Why this casual league copies chess’ unique rating system
22nd January 2020
After the latest round of action in London’s Open League, team High Definition knocked league leaders O Famo Strano off the top spot. Their current points tally of 2,188 is a season-high, so far, but there is no guaranteeing it will be beaten.
Inspired by the Elo player rating system used in chess, the Open League sees mixed teams either gain or lose points depending on the quality of the opposition and the magnitude of the result. There is no resting on your laurels as a string of big losses against the league’s lower sides would see a team quickly drop down the table.
For example, if Team A (on 2000 points) beats Team B (on 1900 points) by a points margin of 8 in a 1-set Open League match, the former would gain 12 points while the latter would lose 12. On the other hand, if Team B had won that match by the same margin, it would have gained 20 points and Team A lost 20 points because the rating system deemed Team A to be a better side and, therefore, the result an upset. In essence, the system deducts or rewards points based on the relative strength of the opposition.
The league and its unique Volleyball Universal Elo rating system is the brainchild of Giulio Vuolo, a former amateur basketball player who turned to volleyball in 2011. Giulio helped to establish the social club Volleyball Blue in 2016 and has since gone on to organise several tournaments for local sides in central London. It was in this latest Open League, which began in October, that he introduced the chess-style rating system.
The advantage of Volleyball Universal Elo is that teams are not forced to play each other, particularly where travel or match availability might be an issue. Nor is it a requirement for them to play the same amount of games, which is essential in maintaining the league’s emphasis on fun, play as you go sessions.
Teams can choose to play sides of a similar ability, but it is difficult to climb the table without facing the strongest sides, such is the league’s innovative stance.
Giulio has first-hand experience of the Elo rating system, which has also been adapted for video gaming and American football, through playing chess himself. He said: “The Open League is like an open, social league for teams that links rounds of games together.
“The question came about how we can rank teams if they don’t play the same number of matches. I took the idea from the game of chess, where they have a similar issue – how can they rank 2 players, 1 from China, another from Russia, who never meet? So, I copied that system and adapted it for volleyball to allow us to compare teams based on their past performance in a uniform way.”
Carla D'Alessandro, of Open League side Coconut, added: “I like the rating system Giulio uses, it is tailored to reflect the overall score of the team. It's very simple to understand and it gives much more information rather than a simple win or loss.
“Basically, not only does it take into account the ranking of the other teams - so if you win against a high ranked team you earn a higher score – but also the difference in the points of each set. So, if you win by 10 points you deserve a higher score than a team who has won against the same opponent by only 1 point.”
To ensure a team does not win the league by playing only a handful of matches, a team can only be crowned champions if they have played a 3rd of the average number of matches played by all of the sides.
So far, there have been 4 rounds – dates on which several matches are played between 8 teams – held in the 2019/20 league, which ends in June. The league’s 16 teams will also shortly be joined by another 4. Such is the league’s flexibility that it does not matter if they are late entrants, and Giulio is confident that the format is sustainable.
“I was expecting the Open League to become this size,” he added. “When I have done tournaments in the past it has never been an issue to find 8 teams, I know they want to play, it is not unexpected.”