How to run a World Cup pool

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You don’t need to be a die-hard soccer fan to enjoy the World Cup, which kicks off on Sunday with host nation Qatar facing Ecuador.

You also don’t need a vast knowledge of soccer to run or join a World Cup pool. They can take many forms, from those familiar to American sports fans (pool with brackets) to the more esoteric. Here are some basic options:

The World Cup begins with the group stage, with eight groups of four teams each. Each team plays the other three teams in its group once. The top two teams from each group advance to the knockout round, which takes the form of a traditional group of 16 teams.

You can wait until the knockout round begins and simply have players fill out that bracket, like during the NCAA basketball tournaments. But it takes away the fun of the previous games. Alternatively, you can include group stage games by having players predict the group winners and runners-up before the tournament starts, and then fill out their brackets from there. Those who correctly predict the teams advancing in the correct order of finish will have a far greater chance of success in the bracket. Points may also be awarded for selecting the correct winners and runners-up groups.

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As a third (and probably best) option, you can pair a traditional lap pool with a stage pool. Ask each participant to choose the winner and runner-up from each group; entries receive three points for correctly selecting the winner or runner-up of the group and one point for selecting a team that will advance to the knockout stage but in the wrong place. For example, if you pick the Netherlands to win Group A and they go out, you get three points. If you pick the Netherlands to win Group A and they finish second in the group, you get one point. Some pools require you to choose the full group stage standings and then award an extra point to each team that gets in the right position; if you pick Qatar to finish fourth in Group A and the host nation does, you get one point.

Those group stage points carry over to the more traditional bracket stage, where points are awarded in NCAA tournament fashion. (Four-eight-12-16, to give one example, for wins in the round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.) Participants do not fill out the bracket until the group stage is over and the 16-team group is complete.

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Since the Men’s World Cup includes 32 teams, this works best with exactly four or exactly eight people. Each participant takes turns drafting a team until everyone is assembled. Each win by one of your teams is worth two points, a draw is worth one point, and a loss gets you nothing. The most points after the end of the tournament is the winner.

Alternatively, you can award three points for wins, two points for a penalty shootout win and one point for a penalty shootout loss or draw. You can also award more points for wins in later rounds or a champion pick bonus. Some draft pools also award one point per goal scored, with bonus points for shutouts.

This Reddit thread from four years ago offers some more involved variations on this type of pool.

The USMNT World Cup roster is out. Here’s who made the cut.

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This pool type begins by grouping each team based on their pre-tournament odds. For example, favorites Brazil, France, Argentina, England and Spain are worth one point; Germany, Netherlands, Portugal and Belgium are worth two points; Denmark, Croatia and Uruguay are worth three points; and so on to the team list. You will need to determine the groups yourself; World Cup odds provide a starting point.

Each player selects five teams and each team receives points for wins (and half points for draws in the group stage) for each result based on their assigned value. In other words, picking high-value long shots correctly leads to more points for surprising early results, but can leave competitors with no remaining teams by the end of the tournament.

Points are multiplied for wins in the knockout rounds, and the player with the most points at the end of the tournament wins.

Each participant selects one team per day, or perhaps one team every two days. If that team loses, you’re out of the pool. A win or a draw keeps you alive. Players can only select a team once. The last one standing is the winner.

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