Tuesday, February 9, 2016

John Brian McCarthy: Judge! My Points Are Wrong!

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about editing matches that included this line about whether or not to fix pairings for players who had misreported their match result:
Make sure the Head Judge and/or tournament organizer are on board with what you want to do. They might have concerns that you haven't considered.

 When I shared the post in the Mid-Atlantic Judge's Slack, John Brian asked if I could write a follow-up article on what sort of things might play a part in the Head Judge's decision. I thought it was an interesting and useful topic, so I asked him if he would be interested in writing it as a guest post.

And here we are.


“Judge, I think my points are wrong.”

These are among my least favorite words to hear as players are hustling toward their seat during round turnover. When a player believes that his or her points are wrong, there are three things we need to discover:

  1. Are the player’s points actually wrong?
  2. When did the mistake happen?
  3. How did the mistake originate? 

First, let’s find out if the player’s points are actually wrong. One common source of this concern comes from printing pairings and standings at the same time. If a player receives a bye, he or she will already be awarded the points for his or her win, which might cause some confusion. If the player’s points are correct, we’ve got no problems.

Once you’ve verified that the players’ points are truly wrong, it’s time for the players, head judge and scorekeeper to have a conversation. You need to find out when the mistake happened. Players will often be able to tell you the results of each round, which makes finding the errant round faster — if they tell you that they won round two, and you have it marked as a loss, you know where reality diverges from software. If the player can’t remember, you’ll have to go round-by-round to find the mistake, which can be time-consuming — one way to speed up the process is to ask the player if he or she still has his or her life pad from the previous rounds, which can often jog his or her memory. If the player has already torn off the sheets and stuffed them in a table tent, you might ask what matchups he or she played.

Once you’ve identified the match where things went wrong, it’s time to find the match slip. Fortunately, you’ve been sorting and banding the match slips from each round (right?), so you can quickly find this player’s slip and check the entered results against what the slip says. If the slip is correct and it was mis-entered, fix the results in WER, then get the player paired and playing — I can’t think of any scenario where we would not fix a data entry error.

If the slips all match what was entered, you’re generally going to need both players from the round in question — if you can’t get the player who was recorded as the winner of the match to confirm that he or she lost (perhaps because the player went home, thinking that he or she lost), you probably don’t want to change the result. If you’ve got the player marked as the winner insisting that he or she lost the match, but can’t find the other player … thank them for being honest and fix it.

So what if the slip is wrong? That’s what the rest of this post is going to address.

The Disruption Calculation

At this point, you, the head judge, have two options:

  1. Change the results of that match in the computer
  2. Don’t change the results of that match in the computer

So take out your official Player-caused Match Slip Error Scale (you should have been issued one when you were certified, but you might also get an SCG-Branded one with enough Judge Reward Points)* and start putting weights on each side of it.

The “change results” side is usually going to have a pretty consistent weight: two players have match results that are wrong, which is a pretty big disruption for them.

So let’s calculate the other side: how much is it going to disrupt the tournament to change the results? Weights here include:

  • What will happen to opponents’ tiebreakers?
  • How far did a player made it in a weaker bracket?
  • What delay will be caused by fixing the error?

Here are some factors to consider when calculating the weight on each side:

How long has it been since the error occurred?

If you’re seating round five and the error was in round four, you’re looking at a lot less disruption should you choose to fix it than should you choose not to, because no one has yet played a player whose record doesn’t match their own, but they will if you choose not to fix it. Your delay is minimal, because you’re probably only switching the two players whose result was wrong.

Now let’s change the situation: you’re seating round five and the error occurred in round two. You’re still looking at quite a bit of disruption to the players whose match results are wrong if you choose not to fix it — one is going to be up three points while the other is down three points.

But look at the disruption caused if you do change it: one of your players has played against two weaker opponents while the other has played against two stronger opponents than their point totals will reflect after fixing them. If our player who lost the match goes on to face stronger opponents than he or she should in rounds three and four, he or she is more likely to accrue additional losses, while our winning player who is now playing against losing players is more likely to win and have an easier path to the Top 8 than he or she should.

Switching the results is disruptive to everyone. You’ve also got the potential to have to break more pairings, if the two players’ records diverged since their match. For example, let’s assume that these players left round two with AP at 2-0 and NAP at 1-1. AP goes on to win her next two matches, putting her at 4-0, while NAP loses both, putting him at 1-3. If we fix the pairings from their mistake in round two, they’d be at 3-1 and 2-2 — we can’t just swap their assignments for round five or we’d be create more pair-ups and pair-downs. Instead, we now need to find existing pair-up/pair-downs (if possible), break those matches and re-pair them — that means sending out more judges to stop more players from playing, and writing extensions on more match slips.

What round are you going into?

You’re going into the penultimate round, standings have been posted and players are going to be making decisions to draw in. While they’re doing that, you’re considering whether to change a player’s results, which has an effect on OMW%, the first tiebreaker. While this can be disruptive, players generally don’t draw in during the second-to-last round unless they’re undefeated. Making a change here has the potential to be more disruptive than in earlier rounds, but not by much.

