How to HJ your first Side Events at a GP

Written by Enrico Riccardi

Written by Enrico Riccardi

Head Judging your first side event at a GP

So your application for GP FarFarAway, or more likely GP NotSoFarAway, has been accepted and you are very happy: you will meet some friends you have not seen for a while, you will know other judges and make some new friends, and you will learn something. Maybe even more than you expected when you applied, because your name is written in bold in Sunday’s schedule and this is the first time. And maybe you haven’t even asked for it.

Don’t panic!

If you have been selected for this role, it is because you have been recommended as a really good judge and they think you will be able to run it. Or maybe it is not, but for some other reason you were the right man. Anyway, the reason does not really matter. You will have a tournament to take care of so start preparing.

How to get prepared?

a) Days before the tournament

You can seek some advice from experienced judges you know, and maybe read some useful article like (I hope) this. But you have a treasure you can exploit: your experience. You have probably been the Head Judge in  many small tournaments, and you have acted as a Floor Judge in some big ones, and probably in some GPs, too. Try to take the best from each of your previous experiences and ask yourself what went good in these events and why. Then ask yourself what went bad in these events and why. Luckily this is a side event in a GP and not a single tournament with an inexperienced organizer, so you don’t have to bother about the location, or the printer and other stuff. In addition, you will have an excellent scorekeeper that will anticipate your needs. Just keep in mind you have to do the same for him, but we’ll see this later.

You have to prepare your announcement. Try to keep it as short as you can, because the location will be very noisy, and players will hardly hear you. If you don’t have your own template, you can follow the one proposed by the Judge Booklet. Just choose the very crucial things to say and be ready to take one off while speaking.

OK, you have probably done this many many times, and this is easy. But you probably never had a staff before. I mean a real team of other 3 or more L2+ judges, not only an inexperienced L0 that helped you counting the list and maybe answering a few questions about rules. So here’s an additional challenge: they should have fun. This means they should not get bored and you should also make them learn something. “But … wait! Some of them have much more experience than I do.” “I know. Nobody ever told you it will be easy!”

The idea to make your judges learn is really simple: you have to delegate. By dividing tasks clearly from the beginning, your judges should not get the impression they are lost and “bad” as they “don’t do anything”. Also, this helps you moving away from micro-managing towards leading.

The typical tasks in a tournament are: Paper, Deck Check, End of Round and, for limited formats, Logistic. You can’t have a team for each of these tasks, but each judge can be the leader of one, and the other judges will be his/her team.

So you’ll have other people leading crucial tasks, but don’t forget this is your tournament and if anything goes wrong you have done something wrong. So you will have to verify what other people will do, and to do this well you must have clear what you want to do. So lay down a plan for each task, specifying which goals to reach, when and which resources you will need. You also have to define priorities in case you do not have enough resources to do everything.

Keep all above in mind when preparing the agenda for your team meeting.

Another thing you can do before the tournament is to find some interesting scenarios to discuss with your team. You will need a few ones on rules, and some more on policies. Personally, I find policies are more interesting because it is not always black or white, but also rules can be interesting, especially if the situation comes from your own experience. You will probably need the oracle for the cards involved in your rules scenarios, a smartphone will be ok, If you use the smartphone, make sure there is an internet connection, or that your oracle database is updated.

b) Day of the tournament

Make sure you arrive at the tournament a few minutes before the schedule, so you can talk to the judge in charge of all Public Events. You have to find out:

  • When your tournament starts.
  • Where it will be, which pairing boards you will use and if you need to number the tables.
  • If limited, where the product and checklists are.
  • What is the structure of the tournament and of the prizes.
  • Who will be your scorekeeper.
  • If there is a microphone and where it will be.
  • Which tournaments start before yours, and what kind of help is needed from your team (if any).
  • Which tournaments end after yours, and what kind of help is needed from your team (if any).
  • Which tournaments start after yours, and what kind of help other teams can give you.
  • When you will have time for your team meeting. Usually not now but something like 30-40 minutes before the tournament, more if limited and you have to prepare the product.
  • What time approximately you are supposed to end.

Things that are not your responsibility, but that are “nice to know”:

  • Where, when and how judges will receive their compensation.
  • Where you can find information about the judge dinner.
  • And don’t forget to get the money (if any) for lunch for all your staff. Usually from the judge in charge of Public Events.

When talking with the HJs of other events, specify how long you will help them, and ask for all the tasks they need you to do. Confirm if you will be able to help them for all the tasks or not, so they know in advance they have to look for further help.

