About the Super Rooster

How It Works

We started the Tournament of Books in 2005. For the last 16 years, tens of thousands of readers have gathered here each March to passionately discuss a field of 16 works from that year’s most interesting fiction—a field whittled down by a panel of expert judges over four weeks until a single book is left standing to take home our big, silly, enormously significant prize, the Rooster.

And in 16 years, not a single author of the winning title has accepted our offer of a live rooster. (For more Rooster lore, read “A Brief History of the Tournament of Books” by Angela Chen.)

From David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas to Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout to Sally Rooney’s Normal People, we’ve celebrated some of the most exciting novels from the last two decades. And now, finally, 16 Tournaments later, we have enough winners to field a Tournament entirely consisting of Rooster winners.

We call it the Super Rooster. And it’s happening all month long in October 2020.

Over on our books page you’ll see the full list of the novels in play—all our Rooster winners from 2005 to 2020. You’ll also see that alongside each novel we’ve included a “potential Zombie.” That’s because the Super Rooster, like previous Tournaments, will include a Zombie Round, where a novel previously knocked out of play has a chance to come back for a shot at the Rooster. But for the Super Rooster it will be a little different: Our Zombies are those books that lost in their original championship matches to the Rooster winners that are now in play. For example, that means if The Road reaches the semifinals, it’ll face Absurdistan, the book it beat in 2007. If A Visit From the Good Squad gets there, then it’s up against Freedom, over which it squeaked out a win, 9-8, in 2011.

Otherwise, our standard ToB rules apply:

  • Each weekday two works of fiction go head to head, with one of our judges deciding which book moves forward in the brackets, according to whatever criteria matters to them. Along the way, the judges reveal their biases and interests, any connections they have to the participating authors, and, most importantly, an elaborate explanation of how they decided between the two books.
  • Following that day’s decision, we have color commentary in the form of a dialogue between two experts. From the beginning, our ToB Chairmen, authors Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner, have cracked wise, but we’ve also invited into the booth our favorite literary podcasters, independent booksellers from across the country, and novelists like Elliott Holt and Laura van den Berg. Think of it as a bigger-picture view of the proceedings from people who not only have read a ton of fiction, but who are also familiar with the way that the publishing industry makes the sausage, to bastardize a phrase. Then we leave it up to you, the readers, to add your own passionate thoughts and rebukes to the mix in the comments section.
  • From the eight opening round matches to the four quarterfinal matches through the two semifinal matches, the original field of 16 competitors is whittled down to two books. However, before those books can enter the championship match, they must compete in our “Zombie Round,” which brings back two books that were eliminated during gameplay.
  • The two books that emerge victorious from the Zombie Round enter the final match, which is decided by our entire judging panel. Each judge picks their favorite of the two final books, and the book that receives the most votes takes home the Super Rooster.