On the other hand, during the final round, the pairings are generated with a “greedy” algorithm that takes tiebreakers into account. At this point, adjusting the pairings could mean a significant number of re-pairs (causing major delays), or disruption to the top portion of the room as players make decisions to ID based on incorrect information. Even if you’re looking at a player near the bottom of the standings, there’s a chance that he or she played a player near the top in an early round and that his or her results will have an effect on final standings and tiebreaker math. If your scorekeeper advises you that a change will likely result in a full re-pair, that’s a lot of disruption to balance out.

What REL is this event?

My willingness to fix pairings is greater at Regular than it is at Competitive. First, many Regular REL events don’t cut, but pay out based on record instead, in which case tiebreakers matter less. Second, because there are fewer prizes on the line, I’m less concerned about the potential disruption to the remainder of the event. Finally, the MTR specifies that players at Competitive REL events are expected to “be familiar with the policies and procedures” — that includes how to correctly fill out a match slip.

Make Your Ruling

As soon as a player lets you know that he or she believes that his or her points are incorrect, the wheels in your head should start spinning to determine the total disruption with each option. You and your scorekeeper now each have a job to do, and you’ll ideally do them at the same time. By the time the scorekeeper has verified for you that the result is wrong and how long it’s been, you should be ready to have an answer for him or her on what you want to do about it. The clock is ticking on at least one match’s extension, so make your decision quickly, especially if you’re leaning toward fixing the result, because that operation will take longer to execute.

Oh, and while you’re doing all this, you remembered to start the round, right? I’ve seen Head Judges (some of whom look eerily similar to me …) get so wrapped up in handling issues like this that they don’t notice that all the other players are sitting at their tables, patiently waiting to begin. You might consider deputizing another judge to start the round — while anyone can keep an eye out for when most players seem to be seated, if you delegate making decisions on whether to re-pair players for slip errors, you’re probably setting up an appeal (at which point you’re writing a longer time extension) or worse, inconsistent handling of these errors relative to analogous situations.

If you choose not to fix the results, be ready for at least one player to be upset. The player who had to take a loss on a round that he or she won is going to be unhappy, and it’s legitimate for him or her to feel that way, so don’t dismiss him or her! Instead, briefly explain why you made the decision you did, and remind them that it’s their responsibility to fill out the match slip accurately. Then get them to their table, issue an appropriate extension, and get them playing, offering to discuss it later if they’d like.

A Word on Cheating

I think players assume that match slip fraud happens approximately seven thousand times more often than it really does. The reality is that it’s really, really hard to get away with it, and that it’s just not an effective way to steal a match. It’s a ton more likely that players just screwed up on filling out the slip.

That said, some players (usually kids) will try it, and I’ve seen some incidents where a player has tried it without considering the consequences. So while you’re considering whether you want to fix the error and your scorekeeper is figuring out the implications, ask some questions. In the event that you’re deciding not to fix it, the player who should have won will often appreciate that you looked into the possibility that his or her opponent may have done something dishonest. Some things to consider:

  • Who filled out the win numbers on the slip? If it was the loser who filled it out wrong, that’s interesting**. Were the numbers filled out before the winner signed? 
  • Who ran the slip up? If it was the loser, that’s interesting. If it was a judge, did he or she verify the results? If not, you’re going to want to speak to the judge about doing so. If the judge did verify and the loser answered, that’s very interesting. 
  • Are there scratch outs or eraser marks? Seeing a slip changed from correct to incorrect is interesting.

If your interest is piqued enough by unusual circumstances, ask some follow-up questions. But remember that the clock is ticking, and if you decide that everything is on the up-and-up, every minute you give makes it more likely that your round will be waiting on this match to finish.

The Result, in Retrospect, Is Wrong

As the head judge, you’re going to encounter another category of decisions that are cousins to the match slip error: the players who come up after their match has been reported and want to change it. One player may have decided to drop and go home, so he or she wants to give his or her opponent the win. Or the players realize, after the match, that one accidentally made an error in-game that caused him or her to win when he or she shouldn’t have.

In general, I don’t like allowing players to request their slip back after its been turned in to make changes. The primary reason is that while this is sometimes the result of one player trying to be a nice person, it’s also sometimes the result of Bribery. At an Open last year, a judge witnessed an exchange between two players who’d gone out to smoke after their match. One of them said to the other, “I’ve got to ask one more time — could I have the win here? I’ll give you half my prize money.” If the judge hadn’t been there to intervene, the opponent could have agreed, gone in and asked the change the results, after taking bribe out of sight of tournament participants.

So, I won’t let players change their results after submitting them, barring significant and exceptional circumstances, like the realization that the result was actually incorrect because they forgot to incorporate the game loss that a player received for tardiness.


As the Head Judge, when the players screw up on a match slip, it’s your call how to fix it. The responsibility for the error is all theirs. But the responsibility for the fix is all yours: make sure that you’ve carefully considered the total disruption and chosen the path with the least net damage to tournament integrity, because you need to own that decision. If you quickly and carefully weigh the disruption caused by both options, you’ll make decisions that you can support to the players and the rest of your staff.

*Not a real thing, but it should be.

**A story for this weekend about how noticing something interesting doesn’t always mean Cheating: Our scorekeeper at the Eternal Extravaganza Satellite in Baltimore called me up to the stage and told me that two of his local players had just played, and the losing player turned in the slip. He thought this was odd, as the winner is vigilant about turning in the slip when he wins. At his urging, I tracked down the players, who were eating lunch after finishing their match, and asked about it — the player marked as losing said, “Uh … oops” and they both promptly fixed it.

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