Anatomy of a Penalty

This morning, I was reading a post on a Grand Prix forum from a relatively new judge wondering about how to fill out a penalty properly at a high-level event that uses DCI Reporter. It wasn’t until I went to send a link to a post about how to do this that I noticed that somehow, surprisingly, I haven’t written one yet. So, here we go …

First, the basics, in case this is somehow the first article you’ve read about this.

On the front, place a clear mark next to the name of the person receiving the penalty to make it clear that there is a penalty to be processed. Many people will teach you to use a W for this, and while this is better than just a star or other symbol that might be ambiguous (Side note: A useful thing to do when you decide how to annotate things is to remember that you are but one of many people on the floor, and one of many people who are interacting with a result slip, so the more you know about what other people might do and the more you take this into consideration, the better decisions you’ll make. For example, some people will use stars or circle names for penalties – this is unexpectedly suboptimal, because there is a small contingent of players that will circle the names of the winning player for reasons foreign to me. Not great that they do this, no, but it’s a reality that’s best worked around.), it’s still not ideal. Better is when that mark is the class of penalty (W for Warning, GL for Game Loss, etc …) because this can serve as both a built-in checksum and can also give some hints about any oddities on the slip in terms of win count (e.g. players who don’t know to fill out a Game Loss as an actual win for the other player).

On the back, you want the following, in order:
Judge’s Name (First Last), Player’s Name (Last, First), Infraction Type
Penalty Issued, Comment

The reason for this order is that it matches the order of data entry into the penalty dialog, so it makes it easier for the scorekeeper to find the right data quickly rather than rooting around the slip for which information is which (biggest offender here tends to be swapping the player and judge name). Why First Last for judge and Last, First for Player? Fine question – for reasons lost to the history of humankind, that’s how DCI Reporter does it (the answer to so many things, really).

That’s it. Now, for the not-so-basics, some of which should save you a bit of trouble:

  • As much as possible, you want to make it so that there is no reason to turn the slip over and look at the front again. The way this most frequently manifests itself at a Grand Prix – it’s very important to use your full name and the player’s full name. Using just the last name or abbreviations can lead to ambiguities that take time to sort out. Similarly, no initials, signatures, or nicknames.
  • Another way that you can save a flipping over of the slip – copy the table number onto the back of the slip so it’s easily on hand (but if you’re doing this, make sure it’s clearly labelled so that it’s obviously a table number instead of a random errant number).
  • You don’t need to do all of this for a No Show. Instead, you should be doing this.
  • For your first, and only your first penalty of each tournament, you should put your DCI Number. This allows the scorekeeper to enter you on the judge list if you aren’t already on it without hunting you down. Once you’re on the list, however, you’re looked up by name and not number, so you don’t need to include it every time.
  • If the penalty that you issued is not the standard penalty for an infraction, make sure that your comment prominently lists “UPGRADE” or “DOWNGRADE” along with who you consulted with for that deviation, if applicable.
  • When issuing a Game Rule Violation, if you are also issuing a GRV or a Failure to Maintain Game State to the opponent for the same incident, you can skip everything but the opponent’s name and the infraction with a reference to the other penalty. There’s no need to rewrite your name or copy the comment again.
  • Remember not to write card names unless the card was already revealed to both players. The result slip should never become a spoiler.
  • Your comment should be clear and concise. We don’t need a novel here, just enough information for judges to be able to correlate penalties as being the same, and for the investigation committee to see if there are any trends or unusual behaviors should they ever need to look back on somebody’s penalty history. On the other hand, they do need to be understandable without any further context. So, “Drew 4 cards instead of 3 for Concentrate” is better than “Concentrate” or “Player cast Concentrate, went to draw cards, accidentally thought the card said 4 cards rather than 3 so drew 4 cards instead of 3.”
  • For Missed Triggers, it’s generally safe to just say “Trigger from Card X” rather than having to explain what the trigger is, unless it was an unusual case or circumstance. The trigger on the card can always be looked up.
  • Looking at Extra Cards seems to be a very common penalty these days and is one that can be gamed for advantage. Make sure that you’re noting whether or not it’s during shuffling or during regular gameplay (usually in conjunction with drawing), and whether it’s the player’s deck or the opponent’s so that the investigations committee can notice any patterns that develop with a player.
  • Unless it’s unusual, tardiness generally does not require a comment.

Finally – please write legibly. Hard to read penalties eat up a lot of time for scorekeepers. If you can’t actually do so, please get somebody else to help you fill out your penalties.

Anticipation

It’s Saturday at Pro Tour – Magic 2015. Rich Hagon comes walking up to the scorekeeping desk.  What do you do?

You don’t actually notice until he arrives and starts talking to you. Not surprising, since you’re focused on something else. Sometimes he needs stuff from you, but sometimes he’s just looking for players or here to see other stage staff, so there’s no reason to break your concentration until he starts the conversation. It takes a bit to figure out what he’s asking for, then you start figuring out how to get him that data. You’re probably an OK scorekeeper (you did make it to the Pro Tour level, after all). However, you’re being a reactive scorekeeper. Somebody asks you for something, and you deliver. The vast majority of not only scorekeepers, but staff of all sorts operate in this reactive mode, and the separation between the bad and the average-to-competent staff boils down to whether you know how to deliver what’s requested, how to generate it if it’s unorthodox, and how quickly you’re able to do so.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot of variation on this scale, and a lot of learning that people need to do solely on execution, speed, and creativity of delivery. Even the most experienced and skilled staff are constantly looking for ways to get a little faster. So it’s not that this isn’t important. It’s just that no matter how good you get at being reactive, the best you’ll ever be is OK.

You stop what you’re working on, since it isn’t urgent, and pull up the DCI Reporter window and wait until he gets into earshot before asking him what he needs, as coverage is a high priority at these events, and more likely than not if he’s come out to the main area, he probably needs some data that you’re going to be the one to provide. You’re being a proactive scorekeeper. This is where OK staff start to become good staff. You’ve done this enough times or observed this enough times to understand when you’re likely to be involved and when you aren’t, and you’ve learned to speed up the process by being ready and engaged when you’re likely to be needed.

