Single Elimination Tournament Brackets

single elimination tournament brackets

Single elimination tournament brackets are some of the most used in local, college, and many professional sports. This type of bracket is also referred to as a knockout, or sudden-death tournament. The commonality of each definition is that the loser of each game or match-up is eliminated from the tournament after losing. The winner goes on to play in the next round until reaching the championship and winning or losing along the way. Single elimination is one of the most popular tournament formats in college and professional sports.

How Many Games or Matches are in a Round of Play?

In single elimination tournament brackets, each round or match can consist of one or many games. For example, in the American March Madness basketball tournament, each round of play is a single game. In the Major League Baseball World Series, it is a best of seven game matchup. In this case the first team to win four games wins the series or match. Some single elimination tournaments incorporate consolation games for 3rd and lower places after teams lose. This is a variation on the pure, single-elimination methodology as it is best for determining a champion. To fairly recognize 3rd best and down, round-robin brackets are considered a fairer choice. 

Determining Rounds in Single Elimination Tournament Brackets

For single elimination tournament brackets, the total number of rounds are based on the number of teams playing in the tournament. The more teams that you have, the more rounds that are required to be played. If you only have a four-team tournament like is played in “Ivy Madness,” you will only have two rounds. The sports bracket will include four teams. You can download the 4-team single elimination bracket in PDF format here

You will have a complete March Madness bracket after the First Four is played consisting of 64 teams. Then, you will have a total of six rounds of play and so on. The most teams you will typically see is 128 in a tournament. Recent practices tend to sub-divide the teams by capability to reduce the number of rounds required. 

How Does Bracket Seeding Work?

Most single elimination tournament brackets incorporate seeding when setting up the initial tournament matchups. A seed is the equivalent of a ranking of a team to ensure that the best teams don’t face each other until later in the competition. In sports that have a regular season preceding a postseason tournament, the seeds are based on regular season performance. 

The smaller the number for the seed, the better the team or individual is assessed to be. Some single elimination tournaments will award “byes” to higher seeds to even out the brackets and reward performance. A bye lets a team start a tournament in a later round than teams seeded lower. Tournaments like the NFL playoffs will reseed matchups so that the highest remaining seed will play the lowest remaining in the next round of play. 

What is a Blind Draw Single Elimination Bracket?

A blind draw single elimination tournament bracket is similar to a seeded one in the structure and setup. The primary difference is that players or teams are not seeded prior to setting up the tournament. This type of tournament is more common during individual sports like pool, darts, and some single day golf tournaments. The matchups in these tournaments are set up by the draw of the tournament organizer. For golf matchups using this format, leveraging player handicaps helps to equalize the playing field between different skill levels. Similar to seeded tournaments, a bye can be awarded on a draw, but is generally not preferred. 

What are the Most Popular Single Elimination Tournament Brackets?

2022 World Cup Bracket

The most popular single elimination tournament bracket every year in the United States is March Madness. Globally, the knockout stage of the World Cup surpasses March Madness in popularity, but the World Cup is a blended format utilizing round-robin bracket play in the Group Stage of the tournament.

March Madness, or the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, has been steady at a total of 68 teams who start the tournament. Eight of the 68 teams play a single-game “play-in” game to earn a spot in the field of 64. The NCAA does not intend to increase the number of teams that participate in the tournament soon. Other popular single elimination tournaments are run by the professional sports leagues like MLB, NBA, and the NHL.

Will Lewis

Have been covering sports of all types for more than 18 years. Will is a lifelong Kentucky Wildcats fan and rooted for the Bengals way back when Joe Montana dashed our hopes and dreams. Now a Padres fan as well. He covers all sports here at Sports Brackets.

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