Polish Nationals 2004 – Head Judge Report

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Date: July 2-4, 2004
Location: Warszawa

Getting started

My preparation for Nationals started as soon as Organized Play Poland got in touch with me several months before the event date. We planned the exact date taking into account local circumstances like high school and college exam dates, other premiere events and holidays. Although we can’t please everyone, we try our best.

As soon as a venue was chosen, I set up a visit to plan out the hall, check on table availability, power outlets, and so on.

Having set the date and location, I got working on the Player’s Packet. For the past three years, we’ve included the following information:

  • Date, location, ‘how to get here’ and useful links,
  • Rules of conduct (alcohol, cell phones, spectators, etc.),
  • Grinders, side-events, judge certification (candidates are required to pre-register by email),
  • Tentative event schedule,
  • Main event information – REL, k-value, prizes, registration, excerpts from the floor rules (pre-game procedure, shuffling, etc.), result slips, and misc. (i.e. this year I required tokens to be rectangular and banned using counters made from scraps of paper).

Next in line is the judge call. I require the following information:

  • name, level, home town,
  • judging experience,
  • judges / coordinators he works with – if I need to verify his experience.

Based on this information, I assign judges to the main or side-events as well as choosing team leaders. The judges receive a separate Judge’s Packet, which includes information on hotel accommodations, travel reimbursements and my requirements of the staff.

The judging staff

I like to have a lot of judges at Nationals. This gives me and other senior judges a chance to meet and evaluate them, while allowing them to gain valuable experience. I arrange to have three teams of four judges each plus a scorekeeper, judge certification and side-events judge. Any extra judges are assigned to side-events.

I was disappointed, when a lot of judges did not apply this year. This put in me in a predicament. I had to put four judge candidates in the main event to be able to fill out the teams. I’m pretty wary about allowing new judges on the floor of an event like this, since they’re more prone to error or try to go strictly “by the book”, which isn’t always the right thing to do. Andrzej Cwalina, who was assigned to judge-certification, was charged with watching over the staff, to make sure the judges didn’t make any mistakes.

All in all, this turned out not too bad. Especially since most players have learned by now, how and when to appeal to the head judge.

The venue

Due to logistic problems, we had to bump the Nationals from June to July, which forced us to change the venue as last year’s site was unavailable at that time. This turned out to be a good thing as the new site was in most ways better.

We were assigned a big room with a lobby entrance and a smaller staff room available for Friday and Saturday. The main event, side-events and retail booth were housed in the main room, which was divided into several areas:

  • A small stage for the scorekeeper and myself. I am a big fan of using a stage for the main event. Big events are usually lucky enough to have ample floor judges, while the HJ should be easy to find and should have control over the whole event like a modern general. (Compare this to a smaller or more informal event, where he’s more of Special Forces commander).
  • Feature match area – two tables off to the side with a lot of space for spectators.
  • Judge tables – primarily used for deck checks, but also useful for private talks with judges, players. It also provided a convenient place to sit for judges at the end of the round.
  • The main event tables –I considered banning spectators from walking between here, but we managed to keep them under control.
  • Side-event area – this also doubled as the draft tables, which caused some dissatisfaction (see below).
  • Retail booth – again, nothing special.

The large lobby turned out to be a great thing. Players not watching games spent their time here, so it was much quieter and cleaner in the event room. I was pleased to get a staff room, which is also a very good thing - a place for stamping draft cards, stowing unused equipment and a sanctuary for judges on their break.

Day 0

Friday before Nationals is the busiest day of the three-day event. We run two 4-slot Grinders, one or two premiere events (this time we had a constructed GP Trial) and the usual assortment of 8PSE (eight-person single-elimination tournaments). It is customary to assign head-judging of these events to either level two judges, who want the experience and a debriefing afterwards or level two candidates, who can be assessed by the senior judges. Any staff member that is free is banished to the staff room to prepare the cards for the next day’s draft.

This is the day we hold the judges’ meeting (in the evening). This time around we had a lot of new faces, so I decided on the well-known GP practice of self-introduction. The meeting went well, with me going over some things I wanted the judges to keep in mind, the plan for the next two days, things to watch out for. I also asked each judge to write down two goals he had for the event, a neat trick I learned at the last Euros. I reviewed the goals later on, and it was easy to see, that more experienced judges handled this a lot better, but I hope that each judge at least put some thought into the process, which is the actual goal of it.