This sort of learning tends to be the sort where you practice your job over and over again. Instead of just paying attention to how you’re doing things, what works and what doesn’t, though, you’re also paying attention to your own workflow patterns. It seems like when this person approaches, they’re usually looking for you as opposed to for the head judge. At the end of the round, a judge is going to want outstanding tables when there’s 5 minutes left to go. A player walking up holding a slip in the later rounds of the tournament is probably looking for the box to submit side event result slips. One walking up with nothing in their hands but standing with their buddies probably wants to drop.

Note, none of this causes you to perform any processes more quickly. However, you’ll notice that people start to say that you’re quicker. This is partly because you’re more immediately responsive, and partly because people who need things from you tend to think of response time as the total time between when they need it and when they get it. They don’t separate between the time it takes to understand the problem and the time it takes to actually solve the problem, so cutting out the former feels like cutting out the latter to people.

You notice that it’s near the beginning of one of the later rounds, and that he is walking toward you not looking at his tablet. As he approaches, you pick up a copy of the standings that you already pre-printed and hold it out to him, so by the time he arrives and starts to talk, he looks down and notices what you’ve offered, takes it, and continues on his way. Now we’re talking. You’re being a predictive scorekeeper, and this is where the magic happens, where people think that you’re pulling off some crazy Sherlock shenanigans and start saying your name in revered tones as a psychic wizard.

What really happened here?

Why did we have standings already printed? In the last few rounds of a Pro Tour, various coverage people are going to need access to standings to know who to watch and to do math on possible Top 8 qualifiers. It can be different ones at different times, but this happens frequently.

How did we infer that this is what he was going to ask for? Well, if Rich is walking around late in a round, he’s probably trying to corral interviews or otherwise looking for other staff, but early in a round he probably is going to be watching matches and more likely to need you. If he’s staring at his tablet, it’s generally got the name of a person on it that he’ll be looking for, and if not, then he probably hasn’t yet figured out who he’s looking at yet and needs data to figure that out.

Another example: Blake and Nate are over on the side table trying to sort out feature matches for the round, and Nate walks over to ask you to print the master list of deck archetypes. Instead, you hand him the specific pairings with archetypes listed next to each name instead, which is already printing by the time he arrives at your computer.

How is this possible? Well, they’ve been picking features every round, but this round it’s taken longer than usual, and while you’re prepping paperwork for judges, you overhear them discussing which archetypes have and haven’t been seen on camera already. As soon as archetypes become a selection criteria, it’s a good bet that they don’t have all the data they wish they had. You, on the other hand, have the right tools to create a merged pairings/archetype list.

Examples of this sort abound. When you see a player running toward you at the beginning of the round, calling over a judge to stand next to you before that player arrives so that you know one is on hand. When a judge walks toward you holding a decklist, pulling up your reference for who’s sitting where.

There are a few key skills that combine to make these and just about any other similar situations possible.

You need to be comfortable enough with your own work and workflows that you can pay attention to what other people’s workflows look like, and what their motivations are likely to be to solve those workflows. “What is this person likely trying to accomplish right now?” goes a long way toward helping to figure out what they’re probably going to come asking for.

You need to be effective at your job without having to focus so hard at it that it keeps you from observing the things going on around you, since that observation gives you the evidence that you need make better deductions and pick up on things that you might be able to help with.

You need to understand what other people think about what you know and what you can do, both to help predict the types of things they’ll ask you for (which necessarily will fall in that category), and to synthesize ways that you can help that they haven’t conceived yet, which nobody but you can do effectively since nobody else will know to ask.

While these examples are from the scorekeeper’s perspective, the same principles apply regardless of your role. Let’s take, for example, judges. Noticing the line in front of the stage at the beginning of the day, grabbing a set of pairings and starting to work through that line for people who just can’t find their own seats. Seeing the cluster of people around a table and walking over to be a pair of eyes on a potentially contentious match. Catching that there are an odd number of people at the deck check table and standing nearby to help with a deck check that is one person short.

Everyone is interacting with other people and other staff of all sorts. Learn to do your job well. It’s important. But if you’re not paying attention to what it takes for everyone else to do their job well, then you’re never going to be as good at your own job as you could be.

Be magical. Predict, don’t just react.

The Checklist

All right … now that things are a little less frantic, let’s turn that last post into something with more useful content.

First of all, some context on what happened. When DCI Reporter takes in the last result of a round, it then spends some time processing all of the results and getting the points for the wins associated with each player record. When that process completes, then you have the right records for generating pairings for the next round. Unfortunately, this process is not instantaneous, and furthermore, the program does not block you from doing other things while it’s processing. So if you happen to pair the round quickly enough, it will go ahead and do so with the player records it has, which will not include the points from the most recent round.

This results in completely unusable results and, for the record, is one of a vanishingly small number of things for which you absolutely must re-pair (which really is a dirty word – there are very few other circumstances in which you should ever do a full re-pairing. More on that in a future topic for scorekeepers). Which means it’s entirely and cripplingly bad.

There have been a few comments lately of the nature of, “it’s 2014, why not just fix the program rather than talk about how the program is as a given?” And while I can see that point, it’s not a useful one for run-time operations of an event, because we have to work with the software we currently have, as it currently works. Anything else is unhelpful pipe dreaming when you’re actually mid-tournament and trying to make sure everything goes well.

So, reality is, that behavior exists, and you have to work around it. In this case, the best fix is actually a bit retroactive and not proactive. You can’t guarantee you won’t run into this bug, but you can verify after the fact whether you did or not. When you finish generating pairings, the pairings by table always pop up. Takes only half a second, if you remember, to look at the top pairing and make sure it has the number of points you expect based on the round. If it doesn’t, just kill and remake the pairings.

This is but one of a number of things that can and should be getting checked reactively to prevent any issues from turning into real problems. Here are some more:

Players:

– Always check your points, every round. They are listed on the pairings next to your name. Make sure you look at your own row, and make sure you look at your points rather than your opponents. Many players seem to use table number as a substitute for checking points, and while it’s generally true that higher records mean lower table numbers, this is not a guarantee. Fixed seatings can force tables into unexpected ranges. Seatings are sometimes done randomly for a variety of reasons. There is no real substitute for actually checking your points, and if an error has been made, there’s only a limited window during which it’s reasonable to fix.

