Learning on the Job – Part 2

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Starting out this two-part article I had a slightly different concept of the latter half. Having put some thought into it and having heard some feedback on part one, I decided to slightly change my approach. Instead of suggesting ways to develop your judge skills, I will show you what I have been doing or plan to do, to improve my abilities. I hope this will make for a more interesting read.

This approach requires a short introduction. I passed my level 3 exam at Worlds in 2000. Since then I’ve been to three Pro Tours, a good number of European Grand Prixes and Championships. I’ve been to every Polish Nationals (once as a player) and head judged three of them. I’m currently the most senior judge in Poland and am trying to work up to a level promotion.

I’m fairly clear on what skills I need to work on, the most important being:

  • Mentoring – high-level judges are expected to pass on their experience throughout the judge program
  • Shadowing – a new technique I had not experienced until recently, but which proves to be a strong learning tool (for all involved parties)
  • Evaluation – a complimentary ability to mentoring and shadowing as a way to track prowess and progress

Pro Tour

I’ll start at the top as Pro Tour Atlanta is still fresh in my mind. This event afforded me a chance to work on some of the skills required of a high level judge. One of my responsibilities was my kernel team, where I was the senior judge. My two teammates were Paul, who was scheduled to test for level 3 that weekend and Josh, who was a first-timer at the PT level, but came with good recommendations.

For those, who have not worked in the kernel team system (this was also new to me at Atlanta) a small explanation is in order. Kernel teams exist outside the normal hierarchy, although we were lucky to work together on day one. Judges within a kernel team are encouraged to focus their mentoring, learning and evaluation activities on kernel team members. I found this quite useful as I could devote more time to my two teammates and gain a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

Because Paul was busy with testing, he would often disappear for long periods of time during the day, which made evaluating him fairly hard. We did manage to talk several times over the weekend and on Sunday, I decided to bite the bullet and point out two of his weakest (in my opinion) areas for improvement.

A little digression is in order. The new review forms are much harder to fill-out. However, this makes them a much better exercise to perform. They provide a lot more information to the reviewed person, while forcing the reviewer to actually apply himself.

I found mentoring Josh slightly easier. I made sure to take my lunch break with him, so we could talk uninterrupted for a longer while. It was interesting to discuss our backgrounds, and learn his expectations of the Pro Tour and see, which ones came true. I would also observe some of his rulings, especially in heated situations, so that later on we could discuss his approach and see his point of view. His feedback at the event not only helped me regain confidence in my mentoring skills, but also showed me some points to improve.

I also took the time to evaluate two other persons at the event. These were my team leader and the head judge. Having been on a team at a PT and having led a team as well, I was able to point out the strong and weaker areas of my team leaders' performance. Sheldon was a much harder nut to crack. How do you rate someone, who just got promoted to the pinnacle of judgeship? However, I needed to follow my own advice and since I hope that one day I too may were the red and black at a PT, I knew I should apply myself to the review.

As a round dwindled, judges would sometimes gather to discuss various topics of interest. I tried to participate in these as often as I could, not only listening and giving input, but also raising interesting points and challenging the other judges with other similar situations. This is something I am trying to pick up from Ricardo, who as far as my opinion goes, is the best at this.

Finally, I got to partake in the most exhausting task at the Pro Tour – a level 3 interview. As details of these interviews are secret, I won’t go into detail. I did however try to take as much as I could – both at the level of an examiner testing the subject, but also trying to learn from both Johns. Asked if I would be able to head an interview, I hesitantly replied: Probably, but after a nights sleep”. I needed time to arrange everything in my mind.

Grand Prix

A requirement for level 4 candidates is to shadow-judge and head-judge a Grand Prix. The way this system works is that the judge first shadows a GP head judge, watching his every move and discussing taken actions. At the next GP, the roles are reversed, and now the trainee leads. This system exemplifies many of the ideas I put forth in part one.

As a level 4 hopeful, I assume that I will be given the opportunity to pursue this avenue of development. But before that happens, I would like at least one more chance to work the GP as a ‘regular’ judge – be it in floor judge or team leader capacity.

Hoping to further develop my mentoring skills, I plan on learning as much as I can about the judges I will be working with. This will help me to determine what I can learn from them and how I can help them learn from the event. Also, working at the low-level will let me identify operational problems that may not be evident from the viewpoint of the scorekeeper’s stage (where the head judge presides).

In Paris I did not pay enough attention to my team, which in turn caused a drop in morale and bad functioning on the job. I hope to remedy this by putting in the required effort and dedication to keep the event running smoothly and the team happy.

Nationals

A detailed review of last year’s Polish Nationals at which I was the head judge has appeared on the DCI Judge Site. (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=judge/article/20040804b) I think it provides good insight to my approach and the reasoning behind it. However, this year I would like to try something different.

I have been the head judge for the last four Nationals and would like to take a step back. Therefore I recommended our other level 3 to take this role. I will cover the judge certification (which we always offer at Nationals) as well as devote more time to mentoring the judges working at the event, including the head judge. This will serve two purposes.

First of all, I will allow another experienced judge to step up and take control of a big tournament. I can observe his approach on many things and see what I can learn from his lead. While we have worked close on previous events together, I was always forcing my opinions as the senior judge.

The second benefit will allow me to gain more skills in the role of a mentor – something which is expected from a level 4 judge, a position I am shooting for. I hope to see how this works out.

Prerelease

Poland does not have the player base to support a multiple-flight prerelease, so we run a regular Swiss + finals tournament. This coupled with a large prize pool (compared to other tournaments) means that we approach this type of tournament very seriously.

However based on discussions with judges from around the world, I would like to apply myself to making the event more enjoyable, especially to the casual and first-time players. The revisions I make must take into account the risk of cheating and sketchy play, since these still are the primary source of player dissatisfaction.

I will be judging the next prerelease (Saviours of Kamigawa) in my home town, whose player base has diminished in the last few years. This is both a challenge and an opportunity. It provides me a chance to judge a small, albeit premiere event, which is something I have not had the chance to do in a long while. On the other hand, it challenges me to make changes, which will draw new players in.

I want to apply myself more to making the prerelease a more user-friendly event. I’ll try to stay away from tournament jargon and spend more time assisting new players. I also plan on tweaking the prize structure to reward not only the top players, but give the casual players a shot (match prizes, door prizes, etc.).

Other tournaments

Again, these are not something I get to judge on a daily basis – between my professional and personal life and the number of local players, its not something I visit regularly. On the other hand, we usually host these at multiple day events as filler in the evenings. We recently implemented a change to the prize structure, based on information I pulled of other judges suggestions on the judge mailing list.

We let go of the finals and instead have a payout based on match points. This cut down on the tournament running time (1-2 hours) and removed the need for players to ID. One thing I want to work on now, is having the players hand in their decklists on time.

Other initiatives

One thing I hope to be proud of is the judge workshop I’m organizing in July. It’s targeted at the dozen-odd certified judges in Poland, which is a manageable number. The program of the workshop is still being determined, but lectures will be given by the two level 3 judges and two level 3 hopefuls. I plan on writing a report on this event after it takes place, so stay tuned.

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