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Is the NPL a fair handi-capping system?
Does it favor the weaker player?

When I decided to switch my Saturday tournament from the USPPA system to the NPL, I was nervous. I respected Bob Jewett's ability to devise a good 9-ball handicapping system, but his system seemed too simple. I wanted it to be fair, and it seemed too easy for the lower-ranked players. But now, five years later, the statistics show that the system is indeed the fairest I've seen. Also the simplest! No bothersome score keeping, and it's entirely up-front — no secret formula locked away in a remote computer. After experience with other handicap systems, the top players immediately notice they're giving up a little extra weight in NPL events, and they frequently complain, which brings to mind the old axiom: "If the experts are complaining, you've got a good handicap system." Bob Jewett designed the system to give all players a 50-50 chance of winning, but in 1994 it was modified to tilt the advantage slightly toward the more skillful players, and examining the statistics reveals that the higher-rated players are in fact winning a little more often than the lower-rated players. Any handicapping system should be able to pass a basic test based on the winning percentages of its players. Look at this analysis of NPL players with at least 100 matches as of May 24, 1999: There are 239 members who have played at least 100 matches. The top twenty percent (48 players), rated between 77 and 132, have won 5,756 matches while losing 5,260 — a winning percentage of .520. Of those 48 players, 36 (75%) have won more matches than they've lost. At the other end of the scale, the 48 lowest-ranked players, rated between 11 and 41, have won 5,155 and lost 5,248 matches for a winning percentage of .495. Of those 48 players, 25 (52%) have won more matches than they've lost. This leaves the middle sixty percent — players ranked between 41 and 77. They've won 16,705 and lost 16,124 for a winning percentage of .508. The bottom line satisfies me completely: The experts are winning 52% of their matches, the beginners are winning 49% and the average players are winning 50%. The NPL passes the test!

The Pro and the Con of Handicapping

Why I like handicap systems: Here in San Francisco there are seven weekly tournaments. Four are open (no handicap) and three are handicap. The experts can expect to win money in all of them, while the lesser-skilled players can realistically expect to cash only in the handicaps. So handicapping gives the lesser-skilled player a chance at the cash. Attendance is the second factor: Handicap events draw more than twice as many players. Why I dislike handicap systems: Handicap encourages mediocrity. Players can rely on the spot; working on their game is not so important. You won't find many professional players who developed their skills playing handicap tournaments. Additionally, handicap systems add to the player's library of complaints. When they lose, they blame the system. If their opponent plays better than expected--accusations of sandbagging. Incessant suspicions of cheating are part of the turf, and I frequently tell players, "It's okay if you go over your head and have a good day, but if anyone else does, they're a sandbagger, right?"

Another scam?

Nobody's getting rich off the NPL. Just look at the numbers for the first quarter of 1999 (pg 2): The system earned $3,003, half of which went into the piggy bank—it will go back to the players. That leaves $500 actual monthly income. Taxes, office supplies, postage and copying reduce the figure further. But I didn't intend to make a living off the NPL I wanted an up-front, fair handicapping system. The NPL provides part of my income, and the rest comes from my work with other pool-related tasks.

Send questions to Gene Miller.

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