– Always check your result slip to make sure your name is on it and that you’re playing the right person. A few times a tournament, somebody sits at the wrong seat, plays the wrong person, fills out the result slip, and turns it in without ever seeing the issue. This leads inevitably to confusion, and generally to penalties and game losses. You don’t want to be that person, nor to receive any of those things.

– Always check your result slip to make sure it is accurate before you sign it. It’s a document. Which you are signing. With your signature. Do I really need to say more about this? What would your mother think?

Scorekeepers

– The aforementioned pairings check to make sure the points stuck.

– Make sure you check for last minute drops after you think you’re done. If a judge is helping you manage the drop list (and they probably should be, if we’re talking about a large event), one always seems to manage to sneak through.

– Make sure you check to see if you sent your coverage files to the coverage team. I actually recommend you leave your e-mail client in the Sent Items folder and title your e-mail messages with something descriptive and easy to parse so that you can easily see at a glance what you’ve sent and remind yourself to do so if you’ve forgotten. This is often the slow link in getting pairings/standings/results up on the coverage site, which makes players grumpy.

Judges

– Make sure you’ve checked that you’ve got all the pages you expected out of the printer before you run off. Being in a hurry doesn’t help if you don’t have all your materials, and printers unfortunately still run out of paper.

– Check your result slips as you put them down on the tables. It only takes one stuck piece of paper to make you redo a ton of work.

– Double check a player’s result when they hand you a slip. They should have done so before they signed it, but … well, you know.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, of course. If you’ve got your own tips, please let me know!

That Happened

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah the “DCIR doesn’t include the most recent round’s points in the new pairings if you pair too quickly” bug makes me want to punch myself in the kidney. That and our connection to the online pairings site went down precisely between putting up the wrong pairings and the right pairings.

Re-pair is a filthy word. I feel dirty.

Days since screwing up a GP: 0

(Just in case anyone thinks I only pick on other people here …)

What Happened?

There’s a crowd of people sitting around table 243, including a pair of judges. Things seem a bit tense, understandably so, as a few minutes ago, a little bit of sloppiness in communication lead to a huge disagreement about whether this creature attacked or not, and before you know it, an eight minute extension was issued after the judges finally sorted out what actually happened and got the match ready to go again. Which is a bit of an unfortunate coincidence, since this match also got deck checked this round, which was another seven minute extension (a fast deck check, really). We’re finally entering extra turns now, though, and whether it’s because it’s an interesting match or because it’s the last match going, either way there’s a gaggle of people watching.

It’s two minutes into the round, and a frantic and upset player runs up to the desk. He was already late to start with and trying to rush to his seat, so he’s already under duress. The inevitable and universal first statement comes spilling out.

“I’m not on the pairings.”

Here we go again.

“We have you dropping last round, did you not mean to?”

“No, that got entered wrong.”

And now the usual ritual of finding the table number and pulling out the slip.

“This says you lost and dropped, what happened?”

“Oh.”

Depending on the person, some different variant of mumbling and bumbling around why they might sign something you didn’t verify ensues. Three more minutes pass while we verify what happened with the opponent, and validate that no funny business was afoot.

Problem is, this player wasn’t near the bottom of the standings, they were actually X-1, so they’re in contention. Can’t really just give them a bye, nor can we just match them against one of our lower ranked players because getting the matchups right is actually a tournament integrity issue. So now we have to issue what’s called a cascade, in which we break a series of pairings and mix-and-match them to get valid pairings. This affects four tables this time, and it’s already now seven minutes into the round, and by the time all is said and done, now we’ve got four tables of people who are starting to play a good twelve minutes into the round, with full time extensions (since for most of them, at least, it wasn’t their fault).

“Player X and Player Y, please report to the main stage. Immediately.”

The immediately is an extra bit of urgency, since it’s the third time we’ve called them, and theirs is the last match slip that we don’t have, despite having triple-checked our stack of sorted slips for it and having sent multiple judges to verify that the table is actually empty. Eventually, perhaps we’ll tack on the public shaming clause – “the entire tournament is waiting on you right now.” For now, though, we’re still hoping they get the message and come up on their own.

Finally, one of them ambles up.

“Where’s your result slip?”

“I brought it up.”

“Are you sure? Can you do us a favor and check your pockets?”

“Oh … uh … sorry,” and the inevitable sheepish crumpled up slip from the pocket. No matter how many people we tell that they need to bring their slips up right away when finished, this will always happen.

Little-known fact about DCI Reporter – it won’t let you insert players mid-round, even if you intend to give them a bye or otherwise can perform one of the rational fixes that would be possible when a player is inadvertently left out of a tournament. In this case, it’s a simple miscommunication by which a series of players with byes who were given free entry to the tournament (in exchange for doing some promotional work) weren’t actually put into the system.

The round’s actually over, and we have all the slips. But since the software wouldn’t let us put those people into the tournament until the round was properly over, now we actually have to take the time to insert those players, and manually add their byes round-by-round (another fun software quirk) before we can get around to pairing the next round.

“Player X and Player Y, please report to the main stage. Immediately.”

The immediately is an extra bit of urgency, since it’s the third time we’ve called them, and theirs is the last match slip … well, you get the idea.

Player Y walks up, and Arthur (the quite accomplished and upstanding judge – let this be a lesson that things happen to everyone and you have to stay vigilant!) asks, “we’re missing your result slip, where is it?”

“Um, I handed it to you, remember?”

Arthur reaches into his pocket, and then prepares for public shaming.

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It’s been a few minutes now, and the judges are positive – there’s nobody left playing on the floor. Certainly not the 20 matches of missing slips that the software is waiting on.

Is there an errant judge walking around with a pocket full of slips? While one judge starts circulating the word to do a pocket check, another follows the usual first step of going to the group of judges sorting the slips and checking whether they slipped through somewhere. And lo and behold, there they are. We might never know why – sometimes there’s a stack set to the side for entering penalties that the scorekeeper accidentally forgets to enter the results for. Sometimes a judge gets confused and passes a stack of slips directly to the sorters rather than putting them in the box to process. Sometimes the sorters take from the wrong pile and end up with a stack of slips that hadn’t been entered yet. Doesn’t actually matter so much, the minutes are gone either way.

