The new USA Scoring System, an alternative to the IFSC System?

USA Climbing has a new scoring system for bouldering. A very simple and direct method for assessing the performance of the climbers that tries to keep it as easy to understand as possible while still dividing the field in the fairest way possible.

It would a bit too long to describe the system in writing, so I made a video that includes some pictures and examples. But for those of you who wanna get into the details, you’ll find links to the official documents below.

Here’s the video:

This is the simplest way to expressing modern bouldering scoring I’ve seen. Obviously, we could go further and simply count tops, but that would lead to ties. We could also count moves or holds controlled, but that would mean that longer, sustained problems are more valuable than, for instance, a dyno with just a couple of moves.

This system manages to take into account tops, zone holds and attempts and still offer the final score in the form of a single number.

It is far from perfect. Many will argue that tops should always be the number one factor. Others than 3 zones are too many. But I think this system points towards a very interesting direction. Perhaps the IFSC should consider something similar?

We should wait and see how the system works and if some tweaks are necessary. But that’s another good thing about the system, tweaking it is pretty easy, just change the values. Tweaking a system like the IFSC seems to me much more difficult.

You have more info in the USA Climbing Rulebook and in this shorter document.

And… here’s the a video summary of the USA Climbing rules for bouldering:

This system is in use right now at the USA Bouldering Championships. Watch them here!


  1. Oleg Fecanin says:

    The competitive sport climbing evolved from a “rock climbing” sometimes in eighties and nineties of last century. We wanted to compete to compare ourselves, have a fun with that but still climb, right? So, let’s step back little and ask the question: What is the objective of rock climbing (and climbing “per se”)? Well, to send a route, a boulder, climb the wall in Alps (Yosemite, Dolomites…etc) or Himalayan peek…..
    When someone will climb 30 pitches of Nose and bail, then he/she will not climb it and will need to come back, correct?….Nobody cares how high you climb if you have not finish the route.
    Same principle applies for bouldering: you can’t take a credit for sending “Midnight Lightning” until you will send it! 3/4 of it will not fly. Therefore any bonuses or zones should play only a marginal role in any scoring system for a purpose of dividing the ties and main weight must be on tops and attempts on tops.
    For 2018 IFSC changed (slightly) the scoring system where “zones” will have bigger weight than attempts. In my opinion, this is a step back (or step farther from the outdoor bouldering). USA climbing scoring is typical for US. It needs to be different than all other countries and additionally they hate “zeros”. How can a poor climber feel after not climbing any tops? Let’s give him at least something. Imagine this, not toping any problems and still get several points! That must feel much better than nothing.

    • AngelPalacio says:

      On one hand, all your points make a lot of sense to me. But there’s a component that we shouldn’t ignore, competitions also have the goal of attracting an audience and sponsors. Outdoor climbing not so much. Obviously, on rock it doesn’t matter that you don’t get any credit for climbing 90% of a problem, but in comps, if that results in ties and boring events, it can be an issue. Scoring systems need to make sense for the participants but also make sure that the events are attractive. It is not as simple as doing what we do on rock, otherwise we wouldn’t need clocks, judges and route setters.

