The AscensionThere are a number of different ways of setting up a Finals structure for a 3-team league or tournament. One way is to simply take the top three teams on the ladder when you finish the grid, and throw them into a finals. This means that teams that know they are going to place fourth or worse have no incentive, and may horse around in their last few games, possibly unfairly giving points to one team or another.
There are a variety of schemes that involve giving teams lower down the ladder a chance, but my favourite is the Ascension, because it is regular, scalable, and allows every team to rise to their own level. An eight team Ascension is shown below.
This does not read the same as other grids shown on this site, so read
carefully: Game A involves the bottom three ranked teams (in this example,
teams 6, 7 and 8). These three teams play, and the loser is eliminated. The first
and second place teams continue on into game B, as the second and third teams
in that game, respectively. The next lowest ranked team comes in as the first team
in this game. In this case, that's team 5. So, team 5 and the newly ranked teams
6 and 7 play. Once again, the loser is eliminated, and the first and second place
teams continue on to the next game. This continues on up the ladder.
Once team 2 and the newly ranked teams 3 and 4 have played, the first and second place teams continue on to the Finals. Finals is a three game series, in which each team plays on each colour once.
This scheme is elegant because should a team have placed lower than they deserved during the Grid, they have the opportunity to make it up during the Ascension. On average, a team will survive two Ascension games and be eliminated in thier third; the record is seven games. Additionally, all a team has to do to avoid elimination is: don't come last. These two factors tend to minimise whining -- teams know they don't need to whine that their games in the Grid went unfairly against them; they just need to make sure the tournament coordinator is aware of any irregularities, so that they won't recur during the Ascension. And if teams whine during the Ascension, you can point out to them that since they came third due to some trivial disadvantage in this game, they almost certainly would have come third in the next game anyway.
One point to note about this format is that the top ranked team gets a free ride into the Finals. This has a downside: they'll go into the first game of Finals cold. You may therefore wish to offer them a short warm-up game, either right before Finals, or right before the last game of the Ascension.
This scheme can obviously be scaled to handle any number of teams, from 4 upwards. For n teams, it takes n games to complete, including Finals. If you have a lot of time on your hands, you may wish to convert each Ascension game into a two game series. But be aware that this will tend to encourage whining in the second game of each pair. Conversely, if you are pushed for time, you may consider a version of the Ascension with a harsh cut: only the first placed team in each Ascension game rises, with the second and third place teams both being cut. But I advise against this: it doesn't save very many games (only (n − 3) / 2 games), and it greatly encourages whining.
In this example, I've shown the three colours in the order red, green, yellow. But you should rearrange these to reflect your site: the most preferable colour should be on top of each game, and the least preferable on the bottom. If most teams, given the choice, would choose red, then put red at the top of each game. (An alternate solution would be to give the top team first choice of colour, and the second team second choice.) This means that in the first game, there is still a disadvantage to being dead last: you play on the least preferable colour. And as each new team enters the Ascension, they play on the most preferable colour, which is only fair since the other two teams in the game are presently ranked lower than them.