Investigating: The Role of the Floor Judge

It would be easy to believe that investigating is the exclusive prerogative of the Head Judge. That’s not an uncommon way of thinking. It’s not unreasonable either. However, such a belief can be detrimental to the quality of an investigation.


Let’s state it bluntly: Without Floor Judges, there would be no Investigations.


Floor Judges detect issues, analyze situations and then make the decision whether a situation is worth investigating further. Until then, the Head Judge does not have the smallest clue something is ongoing.

In other words, until then, who is investigating? The Floor Judge!


However, it happens quite often that a judge comes to me stating he has an investigation going on but, when asking for more details, he cannot really give me a lot of them: He just felt that something was wrong and I should get involved.

Which is honestly a great start! Not as awesome as it could be, but a great start!


Let’s have a look at how to make it awesome: As a Floor Judge, what should you do to create the most favourable conditions for a successful investigation?



Assessing the situation


The first reflex a judge has when arriving at the table is to assess the situation: Is that a rules question, a communication issue, a disagreement on reality, something else? That’s a natural and good reflex, that unfortunately does not matter nearly as much as one would like.

When arriving at the table, the crux is to determine whether both players agree on what happened or not. This is what you first need to get interested in.


90% of the time, they do and you can safely answer their question at the table.

However, if they don’t, it’s important to separate players as soon as you notice the disagreement and make sure you talk to them individually.

Indeed, when two players disagree, it may mean that one of them is lying and therefore, you should likely involve the Head Judge. But not immediately! First, you need to conduct part of the investigation.



Gathering players’ initial stories


If players disagree, talk to each of them, one after the other, away from the table. If you feel the sequence of play can be relevant, you may want to talk to them at the table, so they can show you what they believe happened. In this case, ask the other player to move a few meters away.

The goal here is to gather each player’s view on the situation. Their initial statements are a core component of the investigation, since it is binding for them and you may be able to call out discrepancies later on.


Therefore, it’s crucial none of the players can hear the other’s story, or he has a chance to adjust his story based on the one his opponent gave.
You may have already heard something like “I agree with everything he said but [this]”. In such a case, the player did not really make a statement. He simply corrected his opponent. By doing so, he doesn’t really give you a lot of information and he’s in a very strong position as he still has the opportunity to “clarify”.


There are other advantages in separating the players:

  • If they are upset by the other for any reason, their frustration level will considerably drop down as soon as they won’t be facing the source of their frustration. To optimize this, make sure to talk to the player in a way that you can see the opponent but the player can’t.
    Kudos to Michael Arrowsmith for this tip
  • You place yourself in a position where you control the situation, which allows you to have productive discussions with each player, avoiding situations where one player keeps interrupting the other.
  • By talking privately, you can get players to talk about their strategic reasoning, show you cards from their hands that are crucial, etc. In a word, you get access to information they wouldn’t be keen on revealing otherwise.


Once you have collected each player’s side of the story, you need to make the decision on whether you want to involve the HJ or not.

This is not automatic. Indeed, it is possible that once separated, both players end up telling you the exact same thing, but with different words. Or maybe the smaller differences they were arguing about are not relevant from a judge point of view (this is usually the case when there is Out of Order Sequencing involved)



It’s time to make a decision


The FJ’s investigation should not take unreasonably long, since it’s mostly about collecting data. The reason is that, anyway, players will want to re-explain everything to the HJ, so you should not spend too much time before deciding to fetch the HJ. You just need to be certain about what you’ve heard.


Actually, the process that’s been described until now is pretty generic and applies to investigations for Cheating as well as more trivial cases like determining whether a sequence of plays was Out of Order Sequencing or not. In any case, you want to know what happened before being able to make a decision and you need to gather an as authentic as possible information.

And since the same process applies, the same restraints apply: You can’t take forever before making a decision.



Fetching the Head Judge


This happens if (1) your ruling is appealed or (2) you believe there is Cheating involved.


Leave a judge at the table

This way, you can fetch the HJ yourself. Also, that judge can monitor players, prevent them from talking to their friends or prevent the situation from escalating between them.

You don’t need to remember which table number that was.

Once you’ve returned to the table, that judge will be able to cover the area so you can remain involved in the investigation (see below).


Brief the Head Judge before he reaches the table

Indeed, being at the table unconsciously triggers a feeling of pressure because players are waiting for you, and they can see you discussing with the HJ. There is a risk that you rush through the briefing and omit important elements.


Don’t brief the HJ on the way to the table

Both of you can’t walk on the same line (or your venue is awesome), and if you have ever tried to listen to someone who is in front of you in the middle of a Magic Tournament, you should realize how hard this is. It likely means you will arrive at the table while not being finished with your briefing, which triggers again that feeling of a deadline and can lead to omitting relevant information.


There is a balance to find between time and efficiency: If time is of course an enemy, misinformation or at least incomplete information is a much greater enemy.



Remain involved


It too often happens that the Floor Judge who took the call disappears as soon as he handed it over to me. This is very detrimental to the investigation.

Indeed, since you gathered the very first elements of the investigation, it is critical that you remain involved to detect any discrepancy in a player’s story.


Stay with the HJ, listen to the players and when you feel something is weird or may be contradictory, mention it to the HJ!

It’s important to remain focus, and taking some notes may prove useful, especially in these conflicting and unclear situations. Being certain of the first declarations by each player is crucial in determining what’s going on.



Be active, not reactive


Judges mostly investigates because a player called them. However, there are many opportunities to be proactive and to initiate an investigation on your own: They can come from:

  • Watching a game and witnessing a weird action.
  • Detecting that what seemed a small mistake actually matters a lot in the game


Watching Games

Identifying cheating requires identifying intent of the player. Unless the player blatantly lies to you and tells you several different things, very few situations actually allow the judge to prove the intent of a player. Therefore, a bit of awareness and intuition is necessary. Take a look at the situations named “A guilty pause” described in my GP Los Angeles and GP New Jersey reports. They are perfect examples of DQs that would never have happened had the judge not watched the game.


Anticipating consequences

When a mistake occurs, evaluating its consequences on the game is important:

  • Was it game decisive?
  • Was it allowing a player to survive?

When a mistake has broad repercussions, it’s usually worth investigating.



Unlike what many believe, as a Floor Judge, you’re the most critical element in making an investigation work: From the detection of the issue to double-checking players’ claims, the success of the investigation relies a lot on you.

When you involve the Head Judge, if your part of the investigation was great, he’ll technically only need to make a decision. Many factors can of course alter this utopic outcome, but that’s what you should aim at!

Kevin Desprez.