3 minutes reading time
The History of Texting Pairings
In 2008, at the MD State Scholastic Champs, as I was yelling into the din of the crowded cafeteria, "Round 3 pairings are up for the K-3 JV section" and seeing the scrum form at the pairings sheet I felt there had to be a better way. We had the pairings on the computer, but it took us at least 30 minutes from when we paired until we could start a round. In between, we had to work hard just to let people know the pairings had even been posted. With 500 players, the background noise in the cafeteria was hard to overcome, and we always seemed to have a few late arrivals every round and even some forfeits who just didn't hear the announcements.
After the tournament, I researched ways to contact people via batch texts. I found a service that would allow us to create groups of phone numbers and send the whole group a batch text. In 2009 we had people provide their phone numbers with their registrations and created a group for each section. We had over half the people provide their phone numbers. That year we sent out a group text as soon as we posted the pairings. For example, "High School Championship round 2 pairings are posted". This notified a good fraction of the parents right away that they should go see the pairings, but it was still inefficient. The lower rated sections were spending significantly more time waiting between rounds than playing, and we still had the large rugby-like scrum around the posted pairings. What we needed was a way to directly tell players their pairings.
After the 2009 State tournament, I learned two things. One was that the texting service we were using had a web API that allowed you to send a custom text to a single phone number. I also found out how to read the internal format of our pairing program, SwissSys. That summer, I wrote the first version of Textpair using Java in the Netbeans IDE. By directly texting each person, I could customize the text for each player. An example of the custom text is:
Smith, John is playing White on Board 10 against Doe, Jane.
We did some testing of the program at scholastic tournaments in the fall of 2009, and the first version was used at Maryland States in the spring of 2010. It was a great help. It took only a couple of minutes to text out the pairings, and we always made sure that the texting had finished before we posted them to minimize the crowds at the posted pairings. As we got better, we were able to greatly decrease the time from when pairings were created to when the next round started. We were able to start some sections as soon as 10 minutes after the pairings were posted. The tournament ended about one and half hours earlier than the year before.
We now use Textpair at all of our scholastic tournaments and at our open tournaments. Even when the rounds have scheduled start times, players enjoy knowing as soon as possible who and where they are playing and not having to search on the pairings sheet.