Grand Prix Ghent – Organizing Last Chance Trials

Written by Arnaud Bourdoux

Written by Arnaud Bourdoux


Grand Prix—Ghent was my first shot at leading Public Events (PE) on the Friday of a Grand Prix. While I had experience running the PE show from other Grand Prix, the never-ending flow of 32-player GP Trials was kind of new to me, and generally presented by my predecessors as an “organized mess”. This article aims at presenting the organization of GP Fridays, because they are quite unique in terms of tournament organization. While any judge may find it interesting, especially if they have never worked a GP Friday before, it is primarily aimed at those who end up behind the stage orchestrating the hive.

PE Head Judge

Being the PE Head Judge on GPs is probably the assignment which is the closest to a human resource manager. Indeed, it gathers the fact that as Head Judge of large (or in this case, lots of smaller) tournaments, you should organize and delegate as much as possible, with the fact that players are generally playing more casually than the main event, leading to very few appeals or investigation situations. Your role consists in organizing and coordinating the judge team (which can be significant – Ghent had 25 judges staffed on Friday, spread in two shifts) among all events taking place in the hall.

The particularity of PE, and especially during Fridays, is that instead of having one or several large tournaments to deal with, you instead have dozens of 32-player flights, plus the usual contingent of 8-man events. While one 1000-player tournament and 35 32-player flights may look the same in terms of players to handle, the fact that they are 35 different events adds a lot of technical and procedural overhead. In this article, I’ll start with an overview of the day, then complete with tips and advices on multiple aspects of the tournament organization.

Setting Up

Have you ever walked in a GP venue on a Friday at 9 AM? The place is buzzing with activity. Tables are being built-up, banners are being deployed, and slowly, the venue starts taking shape. The floor plan was decided long before, but some minor adjustments are still possible (for example, we had a table row hampering proper player flow at PE registration removed). Despite not having access to the whole room, the floor arrangement we had in Ghent was close to optimal, so I’ll present it as a reference here.

What is very good with this setting is that everything is easy to find and logically set up. Rows of 16 tables (32 players) can hold one Trial each, and 8-Mans have their own dedicated area. In order to free space as soon as possible for subsequent Trials, any Trial reaching the semifinals is moved to the Top 4 area, close to the PE stage, freeing up the space and the judge in charge of the event. This means each row is used for three rounds (between three hours and four and a half hours, depending on the format), before it frees up. As long as events don’t launch faster than one every 20 minutes on average, 16 rows are enough to handle all events. Without a Top 4 area, it is much harder to fit everything in, and you need more rows to handle the same stream of players.

While setting the floor up, it is also very important to think about the player flow. While this is a topic which is less critical than on the main event (because there, 1500 players are moving at the same time), there are two spots where you need to be careful: registration queues, and pairing boards. Registration queues should have plenty of space and be obvious from the venue entrance; pairing boards should allow for players to look their names up without blocking the way.


The role distribution is also slightly different than on “normal” GP days. I will not elaborate on staffing of 8-Man events, which had their four-member dedicated team, but rather expand on the Trials organization.

As in other events, I chose to go with a deck checks team. This team is responsible for anything which is deck-check related in all Trials. They are responsible for collecting, counting, and verifying deck lists. While they are not busy doing this, they proceed to perform deck checks (beginning of round or mid-round) on tournaments which are in the proper time range (beginning of round, or no later than 30 minutes left for mid-round). The deck checks team leader is responsible for coordinating with the flight leaders (more on this after) on when and how his team will be needed.

Each Trial is assigned a flight leader. The flight leader is responsible of running the tournament, and is the main point of contact for players. He is in charge of briefing players, managing his event, delivering any ruling in the tournament, and, more generally, making sure that it runs properly. In particular, the flight leader is the only reference for the round times (with more than 30 events, it becomes close to impossible to properly manage that from the stage). The end time for each round can also be indicated on the pairing boards.

Flight leaders are also the focal point for result collection. With so many events running together at the same time, it is not possible to have all players bring their result slips back to the scorekeeper(s) who would then need, for each slip, to figure out which tournament it belongs to. Instead, flight leaders are asked to collect the results and only bring complete, sorted batches of result slips. Even if this takes a little longer on the judge side, it saves a lot of time (and mental sanity) on the scorekeeper side. There is no use in bringing incomplete batches of results, because the overhead caused by the SK switching tournaments is likely to outweigh the few seconds that could be gained. Another option is to have the flight leader carry a copy of pairings by table and use this sheet to report results to the scorekeeper.

A small team of judges (two or three) is assigned to the Top 4 area. Their role is similar to flight leaders, except that given the remaining size of the tournaments they supervise, they have to keep track of several of them. This job is closer to the usual 8-Man assignment, with the exception that each match is timed, so you may need to keep track of multiple clocks. Also, they don’t need to report to the scorekeeper between semifinals and finals, only at the end of each Trial.

