What Is Tournament Sort in Data Structure?


Angela Bailey

Tournament sort is a sorting algorithm that divides the elements to be sorted into smaller groups called “tournaments” and repeatedly selects the smallest (or largest) element from each tournament to create a sorted sequence. This algorithm is also known as selection sort with tournament trees.

How Does Tournament Sort Work?

The tournament sort algorithm can be broken down into the following steps:

  1. Create a binary tree structure called a “tournament tree”. Each leaf node in the tree represents an element from the input.
  2. Assign each element to its corresponding leaf node in the tournament tree.
  3. For each internal node in the tournament tree, compare the values of its two child nodes and select the minimum (or maximum) value as the winner.

    Propagate these comparisons up the tree until a single winner is determined at the root node.

  4. The winner at the root node of the tournament tree represents the smallest (or largest) element. Swap this winner with the first unsorted element in the input sequence.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for all remaining unsorted elements in the input sequence until all elements are sorted.

Advantages of Tournament Sort

Tournament sort has several advantages:

  • Simple Implementation: The algorithm is relatively easy to understand and implement compared to other complex sorting algorithms.
  • In-Place Sorting: Tournament sort has an in-place sorting characteristic, meaning it doesn’t require additional memory space proportional to the size of input elements, making it memory-efficient.

Disadvantages of Tournament Sort

Despite its advantages, tournament sort also has some limitations:

  • High Time Complexity: The time complexity of tournament sort is O(n log n), which makes it less efficient compared to other sorting algorithms like quicksort or mergesort.
  • Lack of Stability: Tournament sort is not a stable sorting algorithm. Stability refers to the preservation of the relative order of elements with equal values. If you have duplicate elements, their relative order may change after sorting.


Tournament sort is a simple yet effective sorting algorithm that operates by repeatedly selecting the smallest (or largest) element from each tournament in a binary tree structure. While it has advantages such as simplicity and in-place sorting, it also suffers from high time complexity and lack of stability. Therefore, it’s important to consider the specific requirements and constraints of your data when choosing a sorting algorithm.

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