Sports in which you can lose despite scoring more points

I challenge you to name a sport that meets each of the following conditions.

  1. It has a scoring system involving points.
  2. Points are good: they help you win. So strokes in golf are not points in this sense. You win golf with fewer of them, rather than with more of them.
  3. It is possible to lose while scoring more points than the other player (or other team).

I used an example of such a sport in a writing project. I’ll identify the sport, and say a little more about the project, in a paragraph or two. So, if you want to accept the challenge, stop reading now. If you’ve arrived via the Facebook discussion I started with a rather looser version of the challenge, welcome!

In this post, I will:

  • Identify the sport I had in mind.
  • Identify a few rather similar sports that also meet conditions 1-3 above.
  • Explain how one of these similar sports meets the conditions.
  • Identify a few sports that meet the conditions, but which I regard as edge cases rather than as good answers.
  • Tell you what my favorite answer is, explain why it’s wrong, and explain how it fits in to the writing project.

OK, you had fair warning: you should have stopped reading a while ago if you accepted the challenge. The sport I had in mind is: tennis. Several other racquet sports meet the conditions in much the same way. I’ll explain in terms of badminton, since it has a simpler scoring system than tennis. I could also have used squash or table tennis or…

Two people, Ackroyd and Belushi, agreed to play badminton. Per the scoring rules of badminton, their match consisted of the best of three games, each game being to 21 points (with some exceptions, none of which arose for A and B).

B won the first game easily, 21-8. But A was better built for the long haul, and won the second game 21-19. He won the third and deciding game by the same score.

So A won the three-game match: he won two of the three games. But B scored more points: 59 to 50.

Here are some edge cases. One is freestyle wrestling (currently an Olympic sport, as are all the sports mentioned in this post). Craig Massey pointed out (on Facebook) that it meets the conditions. My explanation differs a little from his…

Belushi, smarting from his defeat on the badminton court, challenged Ackroyd to a freestyle wresting match. A accepted. B was quickly ahead, taking A down with a throw of grand amplitude, thus scoring 5 points. B then hit A with a steel chair. B was immediately disqualified–much to his surprise, since he’d seen several wrestling matches involving unpunished chair shots. Thus A was declared the winner, even though B scored more points. Several other combat sports, including boxing, are similar edge cases.

Limited overs cricket meets the conditions, due to the Duckworth-Lewis method But I’m not going to explain it here. This is a post, not a book, and it’s already rather long.

My favorite answer to the challenge is: the Electoral College process by which the President of the USA is elected. It’s not a correct answer, since it doesn’t meet “condition zero”: it’s not a sport. Well, I don’t think it is, but feel free to argue otherwise.

But my favorite answer does meet conditions 1-3, as the 2016 election illustrates. Hilary Clinton scored more points (won the popular vote) but lost the match (the Presidential election).

That brings us to the writing project referred to above. The premise is that American politics is actually a show, spread across multiple media: TV, Twitter, etc. It has distinct episodes. Here’s a quote from the current draft.

In recent episodes, the Democrats have done little more than bleat about the Electoral College system. It is as if they are neighbors and tennis opponents of the Republican protagonists. The Democrats just lost a match, because the Republicans won more sets. The Democrats remark that they won most of the points, and thus the Republicans didn’t really beat them.

That paragraph doesn’t work well. I thought that a different sports analogy might improve it. That gave me the idea of issuing the challenge, first on Facebook, then here.

The challenge turned out to be interesting in its own right. Even if it doesn’t end up affecting the quoted description of the Democrats, it’ll have been worth it, for me at least. I hope that this has been interesting for you, too, since you made it to the end of this post–which is open for comments, by the way!

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