Real tennis is unusual in having a handicap system that is used globally to allow players of all levels to challenge each other to a game. There are no fixed limits to handicaps. Most are less than 70 and greater than zero. However the very best players have handicaps better than zero – these handicaps are prefixed by ‘plus’ (e.g. ‘plus 14’ is the handicap for the world champion, Rob Fahey, as at July 07).
Handicaps are tracked on Real Tennis Online. If you’re not sure, the pros will tell you your handicap, and your opponent’s handicap, and what the starting score for each game in your match needs to be.
When you play, the difference between your handicap and your opponent’s handicap determines what the starting score for each game is. There are tables on the notice board, and by the entrance to each court, showing the start score for each game, based on the difference between your handicap and your opponents. Here are some examples of how to interpret the table:
|Handicap||1st, 3rd, etc games||2nd, 4th, etc games|
|Receive 15||15 – Love||15 – Love|
|Owe half 15||Love – Love||Owe 15 – Love|
|Receive 15, Owe half 30||15 – Owe 15||15 – Owe 30|
“Owe 15” means, for instance, that a player starts at negative 15 points. “Half” means every second game. The first game of each set is always the smaller difference in scores to start.
The professionals decide what your initial handicap will be, and then Real Tennis Online automatically calculates adjustments based on your results. A “big win” (shown as W! in Real Tennis Online) results in a 0.6 point decrease, whilst a normal win (shown as just W) is a 0.2 decrease. Big losses and normal losses result in the opposite adjustments. Generally speaking, a 6-5 result is considered a draw, 6-3 and 6-4 is a normal win, and 6-2 or better is a big win. This assumes that you are playing off the correct handicap – if you, for instance, play off scratch when you should be playing off a difference of 4, the better player will need about one more game per set to get the same result. If you play off a handicap more than six different to what it should be, then the match is ignored in setting handicaps.
The pros may decide to adjust your handicap manually. This may occur if you haven’t played for a while, or you haven’t been writing up your results, or you’re improving too fast for the computers to keep up with you! More often, they’ll set your handicap to “provisional”, which means that your handicap adjustments will be doubled for the next few matches (whilst those you play against will see their adjustment halved).
When playing competitively (such as pennant or tournaments) handicap adjustments are doubled.