An App to Fight Anxiety: Debatebreaker for Android

Datum: Feb 11th, 2015
Category: Mittwochs-Feature

It is the longest time at a debating tournament: The last closed round is over and you are waiting for the break. The tabbing team always takes longer than promised, and the social can barely pass the time. 

Debatebreaker App Logo

Debatebreaker’s logo

There are the patient debaters who can sit back and relax, and let the break surprise them. If you belong to the many who are not like that, you probably spend the time constantly speculating about your chances. You have a rough idea of your score, but will it be enough for the break?

There are some rules of thumb that you hear. People often talk about the “straight second” as the demarcation line. But while this is already vague at small tournaments, the rule likely fails if the tournament is bigger or has an unusual proportion of breaking teams.

Debatebreaker is an Android app that ends these speculations: It calculates how many points a team needs to break with any given number of teams, rounds, and outrounds. It can be downloaded for free, although it is not available for other operating systems like iOS. The app does not require any special permissions by the user and is a simple tool, using only 3.36 MB of space.

If you type in the numbers, the results come promptly and are twofold: There is a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario. In tried this on the ZEIT DEBATTE Hannover: 44 Teams, five rounds, and eight breaking teams. The prediction can be seen in the screenshot below. The actual result – all teams with 11 points or more as well as two out of three teams with ten points broke – falls centrally within this margin.

The app was developed by Thevesh Theva, an 18-year-old debater from Penang, a city in Northwest Malaysia. He says that the app has a high level of accuracy, but admits that there are some rare difficulties. There are mainly two reasons for this, he writes on a blog about the app. Swing teams whose scores are zeroed change the overall amount of points in the tournament. Should a team be in a position to break, but is not allowed to, the app’s prediction will be false. This will happen, for example, if there is a successful swing team or if a team gets disqualified.

Debatebreaker App Screenshot

Elegant, but simple: A screenshot of Debatebreaker, showing the prediction for the ZEIT DEBATTE Hannover.

Thevesh is the captain of the Malaysian team for the World Schools Debating Championships (WSDC). In 2014, when he was captain of the team, it broke in fifth place at WSDC in Bangkok. At the Asia WSCD, he secured a victory and was the best speaker overall. That year, he started tabbing and was part of the tabbing team at the World Universities Debating Championships (WUDC) in Malaysia.

“I realized that there was a method to what happened in the preliminary rounds of debating tournaments that I could formalize with the right mathematics,” he told Achte Minute. It took him about two weeks to complete the app, which he programmed on his own. “I can write in a couple computer languages, but had to pick up Java to write this,” he explains. The math “was not that complicated, but it was hard to grapple with the idea at first.”

The app has some drawbacks: Apart from the rare inaccuracies, the app’s predictions do not help in the case of a restricted break, such as language categories and novice breaks. But for its main purpose it works reliably.

The predictions also reveal to what extent the break is determined by factors outside a team’s control. The difference between the worst- and the best-case scenario can be quite significant. It depends solely on the way success is distributed among the teams. If the teams’ scores are more equal, the competition will be fiercer. Ironically, this means that if there is one or two extremely strong teams at the tournament, your chances of breaking will increase. 

In the end, the app will answer just as many questions as it raises for the anxious debater to ponder. The troubling message is that it is not entirely in your hands whether you can make it or not – even if the judges are always right. So maybe it is just better to sit back and relax, and to enjoy the social before destiny’s verdict is spoken.

The app is available in the Google Play Store.



The Mittwochs-Feature: Every Wednesday at 10 am, the “Wednesday Feature” introduces an idea, a debate, a book or a person. If you want to kick off a debate, send us your proposal via email at team [at] achteminute [dot] de.

Jonas Huggins is Executive Editor of Achte Minute. He has been debating for the Berlin Debating Union since 2012. He currently studies abroad at American University in Washington, D.C.


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2 Kommentare zu “An App to Fight Anxiety: Debatebreaker for Android”

  1. Konrad Gütschow says:

    Ich sehe bisher noch nicht ganz den Nutzen.
    Die Spanne zwischen niedrigstem und höchstem Break ist einfach so groß, da fällt jede normale Schätzung drunter.
    Spannend wäre es, wenn man bisherige Ergebnisse eintragen könnte, und die App es vor den geschlossenen Runden neu berechnet.

  2. Jens Fischer says:

    Konrad: Die Berechnung ist relativ simpel (zumindest vermute ich diesen Algorithmus):

    In jeder Runde hat jedes Team grundsätzlich eine 25% Chance auf jeden der verfügbaren Plätze. Damit lassen sich wunderbare Berechnungen anstellen.

    Tatsächlich aber wird die Akuratesse der Berechnung größer, je mehr Teams teilnehmen – je kleiner das Turnier, desto schwieriger die Vorhersage.

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