What is a single elimination bracket? A definition by Interbasket with 25 printable example brackets

What is a Single Elimination Bracket?

Also known as a knockout or sudden death bracket in sports, a single-elimination bracket does it’s best to match up the highest-ranked participating teams into the first round of games with play in games to those teams leftover. In a single elimination bracket, there can be several rounds of games, and the matches are played until there’s there’s one undefeated champion.

In a single elimination bracket, the number of rounds are determined by the number of teams in the tournament. The more teams there are, the more rounds there are. The range of rounds varies. On the low end, there is a minimum of two rounds with a bracket featuring four teams or individuals, or as high as seven rounds when there’s 128 participants. Usually a tournament will fall in between that range.

How to Refer to Each Round

Single Elimination Bracket by Names
Participants Round of Officially By Rounds
2 Round of 2 Final 7th Round
4 Round of 4 Semifinals 6th Round
8 Round of 8 Quarterfinals 5th Round
16 Round of 16 Eighth-finals 4th Round
32 Round of 32 16th-finals 3rd Round
64 Round of 64 32nd-finals 2nd Round
128 Round of 128 64th-finals 1st Round

The above shows you how to refer to each round with a 128 team bracket. If the bracket has fewer than 128 participants/teams, then the round with the most teams is the first round, and so on.

Sometimes tournaments will have specific names for those rounds. The most popular single elimination basketball tournament is the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament (otherwise known as “March Madness”) refers to the rounds after the Round of 32 as the “Sweet Sixteen” the “Elite Eight” and the “Final Four”. This nomenclature are a few of the many trademarks owned by the NCAA.

Number of Teams Determine Bracket Complexity

Once a field is finalized and properly seeded into the tournament bracket, then the game action can begin.

Depending on the amount of teams, the opening round can be an initial round of play-games where the top seeds receive a bye. From a management perspective, the ideal tournament wouldn’t have play-in games and every participating tourney team would have an opponent from the get-go.

For a better understanding of how the number of teams impact the flow of a single elimination tournament, we created this quick reference table comparing single elimination brackets. We look at each tournament bracket’s attributes (total rounds, play-in games, etc.) and how that changes depending on the amount of teams in that single-elimination tournament.

Tournament Bracket Attributes (single elimination)
# of Teams Rounds Play-In Games Seeds w/ Byes Download
4 teams Two None None 4-team bracket
5 teams Three One #1 seed 5-team bracket
6 teams Three Two #1 & #2 seeds 6-team bracket
7 teams Three Three #1 seed 7-team bracket
8 teams Three None None 8-team bracket
9 teams Four One #1-#7 seeds 9-team bracket
10 teams Four Two #1-#6 seeds 10-team bracket
11 teams Four Three #1-#5 seeds 11-team bracket
12 teams Four Four #1-#4 seeds 12-team bracket
13 teams Four Five #1-#3 seeds 13-team bracket
14 teams Four Six #1 & #2 seeds 14-team bracket
15 teams Four Seven #1 seed 15-team bracket
16 teams Four None None 16-team bracket
17 teams Five One #1 seed 17-team bracket
18 teams Five Two #1 & #2 seeds 18-team bracket
19 teams Five Three #1-#3 seeds 19-team bracket
20 teams Five Four #1-#4 seeds 20-team bracket
21 teams Five Five #1-#5 seeds 21-team bracket
22 teams Five Six #1-#6 seeds 22-team bracket
23 teams Five Seven #1-#7 seeds 23-team bracket
24 teams Five Eight #1-#8 seeds 24-team bracket
25 teams Five Nine #1-#7 seeds 25-team bracket
30 teams Five Fourteen #1 & #2 seeds 30-team bracket
32 teams Five None None 32-team bracket
64 teams Six None None 64-team bracket
128 teams Seven None None 128-team bracket

As you can from the above table, how many teams a single-elimination tournament has can simplify or complicate a bracket. If one team drops out, it can have a positive or negative affect on the flow of the tournament. It’s no coincidence that the brackets with 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 teams don’t have play-in games or any byes whereas any other amount of teams between 4-64 will have at least one play-in game and one bye.

Does a single elimination bracket not satisfy your tournament needs? There are several different tournament bracket layouts and formats like double-elimination brackets to consider. All depend on personal preference, the sport being played, tournament timing and other factors.