SCG Regionals Wrap-Up: Part One

Two weeks ago, I shared eight of the most interesting scenarios I encountered during SCG Regionals in Philadelphia. Today, I’m going to explain how I handled the first four of these situations, why I took the approach I did, and some thoughts on ways I could have handled things better.

And, yes, all of these actually happened!

Scenario 1: During your announcements for the player meeting, one of the players interrupts you to complain about how close some of the chairs are to each other. What do you do?

As some additional context, I spent some time during my announcements encouraging the players to let me know if they had any suggestions for improving their experience. One of the players took that as an invitation to call out, in the middle of the meeting, that the chairs in his row were too close to the other row.

Although I don’t recall exactly what I said or how the interaction went down, my best recollection is that I did reply directly to the player, probably something along the lines of we were working on the problem or looking into it. This wasn’t quite enough for the player, who continue to argue with me, at which point I had to firmly (but politely) point out that now was not the proper time for debating this issue.

As some added context, the same player had actually brought the issue with that row to one of my floor judge’s attention before we began the player meeting, who then kicked it up to me. At the time, I felt like we didn’t have the time or judge resources to improve the situation; my first priority was ensuring that we actually had enough tables and chairs for everyone in the tournament, and most of my judges were busy dealing with that dilemma. In retrospect, it likely would have been possible to spare some people to adjust the tables before starting the player meeting, but I don’t feel terrible about focusing more on getting everyone seated.

I did consider issuing Unsporting Conduct – Minor to the player; interrupting a Head Judge’s announcements is literally disruptive to the tournament, not to mention disrespectful in much the same way as appealing a floor judge’s ruling before it’s given (one of the classic USC-Minor examples). Ultimately, however, I did not. I followed up by stopping by the player’s first match and tell him that I’d like to chat with him after he was done with his first round.

My goal with this chat was not to punish or scare the player, but rather to get him to understand my point of view and gain his respect, and hopefully change his perspective (and future behavior) through doing so. As we talked, I was able to get a much better understanding of the player’s motivations: he saw himself as a spokesperson for the other players, and explained how he felt that he wasn’t getting his entry fee’s value with the current situation. I thanked him for his perspective, and I informed him that we would be taking care of the issue with tables before the second round. I also told him how I had never seen a player interrupt a head judge in that manner before, and that his behavior could have easily been construed as unsporting conduct, but I didn’t feel the need to issue a penalty to prove my point.

Ultimately, I think not issuing the Warning for USC-Minor was a mistake, since the penalty would have provided a more pointed message that the player should change his behavior. But it’s an interesting and unusual situation, since I am both the person who’s being disrespected and who’s issuing the penalty, which doesn’t usually occur with this infraction.

Combined with the bathroom issues over the weekend, this tournament really underscored the importance of understanding the venue from the players’ perspective. As judges, we tend to be insulated partially or entirely from many concerns the players have, like access to sufficient bathrooms, water fountains, cheap food, or, yes, seating space. While TO’s usually do a good job of assessing these needs, we as judges can definitely help and serves as spokespeople for the players. At future big events, I definitely plan on (for example) walking through the tables to see what I think about the playing area.

Scenario 2: Midway through the event, a player, “Randy,” comes to report that he can’t find his deck. Your scorekeeper tells Randy the name and current table of his opponent from last round (call him “Blake”). A few minutes later, Randy returns to tell you that Blake had his deck in his backpack. Now what? What questions do you have for Blake?

Scenario 3: How does your answer to the above change if you know that Blake is about 15 years old, and also that his father is playing in the event?

Before Regionals, I had never heard of a player taking their opponent’s deck box after a match; most cases of lost decks seemed to occur from leaving items unattended or, rarely, fishing something out of someone’s backpack. Consequently, at the time, I didn’t think of accompanying Randy when he went to go chat with Blake (or send another judge to do so). Given that Blake did have Randy’s deck, however, Blake’s reaction to the question of “do you have my deck?” would have been an invaluable piece of information to possess. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available to me for this investigation.

Initially, I thought it was very likely that I would be disqualifying Blake from the event. That impression only increased when, as I walked up to Blake’s table and asked to speak to him, his first response was, “Why do you want to talk to me?” I tried to put Blake at ease and just told him I wanted to talk, but unfortunately this proved to be fruitless, and Blake was on edge for the entire interaction.

When investigating, it’s very important to control the information that you release to your subject. I didn’t want to alert Blake that I was investigating him for thievery right away, so I started off by asking him how his most recent round went, what deck he was playing, and so on. Ideally, this would have helped me set a baseline to assess his later answers against. When we finally got to talking about Randy’s deck, I started asking specific questions like whether Randy had noticed the extra deck in his bag, what color Randy’s deckbox was (compared to Blake’s), and how quickly each player had packed up at the end of the match. A question I would have wanted to ask, but didn’t, would have been to ask Blake to actually show me his backpack and point out where the missing deck had been.