It’s fifteen minutes after the round has completed, as evidenced by the timer slowly counting up in the corner of the room. Pretty long turnaround time between these two rounds, really. So … who’s fault was it?

Perhaps you didn’t receive a Batterskull at a recent Grand Prix (or perhaps you received more than one – I certainly hope you’re ashamed of yourself …). Pretty obvious what happened … right?

Hopefully you’re not as sure as you were a few minutes ago.

As the Round Turns …

It’s Pro Tour – Journey into Nyx from Atlanta, and we’ve just finished Round 9. Which, as it turns out, is the first round of the second draft as opposed to the last round of the second draft. Awkward. Almost disastrously so.

But I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself …

A couple months back, I talked a little bit about coverage, and specifically, why it takes so long to get data onto the coverage site. The follow-up question that seem to be rampant this weekend, from viewers and on-site staff alike, is, “Rich has been filling with this segment for a long time, why is it taking so damn long to pair the round and go back to showing matches?”

The question, as it turns out, is ill-formed. The round might be paired. Or it might not … it can be hard to tell.

Too obtuse? Well … it turns out, there’s a lot going on. Let me tell you the story of the Round 9 to Round 10 turn at Pro Tour – Journey into Nyx.

Rich Hagon is at the desk, doing a segment about draft picks with Zac Hill. A bunch of prep already happened to make this segment possible, which probably involved graphics work he did with Deb and John in advance to get the packs put together (which were typed up in the first place by Trick, myself, and some other number of text coverage staff). And that doesn’t even count the two or three camera operators shooting that piece. And the countless behind-the-scenes folks working on lights, production, streaming, and things I don’t even know.

It’s an interesting bit of content regardless, at least to some viewers, but it’s a segment to fill time between matches because there isn’t anything to show. Don’t tell that to the viewers that are already agitating for matches (to put it delicately … complaining about why we aren’t showing matches all the time is probably more accurate), though. It’s not that nothing is happening – there’s exactly one match left going on the floor … where there are no cameras, and if you don’t think it’d be disruptive mid-game-3 if someone asked you to pick up your stuff and move, then you’re more unflappable than most.

There is a veritable army of judges waiting to post pairings once that last slip comes in. Which it is coming in. But they’ve got a good bit of waiting to do, as it turns out. Trick, Nate, and Tim are also hanging out, and they come first, since they’re picking the matches for us to feature this round. But even they get to wait, as we’ve just finished Round 9. Which, as it turns out, is the first round of the second draft as opposed to the last round of the second draft. Which is awkward. Almost disastrously so.

Here’s the thing. DCI Reporter, the software we use to run this thing, was written a long time ago, in an era where it was never anticipated that we would ask it to do the unholy things that we ask it to do. In the grand scheme of things, the Pro Tour scheme of bouncing between drafts and constructed isn’t even all that unholy. First circle stuff, really. However, it means that our drafts no longer line up with even multiples of three rounds at a time, which used to be a safe assumption with any draft tournaments.

Why on Earth could that possibly matter?

Well, there’s a helpful dialog box that happens when you try and pair a round in a tournament that’s in draft mode that is one after an even multiple of three. It reminds you that you probably wanted to make new pods, and defaults to, “yes, do that for me.” Scorekeepers tend to act on experience and instinct and know all the places that they can blast through the myriad of unnecessary dialogs in DCIR to save some time, and if you’re in the vast majority of even experienced scorekeepers never to have seen this particular warning, then you’re not alone. Neither had Kali.

Once upon a time, that dialog made sense. I dare say it probably saved a lot of mistaken rounds paired against old pods that shouldn’t have been. So I can’t say that the dialog was poorly thought out. What I can say, however, is that now that we’re not aligned to rounds of three, it has undesirable effects.

Kaboom, the tournament is gone. Well, more specifically, all the pods are gone. So the round can’t be paired. And DCIR expresses its displeasure in dramatic fashion.

“Where are the pairings?” ask Trick, Nate, Tim … and Greg, Rich, Deb … and a bunch of producers … and all the viewers. Well …

Luckily, like any good scorekeeper who’s probably been burned a few dozen times, Kali has a backup, and she re-enters the results that weren’t in that backup like a pro. Some file syncing shenanigans ensue (it takes 3 computers in sync to do everything we do at the Pro Tour, but that’s a story for another time), but eventually, we have pairings, and Trick and crew spring to work.

Meanwhile, Rich (who somehow produces while still talking live on camera without skipping a beat), Deb, and Greg (the overall coverage manager) are probably wondering what’s going on. Along with BDM and Randy, sitting in the booth now waiting to get going. Which we can tell because they’re asking on our internal chat. And they need to know so they can plan the length of their segments and make the transitions graceful. We usually try and help keep them up to date as best as we can, but in this case, fixing takes priority over informing – sorry about that, guys.

So, features matches are chosen, we put up the pairings, the round starts, and we cut to match coverage, right? Well … no, not so much.

See, we have graphics to be set up and a feature match area to get prepped first. Also, the folks on camera are going to need to know the matches, get their decklists and some play history, and anything else they can get their hands on to sound knowledgeable on camera. And the staff in the feature match area need to know where players are supposed to sit to match these graphics as soon as they walk over. Which means that we need to get the feature match data all put together and distributed before we tell the players to go anywhere.

Of course, DCIR doesn’t know anything about feature matches. Or Top 25 rankings, which need to show up on graphics. Or deck archetypes (which to be fair weren’t needed for this round, thank goodness, but get spliced in at this point as well). So we have to pull matches, records, and countries out of DCIR and then splice in the rankings and archetypes manually before sending them out to everyone. A minute later, Rich and Deb can start the wind-down on the segment they’re working on, Kali can post pairings online, head judge Lems can fire up the judge machinery to post pairings and get the round going, and we can update the scrolling ticker with the upcoming feature matches, all while the graphics crew gets prepped with the right overlays and graphics for the impending feature match. And then we need to prep our software that streams the results data to the news desk and the updated standings to the scoreboard graphics. But that can wait until the round starts, and until another story.

