Rob D’Anastasio: A Proposal For New ABS Scoring

Photo by D. Scott Clark
Photo by D. Scott Clark

Dark Horse Championships & ABS Nationals 2015

Two of the most competitive American bouldering competitions, the Dark Horse Championships and ABS Nationals, took place on consecutive weekends this year.  There was some serious battling taking place at both, and as it should be, the finals rounds showed that different climbers were excelling on different finals problems depending on which problems suited each climber best.  The Dark Horse competition employed the standard scoring system that most climbers and spectators are familiar with, while Nationals tried a new equation to determine a climber’s ranking within their field.  The latter scoring system has sparked controversy within the competition scene, especially since the switch in scoring resulted in a new ABS National Champion this year, dethroning 8-time champ Daniel Woods.

The standard scoring that was seen at the Dark Horse ranks the competitors first by the number of boulder problems completed, then by the number of holds controlled, then by the number of flashes, and then by the number of attempts to high point.  This time, fellow MadRock teammate Michael O’Rourke took first place with an impressive performance that included three completed boulder problems, and I came in at 2nd place with two completed problems and more holds controlled than the rest of the finalists who also had two completed problems.  Watch the highlight video to see how much energy this comp brings to the table and why it’s my favorite every year.

I felt ok with my performance at the Dark Horse, but 2nd place is maybe the most difficult competition result to accept, even if you know that’s where you belonged when it was all said and done.  So I was still hungry going into ABS Nationals just a week later.  I climbed well in the qualifier round, climbed better in the semis, and then had my difficulties with the problems in the final round.

The problems in the final round of any competition are intended to serve two purposes; separate the field and look good to the spectators.  The National Championships has their own distinct flavor of this mix, and it doesn’t go well with my climbing style.  I anticipated a challenging round, and went out there trying to stay focused on technique and enjoying the experience, because I felt like earning a spot in the finals is an achievement worth savoring in and of itself.  Long story short, I took 7th, but on those problems and with those finalists, it was a finish that I’m proud of.

One topic I’d like to touch on is the new scoring method used for ABS Nationals.  It’s a more complicated system that takes some consideration to really understand.  Here is a great explanation by Matt Wilder, a scholar and a competitor!  If you’re interested in taking a look at this to understand how the scoring system works, then perhaps you would be interested in a similar scoring method I devised that may be more fair…

The math for my system is the same as that used for ABS Nationals, but the numbers that are plugged into the equation are different.  Instead of scoring competitors by their rank within the field of competitors, score competitors by the rank of their high point on a boulder problem.  On a single boulder problem the field of competitors will fall in different places and on different attempts, creating a number of unique “high points” along that problem.  Those high points are then ranked, 1 as the best high point, 2 as the second best high point, and so on.  These are the numbers then plugged into the equation to determine a climber’s score, depending on which high point they achieved. 

As I mentioned before, this is a complicated system of scoring and there is much to consider.  I like the scoring system used in ABS Nationals and believe it can be more fair than the standard scoring system used today.  The big idea with the “high point” ranking system here is that the number of climbers who matched places aren’t penalized for having to average their rank with those they tied with. 

There are so many considerations and opinions out there about how to score a bouldering competition.  Please comment what you like and don’t like about these scoring systems and maybe through the dialogue we can understand the systems thoroughly and make informed decisions about how we feel a champion should be decided.