The Tricks the Brain Can Play

There was a high-profile DEC infraction involving LSV and Sam Black this weekend.

From a technical standpoint, it isn’t all that compelling. Drawing Extra Cards is handled very strictly; it’s abusable and people get twitchy around card draws. It’s very hard to fix without giving the player who committed the infraction an advantage, and it’s impossible for the opponent to catch before it happens. It’s unfortunate that it has to happen to someone like LSV, but there’s not a lot of alternatives that don’t seem pretty abusable.

What’s really interesting to me about the situation is what we can learn about player perception and try to draw some lessons that can be valuable when conducting investigations.

Let’s start with an important detail. LSV and Sam are tremendously honest players. If I wanted examples of player integrity to hold up, they’d be fine choices. I’ve involved both of them in policy discussions in the past. I certified LSV as a L1, way back in the day, so it’s safe to say that I trust him!

Watching the video (as I happened to be doing at the time, though I was only half-paying attention until the judge got called), the point of contention is whether or not the three cards drawn by LSV had touched the rest of his hand briefly or remained separate. After all, that’s the important distinction. That’s the line chosen because it’s decently bright and reflects all the ways that players draw cards. So LSV held the cards in the two hands, and waved them around to show what happened and the players debated just how close they’d come. Tough spot for a judge to be in and, after talking to them, the Head Judge made the call as best he could.

Of course, this doesn’t match what actually happened at all, as you can tell if you watch the video  again knowing what to look for. LSV pulls the three cards off his library, transfers them from his left hand to his right hand putting them with the rest of his hand, gestures for two seconds with his left hand, realizes that something has gone wrong and pulls three cards back into his right hand. Then, they have a discussion.

It’s not just them. One person on Reddit fairly hilariously asserted “the ruling was terrible, the cards didn’t touch. Source: I watched it”. The commentators thought the cards were always mostly separate, too. It turns out that when you aren’t focused on the mechanical action at hand, but it suddenly becomes retroactively relevant, your brain fills in details. And not necessarily accurate ones. Humans appear to be easily suggestible and the fact that LSV is a beloved player doesn’t hurt wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt.

So, how does this relate to investigations? There’s a couple of important takeaways here that are worth keeping in mind.

First of all, it highlights the brain’s capacity to reconcile events. It’s very easy to see truth in video, it’s much harder to recognize in “real-time”. There’s a desire to jump on everyone who makes a mistake on camera because “there’s no way he couldn’t have known”, but here we have a case where there’s simple reality that the players don’t know at all. You may think it’s not possible that a player could be so oblivious, but its quite possible that their brain has filled in the gaps and it looks fine to them. That’s not to say that you should rule out foul play, but you can’t just declare it obvious. Dig deeper and get the questions you want to know the answers to answered rather than assuming you know the answers.

Now let’s put a box around LSV for a moment and mess with the rest of the scenario. Sam happens to notice exactly what happens, and tells the judge so. Does this mean LSV is lying? Obviously not – we’ve put a box around him and he’s exactly the same as he was above. But… their stories don’t match.

It is tempting when doing an investigation to sieze on a story discrepancy between two players – large or small – as evidence that one of the two players is lying, and judges can head down a real rabbit hole trying to figure out which. It’s possible that someone is lying, but while investigating always keep the third possibility in mind – that the player has filled in actions because the actions themselves weren’t relevant to them at the time and genuinely believes it now. Watch out for those actions and dig deeper into them – they may not be as malicious as they appear.

One thought on “The Tricks the Brain Can Play

  1. The scenario you describe seems believable, mostly because it happened it me. I had a nearly identical scenario where I forgot a Dark Confidant trigger, but the only thing in contention was if the card had gone into my hand or not (but it didn’t matter either way). After the judge made his ruling, I decided to talk with my opponent to see why he lied to the judge. After more than 5 minutes of friendly conversation, I asked him why he lied and why he said I put the card in my hand. With nothing to lose he said “…because you did put it in your hand. I still can’t figure out why you tried to lie about it.” One of us, in all honesty, remembered the events incorrectly. An event, like the one above, that had occurred less than 30 seconds previous to speaking with the judge.

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