As much as I would like to say that we had no problems that day, it would unfortunately be untrue. The second grinder started (almost) on schedule, but towards the end, we saw that we were running on a thin time margin. This was of course my fault as I set the start time an hour too late. We would still make it before closing time (10 P.M.), if during the second game of the last match in the last round, the head judge had not gotten into a lengthy rules discussion with several other judges. The situation was solved correctly, but I had the site manager throwing us out. He was completely oblivious to my pleas for letting the HJ and two players finish the match (sudden death), while we moved everyone out. This way the final game was resolved on the parking lot in front of the venue.

Day 1

The final game for the grinders

Saturday morning found my senior staff (a.k.a. those that crashed at my apartment) groggy from a three-hour long game of freshly purchased Munchkin. However, this did not stop us from finishing registration on time. We also experienced a ten minute delay on account of the player whose taxi got lost along the way.

I started off with a brief players’ meeting which was artificially prolonged to allow for printer trouble. (We had switched printers in the morning.) That day we were going to run three rounds of Standard, three rounds of the first draft and finish up with one round of the second draft. This allowed me to nicely balance the two-day schedule: a reasonable Saturday and Sunday finish, a reasonably late start on Sunday and players without any chance of prizes, could drop after round seven and not come in on Sunday.

During the Standard portion we had only one issue – marked sleeves. It was a decision between match loss and DQ. After talking with the player and consulting a judge from his city, I decided on the lesser penalty and slated him for a deck check in round ten. He came out clean.

Using the side-event tables for draft isn’t the optimal solution, but it still is better than using the normal play tables (which we used for deck construction). We arranged for a break in the side-events during this time and didn’t hear (too many) complaints. One table had to do double duty (both as deck construction and pod table), but a quick switch was performed flawlessly.

Now came the Big Problem. We always use two different stamps – one for each draft. This year the boosters (fortunately not the cards) got mixed up. We had to sort the boosters, a process which took way too long. After about 20 minutes, we set up the boosters and invited the players over. During the draft, we found that the sorting did not go as well as it should have, and we still had mixed up boosters. This meant the set for the next draft would have to be double stamped, a process which deprived the floor of several judges.

I called the booster draft as I do each year. Talking with the judges afterwards, it seems I called the draft with slightly different commands than I gave in the instructions beforehand, which caused the draft to be a little out of sync (players looked at their cards right after counting, etc.). This did not cause any problems as the players at any given table were synced up, but it’s something I must work on.

During the next few rounds, I saw morale dwindle in my staff and sharp increase in sloppiness. I gave a sharp lecture and got mumbled apologies about a judge draft that was played into the wee hours. Work ethic improved after this and some hot pizza.

The judging staff

Based on my experience at PT San Diego, I decided to host a judge seminar that evening. My topic of choice was ‘Being a judge’ and while we strayed from my notes after the first two minutes, it turned out to be a really good discussion. We covered subjects like posture, appearance, courtesy, language. We also talked about cheating in Poland and ways to fix the problem – the most rampant one being collusion (a.k.a. the dice roll).

With a strict order to get some rest, I sent the judges to their hotel.

Day 2

Sunday started off with a surprise. I expected a lot of people to forget to drop the previous night or just to decide not to come in the morning. Yet at the beginning of the round we had every active player in his seat.

Since the players were using limited decks they had taken home for the night, I assigned double the usual amount of deck checks during the last two rounds of the draft. We happened onto one player, who had a card from the first draft in his deck, but it was obvious (from the card quality and player’s demeanor) that this was a stupid mistake, though a match loss offence.

With only three rounds left in the tournament, feature matches were assigned by the probability of any “suspicious behavior” (collusion, stalling, bribery, dice-rolling). We managed without any problems this year.

During this time, I took the chance to talk personally with each of these judges. The previous evening I had asked each certified judge to fill out some review forms - the team leaders covered their team members, while the floor judges reviewed their leader. I discussed the reviews issued by and about the given judge. This gave me a chance to discuss future judging plans, point-out weak spots and just get to know the judges better. This also gave me the chance to hand out the judge foils.

The actual judge exams took place during the finals. We had four candidates, and before Andrzej administered the tests, he, Jacek Zniszczol and I discussed each candidate. We decided to let two of them take the written test and deferred testing of the second pair, until they gained more experience. I’m happy to say that both of them passed.

The Top 8 went by without any problems, but as usual was a little longish. The final match was played best 2-out-of-3 not 3-out-of-5, which is becoming a tradition. It was pretty enjoyable as it featured two teammates with most of the spectators consisting of their other teammates.

Adam Cetnerowski, Head judge congratulates National Champion

All in all it was a really good event. Although we made a couple of blunders, we came out ahead. I managed to try out new ideas (like the judge workshop), while missed the chance for others (sideboard checks).

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