. The sooner the better as often there is a wait time for repairs. If the weapon does not work at the beginning of the bout, the fencer will get a yellow card, which is basically a warning, however, two yellow cards become a red card and the opponent gets a point. If the second weapon doesn’t work, the fencer will receive a red card. This has happened, and it is a foolish way to lose a point. Fencers can get yellow cards for other things during a bout, so that yellow card can be a problem. Luckily, the yellow card goes away at the end of the bout.

If a weapon passes the test at the beginning of the bout, but fails during the bout, which does happen, there is no penalty.

A fencer must salute his or her opponent and the referee at the beginning and end of every pool bout.

How Pools Work

Pools are made up of all of the fencers entered (and checked in) in the event, with the top seeded fencers each getting their own pools.

Seeding works like this: Let’s say there are 35 fencers, or 5 pools of 7. The top seed is placed in the 1st pool, the 2nd seed in the 2nd pool, and so on, until each pool has one fencer. Then it goes into reverse. The 6th seed is placed in the 5th pool, the 7th seed in the 4th pool, and so on back to the 1st pool, until all pools have 2 fencers. Then the process reverses again and the 11th seed is placed in the 1st pool, the 12th seed in the 2nd pool, and so on. This zig-zag pattern continues until all the pools are filled.

In larger events, such as RYCs, SYCs, and NACs (see The Fencing Tournament – When Do We Start? Where Do We Go? for a breakdown) seeding going into a tournament is determined by the fencers’ national rankings and then their rating (A, B, C, D, E, or U- unrated). If there are a number of fencers who are rated C18 (C is the rating, 18 is the year – so 2018) but none of these fencers have national points, the seeding of these fencers will be randomly assigned, below those with B ratings, but above those with a C17.

In addition, every effort is made to try to put fencers from the same club in separate pools. Using an example from Summer Nationals 2017, the Cadet Epee event had 162 fencers, divided up into 24 pools, 18 pools of seven fencers and six pools of six fencers. The top 24 fencers were all in separate pools.

Pool Structure

Each fencer fences every other fencer in their pool.

Each pool bout is to 5 touches in a three minute period.

When a fencer reaches five touches, that bout is over, whether the time is up or not.
In addition, if neither fencer gets five touches, then whoever has the most touches after 3 minutes wins the bout.

In the event of a tie at the end of three minutes, there is a one-minute tie-break, with one fencer randomly given priority, meaning if neither fencer makes a touch in the one minute period, the fencer who has priority wins. Typically, the scoring machine has the ability to randomly assign priority. I have also seen a coin toss decide the priority.

At the end of the pool bouts, each fencer is asked to review the score sheet and then sign his or her name. Referees can and occasionally do make mistakes. Make sure your fencer really looks at the sheet before signing. I keep track of all of Stafford’s pools in Notes on my phone and then show it to him to review before looking at the score sheet just to refresh his memory. The more your fencer competes, the more he or she will remember the bout scores.

Your fencer should always shake hands with the referee after signing the pool sheet.

Scoring out of pools

Once all of the bouts in the pool are finished, scores are added up and seeding is decided for the next round – the direct eliminations.

The seeding is based first of all on the number of victories a fencer has.

Then it is based on the indicator. Here is how the indicator is figured out: The number of touches a fencer scored is added up and the number of touches scored against the fencer is subtracted from that number. Every touch counts.

Then the scores are added up, giving priority to those who win all of their bouts, and then the final tally. So, a fencer who has won all of the pool bouts, let’s say for example 5 bouts at 1-0, and ends up with a +5 will be seeded higher out of pools than a fencers who won 4 of 5 bouts and also came out with a +5 or higher.

Promotion to the next round

In Y10, Y12, and Y14 events, 100% of the fencers are promoted to the Direct Eliminations whether in local, regional, or national tournaments. This way, younger, less experienced fencers are able to fence more and gain experience in a tournament atmosphere. In Cadet, Junior, and Division national events, the bottom 20% are eliminated and do not move on to the direct eliminations.

Here are pool results for a smaller, local tournament:
13 fencers – 2 pools, one of 7, one of 6

First out of Pool #1 – Ryan Lee, who won all of his pools, scored 30 touches, and received 10 touches. So his indicator is 20 (30 – 10).

First out of Pool #2 – Tommy Wells, who won all of his pools, scoring 25 touches and receiving 12, so his indicator is 13. Remember, Tommy had a smaller pool so though he won them all, he would come in behind the other fencer in a larger pool who also won all of his or her pools.

So, seeding out of pools – Lee #1 and Wells #2.

Who came out third? Three boys had 4 victories, Wilson Zhu (ind. 6), Stafford Moosekian (ind. 12), and Zikun Wei (ind. 10). You would think from the indicator that Stafford would have come out third – but- he lost two bouts, whereas Zikun only lost one. Remember one pool was 7 and one 6. So, though they have the same number of victories, Stafford lost two, so Zikun took the third place out of pools. Make sense?

Here is another example: in the much bigger tournament, the 2017 Summer Nationals Cadet Men’s Epee Event, using Stafford Moosekian as an example:

Stafford won 4 bouts scored 22 touches, received 21 touches. By the way, V5 means he scored 5 touches. You can win the bout V1, meaning with only one touch scored, which would change your touches scored number but not the number of victories you have. Stafford’s indicator is 22-21, so +1. If he had received more touches than he had scored, the indicator would be a negative number (like Michael Mun or Nicholas Candela in this example).

Once the seeding from pools is posted, fencers have a few minutes to verify their indicator and seeding before the next round, the Direct Eliminations, begins.

Stafford came out of pools seeded at 60. You can see the two boys who placed ahead of Stafford had the same indicator, +1, but because they scored more touches, they placed ahead of him. Tristan Szapery, because he had 4 victories but his indicator, at 0, is the lowest of those who earned 4 victories, brings up the bottom of the group who had 4 victories. The boy right under him had a higher indicator, but he only won 3 of his bouts, so he will be seeded just below those who won 4.

Once pools are done, take a deep breath. Your fencer has some time to relax, anywhere from 20 minutes at smaller tournaments to much longer if pools are flighted and your fencer is in the first round of pools. He should get something light to eat. Fruit, a sandwich, etc. Be sure she hydrates, as well. Gatorade or Vitamin Water help replenish electrolytes. Also, many fencers like to change into a clean t-shirt for the next part of the tournament – the Direct Eliminations.

After the seeding is posted for the Direct Eliminations, your fencer has a few minutes during which he or she should start to warm up, do some stretches, maybe even do a warm up bout.

Next – Direct Eliminations!

Kathryn is a freelance writer and former Director of Communications at an independent school in Los Angeles. She has been a "fencing mom" for 6 years. Her blog, “One Parent’s Perspective,” is a work in progress exploring and sharing both successes and failures in helping her son navigate through the competitive world of fencing.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Fencing Dad

    2018-04-06 at 10:35 AM

    Wow! This is a great, comprehensive summary of Tournament pools. Parents of kids who plan to start to participate in tournaments should read this. We should circulate to newbee parents.

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