At any rate, a lot going on. This picture, as it turns out, is probably incomplete. In fact, I suspect exactly zero people, myself included, know everything going on to get a round up and going for Pro Tour coverage. But next time you wonder what’s taking so long, you might want to recalibrate your idea of what “so long” is (the preceding story happened over the span of eight measly minutes), grab yourself a snack, and appreciate the insane work that is happening to make this thing work at all. We do, grumpiness aside, appreciate your patience and thank you for watching!

The Critical Path (Dispatches from Phoenix)

At dinner on Saturday at Grand Prix – Phoenix, a few of the older and more seasoned judges were doing some informal debriefing (read: ranting) and at some point, I was referring to the critical path and was a bit surprised to hear that this wasn’t a universally understood concept.

Pervasive in the software and business world, the critical path is, in brief, is a project management concept that identifies the longest chain of dependencies of a project that must be completed to finish the project, which then dictates the fastest that the project can possibly be completed. This is important for two reasons. First, any delay to tasks that are on this critical path delays the completion of the entire project (as opposed to delays in other areas, which are absorbed by the length of the critical path, at least until you delay them so long that they take over as the new critical path). Secondly, and more positively, finding ways to save time on the critical path will concretely speed up completion of the whole project.

At the end of the day, a tournament is actually just a large-scale project that needs to be completed, and it possesses a critical path like any other project. Dealing with bye and registration issues so the tournament can start. Printing and posting pairings. Collecting the last results and handling drops.

This isn’t actually a novel concept – I’ve talked about it at length under several different guises. However, there are some benefits to thinking about it specifically in the project management sense.

Everyone in the tournament – players, judges, staff – has the potential of being on the critical path, depending on how things go. But there are roles that are more or less likely to end up on it at various times. Any individual player, for example, is relatively unlikely to (unless you play incredibly slowly – we saw at least 0-0-1 result today, ick!). And some are obviously on it all the time – you do know what you signed up for, right scorekeepers?

For most judges and staff, though, your jobs will intersect with the critical path intermittently. One of three things will generally be true:

1) You’re obviously and currently on the critical path. If you’re the guy managing the drop list at the end of the round, and you’re still handling players trying to drop after the last slip has come in, you’re it. The tournament speeds up or slows down based on what you do. It’s important to understand the impact that you have here. At your average, say, 1500 player tournament, every second that you dally costs thirty minutes of person-time. Think about that for a second – it takes you under a minute of wasted time to eat a full day’s worth of time. And it works the same the other way, as you do things faster.

The moral of the story here is – whatever you’re doing … do it faster. Do it better. Find a way to be more efficient. If you’re sauntering, if you’re chatting, if you’re confused, you’re doing it wrong. Run (or, if you subscribe to the never run school of thought, power walk). Tell people you’ll get back to them later. As someone that believes that getting done faster is the top goal, few things irk me as much as someone on the critical path not realizing that they are, or not acting accordingly, and those of my ilk will ride you relentlessly when this happens. It’s nothing personal, you’re on the critical path.

(Side note for judges: some people are temperamentally suited for this sort of thing better than others. If you’re not, think about the sorts of roles that you might want to seek out or avoid, but it’s absolutely a skill that you’ll want to work on as you advance your career, since there’s only so far you can go avoiding it.)

2) You’re not on the critical path, but you could become so if you do what you’re doing wrong. You’re giving a ruling during the middle of a round and it starts to drag. Turns into an investigation. You can’t quite decide how to rule. Suddenly, you’ve just given a 15 minute time extension. If you’re lucky, it’s two aggro decks and they finish early anyway. But maybe they’re not, and not suddenly that’s the last match of the round and everyone’s waiting. You just caused a critical path shift and slowed the tournament down.

In this case (which is the usual case), there’s less obvious and urgent need to do what you’re doing faster right now, since a normal pace of progress will probably just be absorbed into the current critical path. Just make sure you’re keeping a sense of how things are going, how much time you’re taking, and whether you’re at any risk of becoming that long pole. Part of the art of judging is understanding when you’re coming up against that line and scaling your expediency accordingly.

3) What you’re doing has no risk of ever being on the critical path. It is true that there are some selected activities that work this way – we’re going to check as many decklists as we have time for and then move on – that are valuable in a timeboxed sense and help provide better tournament integrity and customer service. Unless you’re doing one of these things, though, if you’re in this situation, you should probably think about whether what you’re doing is even valuable enough to be doing or whether you should be finding more impactful activities. Something that the tournament wouldn’t wait on oftentimes is something the tournament doesn’t even need.

This isn’t meant to be all doom and gloom and telling you to work harder. Effective critical path recognition and management can help you to make better decisions in the other way as well. If you’re hovering around the stage waiting for something to do while the last three matches are playing, you’re just standing around tensed up for no reason. Relax, sit down, take care of your ailing legs. You’re not critical path right now and you can’t do anything to speed the tournament up.

I’ve said it before and probably will many more times. Get done faster. But put some thought into doing it smarter – at the right times and with the right urgency – as well.

Papers, Please

Riki has done his usual insightful job summing up his experience running one of the Paper teams at Grand Prix – Richmond. I shall do my usual job having unsolicited opinions on said summation.

First of all, let’s make sure we don’t lose the forest for the trees. At a macro-level, we agree 100% on the goal – get done faster. Rather than hard and fast guidelines, though (as good as they may be), I’d encourage a slightly different perspective. Here’s my key bullet – different scorekeepers can operate very differently from one another. And different ones will care about different things (for example, some will be quite irritated if you don’t trim the tops off the top row of result slips, the ones that are a little taller by virtue of how result slips print. Others won’t care at all.). That doesn’t necessarily mean that one is right and one is wrong, or that one way is always better than another. At some level, comfort in your own system is going to produce better results than shoehorning yourself into an uncomfortable alternate scheme.

