Keeping Floor Coverage Active and Player-Focused

Written by David Lyford-Smith

Written by David Lyford-Smith


Hello all!  In this article I’m going to be talking about some ideas for how best to cover the floor at an event – where to be, how to act, and what to do.  It’s easy to get complacent about this most fundamental job of judges, but there’s more to it than first appears.



What is floor coverage about?  When do we do it and why?  Floor coverage is used at larger events when we can’t be close by every match like we can at smaller tournaments.  Let’s look at what we’re trying to achieve:

  • Making sure that we are available for players’ requests – making sure that we can get to tables that call us over
  • Letting players know we’re there, providing reassurance to them
  • Discouraging cheaters
  • Many players will not call a judge even if they really need one, whether because of shyness or not wanting to get someone else involved. We want to find those situations where a judge is needed but none is called.


In Practice

Let’s take a look at a typical area of tables:

Figure 1

For a smaller event, this might be all the tables: for a GP, it might be just one section.  Let’s think about some possible positions.

A traditional approach you will see many judges take:

Figure 2

Here, the judge is positioned in an aisle or at the edge of the tables.  They’ve chosen the side which opens on to the aisles.  Let’s look at the advantages of this position:

  • Judge can see the entire area
  • Lowest average time to reach any table
  • Freedom to patrol left to right
  • Can easily discuss/socialize with other judges

But there are downsides:

  • Can see only the closest games
  • Most players unaware of judge’s presence; they may appear distant or uninterested
  • Will only catch situations where the players actively call a judge

This position might be best described as ‘passive’ floor coverage: the judge is there and waiting for somebody to ask them to becoming involved.

So, let’s take a look at my preferred alternative:

Figure 3

Here, the judge is patrolling one of the aisles directly.  Let’s take a lot at the advantages of this position:

  • Judge can see a variety of matches, learning more about the format and watching for mistakes as they go, including those who wouldn’t call a judge unprompted
  • Players see the judge taking an active interest in the tournament
  • Dishonest players are more likely to be dissuaded, or caught

And some disadvantages:

  • Judge’s field of vision over the entire block is reduced
  • Harder to meet up with and interact with other judges in the confined space between aisles

For the first of these, keeping a keen ear out and encouraging players with judge calls to shout out clearly and keep a hand up will help considerably.  For the second, an occasional discussion is easy to fit in between bouts of patrolling the aisles.

This position is much more about ‘active’ floor coverage: seeking out matches and players that need a judge to help them out, and getting involved.  I’ve been amazed how often players will flag me down as I slowly move past to help with a life total dispute they were previously trying to sort out themselves, or how often a casual glance over a game reveals a rules mistake.

The most important advantage is the effect of having a nearby judge on the number of calls that are caught.  Many players feel shy or reserved about calling a judge. Others feel their issues aren’t important enough to need a judge or that they’re better off fixing issues themselves.  Overall, a large number of issues go unreported.  A good number of those will go through a judge instead if one is close to hand.  I’ve certainly noticed an uptick in my calls since taking more of this attitude.

Of course, that’s not to mention the dishonest players who will avoid getting a judge involved in their situations.  I can think of several DQs where having a judge nearby that saw what happened and could provide an impartial slant to the players’ conflicting accounts made a difference in conclusion.

As you walk the aisles, to take your time. Watch matches as you go, figure out what’s going on in games you can see, and keep alert for signs of disputes or disagreements to address.

Some great things to watch out for as signs of a table possibly needing a judge include:

  • Players with raised voices: a disagreement
  • Player reading a card: a rules question
  • Players both looking over life pads: a life total discrepancy
  • One player looking around / looking bored: possible slow play
  • A player is overly conscious of judge location: either really wants a judge or is trying to avoid oversight for their shady actions.
  • Discussion between players in adjacent matches: seeking an answer but not asking a judge, or possible Outside Assistance


Judge-Judge Interactions

Under either method, occasionally a good chat with a fellow judge is useful to share plans for the tournament, talk about that cool game you just saw, or test out some tough policy teasers.  When you’re doing that, it’s important to make sure that you remain alert to the tournament and approachable to players and spectators who have questions.

A normal two-person conversation would be something like this:

Figure 4

Black arrows for judges, blue arrow for a player.

This is the natural position for most of us: full eye contact and politely facing the other person.  Unfortunately, it can make it seem that you’re completely uninterested or unavailable to player observers. If anyone does want to speak to you, like our little blue arrow friend here, they will feel like they have to break into your private conversation.  Furthermore, you won’t be able to see much of what’s going on on the floor.

Compare with this:

Figure 5

Here, the judges are standing side by side, tilted slightly inwards.  This way, they can still see and hear one another, and can talk freely.  Their eyes remain facing the tournament and they appear more engaged and approachable.  Anyone with a question can just walk into the position of the blue arrow – many people won’t even realize there’s a conversation there and won’t have the same reservation about coming up to you.

It does take a little practice to get used to this, as your instincts will be to turn the rest of the way towards the other person. It’s definitely better in the long run.  Just watch out for a third judge coming to join in the blue position and making a closed-off formation again.


Shadowing and Appeals

If you are interacting with another judge in this way, it’s a great opportunity for you to shadow one another’s rulings.  The shadowing judge should stay in the background of the ruling, allowing the lead judge to handle things. They’re there to take notes on the lead judge’s handling of the situation for potential feedback.  They can provide some quiet steering if they feel the lead judge is getting stuck or going down a wrong path.

If a ruling is appealed, the shadow should stay with the table to prevent the table being abandoned and to help any potential situation from escalating.  Sometimes if a ruling is looking to be controversial, they can even go to the Head Judge ahead of time and start filling them in on what’s happening. This saves time if the appeal materialises.


Behavior Near the Floor

In the previous two sections, we looked at where to be when patrolling the aisles, and how to have judge-judge interactions in an open way without jeopardizing floor coverage.  Let’s also talk about the content and style of conversation we have with other judges.

Because we’re advocating being as close to the floor as possible and always facing players, it’s important to remember that sound travels.  Don’t discuss something with another judge you wouldn’t want a player to overhear.  This obviously includes details of ongoing investigations but also embarrassing stories if they’re identifiably relating to a specific person.  Whilst that story about the player who made a silly decklist mistake might be funny, it’s not nice to broadcast it to their friends!

Also be careful when managing judge feedback, particularly constructive criticism.  If you’re sharing some points for improvement with another judge and a player overhears, they may lose confidence in that judge’s future rulings.


Closing Remarks

Active, player-focused floor coverage increases the volume of calls you attend to, increases your experience, and improves the players’ views of judge involvement and attitude.  It helps to unearth situations that might never have otherwise come to light, including investigations.  Careful body positioning during those little chats can make a big difference to your approachability, too!