Steve Ernst sees a problem and he fixes it. Turns out, there’s a pretty big problem in the world of pocket billiards: there’s no standardized ranking system for player abilities. Instead of getting the eight-ball blues, Ernst and business partner Michael Page created Fargo Ratings.

The software analyzes player data the world over and spits out rankings under the business name FargoRate. There are some systems in place already, but FargoRate is different in a few keys ways. For one, there are lots of ranking systems, each overseeing a relatively small number of players. That’s because players might get frustrated and form a splinter groups with its own ranking system. FargoRate has an exclusive contract with Cue Sports International (CSI), which gives them “access to a wealth of players,” says Ernst.


FargoRate co-founder Steve Ernst is pretty good at pool himself. He’s beat Rory Hendrickson three times. Hendrickson took second place at the US Open in 8 ball this year.

The second key difference is FargoRate looks at multiple layers of information and applies that to a broader number of users. Here’s an example under existing systems. When two players play, one wins and one loses. Only their ratings move. FargoRate looks at that differently. “If I beat you and our ratings indicate I shouldn’t, you’re a little lower in skill then we thought and everybody you’ve played, their ratings will go down,” explains Ernst. It’s like the tide. Everything goes up and down together, meaning ratings changing quickly and more accurately. With each new batch of information, “we Groundhog Day it. Everyday, we forget everything, run through every match and recalculate based on that information.”

Ernst and Page add another layer in what they call a “robustness” value, which factors in the number of games played. Ernst compares it to pulling a wagon. “How much you go up or down [in rating] depends on how much is in your wagon.”

This helps establish a more consistent rating, and prevents cheating. There are always pool sharks trying to game a system. An unscrupulous player might purposely lose to qualify for a easier tournament and then show up and clean house. With Fargo Ratings, “as soon as he plays at his true level, his ranking goes way up.” That information will stay in the system. “He won’t be able to do the same trick twice,” says Ernst.

Ernst is also hoping Fargo Ratings will help keep tournament play interesting. When five or six players dominate, it’s not fun for anyone else. Having the multi-level ranking makes it easier to handicap tournament play. If someone ranked 500 is playing against someone ranked 300, it’s assumed the player at 500 will win. With Fargo Ratings, tournament play can call for the rank 300 player to have to reach 3 games before fore the rank 500 gets to 5 games.

Fargo Rate makes most of its money from the contract with CSI, but amateurs can get in on the game starting at $6/year. The app is currently in beta form, with hopes of a release date by Thanksgiving 2016.

Ernst will be speaking at 1 Million Cups Fargo on Wednesday, November 9, at 9:15 a.m. at The Stage at Island Park.


Ashley Thornberg