How to Be a Better Judge

Posted in NEWS on July 20, 1999

By Wizards of the Coast

(my personal experience)

Chris Otwell

For many, organization issues or how to handle situational items is a very intimate thing that all judges need to understand while handling a tournament event, large or small. For this reason, I decided that it was time to write my first article for the DCI Judge's Webpage.

The following is a list of things that I feel are important and will need to be considered, performed, understood and developed for all Judges to hold successful events.

1) Show confidence in what you are doing, right or wrong. Avoid losing your confidence. A large portion of the success or failure of your events is based on the confidence level that you can project to your players. If you players believe in you and will support what you do, then you will gain loyalty, as well as regular players. One good way to invoke a reasonable level of confidence is to avoid looking like you don't know what you are doing. The appearance of being unsure of your actions or doing questionable actions will undermine any decision that you make, or the integrity of the event that you are running. If the players can not establish a level of confidence in your ability to run an event, you will never achieve a solid group of regular players. Nor will your events be considered "well run" by anyone. Confidence is a key element is getting people to perceive what you do, as the right way to do it.

2) Develop a plan of action. Follow through with it. Avoid scrapping your plan of action during an event, unless for a very serious reason. Back up any decisions you made for how to run the event. Be prepared to explain to others coherently why you decided to run the event in the way that you are. Scrapping your plan will ultimately disrupt the true flow of the event, from start to finish, and will induce a series of chaotic states to an event.

3) Be willing to "engineer" a better process for tournament organization. Process improvement is the greatest single key to being considered a "great coordinator at your events". Process improvement will also show to your players that you are in fact putting effort into bettering of their enjoyment in the event. The judge staff and the players will generally find these efforts worthwhile in the end. Sometimes, it's nessecary to replace a process that is working, but not efficiently, at your events in order to improve the overall organization and operation for that event. For example, at the prereleases that I work at, instead of having the usual stand-in life for registration, we now have a pile of 2" x 3" registration cards with questions on it, that one would fill out and have a good idea of what it will cost that person to participate, as well as give us a fast means to process that person for the event registration, T-shirt sales, etc. The time for a person to be processed in the line for registration has been cut down to approximately 10% of what it was before. Just like in product or software development, a better process means a better product. Streamline as many of the event procedures that you can. If you can have your players on the same page as your game plan, at all times, they will never be caught off guard by what you do. A series of well documented processes can allow for everyone involved in the operation of an event to work more efficiently together.

4) The DCI published a very good Tournament Organizer's handbook, available online or in CD-ROM format. Most organizers and judges will run events in such a way as to finish with a top 8 in the end. This is not always best for the event, particularly for smaller one. Many more times than not, I will run my swiss events to the top 4, using the appropriate numbers of rounds that the DCI Reporter program, as well as long establish rules of swiss-draw, will use. For example, If you have 12 people at a swiss-draw event, to obtain an accurate tiebreaker percentage and to successful achieve the need top 4 players, you will be required to run 6 rounds of swiss. In cases where the event is smaller, don't be afraid to add swiss rounds to the event and reduce the single elimination structure, to get a better arrangement of the best players in an event. Also keep in mind that single elimination can consist of any number of players, as long as that number is a power of 2. (IE: Top 2, Top 4, Top 8, Top 16, Top 32, etc...)

5) Don't be afraid to have a trial run, of an event. Many times when new judges that are going to head judge there first couple of events, they have only a vague idea of what to do and they read all the procedures from the books, etc. Nothing compares to experience in this. I suggest downloading the DCI Reporter program onto your computer. Spend an hour or 2 making test events and people, entering data and pairing rounds. You need to be familiar with the menus, and how to do ordered pairings, and editing of match records entered that were mis-entered from previous rounds, long before you need to do it the first time. Having people standing around you while you try to decipher the program will give the impression of incompetence. This will turn off many players from attending your events in the future. After you get a good feel for the program, get a feel for how to do pairings by hand, in case of computer problems. As much as you do to avoid this, computer problems will happen.

6) Don't show favoritism or bias. You need to approach each and every situation as if you don't know either person's name or background. This can be very hard to do, but is in the best interest of your players and your events. Everyone considers helping a friend, or giving advice to a player that needs it. Players may believe you are exhibiting favoritism when they observe or hear of a judge making intentionally questionable rulings about situations in favor of a person, or by giving someone play advice. Also, don't let the rumor mill affect any rulings you make or penalties you issue. Give everyone attending the event a fair shake. Disregard what other players say about a new tournament player. A good judge will develop his own opinion of a player independent of what the others will say, otherwise, this will not only undermine the authority that you have established at an event, but may give some players the opinion that they can manipulate your actions in the future. Good head judges and tournament coordinators are not easily manipulated by the players.

7) Be prepared to explain every ruling that you make. It's one thing be unspecific and say "It works that way", but it's better to be specific, with "Tapped blockers deal combat damage." The later ruling will instill a level of rules knowledge and general confidence in your rulings. Don't be afraid to scan the rulebooks for the answer if you are unsure. I am a strong believer that every head judge and TO needs a copy of the latest game Rules Book (such as the Comprehensive Rules), a copy of all of Steven D'Angelo's card rulings and game summaries, as well as being up-to-date with the latest DCI judge list postings, or newsgroup issues. The best resources for information, when you don't know the answer are the judges website: <>, or the judge email list. Resolving questions about even the smallest issues can benefit yourself and others.

8) Commit yourself to an action, and stick with it. Indecision will hurt your organization abilities. Whether you are right or wrong in your decisions, commitment and decisiveness are important when holding a successful event. Your job is to maintain the integrity of an event, at all times (even if you don't know all the answers).

9) If a player questions your ruling, avoid getting into an argument. It's ok to explain the reasoning behind your ruling, but if they persist with arguments that that do not introduce any new or useful information, don't be afraid to end the conversation. Remember, keeping the event flowing is important - you don't want a non-productive argument to delay your tournament.

10) The best judges are generally solid "rules gurus", as well as "organizational experts". Strive to be both. Keep everything you need handy at every event. Sometimes the extra weight that you are carrying around is worth it. Always be current with the latest trends in rules information. Always be open to what people ask of you. In the end, everyone goes to an event to have fun, including the organizer.

11) Treat players cordially. They will return the favor, with attendance and commitment to your events.

Christopher E. Otwell
Level 2 DCI Judge (Feb 1998 to Present)
A.K.A.: The Piley One!
Combined Tournament Experience To Date:
Tournament Organizer for 143 DCI Sanctioned Events, plus another 25 non-sanctioned events.
Head Judged in over 95% of these 168 events, and Tournament Organizer for 100% of them.
Head Judged for Jim Hamp (Level 2) in 17 DCI Sanctioned Events. Head Judged for David Pancoast in 16 DCI Sanctioned Events, and ~ 5 non-Sanctioned Events.
Head Judged for Gregory Ison in 2 DCI Sanctioned Events, and ~ 10 non-Sanctioned Events.
Assistant Judge for Steven Boeff (Level 2) in 6 PreReleases (Visions through Urza's Saga).
Head Judge for Mike Leeman (Level 3) in 1 non-premier event, of 75+ people.