Play begins Thursday in Williamsport, Pa., in the 2012 Little League World Series-- the 66th annual tournament.

Sixteen teams have qualified for the Little League World Series, eight from the United States and eight international squads. Both groups will play in their own double-elimination brackets, with the U.S. champion meeting the international champ for the World Series crown.

Each team in the series is guaranteed at least three games in Williamsport. Teams that lose their first two contests will play a consolation game against an international opponent.

The title game between winners of the U.S. and international brackets -- a single game for all the marbles -- is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 26 at 3 p.m. on ABC.

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Fairfield American's opening game is Thursday at 3 p.m. against the West Champion -- Petaluma (Calif.) National -- on ESPN2.

If Fairfield wins its opener, it will play Sunday at 2 p.m. on ABC against the winner of of the first-round game between Midwest champion Kearny, Neb., and Southeast champ Goodlettsville, Tenn.

If Fairfield wins both contests, it will be just one win from the U.S.-bracket championship game, to be played Saturday, Aug. 25, at 3:30 p.m. on ABC. The loser of that game will play the loser of the international-bracket final in a consolation game Sunday, Aug. 26 at 11 a.m.

If Fairfield loses its opener against West champ California, it will play the loser of Nebraska and Tennessee on Saturday at 3 p.m. on ABC in an elimination game. If Fairfield loses that contest, it will play its consolation game -- Monday at noon on ESPN2 -- against Japan, Caribbean, Asia-Pacific or Europe. That would be the end of its season.

As in previous tournaments, the Little League World Series has strict pitch-count and mandatory-participation rules.

Pitchers may not throw more than 85 pitches in any game. Those who throw 66 or more may not pitch for the next four days; 51-65 pitches, three days; 36-50, two days and 21-25 one day. Throwing fewer than 21 pitches does not require a day off.

Every player must play three consecutive defensive outs and bat at least once in every game. A player may exit and re-enter a game once; after a second removal he is may not re-enter.

Teams may use one special pinch runner per inning that does not count as the player's entry.

ppickens@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/Pat_Pickens