Communicate with your scorekeeper. Figure out how they like to do things. Observe the way they operate. Find out how to work best together to accomplish that goal. Guidelines are useful because they give you a starting point, and can help you from having to talk about every last thing, but as paper team lead, you and the scorekeeper have to work as a team at the start of a round, and being out of sync will become evident to everyone.

Case in point – taking pages off the printer as soon as they start printing. Generally I agree with the sentiment, if we phrase it as “start preparing the pairings before they finish printing”. The distinction here is subtle but meaningful – you can’t always assume that the first or only thing coming off the printer is for you, and if you work with a dynamically printing scorekeeper (more on this in the future), making that assumption will actually burn you time and possibly irk them.

If you’ve sorted out that the first printouts will always be your pairings and you’re careful not to take whatever comes next (and you really do need to be careful not to swipe the next pages, or to put them back in the right spot if you accidentally do), then great. Go with what Riki says. If not, though, you might wait until they hand them to you (not all at once, hopefully – they should be giving them to you as they come out) or until they tell you that the next set of printings is yours.

When taking down pairings, check with the scorekeeper to see whether they want a set returned to them. Some of them prefer to wrap their result slips with a set of pairings for easy finding of particular pairings in the future. If this is what they want to do, make sure that you return a full set, in order, and with the tape removed. This will ease the reuse of those pairings considerably.

If you’re having trouble with crowd control and getting out to the pairings boards to post things, consider taking a cue from some of the more experienced head judges and asking your head judge to announce when pairings are in the process of being put up, with a note to clear space for the judges that are trying to do so. Then keep your arm raised with them while you walk toward your boards. Having observed this in practice, there’s nothing quite like the feeling that you’re parting the Red Sea.

Riki’s touched well on some subtle points of traffic and pairing board layouts. I’ll go one step more subtle. When possible (without violating any other core traffic-flow principles), you should put A farthest from the stage and Z closest. Why is this? A prints first. If you’re doing it right and handing out pairings as they come out, A will be ready to go first, and then conveniently will involve the longest walk. This will help you get all the pairings up just a smidge faster – remember, every second counts.

Finally, remember that your job isn’t done when you’ve finished posting the pairings. Sometimes issues happen and pairings will need to be switched or pairings will need to be interrupted or found for some other reason. Sort this out with the other teams on the floor to make sure that you aren’t double-covering this role, but making yourself available back at the stage for those first couple minutes as the round gets started can make you a very useful judge. And if another team is handling this, then cover the floor for them to make sure that all the players are still getting great service.

At the end off the day, even these are still guidelines, and no guidelines are set in stone. Have the motivation to make things as efficient and cooperative as possible. Then think. Observe. Think some more. Let his lessons be a starting point, not a finishing point.

The Logistical Quirks of Large Tournaments

Some basic data that might be handy for people to know in the wake of Grand Prix – Richmond (and any future large tournaments).

Some basic ground rules before I get started, though:

1) Much of this stuff was originally devised/sorted out/turned into tools by the European scorekeeping cadre, so consider this blanket credit to them for much of this data. Federico Calo, Martin Golm, and others I’m sure I’m not even aware of should be recognized for doing the best they can with the tools we’ve got. Speaking of which …

2) This is going to be another one of those posts where, “well, the software shouldn’t work that way,” isn’t going to be a valid answer, unfortunately. For now, what we’ve got is what we’ve got and we have to do the best we can under those confines. Arguments that some of these “decisions” aren’t the best possible for tournament integrity are well founded and reasonable, they just aren’t anything that we can address with the tools we currently have on hand. It’s an issue that people know about, though, and it is being worked on.

All righty, let’s go.

First of all, let’s talk about the degrees of large. There are actually two different axes that people are talking about when they refer to large tournaments. In one sense, they’re just talking about a large number of players, and this runs into a potential software limitation that changes how we have to run tournaments that have more than 1998 players. In another sense, they’re talking about those big tournaments that need to be split into multiple flights, which tends to happen because of operational or staffing limitations.

These are two different types of large which are linked, but not the same. A tournament with more than 1998 players must be split, is the only rule – you cannot have an unsplit tournament that size. However, tournaments with less than that can be split or not at the whim of the staff.

For all practical purposes, this means we should talk about three types of tournaments. “Small” (< 1998) unsplit, small split, and large split.

The first of these is straightforward – it looks a lot like your friendly neighborhood FNM, if your store just got bigger and invited a whole lot more people. All of the logistics, rules, tiebreakers, etc … operate basically the same. The one exception is that this tournament is probably being run using DCI Reporter rather than Wizards Event Reporter, which means that you might get hit by the DCI Number checksum issue. Let’s set that aside.

The second are tournaments that stay under the software size limitation, but are split for staffing, space, or other reasons. This was quite common, in the past, in Grand Prix events in Europe, though is less common these days. Through some clever trickery, the aforementioned scorekeepers figured out how to separate out the tournament so that half of the players could be pulled out into a separate self-contained tournament, and then re-integrated back into a cohesive whole for the second day. The key here is that the split is a temporary condition for the first day, and from a calculation and reporting standpoint, the two halves merge into a single event in which we merely artificially bifurcated pairings. Everything otherwise works the same way you might expect a single tournament to work, including tiebreaker math, which will carry forward into the second day.

One quirk I will mention, though – the split does mean that some of the safeguards in place to prevent some irritating situations from popping up don’t work, which requires some extra vigilance from players and staff alike. For example – having the same player in the tournament twice is obviously a problem, not only from a tournament standpoint (we don’t love giving away free byes), but also from a reporting standpoint (since the system kicks this out as obviously illegal). It’s fixable, but non-trivial, since we have to remove the duplicate record of that player having been paired against somebody in the first place. Fortunately, this isn’t an issue because DCI Reporter will notice and reject the attempt to add a person a second time. Except … it can’t always once you’ve split things. So it’s very important that you make sure that you actually are missing before you ask to be added back in. It’s a rare tournament in which at least one person just didn’t pay attention to which flight they were in and went and got inserted into the other one.

Generally speaking, one of the scorekeepers will be primary, and they’ll be able to check both sides, so worst case, you should try and sort out which one that is and ask them to check if you really can’t find yourself, but much better to just be really careful to check the posted list and make sure you aren’t just missing your name (especially if you’re in the right-side column of a page – these lists are often printed with multiple columns in a page, unlike your usual pairings posting).

