Understanding the American Bouldering Scoring System

While watching ABS Nationals last weekend, I, like many other spectators I assume, were intrigued by the scoring system used to rank competitors. With my detective hat and magnifying glass in hand, I set out to understand how this system really works. Let me tell you, this was NOT easy. I first took to reading the USA Climbing rule book which had tons of detail but also not enough clarification. After a little bit of digging and playing around, I eventually came to an acceptable level of understanding.

Before I begin:
Points = bad. You want the lowest amount of points.
Points = your rank on each problem. Higher the rank, the less points you receive.

To understand the scoring system, you have to realize that each problem is treated like an individual competition. Points are highly dependent on how well climbers do relative to each other. No one is guaranteed a certain amount of points for flashing or sending a problem.

An example of a “route map” used by a judge to score competitors. Source: USA Climbing Rulebook 2016 – 2017

All problems are scored using “route maps”. The route map consists of a picture of the route, marked with numbers for each hand placement foreseen by the route setter. Two starting holds would be marked with a 1 and a 2 respectfully, or one hold intended for two hands would be marked with 1/2. The next expected hand hold would be marked with a 3, then the next with a 4, etc. Holds that would require a match (again, foreseen and established by the route setter) would be marked with two numbers much like the starting hold. All hand holds will have a corresponding number, always moving in progression from lowest to highest. The numbers here DO NOT equate to points, but are only used to mark where a competitor fell on the route if they did not make it to the top. Therefore, assuming two climbers had the same amount of attempts, the climber establishing control of hold #5 would rank higher than someone who only made it to hold #4.

Judges record on the score sheet both the highest hold achieved and amount of attempts. For example, if the “route map” has hold #17 as the last hold in the climb and the climber flashes this problem, the judge would record that the climber made it to hold #17 in one attempt. If a climber only makes it to hold #14 in 6 attempts, then the judge would record this accordingly. It is not until all climbers are finished that scores can be tabulated because again, points are heavily dependent on the performance of all other competitors. Naturally, and just like IFSC, the least attempts you take to get to the top, the better.

An example of the top competitors’ tabulated results of 5 problems.

This is where it gets complicated.

Remember that each problem is independent of the others, so let’s just focus on one problem at the moment. Based on these scores, the climbers are then ranked on the problem. Obviously, flashing a problem would bring you to the top of the list. You are ranked by how high you got on the route and attempts. Once that is established, ties are then broken up. Ex: If 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th place all got to hold #16 in 2 attempts, then their ranks will be averaged:

Sometimes competitors will tie for rankings. In this case, their points will be averaged.

As a result, the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th place competitors on that problem will be each awarded 6.5 points. Likewise, if for example the last hold in a problem is hold #15 and 5 people manage to flash it, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th place competitors would all be tied so again their scores will be averaged and they will be awarded the same amount of points.

After receiving scores for each problem, total amount of points are calculated using special calculator math. Unfortunately, they don’t use a simple formula to find their total score.

Ex: Sally climbed 5 problems. Her total scores were: 5, 6.5, 2, 4.5, and 9 points. This is how her final score would be tabulated:

Find the product of all points awarded, and then find the Nth root (N = the total amount of problems).

In my opinion, this is way more complicated than it has to be. Also, if you’re competing against 50 other people and you rank dead last on a problem, you could potentially find yourself with 50pts on one problem. That would be hard to bring yourself back from. Flashes will not guarantee you low points either, especially if quite a few competitors manage to flash the same problem. Also, this is INCREDIBLY hard to calculate in your head. I like the simplicity of IFSC scoring where tops and bonuses can effectively separate competitors. You can basically keep a running tally of how well you’re doing with the IFSC format as well.

Well, that was my take on the USA Climbing scoring method. Hopefully it made some sense to you. Overall, I’m glad I took the time to figure it out because it was really bothering me how the points they earned made no sense in my mind. It’s interesting to say the least.

Maybe I just don’t like change, but I’m really glad we use IFSC scoring at our competitions. I think it doesn’t need to be overly complicated, so for me it’s just too much work.

What do you think about this scoring method?

Thanks for reading!

Climb on xx




Scoring System Explained: USA bouldering (youtube)