I am American who has recently made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel. There have been many differences for me to adjust to; judging magic has been as much a surprise as anything else. The only time I have ever judged outside of the United States has been draft queues after I dropped out of PTs, and that’s hardly different from doing it in the US. However, on July 4, I head judged the first of two Regionals in Tel Aviv. It was certainly an eye-opening experience, and taught me a great deal about how different judging can be at different places in the world.
I am happy to say that the tournament ran extremely smoothly from the player’s end. The staff assisting me consisted of a Level 1 judge, Yuval Tzur, and Alon Lusky, who was supporting but not judging. Oryan Interator, the TO, was also available to help us out.
The first major difference between US Regionals and Israeli ones are the formality of the tournament. I’ve gone to Regionals in New York and Illinois; both sets of tournaments are huge, two hundred-plus person affairs. Israel, a country approximately the size of New Jersey, has six Regionals; only one of them is on the weekend, as the Sabbath is taken pretty seriously in a country with a large population of religious Jews. In two weeks there will be another Regional tournament here, to give people who work but are not religious a chance to play.
The event itself took place in a disused corridor of the strangest mall I’ve ever been in, Dizengoff Center – again, on a weekday afternoon. This works because the average age of magic players, from my limited (three tournaments) experience, is significantly lower here than it is in the States. Looking around, I would be surprised if more than five people here are above twenty. Now, of course, the tournament size plays into that. This tournament has thirty-three people, and it is expected to be the largest of the Regionals, except for possibly a last chance tournament which will be held before Nationals. The reason I mention the age is because this allows the start time to be during work hours, as long as it is after school has let out.
Start time, of course, is another thing that really shocked me. When I asked the TO what time I should be there, the response I got was “Eh, 1:30, 2ish. We’ll start whenever.” And that was, in fact, the case. Not being able to work on that basis, I announced when I got there that we would be taking registrations, start collecting decklists at three, and start the tournament at 3:30. Of course, at 3:35 there were still people struggling to get their decklists done, which was fine because I was struggling to enter names and DCI numbers. DCI reporter, unfortunately, doesn’t support Hebrew; Israel is an essentially bilingual country (I was able to judge in English without significant problems) but at the same time, spelling is difficult. This was important, of course, because we were entering names and DCI numbers by hand.
Fifteen minutes before I left, I got a call asking me to bring a copy of the deck registration forms to the tournament. Well, my laptop doesn’t have a floppy drive, and I left my USB memory stick at a friend’s house, so I just bundled the computer up and took it. When I got there, it turned out that mine was the only functional computer with DCI reporter. So it’s a good thing I brought it… But, not expecting this, I didn’t have the names database properly loaded in my computer. So we needed to enter every name plus DCI number by hand. In the US this wouldn’t have been so bad, but in Israel it becomes more difficult, as the English names I need to enter into the database are written in what is usually the owner’s second or third language. So there are penmanship problems, and often translation problems as some names are written in Hebrew, which I can’t read particularly well. Add to that, normal problems with people not putting their DCI number or putting it down wrong, plus normal interruptions, and I was happy to be ready to go by about 3:45.
The main ‘normal interruption’ was something else that I didn’t expect. Virtually every player in the tournament, as they were either registering or dropping off their decklist, gave me their deck and asked me to check their sleeves. I was told two things; first, that this was normal practice here (not that I had a problem doing sleeve checks for people, I just didn’t expect that quantity) and that I was MUCH harsher than any Israeli judge before me. At any given high-level event, I will always use new sleeves; uneven wear, especially on lands, is so typical it’s almost impossible not to. So I advised more than half the players to re- or de- sleeve, which didn’t make them happy; I want players to have a good time, but in this particular case, I didn’t worry. They asked me.
I introduced myself, and was thrilled that everyone at the tournament had some level of English fluency, which meant that I wasn’t going to have to deal with a translator. I made two major announcements before the tournament started; the first was making sure that people were clear on the sleeve issue that just because I approved the sleeves before the tournament was NOT blanket immunity from prosecution, that it was each player’s responsibility to make sure their sleeves were in good condition. I then spent thirty seconds discussing various sleeve problems, leading up to cheating issues – and giving the example of a deck someone had asked me to check with three of four Gifts Ungiven having very similar marks on them. I don’t believe the player was trying to cheat, but if I was deck checking him, I’m not going to allow my feelings about anyone to override a clear pattern, and whether you intend to cheat or not, you’re looking at a pretty solid DQ.
This was also not something the players expected – not that there would be penalties, but that someone would be so up in arms about enforcement. Not that the judges here don’t enforce things, quite the opposite, but being so blunt about it was not something the players expected. Mentally, everything is ratcheted down half a REL here – one of the things that made me most incredulous, during the day, was repeatedly having to stop spectators who were not just talking to players in a game, but talking about the game itself. Again, everyone was amazed by this – ‘we’re much more of a community here, we’re all friends, and so it’s OK!’ No, of course it’s not OK, and it’s made worse by the fact that I can’t understand most of the conversation, so I’m always going to assume the worst.
My second announcement was in the hopes of changing another typical behavior here. Because there is no native-language version of the cards, players more or less figure out what the cards do together, and it’s very typical for a player to ask his opponent about a card or rule he doesn’t know about. Now, whether or not this is a good idea is a question for another day; but my staff and I are here for a reason, and that’s to make sure all questions get answered properly. I made that pretty clear.
All that out of the way, the tournament got started. During round one, we checked through the decklists, looking for problems; we found one person with sixty-one cards recorded, so deck checked him and his opponent at the start of round two. We wound up awarding a game loss to each; both of these could have been avoided if they had written their registration sheets more clearly. I don’t care if you tell me it’s supposed to be a two; I know the difference between a two and a three.
Things proceeded smoothly until twenty minutes before the end of round two, when DCI reporter took it upon itself to crash. No, really. It started beeping up a storm, and then just closed. When I opened it, the tournament was gone. Note to self – ALWAYS back up the files after printing pairings. Not a mistake I’ll make again.
This is where the staff really shone. We went into damage control mode. Oryan and Yuval, who knew the tournament players pretty well, teamed up for the huge chore of data entry, which required all the stuff we did before PLUS manually pairing rounds one and two, and entering the results from those rounds. This would have been totally impossible if Alon had not played stellar defense, standing in front of the judges table and only letting a single person get past him to interrupt them while they were working. I managed the floor while all this was going on. As with most tournaments, we had one game go to time and past; while I wanted to, out of instinct, hurry them along I thought the better of it. As it was, Oryan and Yuval had just finished up when they went to report their results. It took us another five minutes to get pairings up and then breathe a huge sigh of relief. I don’t think the players realized anything was wrong, even when I told them all to make sure they double-checked that their scores were correct. Nobody wants to have problems, that are why they’re called problems, but if you’re going to have them, I could not hope for a better resolution.
The rest of the tournament went pretty smoothly. The final shock I got was the payoff at the end – the prizes were extremely light, but the number of invites to the Regionals was huge – 50% of attendees will be going on to Regionals!
It’s been a long, long time since I Head Judged anything this size, and it was definitely a learning experience. I had to look up two tricky rules questions, and wound up double-checking quite a few penalties. Here in Israel, there are fewer chances to play at the level I’m used to, so I expect to be judging a lot more. Based on this experience, it’ll be a pleasure.