The Power of Position

In my copious spare time, I enjoy playing poker. One of the most fundamental concepts poker players learn is the importance of position. Position literally refers to how the players are seated around the table; in game flow terms, it dictates who has to act first in a given hand.

“Having position” on a player means you take your action after theirs, which generally means you have more information to make better decisions. Being in “early position” typically implies you should be conservative with your bets and starting hands. In contrast, if you’re in “late position,” you can play a wider ranger of hands, and have more room to out-maneuver your opponents.

Position matters immensely for poker players — but it’s important for Head Judges, too.

Last weekend, I traveled to judge at SCG Indianapolis. Joel Krebs was the Standard Open Head Judge, and I was the Appeals Judge. Since it turned out to be a small Open, we never had two appeals at once; so, my first major responsibility as Appeals Judge was taking over for Joel during his break in round three. After Joel started the round and left for his break, I walked onto the main stage to take a seat…and realized there weren’t any empty chairs. I asked Steven Zwanger where Joel had been sitting, and Steven replied that Joel hadn’t been on the stage much.

So I decided to follow Joel’s lead and, rather than setting up a place for myself on the stage, simply hung out in front of it for most of the round. Looking back, I’m quite happy with this decision. I was still readily available for the one appeal that did come up, and a couple judges engaged me in conversation while I was standing around — which definitely wouldn’t have happened if I’d been sitting on stage. Moreover, when I take over for a Head Judge when they’re on break, I generally see myself as a “stand-in” for them; I wanted to do things as similarly as Joel would have done them, which meant avoiding the stage. This provides a sense of continuity and consistency, which would have been broken if I’d chosen to sit on the stage.

I’ve talked before about the importance of remaining engaged as the Head Judge, rather than turning into just “a judge on a laptop.” At my past events as Head Judge, I’ve tried to strike a balance between being on the stage and being on the floor of an event — but, I now realize, I nonetheless saw the stage as my “home” or primary base of operations. In contrast, Joel didn’t even stake out a chair for himself on the stage. Observing him more closely over the rest of the day, his “home” was very clearly the judge area, to the right of the stage.

While the stage and next to it are two options for Head Judges to position themselves, they certainly aren’t the only ones. On Sunday, we had three judges in red: Joel continuing as Head Judge of the Standard Open, Meg Baum for the Legacy Premier IQ, and Aaron “Stick” Stickney for the Modern PIQ. Joel continued to spend most of his time in the judge area, and I frequently saw Meg there as well. Although Stick spent a fair bit of time in the judge area too, he also frequently wandered over to the rows where the Modern PIQ was situated — to the left of the stage, the farthest tables in the room.

I remember at least two times where Stick’s choice of position had a significant impact on the rest of the judges. In one, I was discussing a ruling with another judge, and a third wandered over to join in for a moment. Shortly after that, a fourth judge came over to “splash” us apart. At the time, Stick was the only judge in the back row of the event, and the “splashing” judge mentioned something about making sure we had someone else in that area.

The second example occurred when I happened to observe another judge pull a player away from their match, then do the same for the other player. Stick happened to be nearby, so I pointed this out to him and mentioned something weird might be going on. I suggested he should walk over and get involved, or at least get ready for an appeal.

These observations prompted me to start thinking about the various positions that Head Judges can take relative to an event, and the various advantages — and drawbacks — that each position provides. What follows is a summary of the three major positions I’ve identified: on the stage, next to the stage (or in front of it), and on the floor of the event. This is very much a work in progress, and I would love to get your thoughts on it!

Much like “early position” is a broad descriptor for position in poker, so too are these meant to be broad outlines. The details can and will vary based on the specifics of each event, such as where the stage is situated relative to the players, the event’s size, the experience of your judges, the number of players, the number of Appeals Judges, and so on.

On the Stage

– Able to observe the whole event (e.g., notice gaps in floor coverage)
– Easy to find (central location)
– Can easily draw on the resources of the stage staff

– Set apart from the rest of the tournament
– Difficult for floor judges to talk to you
– At large events, the stage will be far away from some tables, adding time to appeals/investigations to fetch an Appeals Judge

On the Floor / In the Midst of the Event

– Very approachable, especially with issues unfolding in front of you
– Provides you with the same perspective as floor judges
– At very large events, can reduce the time for a floor judge to find an Appeals Judge

– Can be difficult to find (especially if you’re short…like me ;P )
– Can lose track of time in the round

In Front of/Next to the Stage

– Approachable and easy to talk to
– Relatively easy to find

– Can be difficult to observe the event
– Can be crowded with other judges
– Sitting here can give an impression of inattentiveness (especially if judges on break are also in the area)

In poker, it’s impossible to play every hand from late position. In much the same way, Head Judges shouldn’t spend all their time in just one of these positions. Each has their strengths and weaknesses — which are further correlated with the Head Judge’s own style, their priorities for the day, and the kind of event they’re trying to cultivate. Rather than advocating for one position over another, I encourage you to look at each of them as a unique tool that you can use for a specific purpose. The value is not in the tool itself, but what you can do with it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas. Are there other positions that I’m overlooking? Are there any pros and cons you disagree with, or that you’d like to add to the list? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time, may you always position yourself wisely.

2 thoughts on “The Power of Position

  1. As noted, any spot you pick has pros and cons. I’m sure we could continue to expand these lists of pros and cons even further. A few that have stood out to me over the years.

    Advantages of being on the stage:
    * It is clear to both judges and players that you have confidence in your staff.
    * Interaction with the SK becomes more efficient (this is part of “Can easily draw on the resources of the stage staff”)

    Advantages for being out on the floor periodically:
    * You get a sense of the overall feel and status of the event.
    * Player Perception that you’re not just to be feared (ties to the point on being approachable)

    I don’t feel that any single position is the perfect spot for the whole event. As with poker, the “right” position can change during the day! As a result, I find it best to vary your position so you can see the whole of the event — as long as it does not cause you to be unavailable!

  2. This past weekend, I was HJ for an SCG Super IQ. It was a rather small event, so being able to be found by the FJ wasn’t a concern. The computer running WER was behind the desk and next to the register, so I tried to spend most of my time there, letting the FJ take calls on the floor. Because of the setup of the desk, it took long enough to get around it that I became a bit frustrated and stayed mostly in front of the desk. Doing this made me feel that I could better respond to a call when two happened together, and made me feel less removed from the players. While I would’ve been less tired by the end had I been on my feet less, I think the needs of the event were better served with me only going behind the counter when I wanted to use WER.

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