Reviewing up – Why is it so hard?

Written by Joshua Feingold

Written by Joshua Feingold

Written by Patrick Cool

Written by Patrick Cool



This article was written to support Riki Hayashi‘s review project- The Feedback Loop!

Running into Trouble

Judge reviews are a critical element of the judge program. However, writing reviews can be difficult for many judges. This problem can be even more pronounced when a new judge tries to review a more experienced, higher level judge. However, that does not mean that seasoned judges do not need feedback just as much as fresh ones.

 High level judges are, by no remarkable coincidence, generally very professional, hard working, and knowledgeable about rules and policy. While this is extremely convenient when looking for strengths to write about, it can make finding areas for improvement difficult. This is especially true when the higher level judge is in the Head Judge role, in which he answers relatively few, difficult questions.

 In addition to these issues, many judges look up to these individuals, as leaders of the program, for guidance and mentorship.  This makes a traditional critical perspective hard for many to adopt when trying to review higher level judges than themselves.

Rethinking the Problem

As a result, it may be helpful to consider a different set of questions more appropriate for evaluating higher level judges in leadership roles. By breaking down the review areas already listed in the judge center,  we can formulate these more specialized questions.

Completes assigned tasks

The primary task of a head judge is ensure that the tournament is run smoothly and fairly. A team lead’s job is to make sure that his team facilitates the tournament’s success.  (For L3+ judges at larger events, this section and Leadership will often coincide.)

  • Did the tournament and/or your team run smoothly?

  • Were you aware of your responsibilities from the start of the Tournament?

DCI policy & penalty guide/Game Rules Knowledge

While it is unusual for a higher level judge to make an obvious mistake regarding rules or policy, you or the judge himself may notice that he has made a subtle error. It is fine to include a discussion of this error in the review even if you have already discussed it with the judge. Noting these small errors will help both of you not to make them again.

  • Did you witness or discuss any interesting rulings with the review subject?

  • Did they have trouble answering questions regarding rulings on the floor or were they efficient and confident with their answers?

Diplomacy with players

One of the crucial roles of judge is to give customer service to the players, and this duty is not limited to floor judges. Higher level judges will most often handle appeals(as Head Judge), game loss penalties, and rewinds and help to resolve more complex issues on the floor.  However this area goes beyond just judges being “nice” and amicable, to a show of impartial judgement.  Judges are the arbiters of the game, so when we deliver rulings or investigate incidents, our demeanor needs to show no bias towards one player or the other.  Doing so allows player to view the situations in which they need a judge as being fairly and correctly resolved.

  • Did the judge display impartiality and respect for the players when delivering rulings?

  • Was the judge able to bring situations to an end that both players understood and accepted?

  • Were potentially explosive situations handled calmly and defused quickly?

Educates other Judges

One of the most important duties of higher level judges is to elevate the program as a whole. Any time you work with a higher level judge, you should take away at least some new knowledge about rules, policy, communication, or tournament procedures.

  • Was the judge active in providing learning opportunities for the staff?

  • Did you see any missed opportunities for yourself or fellow judges to learn more?

Explains rulings correctly

It is important for judges, especially higher level ones, to present rulings that not only reach the proper conclusion, but also get there through technically correct reasoning. This is because other judges and players will naturally use the rulings of a judge to infer other rulings. A higher level judge should also be watching out for novice judges to make mistakes in their explanations so that misinformation does not get propagated.

  • Did the judge explain his rulings in a technically correct fashion?

  • Did players seem to understand his rulings?

  • Did the judge correct or discuss any explanations you gave that were incorrect?

Hard working

Working hard looks slightly different for a judge in a leadership role than for one on the floor. A head judge will often consciously avoid answering calls to protect the players’ right to appeal rulings. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean a team lead or head judge will be doing nothing. He may be consulting with other judges or the TO, planning breaks, coming up with discussion topics for the staff, etc.

  • How did the judge use his time when he was not actively engaged in tournament operations or appeals?


While this is topic can overlap significantly with Performs Assigned Tasks, leadership also includes making sure floor judges know what their role is and are capable of fulfilling it. This can include managing the number of judges available for different tasks, as well as items before the event such as setting expectations in pre-event communications.

  • Did you know what was expected of you at all times during the event.

  • Did you get an appropriate amount of rest, food, and water to stay sharp during the event?

  • Did you know what attire was expected prior to the event?

Professional Appearance

It is critical that a judge’s attire is correct for the event. However, appearance isn’t just about clothes.  Body language and demeanor are also very important for conveying a sense of professionalism.

  • Was the judge dressed appropriately?

  • How did the judge present him/herself? (e.g., As someone that was excited to be there, or zoned out? As knowledgeable and confident, or wishy-washy and uncomfortable?)


Anyone can run a tournament where everything goes right. Maintaining calm and focus when things go wrong is the mark of a professional. In addition we expect judges to interact with players/judges/staff in a manner that reflects well on themselves and the judge program alike.

  • How were tournament hiccups handled?
  • Did the judge address staff issues in a calm and collected manner?

Reliability & Punctuality

As the header for this section says it’s all about being a reliable part of the team and punctual in your duties as a judge.  Many times this is even more true for the Head Judge and Team Leads of larger events.  Their ability to keep up with their responsibilities and make sure their team’s duties are being performed in a timely manner for the tournament, directly relates to how smoothly the tournament runs and our ability to meet the demands of a tournament as they come instead of falling under the wheels of a large fast moving tournament.  In addition this is a quality that can be observed sometimes well before round 1 or the 1st day of the event.

  • Did you always know where to find your team lead or head judge when you needed him?

  • Did the judge communicate to you in a timely fashion about event details?

  • Did it ever feel like the judge was rushing or behind on the normal activies of the event?


Shows Initiative

Initiative for a HJ of an event can mean something as simple as being able to delegate tasks to people prior to issues arising, and anticipating the needs of the tournament and not letting things get out of hand.  Initiative does not always mean going and doing things personally, but being able to stay on the ball instead of under it.

  • Did the judge anticipate the needs of the events, players, and staff exceptionally well or poorly?

  • When the unexpected happened, was it handled quickly?


A good judge, no matter his level, is always looking to collaborate with other judges to make an event the best it can be for players and staff alike. This means keeping an open mind and providing staff with the opportunity for growth while making the decisions that best serve everyone, not just themselves.

  • Was the judge open to constructive input? (Even if they ended up not implementing it.)

  • Did the judge facilitate collaboration among his staff or team?

  • If you had specific goals for the event, was the judge able to help you address them? (Even if you didn’t necessarily achieve them.)

Finishing the Job

High level judges didn’t get where they are by closing themselves off from constructive criticism.  Even a great judge isn’t a perfect one, and a seasoned veteran appreciates honest, constructive feedback at least as much as anyone else. If, even utilizing the suggestions in this article, coming up with clear areas for improvement proves difficult, it may be helpful to bring up any half-formed ideas directly with your high level review subject. He or she may be able to help complete those thoughts. After all, an average L3+ has quite a bit of practice writing reviews. Even after discussing potential review topics with the subject, it is important to follow through by writing the review and including the items you discussed. The subject wants new judges to form good review habits and will certainly appreciate having those ideas accessible for future reference.

Finally, after putting all this attention toward areas for improvement, don’t forget to mention the good stuff too.