When your judges arrive, probably you will not have the time to do your team meeting, but there are still a few information you need to share: at what time the tournament starts, time for your meeting, who they have to help and how. If you don’t have any task to assign them yet, maybe because if you need to leave and ask, don’t leave them with nothing to do. Explain them you have a scheduled meeting for getting all the remaining details, collect any request they may have, take out one of your scenarios and ask them to discuss it while you are away.

Before starting your team meeting, go to the registration desk and check how many players so far. Make sure you will have room for all the players.

During your team meeting, ask your judges how they feel and if they have a personal goal for the day. Then let them choose a task and ask each of your task leaders to fix the goals, lay down a plan to reach them, and then share the plan with you after. You may receive help from other side events, so plan what to do if you receive 2 extra judges on turn X.

Your final plan must include lunch breaks for everyone. Since it is the last day of the GP, people may need some extra breaks on later rounds.

Ten minutes before the tournament, make a brief meeting and make sure everything is clear to everyone.

And don’t forget to ask your buddy to take notes for a review on your HJ work!

c) During the tournament

OK, so the tournament is starting. What can you do to make the tournament smoother and faster?

Unless the tournament is really small, do seatings. It will cost you 5 to 10 minutes, but it will really help in saving judge time even more as your team’s size may be small. Many judges find it difficult to identify names in a foreign country, and this is not the task where you want your judges to do their best. It will make players listen more carefully to your announcement and focus more on their list rather than their deck or opponent.

Regardless of seatings, and especially if you don’t do them, you can improve the efficiency of collecting lists by dividing the tables in zones. Let’s say you have 3 rows and 3 judges, assign one judge for each row. Each judge will collect all the lists of the row and count he has all of them before bringing the pack to the DC leader. This way you may catch missing lists at the very beginning of the tournament.

Should the location be wide and noisy, as it usually is, ask the TO if you can allow three minutes for tardiness at the beginning of the rounds. You may think that extra time will delay your tournament, but actually it will save you time because you can start the round while the last players are rushing to their tables.

Post end of round time on the pairing boards, so players will know when they must be there. If a round ends really fast, you must consider this time when issuing tardiness penalties. To collect slips, you can tape an empty box on a pairing board. Do not forget to post a “Result slips here” sign over it and a “Result slips there ⇒ ” sign on the other board.

Use the microphone to announce Pairings have been posted. This is the most important announcement and the only one players really need to hear, so say it twice. Since there are too many announces during GPs, I strongly recommend to limit the microphone use. Use it only for pairings and for extraordinary things, i.e. if you miss a player or a result. Do not use it for standard announces like “You may begin” or “End of round”. For each announcement, try to use always the same sentence and always begin with your tournament name.

Plan the lunch breaks in advance, and ask each judge for their time preference. Usually judges from northern Europe prefer early lunches while judges from the mediterranean area prefer late lunches, but you don’t have to guess, just go and ask them. Make sure all the roles are covered during breaks, including the HJ role for appeals and backups. Tell your task leaders to inform their substitutes on what to do. Verify if this has been done. If you feel your tournament will be understaffed during breaks, ask the judge in charge of all Public Events for some judges to help you.

Take care of your additional staff. When a judge arrives, ask him/her for how long he/she will be available and keep in mind they may need a lunch break before going to their tournaments. This is very important because most judges won’t tell you unless you ask.

Take care of the scorekeeper, too. In some tournaments there will be many, but in others you may have only one, and with lots of tournaments to mind. Agree with the SK if you can bring most slips and have extra tables and finally bring the last ones, or if he/she prefers all the slips together. In the latter case, sort them to save time and to make sure you have them all. The thing that annoys them most is to have slips upside down, so make sure you have none.

Check with your task leaders how things are running, and verify if the goals are met. Adjust resources to cover pending tasks and try to benefit from the extra-judges that will arrive.

Always keep an eye on flooring. Make sure players’ calls are answered quickly, the tables look nice and clean.

Remember. Don’t panic!

Things cannot go wrong. Really.

In any case, should you feel you are losing the control of the tournament, don’t forget you are at a GP and have plenty of resources you can have access to. Don’t be shy and ask your L3 more advice or to shadow you more closely. If you feel understaffed, ask the Side Events HJ to send you some help. Just try to anticipate your needs, as the Side Events HJ may not be able to send you judges right away.

If you feel completely shaken, just try to take a break to clear your mind.


“Mind your tournament.” This is the only advice I got before my tournament, and I think it is all that is needed.

Make it your tournament and have fun!