Finally, we’ve got the mega-giant tournaments, the ones that are two-thousand people and beyond, split into two, if not three or four flights. So far there’s been just the smallest handful of these, but all signs are that this might not be true for too much longer.

Here’s the gist of the issue here. DCI Reporter only supports a total of 2000 (technically, 1998, but who’s counting) players in a single tournament. To make day 1 work, we split the tournament down into manageable chunks that are under this number, but there’s a catch. These are truly separate tournaments that are not associated with each other at all, as the trickery used to bifurcate a single tournament into multiple flights and then recombine them still requires that all of the players who played, regardless of flight, can be inserted into the single combined tournament. The different trick used in this case is to rely on the fact that we haven’t (yet) reached a point where more than 2000 people qualify for the second day, so if we take all the people who make it out of day 1 and put them into a new tournament, we’ll stay under the magic number.

There are, of course, side effects to doing this. First is that we’d like to preserve as much data as we can as we create this new tournament. We can carry forward the points using a trick by which you can assign any number of points in value to a bye, so two placeholder players are created to play each other and then drop (these are the Placeholer Players you might have seen in the results/standings of Richmond) in the first round of the new tournament, and everyone else who qualified is given a bye with a value equal to the points they earned on the first day. This also explains why all the paperwork for round 10 (the first round of the second day) say round 2 on them – round 1 was this dummy bye round.

Tiebreakers, however, don’t work. They’re calculated based on the matches you’ve played and the other players you’ve played against and … oops … we just removed all that to get under the cap. This has caused not a small amount of consternation on Twitter. In technical terms, what happens to tiebreakers in a tournament of over 2000 people (and only in this case) is that your tiebreakers are reset, everyone’s starts day 1 with a bye, and then you play six more rounds. You’re paired based on overall record, though, rather than day two records, which is correct for the tournament at large but can make tiebreakers feel weird depending on whether someone has taken losses on day 1 (which don’t count for tiebreakers) or on day 2 (which do). Here’s the generalized rule that you should remember:

Tiebreakers reward players for playing against players who have performed better during the rounds that count toward tiebreakers.

A good rule of thumb for this is that losing earlier in rounds that count is worse, and losing later is better, but this is just shorthand and isn’t guaranteed (it just tends to mean you play weaker competition for more rounds, but you can’t say this for sure).

The “during the rounds that count toward tiebreakers” is the vital part here. In most tournaments, that’s all rounds and you can just ignore this. In these extremely large events, though, that is specifically referring to day 2.

There’s nitty gritty math involved in the tiebreakers which you can look up in the Magic Tournament Rules if you are so inclined. But the rule of thumb above will get you most of the way there in a practical sense.

Finally – because the match history is erased, we also don’t have a record of who’s played who. This means that playing somebody on day 2 that you played on day 1 of one of these tournaments is allowed and occasionally happened, In Richmond, one pair of players played in both rounds 9 and 10, back to back. Awkward!

Everything else is behind the scenes craziness to get all of these workarounds to actually work and beyond scope here. If you’re curious about anything else or anything else seems odd, though, feel free to ask.

Dispatches from Richmond

Grand Prix – Richmond. Second-largest Magic tournament of all time. More players, measured in thousands, than sleep, measured in hours. Plenty of things to be learned and stories to be told from the logistics of this gargantuan event, but for now, two areas I’d like to focus on, inspired by two judges who came in with the goal of avoiding being mentioned by name here. Talk about temping the fates.

First up – Shawn “Super Grande” Doherty (who reminds us that when in doubt, always buy the Super Grande. Long story from Valencias past), who sadly does not avoid this remedial lesson on result slips for both players and judges alike.

Let’s play a little game. I’ll show the result slip (with names and other identifying marks blurred to protect the innocent and guilty alike – the blurring itself is not a trick and never part of the solution) and you tell me what the problem is. A little later on, we’ll go over your answers. These are all real result slips submitted over the course of the Grand Prix, and if any of these or anything like this is you, then you’re inadvertently (I hope) contributing to making things harder and take longer. Ready to play?

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Phew. Answers to follow. In the meantime, an interlude inspired by David de la Iglesia, who I hear also was trying to avoid mention by name (Oops!), who wishes I would spend more time talking about happier things.

Credit appropriately, but steal shamelessly. There are good ideas all around you, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t steal the best of these and make them your own. A great example of this which has at least partially spread over the last year is Kevin Desprez’ drop list by player number, which speeds drop list processing by an order of magnitude at the small cost of creating the player number list so people can look up their numbers.

Here’s one that debuted in Richmond, courtesy of Riki Hayashi – the tilted result slip box, or simply “the wedge”, modeled by Riki and his first beneficiary, Kali Anderson.

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In Kali’s effusive words, the net effect of the tilted box is that people actually look and see that slips are lined up and are instinctively encouraged to orient their slip as well. Gravity assists and keeps things in a single orderly pile, which solves a lot of the problems that can slow you down during mass result slip entry.

Less new, but no less germane, David himself’s emphasis at the end of round on getting away from the stage and out in the field to find any matches that are going on. Still need to get to posting on end of round procedure, but the seek and destroy method that is the outstanding table list makes much more sense when it’s a small handful that need to be located than when there are still a hundred matches going on that simply need some widespread coverage.

And on the staffing end of the world, some interesting preregistration innovations coming from some late night discussions with Jared Sylva, which … well, that’ll be a story for the future, I suppose.

All right, enough cheerful for now. Let’s talk about those result slips, shall we? Some of these are player problems, some are judge problems – anyone can mess up a slip.

1) (Judge) You can infer from the front, but it’s clear from the back, this is a classic No Show penalty. Except … without the penalty in an easy to parse sense. Technically, the information is there, but by only putting the data on the back, now you have to flip the slip over, when a No Show is simple enough to express on the front. More problematically, the player who didn’t show up wasn’t dropped, which leaves the scorekeeper wondering whether that was intentional and the player should be kept in. In this case, it turned out just to be a judge oversight, but mash all this together and you end up with a slip that takes way longer than it ought to in order to decipher and verify.

