Tournament organization skills are the foundation upon which your success or failure as an organizer rests. You could have the best judges in the world, but if you suffer 45 minute delays between rounds, that is what players will remember. In retail there is a saying: "Every unhappy customer will tell ten people, every happy customer will only tell one."
Before the Event
Use DCI Reporter Software
If you as a tournament organizer only follow one suggestion in this article, this would be it. DCI Reporter has lots of cool features and goes a long way towards running a smooth event. Running a tournament of any size by hand can translates to 30 minute delays between pairings. Such delays are simply unacceptable. By the way, if you start using or are currently using DCIR, buy a cheap paper cutter and use result entry slips. Result entry slips really speed up score keeping.
One the event is under way, you don't want to take extra time calculating how many boosters 5th through 8th place should receive. Do this beforehand. I will even go so far as to count out the proper number of boosters, rubber band them together, and label the package with the place number.
Arrange for Sufficient Staff
You need enough staff to properly run your event. Grab as many certified judges as possible. However, the score keeper, registration person, and lunch runner don't need to be certified. I prefer a 20 to 1 ratio of players to judges, not counting non-certified staff.
Items you Should Never be Without
Floor rules, penalty guidelines, oracle, permanent markers, land bank, pens, scratch paper, deck lists/check lists, mana membership cards, masking tape, duct tape, rubber bands, push pins, scissors, extra computer paper, ink cartridges/toner.
Arrange for a Microphone
If you don't have one, you will lose you voice, I guarantee it. Players need to hear your instructions at all times. Spend the extra $30 or whatever.
Arrange for a Water Station
Thirsty players are cranky players. At a minimum of expense, most venues can provide a water station for your events. If you are not working with a hotel with banquet staff, then make sure there are drinking fountains in the facility.
If possible, arrange for a no-host snack bar with the facility. That way players can grab a bag of chips or a pop quickly between events. For lunch breaks, try to find a venue close to fast food outlets or other restaurants. Many hotel eateries are very spendy. A nearby source of cheap food is a must.
Make sure the venue puts out lots of big garbage cans and empties them regularly. The site will quickly accumulate an amazing amount of pop cans, fast food containers, and foil wrappers.
Have an area where the players can retire to between rounds. This helps to keep them out of the main play area allowing you to determine which matches are still in progress, straighten tables, pickup garbage, etc.. Also, it cuts down on the noise factor for those still playing. This is also an excellent location for the Dealer Table.
Having a dealer table is a great way to increase your revenue. If you are not associated with a retail store, talk to the stores in your area. A reasonable fee for a table runs from $75-$150 depending on the size of the event. This also provides players something to do between rounds.
During the Event
Seat Players for Announcements
DCIR supports a random seating feature that works quite nicely. Alternatively, you can simply generate pairings in order to assign seats. Then once announcements are over, generate the real pairings. Random seating for announcements serves to separate players who know each other thus cutting down on the chatter. This also gives players the opportunity to double check enrollment.
Schedule a Lunch Break.
For constructed events, I simply extend the starting time of round 3 by 30 or 40 minutes. For limited events, the lunch break goes after round 1. Be sure you announce this ahead of time. Dinner breaks generally schedule very nicely after the swiss rounds are over. I typically let the top 8 vote on whether or not to take a dinner break. Most of the time, they opt to play through without dinner. In this case, I make everyone take a 10 minute break to go to the restroom, get something to drink, call home, etc.
Post Multiple Copies of Pairings/Standing
As a player, there is nothing more annoying than standing in line for 10 minutes in order to see where you are playing. As an organizer, you want to cut down on the amount of time it takes to get players seated and ready to go.
Post Starting Times
After nineteen players ask you what time the next round starts, you will wish you posted the starting time. I use a 3x4 whiteboard on which I write the next round number and the start time in giant letters. In addition, if the venue doesn't have one, buy a large clock to display at your events. Be sure to make an announcement before hand informing the players where the start times will be posted.
Make Pens/Scratch Paper Available
You'll need pens available to fill out deck lists. Pen and paper is always the best way to track life totals. You can even charge players for pen and paper. This is common practice at PT stops. I would NOT charge at a Pre-Release, but charging at a Qualifier Tournament is fine.
Deck checks are a necessary part of every high level event. If you are performing deck checks, make sure that the finalists get checked before you announce them. It is very unfair to the 9th place player to not make the top 8 when you have to DQ one of the finalists for an illegal deck. Make sure to award players extra time when their table gets checked.
Side events are another great way to increase your revenue. I run all of my side events as eight person, single elimination tournaments. Booster drafts are the most popular at my events. Sanction several ahead of time and then cancel the numbers you don't use. Give out at least some sort of a prize. I always take the money as players signup. You are much more likely to get people to commit to a side event that way.
After the Event
Reward your Staff
They are the people that make your event work. Sprinkle them liberally with boosters, t-shirts, lunch, etc. A large percentage of your tournament staff will be transient in nature. Sweeten the deal for your regulars with either extra boosters or even cash. Even a little bit of cash helps defray expenses like gas and food. However, I suggest handing out volunteer support after the event is over.
After the event is over, perhaps when you hand out volunteer support, ask your staff what went well and where problems occurred. Brainstorm how avoid similar problems in the future. Talk to players as well. Its important to get their perspective.
Do your Paperwork
Get your paperwork into the DCI as soon as possible. The DCI and your players will appreciate it. I prefer to complete it the next day so that I can start thinking about the next event and not worrying about late paperwork.