As of this writing, most people base their rules at least loosely on the IBJJF point system. They have a detailed and consistently updated rulebook that anyone can download free on their website. This is a rough overview to help a novice get started. We have points because time is limited, and submissions don’t always happen. If you want to win in the absence of a submission, you need to do something decisive that the referee can document. If you do a deep dive into the history of Bjj, you will find that we have tried lots of different things, and this is the best we have so far. Even if you have no desire to compete, understanding the point system gives you a clear set of objectives that will improve your Jiu Jitsu.
Every match starts on your feet. Takedowns are naturally the first obstacle that you encounter. A successful takedown is two points. However, you can bypass the takedown problem by pulling guard. You must have a grip to pull guard. This is still debated and made fun of, but is clearly not going to change because it is a practical idea at times. If you’re dealing with someone who is bigger or better at takedowns, you can bypass the possibility of injury during the takedown and go directly into your best guard. Because of this, a referee will pay careful attention to who initiated the takedown or guard pull. You can’t pull guard mid takedown to avoid points.
Next is passing and playing guard. This is where you spend most of your time in competitive Bjj. The guard player wants to sweep and get on top, or find a submission to end the match. A sweep is worth two points and must be from a guard. The top player wants to pass the legs and secure control. Passing the guard is three points.
Side Control itself is not worth points. Knee on Belly is two. You must have the leg side knee on the belly, and the other knee must be off the floor.
Mount is four points. You must have your hips over the torso and be facing the head.
Flattened Back Mount is a separate position that is also worth four points. This position is rare, but important to know.
Back Control with hooks in is four. The hooks are your heels on the hips. Crossed feet, figure 4 body lock, and both hands trapped are no points.
You can dive very deep into the rules, but you can get by for a long time simply trying to stay on top and pass the guard. You will learn to look for details as time goes on. Three seconds is the required amount of time to hold a position to get points. It’s important to note that the points don’t work in reverse. You can go between the four point positions and continue collecting points. If you leave mount to attack knee on belly, no points. The four point positions are unquestionably dominant, and the fundamental goal of Bjj in the absence of a submission. We differ from wrestling in a couple important ways. There is no takedown from the knees, as that clarifies a few guard pulling problems. We don’t “cut” people to score multiple takedowns. You will not be rewarded for backing off. In fact, lack of combativeness in this case is a penalty. Another key difference is that you are not penalized for missing a takedown. If you shoot a double leg and end up turtled under your opponent, there are no points awarded. I’m fairly certain that this is meant to encourage action.
Most local tournaments don’t do advantages. An advantage comes up in IBJJF as -1 in the yellow box (as opposed to the green box where points are kept). An advantage doesn’t mean anything unless the points are even, then the most advantages wins. You can get an advantage anytime something almost happens. You almost catch a submission, a sweep, guard pass, you get it. Most local refs will tell you that they loosely keep track of advantages in their head if they have to make a decision. The idea is to document each important exchange so there is as little room for favoritism as possible.
One final note about points in Bjj. We can and should talk to the referees. But we must wait until after the match when they’re not busy, and be calm and respectful. I have asked several officials about their calls, and always received detailed and instructive answers. I’m not saying they’re always perfect, nobody is. Anyone representing my school is expected to keep calm when talking to officials, and use competition as an opportunity to learn and improve.