Weakened Recollections

Last weekend was Eternal Weekend! I had the great honor and pleasure of Head Judging this year’s Legacy Championships. With around 750 players, 11 rounds of Swiss, and over 20 judges on staff, it was the largest event I’ve been in charge of. Many thanks to Nick Coss for giving me this opportunity, and for all the amazing judges and Card Titan staff members who pulled together to make Eternal Weekend a fantastic experience for everyone involved.

Although I will likely write up a tournament report for Eternal Weekend, this post is not that report. Instead, I’d like to focus on something a bit different: taking notes!

Post-event feedback is one of the key tenets of the judge program. Although these sort of communications take numerous forms and have many different names depending on the context — reviews, self-evaluation, and tournament reports all fall into this category — they all share one fundamental tenet: remembering what you want to talk about! And unless you have a memory like Mike Ross from Suits, written notes are a huge help.

I’ve found, however, that simply knowing that written notes are helpful isn’t enough. In order for me to actually takes notes, I have to actively put myself in a position to make that happen. For the past few events I’ve floor judged, one way I’ve done this is by packing a notebook that I really enjoy taking notes in.

Specifically, I’ve started using a very nice, fairly large notebook that SCG gave out to judges who applied to the Keystone program. The size of the notebook is actually quite critical: my handwriting is relatively large and (to be perfectly honest) rather sloppy, and I discovered from experience that writing in smaller notebooks was very constraining. Although the notebook is large, it still fits snugly in the largest pocket of my standard judge pants. The physical weight and sensation of the notebook also helps me remember that it’s there, waiting for me to fill it with relevant insights…and prevents me from leaving it lying on a table somewhere!

Although all of the above may sound a little silly, a judge’s notebook is one of our foremost tools, no different than a craftsman’s hammers and drills. One way to convince yourself to do something is to make yourself look forward to doing it, and having a new notebook definitely did that for me!

At Eternal Weekend, however, I didn’t pack my notebook. Instead, I used my laptop to keep notes while I was Head Judging on Saturday.

Although I made this choice intentionally, I was a bit apprehensive about it. When I was preparing for the Providence Open a few months ago, Eric Levine gave me some fantastic advice: “The Head Judge sitting on the stage on his laptop waiting for appeals is not an authority; he’s a guy with a laptop.” After having had a few events to mull this over, I agree with Eric that the impact using a laptop can have on judges’ perception of you, and your actual attention to the event, is very real.

To that end, I set a few rules for myself about my laptop usage on Saturday.

First, I made an effort to be on my laptop as little as possible. This speaks directly to Eric’s point about authority being closely tied with being available. I love getting feedback from other judges on staff, but to do so, you generally have to go down onto the floor and get it.

Second, I tried to write down something about every appeal and notable ruling. I feel that being able to write things down quickly is one of a laptop’s big advantages over pen and paper, so I’d rather write down as much as possible, even if it turns out not to matter so much later.

Third, I made sure to use my laptop to track round turnover times. Arranging this information in a spreadsheet makes it very straightforward to calculate how the event is going, and while it obviously can be done by hand instead, I really prefer doing it electronically.

Fourth, I wanted to clearly delineate different types of notes. This was pretty easy to do by creating different sheets labeled Notes, Improvements, DQ (*frowny face*), Turnover, Schedule, and so on. (I kept my notes for the event in Excel, rather than a typical word processing program. This is largely because I like having ready access to Excel’s formulas for easily calculating round turnover. Another advantage is that some things like the staff schedule are already in Excel format anyway, and it’s simply easier to keep everything together.)

Finally, I started setting aside a particular section of my notes to use as “notes to myself.” This included things like a reminder to make certain announcements at the start of Round 1, or to have a judge meeting after Round 8. Compared to the other rules, I actually developed this one on the fly during the event, but it worked very well.

Happily, I was able to follow through on virtually all of these goals. The only one that suffered was the second goal, to write down a little something about everything that went on. My notes became sparser for the later rounds, and while this is partially because fewer interesting things occurred, I know that the length of the event also took its roll. Overall, though, I was very happy with how my plan for taking notes on my laptop worked out.

The downside of leaving my notebook at home, however, became apparent on Sunday, when I was not a Head Judge but instead floor judging on Dan Collins‘ deck checks team. As expected, Dan did a solid job — but I don’t have much more feedback for him, because I have no notes! Although I did use my cell phone to jot a couple things down, these notes are far briefer and more fragmented than if I’d had my regular notebook. I’m sure taking notes on your phone works for some judges (and I like the idea a lot in theory), but at least for me, the lack of a physical notebook simply means I don’t prioritize it as much.

I hope this post has given you a different perspective on the importance of notes in the judge program, and how the methods we use to take notes can have a profound impact on our success. No one method will work for everyone, so I’d love to hear about what works for you in the comments! And make sure to check back next week, when I’ll share stories from both Eternal Weekend and the upcoming SCG Invitational.

Until next time, may you note well what others are doing well.