Shootout theory

Boy, that title can be taken out of context.


In the 15 or so years of “shootouts” in Schoolreach, they have been the most captivating part of a match. Over the course of a blitz of questions, teams must demonstrate that they have depth of knowledge among all four players, as correct answers slowly whittle down the field until all the pressure rests on the final teammate to earn the 40 points. It’s nail-biting, it’s a big swing of points, it’s…

…the least important stretch of a game.

Yes, I will argue that the shootout is insignificant to the point of irrelevancy for a good team. In fact, it can be a statistical annoyance in the context of a whole tournament. It just requires a different mindset.

The shootout offers 0 or 40 points over 12 questions. Let us assume that a match featuring at least one good team will see the 40 points attained, and not let all that buzzing go to waste. The shootout thus offers 3.3 potential points per question (PPPQ). Compared to other types of questions:

  • List question: 50 PPPQ
  • “What-am-I?”: 40 PPPQ
  • 20-point special: 20 PPPQ
  • Team scramble: 10 PPPQ, but an effective 40 if all the “potential” is dependent on the first part
  • Snappers/open questions: 10 PPPQ
  • Assigned questions: 10 PPPQ, but depends on opponent being incorrect every time
  • Relay: 6.25 PPPQ (other half of relay is unavailable to one side)
  • Shootout: 3.33 PPPQ

But why is this relevant? Shouldn’t 40 points from a scramble/bonus group or a “what-am-I?” be the same as 40 points from a shootout? Yes, it’s still 40 points, but it is an extremely inefficient source of points on which to focus. A subsequent span of 12 open questions can easily net you enough points to recover from any shootout loss, and a correct team scramble opener gives you all the shootout potential with one buzz.

Point efficiency arises from the fact that there is a limit of 80-90 questions in a game. Earning points is not only critical for winning (obviously), but also for improving your position in tournament standings, through seedings and tiebreaks. In fact, the mere existence of a shootout can have more impact on your standing than the outcome of it! See below:

You are a reasonably good team that can get an average of >300 points per game (>1/3 of available points) in a tournament that has a bye round. Your reasonably good rival in the standings had a bye when a shootout appeared. Your bye did not have a shootout, and the 12 questions were filled with a mixture of 10 PPPQ formats (assigned, open, etc). With the 12 filler questions, your opponent would earn more than 1/3 of the points on average, which is more than the 40 points you would gain from winning your shootout.

When I ran regional tournaments, I reviewed the sets in advance to determine the potential games in a match, and normalized scores to even the field that could be affected by byes. As far as I can tell, no one else in the history of SchoolReach has done this, and standings are just based on actual points. If every game consistently had exactly one shootout per game, this would be less concerning, but it is not the case.

I hope I have demonstrated that, in theory, shootouts are not worth their perceived importance. Unfortunately, the issue of morale remains. Shootouts are inherently set up to be a momentum swing that can start an underdog comeback or solidify a lead. It’s also a gimmick to give a greater chance of upsets, since upsets are usually more likely to occur when fewer total points are available. The best thing a good team can do is find a “mental zone” to ignore any effects of a shootout, good or bad. A good team should know that both a win and a loss are insignificant compared to a good buzz on a “what-am-I?” or team scramble, and that a stretch of 12 open questions has more impact than all the time spent on a shootout. Of course you should still attempt a shootout, but don’t fret over it…

…Worry about the “what-am-I”. But that’s another story.

2 thoughts on “Shootout theory”

  1. The shootout probably means more in knockout games, where the psychological effect of a late-game 80 point swing can be decisive. In my final Reach game (2006 National QFs v. Woburn, early days of the shootout), we had a small but persistent edge over WCI until about the 2/3 or 3/4 mark, when we lost a tight shootout. While we didn’t lose the lead then and there, it seemed to give them the boost they needed to take lead and build it up.

    I agree with you, though, in that all games, even through round robin, should all feature the same number of the same types of question. It’s fairer and gives equal practice for all question types to teams that make any knockout rounds.


    1. The shootout definitely has a psychological/morale effect, especially because it’s usually placed late in the game. However, it is given too much emphasis by teams and organizers for what it returns in points. The questions to agonize over are the first parts of team scrambles and properly-written what-am-Is (which are starting to show up).

      This is where the role of a coach or a captain comes into play. If a team loses morale or momentum because of a shootout loss, the subsequent break (there’s always a break after a shootout) should be used to remind teammates of the importance of questions and points that lay ahead.

      Of course, I still think the shootout is a gimmick that should be abolished. If Reach wants to reward contributions from all four players, use assigned questions more often.

      Liked by 1 person

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