Critical Moments

Posted in NEWS on September 15, 2008

By Wizards of the Coast

If I earned one cent for every minute I've lost while head-judging tournaments because I didn't anticipate one particular problem, I'd be rich now...

In this article, I will present some of the most critical moments of a medium-to-large tournament, such as a 200-player PTQ. What I call a critical moment is a particular element of the tournament the head judge must pay attention to. A missed/mishandled critical moment can lead to a great loss of time, and that's why they must be taken care of in order to insure a successful tournament.

For each problem, I will give some advice about how to prevent it.


Registrations take an incompressible amount of time at the start of the day. You can't launch the tournament until they are over, and even then, you may need 10-15 minutes after registrations end to be able to launch round one (or deck building for limited tournaments). Here are the problems that can occur:

  • Registrations are too slow.
    • Possible causes: registrations are handled on a single computer, players don't have their DCI numbers, players block access to the registration pod(s), players wait until the last minute to get registered.
    • Potential loss of time: one hour or more.
    • Solutions: either handle the registrations on paper, by having a judge cross out pre-registered players and having the rest of the players put their names and DCI numbers on a separate sheet; or handle the registrations on multiple computers, letting the players type their DCI number on a numeric keypad.
  • Players are sitting around instead of registering.
    • Install a nice queue and the players will join in.
    • Seat all the players before round 1 to collect the decklists instead of collecting them during registration. This will prevent the psychological issue of, "Hey, what if I want to change my decklist just before playing?"
  • Someone hit the "Enroll All" button.
    • Potential loss of time: half-hour.
    • Solution: educate the scorekeeper not to click on that button!
    • Alternatively, you can register the players on paper, so that you won't have to call them back and sort out who paid and who didn't.

Product & list handling

This is for limited tournaments.

  • Product is missing/not adequate.
    • Potential loss of time: this isn't time we're talking about; it's about your ability to run the tournament!
    • Solution: verifying you have the necessary product is one of the first things you should do when coming to the tournament site. You may have to refuse players if you don't have enough product. Don't forget to take prizes into account.
  • Lists are missing/not adequate.
    • Potential loss of time: the time you'll take to print them out.
    • Solution: just like with the product, verify this early in the day. Don't forget to check both sides of the sheet: at 2008 French Nationals we had lists with Eventide on both sides! Thankfully we had enough printers to have new lists printed out in less than 10 minutes.
    • As a note to the scorekeepers out there, it's always useful to carry PDF versions of the most recent block's lists.

End of rounds

Loss of time at the end of the round occurs when players finish their matches too late. Here are the most common reasons:

  • Time isn't announced.
    • Yep, this can happen. Have at least two people track the time, just in case.
  • Players didn't hear it was the end of the round, so they don't start their additional turns.
    • As soon as the time is announced, have a judge go around and ask the players if they heard the announcement. This also has the advantage of catching players that just don't know what additional turns are (come on, there was a time when even you didn't know!).
  • Matches have too much additional time.
    • Make sure any deck-checks are made quickly enough.
    • Have your floor judges inform you when a ruling will take more than three minutes. Currently at GPs, additional time given shall be reported to the main stage.
    • See below for investigations.
  • Players play too slowly in their additional turns.
    • Post one judge at each remaining table as soon as possible.
    • Remember that slow play is enforced during the additional turns, except that the players don't receive two additional turns in case of a warning.
  • There's a lengthy ruling during the additional turns.
    • Don't argue with the players; instead, make a quick decision and tell the players they can discuss the ruling with you after they finish their match. Be careful not to spoil any investigation! Players might be aware of the time pressure and try to sneak in shady plays.
  • A result slip is lost.
    • Don't hesitate to call the players from the missing match to the judge station. This can be faster than looking around for the result slip. Ensure they're not still playing at that moment, though.
    • Don't let your judges (or yourself!) hold any paper slip in their pockets.
  • The results are entered too slowly.
    • Have your scorekeeper enter most of the results before the round ends.
    • Use the keyboard shortcuts to enter results faster.

Start of round => paper handling

There can be some delays after a round is finished.

  • Pairings are posted too slowly.
    • Have the judges in charge of posting them be present before the last result is entered.
  • Players take too much time to find their seat.
    • Make sure the pairings boards are set up in open areas so as not to create a traffic jam. If necessary, print out the pairings with name ranges, so that the players will naturally spread out on the pods.
    • Make sure all the players are informed when pairings are posted. This includes any smokers who are outside.

Investigations & disqualifications

It's always necessary to take some time for investigations. However, a potential DQ can take a long time to resolve. You should be careful about the possibility of not giving any penalty to a player and give their match an extra 15 minutes or more; this can create a great delay at the end of the round.

Concentrate on the essential elements. If your investigation skills are sharp enough, you should have made your decision of disqualifying the player or not within the first 10 minutes of the investigation.

If, after roughly 15 minutes, you still haven't made a decision, you should probably let the player play his match (with any required penalties) and either stop the investigation or continue it by indirect means (talking with opponents, etc.). You're better off leaving a potential cheater around (and hopefully catch him later) than having 200 players go home an hour late.

If it's the end of the round and you are disqualifying someone, start the next round before having him write his statement.

Odds & ends

Here are some problems I bumped into that could have cost a lot of time:

  • no available computer/DCI Reporter software/working printer: prepare these before the day of the tournament.
  • no available DCI number cards: enter the players as "joes" (DCI number = 1) and deal with them afterwards. Your local DCI office should be able to give you new DCI numbers to use; make sure you've got their phone number.
  • no one kept track of the time in the round: you can use the "Tournament Summary" function of DCI Reporter to determine when this round was paired. This doesn't work during the first round, so be careful.
  • the computer decided to do some "updates" after registering players: use Windows XP rather than Vista, or configure the computer so that you won't have any surprises like this.
  • the dog ate the homework: that was just an excuse.

That's it. If you have any questions:

fluorhydric (at) hotmail dot fr

Daniel Kitachewsky
Area Judge
Paris, France