How to Avoid Losing Scores Under the ADCC Rules

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It seems ADCC 2022 exceeded most people’s expectations overall. I enjoyed watching the event and thought there were terrific matches where elite grapplers showcased the best of their skills and strategy.​

One thing I noticed from watching these matches is that many of the competitors know how to avoid losing scores. It’s an essential part of the game when you compete in a competition where winners are decided by submission and points.​

It seems that there will be more ADCC-branded regional tournaments worldwide, and I bet some of you would be interested in competing at these tournaments in your region. So I believe it’s a good idea for you to gain some awareness about how the ADCC scoring system works and to work on your defensive skills to negate your opponent’s scoring attempts.​

For detailed information about ADCC rules, you can check out their official page here.​

But in summary, you need to keep these two things in mind:​

  • No points will be awarded for the first half of a qualifying round. During the second half (and overtime period), points will be awarded, and a negative point will be given for guard pulling. Finals follow the same “no-points-then-points” structure, but a negative point penalty for guard pulling will start from the beginning.​
  • To score points against your opponent, you typically need to control your opponent for 3 seconds or more, and there shouldn’t be any danger of submission coming from your opponent.

​The following images illustrate an extreme example, but Cole Abate keeps his butt and back off the ground using his hands after Fabricio Andrey went for a double leg + outside trip attempt. Cole then acrobatically spins into the turtle position, comes up into the quad pod position, and forward-rolls out from the danger. Since Cole’s butt nor back was on the ground, Fabricio’s takedown attempt doesn’t count in this case.

​From what I observed in ADCC 2022, one of the most effective ways to stop your opponent from scoring positive points seems to be the turtle position.​

Your opponent manages to take you down? If you keep sitting on your butt or lying on your back for 3 seconds or more, your opponent will get 2 or 4 points for that, but if you roll onto your belly and turtle up and keep that position for more than 3 seconds, your opponent’s takedown attempt will be considered as ineffective, and you are free to get into the guard position or stand up… provided that you can keep your opponent off your back. The same deal applies to sweep attempts.​

What about guard passing attempts? If your opponent passes your guard and keeps controlling you in such a way that at least 75% of your back is on the mat, they will get 3 points. But… here comes the turtle position again. If you get into the turtle position and stay there for more than 3 seconds, your opponent’s attempt will be considered as negated.​

If you have access to ADCC 2022 replays, I highly recommend you to check out JT Torres vs. Kenta Iwamoto. Kenta lost to JT by decision, but his use of the turtle position to negate JT’s scoring attempts and survival from the 2-time ADCC champion’s attacks are super impressive and should give you excellent study materials. Check out my previous post about Kenta if you are curious about him.

The same turtle approach should work against knee-on-stomach attempts as well as mount attempts, but I think I haven’t really seen people using the turtle to avoid these scoring attempts at ADCC 2022, probably because it’s much harder to pull off this defense when your opponent is about to knee ride on your stomach or mount you.

Obviously, if you are not good at keeping the turtle position and getting out or countering from this position, you will expose yourself to significant risks. Your back is the last thing you want to give up to your opponent, and putting yourself into the turtle position may sound suicidal.​

Regular BJJ practitioners probably just don’t practice this position enough. And if they do, they probably takes a typical “OK, let’s recover to the guard position from the turtle before your opponent establishes some meaningful control” kind of approach, which I believe works fine under the IBJJF rules — your opponent may get an advantage, but you will stop them from getting full scores.​

Under the ADCC rules, you need to stay in the turtle position for more than 3 seconds in order to negate your opponent’s scoring attempt. Against a skilled opponent, even that short amount of time could feel like an eternity, and they could start establishing better control to break your turtle down just after a few seconds.​

But the thing is, you can get better at the turtle position just as with other positions in BJJ. I hope this post convinces you to look into the turtle position a bit more, especially if you are interested in competing under the ADCC rules in the future.​

Another effective way of stopping your opponent from scoring points is catching your opponent with a decent submission and regaining your position while the submission is on. Probably the prime example of this is the use of guillotine choke against single/double leg takedowns. Even if your opponent takes you down to your butt or back, as long as you catch your opponent with guillotine and maintain that choke, takedown points will not be awarded to your opponent. So, in the meantime, you can bring yourself back up on your feet and negate those takedown points.​

Investing your time and efforts into guillotine choke, in addition to sharpening your takedown skills (especially defensive skills), could save you from grapplers who like to throw people around.​

In principle, this “submission must be cleared first” rule applies to any submission and scoring position, but it’s harder to pull off in other positions.​

One more thing I would like to add is straight out of Gordon Ryan’s strategy toolbox. In his +99kg division final match against his former teammate Nick Rodriguez, Gordon gave Nick a takedown opportunity right at the beginning of the match. Since this was during the no-point period, Nick didn’t score takedown points, and Gordon could take the guard position without being penalized for pulling the guard. It’s a loophole in this scoring system, but you might want to keep this in mind.

Improving your pure grappling skills should be your priority, but when you compete in matches where points also matter, you must keep this strategic aspect in mind. If you are interested in competing at ADCC-branded regional tournaments or even ADCC trials in the future, I believe working on your turtle position as well as guillotine choke would help you immensely in the long run.