What is a Polo Handicap?

Jan 22, 2024By Naveed Gill
Naveed Gill

The History of the Polo Handicap

The handicap system was created by Henry Lloyd Herbert, the first president of the United States Polo Association, at the founding of the USPA in 1890 so teams could be more evenly matched when using players with varying abilities.

It is the overall rating of a player's horsemanship, team play, knowledge of the game, strategy, and horses. At one time, polo was the only sport in the world that considered sportsmanship when rating a player.

It is not (nor has it ever been) an estimate of the number of goals a player might score in a game, but rather of the player's worth to their team.

How does the polo handicap system work?

The players are rated on a scale from minus -2 to +10. Minus-2 indicates a novice player, while a player rated at 10 goals has the highest handicap possible.

It is so difficult to attain a 10-goal handicap that there are fewer than two dozen in the world, and about two-thirds of all players handicapped are rated at two goals or less. Currently, most living ten-goal players are Argentine, with few exceptions.

Handicaps of three goals and above generally belong to professional players.

In matches played by "handicapped" players (as opposed to open competition, where handicaps are not considered), the handicaps of all four players are summed. If the total handicap of a team is more than that of the team against which they are playing, the difference is added to the scoreboard. For example, if the Mounties polo team has a total handicap of six goals and the Tayto team has a handicap of four goals, Tayto would begin the match with a two-goal advantage although there is also a dependency on the amount of chukkers being played in the game.

A player's handicap is usually assessed by a committee at the authorizing club of his country. A professional player may be assigned an equivalent rating in countries where he competes. Though standards are similar, the ratings may be expressed differently. e.g.:

Argentina: 0 to 10

USA: C (-2), B (-1), B+ (-0.5), A (0), A+ (0.5), 1.0, 1.5, 2 to 10

England: -2 to 10.

Czech Republic: S then -2 to 10 governed by the club and the Czech Polo Association

The image below is a perfect illustration of players and their handicaps and the total team handicap as result of the sum of the individual players.

Ellerstina 39 and La Dolfina 40 a perfect team!

Polo|GILL POLO|Scoreboard|Czech Polo

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Origins of Polo-to-the-modern-day