Overall, I felt that Blake’s body language was very suspicious; for example, he had trouble looking me in the eye throughout our interactions, and was overall more hostile and concerned about my presence than I would expect most people to be. Although Blake seemed apologetic about the situation, he didn’t have a great explanation for how the deck had ended up in his backpack or why he didn’t notice it until Randy showed up. However, I also got a sense that maybe Blake simply didn’t communicate in ways that I was accustomed to, which made me think there might be more at play than Blake having stolen the deck, then trying (and failing) to come up with a story to cover his tracks.

At this point, Blake’s dad actually noticed that I was talking to him, and he came over and asked what was going on. I took this as an opportunity to chat with Blake’s dad privately and explain the issue. At this point, Blake’s dad confirmed my earlier suspicions by mentioning that Blake was, in fact, on the autism spectrum. I asked if Blake had ever stolen anything before, and his dad confirmed that this would have been entirely out-of-character.

Ultimately, although I wasn’t certain that it was truly an accident, I couldn’t convince myself that Blake had stolen the deck either, so I let it go. This is a specific choice of words: although we judges are empowered to disqualify people without proof of action, I don’t think we should use this ability when we’re uncertain of the true outcome. Afterwards, I told Randy (the player whose deck was stolen) that I chose not to disqualify Blake for theft. I’m grateful that Randy was very chill about the entire thing and totally understood my decision; his attitude was basically, “if Blake is a cheater, it’ll catch up to him.”

Afterwards, I discussed the scenario in some detail with Mike Noss, an L2 from Philadelphia and the excellent for scorekeeper for this event. Mike brought up an interesting idea, which would have been to involve Blake’s dad from the start. This likely would have given me more information about Blake’s habits (e.g. if he had been accused of cheating) right away, and I would then have been able to use Blake’s father to facilitate my discussion with Blake, which could have set Blake at ease. If Blake actually had stolen the deck, I think it’s much more likely he would admit it to his father than to a random stranger. Although this tactic does rely on Blake’s dad being genuinely interested in the truth, I think that’s a reasonable assumption to make. If I could do things over, I definitely would have tried this approach.

Another mistake I made is that I violated one of my own cardinal rules during this investigation, which is having multiple people present for an investigation. My philosophy has always been that, if you’re an inexperienced judge conducting an investigation, you want a more experienced one watching you for guidance; and if you’re an experienced judge, you should take the opportunity to give a less experienced one more experience. I personally always appreciate having a second pair of eyes and ears during these tricky situations. Knowing what I now know about Blake and his nervousness, it’s quite possible I would ultimately have sent the other judge away anyway to try and calm Blake down, but I should have thought to grab a second judge anyway.

Scenario 4: Sometime during round two, a player finds you to (politely) tell you that she’s having a hard time safely getting to the pairings boards with everyone’s backpacks swinging everywhere, plus it’s hard to find her name when there’s four or five pages of pairings, without any name ranges. Moreover, she wants to know why pairings can’t be posted on Twitter like they normally are “for SCG events.” How do you respond? What actions, if any, do you take?

In the comments, several people suggested clarifying that the event isn’t being run by SCG per se, and adding that we simply don’t have the infrastructure to post pairings to Twitter. These are both good and necessary responses, but there’s another element at play here as well: privacy. Most events that post pairings publicly (e.g. Grands Prix, SCG Opens) require players to sign a waiver that includes a legal release that covers this situation (among other things). In this particular scenario, the player was a little put-out when I tried to explain the logistical and infrastructure-related issues, but she completely understood once I mentioned the privacy/waiver issue. (Note: I am not a lawyer, and this paragraph shouldn’t be construed as legal advice. 🙂 )

As for the pairings, it’s important to clarify that we were using Wizards Event Reporter (WER), not DCI Reporter (DCIR). DCIR has a neat feature where you can print pairings by name ranges, so everyone whose last name starts with (for example) A through C will always be together, and so on. This isn’t available in WER, which simply prints all of the pairings on as few pages as it can. This means that someone whose last name ends with M might be on page 3 in round one, but could move up to being on page 2 in later rounds as people earlier in the alphabet drop from the event.

For this reason, it wouldn’t be possible to set up precise name ranges (like A-C, D-F, etc.) for the pairings, since which pages corresponded to which letters would constantly be in flux. However, I knew we could make a page that pointed out on which page a certain letter (like “M”) started, and players could then use this to partially sort themselves and figure out where they should start looking. Once I explained what I wanted to my turnaround/paper team lead, Ilan, he quickly made it so, and it definitely helped! (If I’d taken a picture, this would be much easier to explain! Another thing to remember for next time.)

Finally, I also chose to make an announcement to the players asking them to be more careful with their backpacks in the aisles and when going to the pairings boards.

Whew! That was quite a ride. If you enjoyed this post, make sure to check in next week, when I finish things up by talking about players taking extra pre-registration tokens and handling male players using the women’s restroom.