    • “We want to compare…” — agree (Let’s the best win)
      “Nobody cares how high you climb if you have not finish the route.” — disagree. At least in lead we probably all agree the highest point reach decide the winner. If there is no top, no problem, If there is one, perfect. If there are more, hm … If there are two routes (like sometimes in qualis), take the product of the two *ranks* to decide — also here it seems nobody object. Product seems to be widely accepted ‘fair’ rule also for Olympic combined ranking.
      So if it works fine for lead, why shouldn’t we apply this ‘highest point/product of ranks’ rule to decide the winner also for bouldering? AFAIK, former US scoring format uses that rule (correct me if I’m wrong) and they decided to abandon it because it was too complicated. Which is probably true, but the price of a new US format was (too) high: it introduced unfairness — unless the following (highly unrealistic!) assumptions are met:
      — all ‘point-holds’ (zones and top) in all (four or five) problems must be of same “difficulty”
      — the points of zones must be on interval scale, e.g. zone 2 (10 pts) must be twice as hard to achieve as zone 1 (5 pts) and last zone (15 pts) must be worth equally as three first zones (3*5=15 pts) in three different problems.
      The problem is of course they are never met — some problems are easy (all tops) and some are to hard (no tops). Contrary to lead, in bouldering you often have very hard starts and most of those who succeeded e.g. in starting jump (5 pts) also reach ‘5 times more worth’ top (25) pts. Imagine this situations:
      — you have too climbers of the same ability, and lets say there are only two problems (multiply this situation by 2 and you got usual 4): problems are approx. of the same difficulty, but first one has hard start (zone 1, 5 pts), the second has hard finish (zone 3, 15 pts). Problem A suits Climber 1 and Problem B suits Climber 2, so they both succeeded to top 1 problem and both fail in the other, both at the hardest part (zone) of a problem. So climber 1 has 25+10=35 pts, while climber B has 0+25. Do you think this is fair?
      — you have two boulders again, but one is easier than another. Again you have 2 climbers of the same ability, problem A suits climber 1 and problem B suits climber B. Climber 1 and many others have reached the top of A, most of them on flash or with just a few attempts, but climber B failed (balance problems don’t suit him). In B, only climber 2 have reach the top after epic fight and many attempts. So, he is the man of the show, but not only he failed to win, he also missed the podium. Fair?
      For the ‘zones/attempts first?’ dilemma I think IFSC/US have taken the right decision. E.g. in hard problems with no tops, I think the ones who succeeded to reach the highest point ((last) zone) should be rewarded, even if they took a lot of attempts in another problem with hard, run in, slippery, balance-demanding… start.

  2. Oleg Fecanin says:

    You guys made some valid points. After little bit more of thinking the new IFSC scoring system is probably best what it could be done from 3 different perspectives: Easy to follow by spectators (previous USA climbing system was nightmare from this perspective), drive by climbers to get to the top (top is still the ultimate goal), and separating ties by zones, then by attempts to tops and then by attempts to zones.
    I agree with Bojan that new USA climbing system is not good enough. Obviously they were trying to get closer to the International scoring system but stopped in halfway.
    Also I think some of Bojan “scenarios” are touching the “setting” issue. We have it all the time. Is this problem more suitable for shorter climber or for taller climber…?….for this skill set or different one….etc.

    • >”Obviously they were trying to get closer to the International scoring system but stopped in halfway”
      In fact it’s vise versa. IFSC has adopted the ‘zones first, then attempts’ rule from US, but stopped (less than) halfway NOT adopting: multiple zones and points for each zone (which both might have some advantages, but also disadvantages is some scenarios), flash as a tie-breaker (which it should adopt; instead they retain no. of attempts to the *zone* as a tie breaker). AFAIK, IFSC has also not adopted (yet) simple one-number-score format, which is NOT OK (and also *unnecessary*, as I showed in my comment under Angels’s video).

  3. The 8a suggested format is somewhat in between the current system and the new US system. We have suggested two zones and to give the zones a higher value than today but much less than the US system. In the US system, we will often see climbers doing less tops winning over guys with more tops. This can only happen in theory in the 8a system.

    What is also interesting is that with the new IFSC rule changes, it is already possible to show the scoring with points similar to what 8a have suggested in our 11 points system :)

    • AngelPalacio says:

      Hey Jens, thanks for dropping by. Sure, your 11 points system is somehow in the middle and it is an interesting alternative. I think it would be good to see it in action in some comps and see how it works. Perhaps some youth events o regional comps (going straight to a big event can be a bit risky).

  4. I absolutely love the new system in the US, as a competitor and a spectator. Competition climbing does evolve from climbing outdoors, and the essence of the sport is to send the route. However I think that it is essential to remember that the point of a climbing competition is to determine who is the best climber.

    After assessing the climber with the most tops, it is more logical to then look to how far they got on each problem than it does attempts. It is obvious that whether the climber got a route on their 5th or 6th try is less indicative of their climbing ability (especially on today’s parkour-style routes) than whether or not they were able to pull through the hardest moves of a boulder.

    The IFSC’s system is not only hard to keep track of, but it also seems to produce much more random results than the USAC system. It seems that most worldcups today are won by the person who did the low-percentage slab runover in the fewest moves, instead of the best climber.

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