Polish Nationals 2006 – Head Judge Report

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Once again I was called to head judge my Nationals. I planned to leverage the knowledge and skills I had gained at the various premiere events I had attended this year. In previous years I was skeptical about explicitly setting goals for myself. The past year I learned the value of this and for this event I set two goals:

  • Gain a better knowledge of my country's judge community and see what it needs to grow and succeed
  • Run a good, “tight” event

Having set these goals, I found it easier to prepare and run the event. Now, I’d like to share some thoughts with my fellow judges.

Judge Community

One thing I had noticed the previous year was that I fell out of touch with the local judging community. The role of a senior judge should be to not only support high level events and mentor there, but to also work local events. The senior judge should stay aware of the judges in their region so as to be able to help them resolve any problems they may have. While this is easy to do with those judges that attend large events or are proactive in keeping in touch, there’s a whole category of people you might see only once every few years.

I wanted to find out about any needs that should be addressed – either right away or in the near future. To facilitate this, I sent out an email to all judges asking about their experience and any issues they would like to discuss. I collected this information into a notebook which I used during the event.

During the weekend of the tournament, I spent at least 15 minutes talking with each judge (something I learned shadowing at GP Hasselt). During each talk I took notes to be able to better help out these judges in the future. I tried to find out what support the judge needed, what they thought about the event, and what they thought about the Polish Magic scene. One of the harder things in mentoring is instilling in judges the need to follow policy, but at the same time not doing so by following blindly. This and the experience gap between myself and most of the judges was quite apparent in the fact, that they did not find any faults with the event, my performance or any judging policies. I tried to instill the need to question the reasons for policy, but at the same time to follow it. I think these notes will be of very good use for the planned seminar next year.

An important part of working with the judges at this event for me was training and mentoring a level 3 candidate. While true shadowing was not possible to introduce due to the number of judges and problems occurring during the event, I made sure I went over all the important decisions I made. I also took care to involve him in the interesting rulings and in the brief talks I had with all the judges.

I also conducted some judge exams; three for level 2 and three for level 1. I’d like to congratulate Kaja Serafin and Jakub Szczepaniak for joining the DCI family and Kacper Chomicz for a well-deserved promotion to Area Judge. To complete my assessment of these judges, I had to rely in large part on the input of their team leaders (especially the level 1 candidates). However, coming in prepared helped me to manage my time, so that I could interview and test the candidates and have ample time for a debriefing.

Managing the event

I always try to have everything planned out before “D-day”. At Nationals, since we hold Grinders on Friday we can usually prepare the venue and product ahead of time.

However, this year was different. We had problems with the venue and this meant that only about a third of the draft product was stamped and the venue was not set up on time. Fortunately, I did have a backup plan. At Nationals we always have a side-events team composed of an experienced Level 2 judge (as the head judge for all side-events) assisted by new Level 1 judges and judge candidates. Since side-events don’t start early and can be easily delayed (as opposed to the main event), this gives an additional team to help out with administrative tasks such as counting and sorting decklists or stamping product. Their help this year was critical.

Through experience I have learned to plot an aggressive schedule for the main event - short turn around times between rounds and draft set up. This motivates me to keep up and makes for a shorter event. A corollary to that is keeping the exact schedule confidential. This way, not only are the judges discouraged from slowing down if they’re ahead of time, but also players are discouraged from delaying, because “Round x doesn’t start for some time now”. For the first time I also made an electronic list of starting/ending times comparing planned to actual for future reference. (Something I learned from GP Head Judges).

The Player’s Packet is always a useful tool for communicating with players, but it seems that year after year, less and less players read it. If this year’s event taught me anything, it is to copy some of this information onto signs for posting. This includes:

  • Registration and starting time for the given day
  • Number of rounds
  • Any procedures that need to be followed
  • Prize payouts

The venue posed a serious problem. It was a large sports hall where we were allocated a quarter of the floor. Further problems developed when we didn’t receive an adequate number of tables. Our TO had to arrange for them one-by-one as they became available. Also, the sound system was unacceptable, so I had to strain my voice both days. Ultimately, players learned to recognize my hand gestures (e.g. thumbs up = “you may begin”).

At our Nationals we always call the draft. This year we first tried the sound system, but it was abysmal. Talking loudly did not work either with maybe half the players responding. Since we were heading for catastrophe, I decided that each table would draft by itself, with judges patrolling for fishy behavior and to cajole slow players. This worked out very well. While I wouldn’t condone it normally, as an emergency solution, it worked out great.

During the last few Pro Tours I attended, I got a chance to look at the “big picture”; at how the whole event is managed. Intuitively, we do something like this at our Nationals – we have one person in charge of side-events, the main event head judge, the TO and judge test coordinator (who doubles up as “logistic support”). This year due to scheduling conflicts, our other level 3 could not make it.

An idea I had too late, which would have worked out very well in my opinion, had I had it earlier, was to let the judge that shadowed me head judge the Nationals. Meanwhile, I would have more time to devote to judges and take care of the whole event. This is something I definitely plan to take into account next year.

Interesting rulings

I think we had three interesting judge calls /rulings throughout the tournament.

During the Grinder, a spectator told a floor judge, that a player looked at the top of library before deciding to mulligan. The judge gave a “Looking at Extra Cards” warning and moved on. The spectator pushed the issue with the head judge, who consulted with me and I directed him to investigate further. The matter finished with a DQ investigation. This occurrence is a valuable lesson, not to take everything at first glance, but to look deeper before coming to any conclusions.

During the first draft, we had a player show the rare from his first pack to his friend sitting to the left. I immediately pulled him from the draft and discussed this with him. I settled on an Unsportsmanlike Conduct – Major penalty as I felt that the player was not trying to gain an advantage, but rather was cheering at the chase rare he pulled. In hindsight, I also should have replaced the pack.

The final problem was another potential DQ investigation. This took me the better part of 20 minutes and finally no penalties were issued. I’m still happy I conducted this investigation as it let some judges observe actual investigations techniques (something hard to learn at home) and showed players we were on the ball.


The following are the most important lessons I learned or had reinforced from this event:

  • Have designated roles for the head judge, certification judge and side-events team leader filled by different persons.
  • Post signs with important information.
  • Investigate and probe irregular situations.
  • Trust your judges and instill them with confidence. They will pay you back with good performance.
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