2) (Judge) Closer … sort of. At least this says “No Show”. But who’s the judge? And why is the score missing? So really, just as difficult to file (though, pro-tip – just use yourself for no show penalties if you can’t figure out which judge it was, since it’s pretty straightforward) . And just as disruptive, because you have to skip that beat to think about it.

3) (Player) Why is this player’s name circled? If you haven’t picked it up yet, you will by the end of this post – the unusual is the enemy of the good (unless something actually unusual happened). There seems to be a small subset of players that think it’s helpful to circle the name of the player that wins. While this might ordinarily merely be benignly unnecessary, it also is the case that some judges circle names to indicate a penalty, meaning that this requires extra work to see if there’s a penalty. And again, anything out of the ordinary requires a bit of investigation, so just don’t do this.

4) (Player) Tardiness penalty here indicates a game loss. But the final score is 1-0. Was it probably the case that this was a 2-0 victory? Yes. Enough so that if time is short, we’ll just assume it that way. But is it possible that you didn’t finish any real games and the real score is 1-0? Yup. And it’s also possible that you just screwed up filling out the result dealing with the game loss. And either way … yup, another one of those results that makes you stop and think, which totally harshes our mellow.

5) (Judge) This one’s a bit more subtle. Looks like a no show that turned out not to be a no show, so the judge has crossed that portion out so that the player doesn’t get dropped. So what’s the issue here? It’s subtle, but as you see, there is a different penalty instead, and there isn’t the usual mark that suggests that you should turn the slip around to find it. The judge’s signature hints at this, if you notice this – turns out, the signature field is actually one of the least noticeable, though, as you’re moving quickly through slips, as it isn’t in the main eye flow. In this case, the weirdness of the crossed out no show will probably slow things down enough to notice and look, but it’s still safest to put a mark by the person getting the penalty …

6) (Player) … a mark kind of like this. Except this slip has no penalty. My best guess is a player left this mark, for a reason I can’t discern. Don’t do this. It looks like a penalty and slows things down.

7) (Player) Nothing here but scores and signatures, what could possibly be wrong here? Well, tell me – is that first number a 1 or a 2? Yes, next to the second number, it’s more clearly a 1 since the latter one looks clearly like a 2. But you did the comparison. Bam, flow interrupted. Please write your numbers clearly.

8) (Player) This is super-clear, and it seems like it ought to be a good thing to be explicit about what you’re doing, so this should be exemplary, right? Well … not exactly. A mark in the drop column can also be clear, and the note is text that I now have to stop, read, and parse. Disrupted again. You’re probably tiring of the recurring theme at this point, but keeping things normal is vital. The attempt at clarity is absolutely appreciated. I recommend you keep things clear for a drop by just initialing in the drop column.

9) (Judge) This is like 7, but it’s worse, because now it’s in a different pen, and in this case, specifically a red pen. This usually signifies a judge mark, and usually judge marks mean to pay close attention. You actually can infer quite a bit based on pen types/colors, but in this case, that backfires. There was no penalty or anything else here, was just a random mark.

10) (Judge) This is an interesting combination of lessons from 8 and 9. Different color mark means it was filled in after the fact, and red suggests judge. But it’s the winner dropping. This is, in and of itself, out of the ordinary. I actually had multiple cases of this over the weekend, and sometimes it’s actually the winner dropping, and sometimes it’s filled out wrong and the wrong person getting dropped. As a player or a judge, it’s vital that you drop the right person. And here is a case where we’re already dealing with something that isn’t normal, so take the time to make the note. “Winner dropping” or some other short note would clear this up quite well, and this is the sort of oddity that actually deserves a note to explain, unlike back in 8.

11) (Judge?) Simpler again. Blank spaces in the game results area are bad. They take some time to decipher – yeah, they usually mean 0, but not always. And in this case, the red pen gets me again … did a judge fill this out? Would that be because the opponent didn’t show? Are we missing a no show drop here?

12) (Player) One of them wants to drop twice? The other one doesn’t want to drop at all? I see this about once or twice a tournament. No idea what possesses someone to think we wanted the result written down twice, side-by-side, but there it is. Don’t do this. Marks in the drop column are serious.

13) (Player) Is that first player dropping or not? Kind of looks like a mark, that was then half-heartedly crossed off. I actually can’t remember whether this was a drop or not after we called him up, but I shouldn’t have to – what’s even worse than unnecessary clarity is total lack of clarity. Don’t make the extra marks if you really are dropping, and make sure you fully cross out or correct the mark if you aren’t. When in doubt, call a judge and have them help you.

14) (Judge) Game loss for … what? Probably tardiness. Which judge do I ask to confirm? If you do nothing else, when you issue a penalty, at least put your name so we can get details from you afterward if you remain busy.

15) (Both) I don’t know whether a player or a judge wrote that note, but there’s culpability here either way. A judge should be involved in this sort of situation. And once they are, they should make it clear what’s happening. Conceded and left for lunch, then is going to keep playing? Or conceded and dropped?

16) (Judge) It’s like the zombie 1, 4, and 11, but worse. There’s a penalty there on the back, but utterly no sign that it’s there. And the front is a disaster – 1 vs. blank?

17) (Judge) This one is super-subtle and also not that bad. All the data is there, but it’s in a place where it could easily be missed. The right tournament result will happen, as the player will get dropped, but the fact that there is a No Show penalty to assess might get missed since it was written in that nebulous signature place that is only sort of noticeable.

18) (Judge) Who is WS? There was more than one in this tournament. Assuming that I can recognize your initials or cat-scratch signature (in the case of the second one) is folly. Write out your name, please.

19 (Player) Sooooo many no shows. So many. This was round 8, and there were this may no shows, with under 300 matches total. These are a pain and take a ton of time – seriously, stop that.

20) (??) There’s no penalty written here, front or back, and the loser is circled. I never did make heads or tails of this, but whatever it was, whoever caused it should stop doing that.

Whew! Lots of ways to get these simple things wrong. Let’s band together and go for a little more of the good idea to steal, and less of the messed up result slip to deal … with.