Finally, the PE Head Judge role can be split between two persons. Given the number of events, and the fact that one fires every ten minutes or so at peak times, it is important to have someone who can directly take over in case an appeal or investigation occurs. Special thanks to Guillaume Beuzelin who assisted me during the full day in Ghent, making sure we were not forgetting anything and running kilometers from the stage to the tables as my messenger!

Tips and Tricks

Running a successful Friday at a GP relies on a strong organization, but also on a series of little optimizations which are the result of the input of the organizers and judges of many previous events. Here’s a few of these tricks that made our day easier!

Prize handling

You want to avoid crowds of players at the Public Event stage waiting to claim their prizes. Therefore, it is best to distribute them at the play tables. Two approaches are possible, by either putting the loser’s prize on the table for each round, or by using incremental winnings. I prefer the second one, as it avoids having to explain that the prizes you are giving will go to the loser of this match (which is sometimes oddly perceived by players). Instead, at the beginning of each round starting from the second, you give to every player which is still in the tournament an increment in prizes. For example, the prize structure in Ghent was 2 boosters for 1 win, 4 for 2 wins, 6 for 3 wins, 10 for 4 wins, and 10 + byes for 5 wins. Therefore, at the beginning of round 2, every player still playing received 2 boosters, then 2 more at the beginning of round 3, 2 more for round 4, and finally 4 more for the finals. This keeps the distribution systematic.

A small note on product: At Ghent, the TO was taking care of preparing boxes of prizes for each event. Each Trial had its own set of prizes ready, sorted by round, and flight leaders only had to grab the set they needed for the round at the same time as pairings. Would that not be the case, a small logistics team would be necessary to handle this task. This would even be truer if the format of the Trials were Limited.

Recurring deck lists

With constructed tournaments played in single elimination, it is not uncommon to have the same players coming back for more several times during the day. We want to avoid requiring them to re-list their complete deck for each event they play. This makes players happier, but also saves some time for the deck check team because they will not have to count and check the list again. Any player who wanted to play the exact same deck as a previous Trial could simply submit a deck list with his name, DCI number, and reference of the Trial from which he is reusing the deck list.

Tardy players

Acoustics in GP halls are never exceptional, and as a consequence it is common that players are late to their seats, especially when announcements are numerous (start and beginning of rounds for all Trials, start of pick-up events…). While we still hold them responsible, we will make every possible effort to get them playing. Therefore, we set up a “standard procedure” to start rounds: Announce pairings are up, go to the play area and get names of missing players, call missing players by their name, and two minutes afterwards, start the round. We also enforced the three-minute Tardiness Game Loss rule. Finally, the status of each Trial was displayed near the PE stage using a projector.

Fact sheets

The Friday staff offers a wide range of judges, from GP veterans to first timers. It is very important to carefully brief everybody, because any of these judges count end up being a flight leader at some point. In addition to this briefing, one-page fact sheets were prepared, containing a reminder of the instructions, and boxes to write down the most important information about the tournament, such as starting table number and round start times (having these boxes also serves as a reminder for the flight leader not to forget taking note of those!). These fact sheets were really appreciated, especially by less experienced judges.

Scorekeeper interaction

While you want to protect your scorekeepers and make sure they are not disturbed by external events, there is information which is vital for them: the room layout. At all times, make sure that the scorekeepers know the starting table number for the next two events. When a tournament is started, always check that the starting table number is as expected. This can save minutes, and a lot of frustration for the players.

Event tracking

Last but not least, it is vital that you have an efficient way of tracking all GP Trial flights, and what each judge of your staff is assigned to. This permits quick reassignments if necessary, allows managing breaks and making sure everybody gets some time to eat and drink, and gives you an accurate picture of what can be handled. It is indeed very easy to let yourself fall behind schedule, and managing rushes with tired or hungry judges is way more complicated than with rested ones. I had an Excel sheet prepared with each judge’s name and a “timeline” which I would fill out during the day as the events were starting (flight leaders being busy for roughly three hours and a half, given they take care of the three first rounds of a Trial). This timeline representation was very useful when we reached a peak in players’ registration, as it allowed us to realize there would not be enough flight leaders to absorb the mass of players. Anticipating this allowed “compressing” events which were in round 3 and get back some judges to handle the peak.

The actual method you use for this tracking is not really important; what matters is that you are comfortable using it. To make the correct decisions, information is key. You want to always know what is happening, where, when, and with which judges. At some points, it feels like you’re some kind of general, moving your judge soldiers like pawns on a battlefield, but as stated in the beginning of this article, being the PE lead is all about resource management!

Ending words

Being PE Lead on GP Last Chance Trials is really an interesting experience, and I encourage any Level 3 who is into tournament management to give it a shot. It requires being able to deal with a lot of things concurrently while still thinking in advance. GP—Ghent was particularly tough on this point, as a record-breaking 35-ish Trial events were fired that day, in addition to dozens of 8-Mans. Big thanks to the judge team for their hard work, and to Dazzle Events, the TO, for their excellent organization.