When players ask a question, there are a few things I see newer judges trip over that get easily ironed out over time. Today's Black and White will bring those speed bumps to light, and those of you who don't judge yet but are interested in doing so can hopefully gain some knowledge and have a less jarring experience the first time you step out on the floor.
This week on Black and White: Answering a Judge Call!Be In Position
Essentially, the tournament in progress has to be your only concern. Multi-tasking can only lead to a poorer experience for your players, and in the long-run, that's no good. Be ready to take a judge call at a moment's notice.The Call Itself
When you approach the table you immediately want to observe what's going on. Usually there will be one player waiting with their hand raised. That's the normal situation and it's usually a rules question. Listen to the question, and if it's a straight "how does this card work" you can answer it without issue. I recommend using documented game mechanics whenever possible.
For example, "is Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss's mill a cost?" should not be answered with a simple "yes". Instead, consider something like "notice the detach and the send to graveyard effects are before the semi-colon. You do this when you activate the effect." That gives the players a chance to recognize that "hey wait, so if that was a cost because it was before the semi-colon, does that mean this other text is also a cost?" The light bulb turns on and the player may start to realize that the info they need is already on the card. Ideally, players shouldn't have to depend on judges to play a card game. The judges should be there to settle disputes and clear up the complicated interactions that come up during gameplay. That said…When The Question Is More Than Just How One Card Works
Assuming the question is one you can answer, first let the player ask the question fully. Should the question use any of the opponent's actions or decisions, confirm with the opponent that the situation has gone down as the first player described it. Assuming everything is good, you can give your ruling without issue. By giving the opponent the chance to speak up, you can address any potential issues before you give out rulings, because eating one's words is never fun. Should you speak too soon, you risk the need to take back what you said because you may not have had all the info required to make an accurate ruling.
The situation will play out a Little Differently if the question is regarding player management (in other words, not rulings related). Player management issues have a broad range: Life Point disagreements, what phase or step is the game in, what actions were taken and when they were taken… you get the idea. In these cases, the players may be less than cordial with each other, or you. As the judge, you have to set the example; keep a calm demeanor but stay firm in any instructions you need to give and try to order the discussion.
I recommend having the turn player start with their version of events, then going to the non-turn player. Making the first person to speak an arbitrary decision is intentional; if both players are agitated, you definitely don't want to contribute to that any more than necessary; some players can get more riled up if they think you're favoring the other player for no reason (even if you're not).
In a player management situation you'll generally have to rule in such a way that at least one player is not going to agree with your decision. As I like to tell other judges about judging, when you don't take it personally, making those tough decisions becomes way easier. Make your decision, and inform the players. If the players continue to try and debate with you, remind them that this is the decision you've made. If you're the Head Judge, suggest that they continue play. If you're a floor judge, the players can appeal your decision if they need to. But if you remind them, they'll almost automatically appeal. Remind the players of their ability to appeal only as a Last Resort; if you've made a decision and they still want to debate with you, inform them that refusing to play the game after you've made your ruling could lead to Slow Play infractions, which if repeated could result in upgrades to game losses. (Of course, only the Head Judge can do this.)Intervening Without The Players Calling
As you're walking around, you may see a player make a move or take an action that shouldn't happen. Alternatively, you may notice a mandatory action that has to happen, but didn't. Should you notice something, you'll want to investigate the game state before making corrections.
First up, ask the players to freeze play while you read the cards in question. You want to be sure the cards do what you think they do. If you were Mistaken, you can simply put the cards back and have the duelists continue play. No harm, no foul.
(Protip: I know that Graff, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss; Scarm, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss; and Cir, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss all have graveyard effects. Don't ask me which one does what, I don't know them off-hand. I'll need to read them every time, unless Konami changes their names to simpler things like Monster Reborn of the Burning Abyss, Reinforcement of the Army of the Burning Abyss, and Mystic Tomato of the Burning Abyss.)After The Judge Call
Then, if I'm a floor judge, I usually step back from the table but stick around for a few more seconds just to make sure the players continue their game properly. Every once in a while, the players will immediately call you back for a follow-up question, so don't run away unless there's something else that needs your attention.Other Tips
Open-ended questions: When asking players questions about what happened in a particular situation, you generally want to leave your questions open-ended and have the players fill in the blanks whenever possible. This will give you more accurate information and a quicker end to the investigation.
Side-story: Asking open ended questions doesn't work all the time. At a Regional Qualifier some years back, two players were at a table with a match result slip in front of each other but they weren't engaged in a game. I went over to the table to ask if they were done with their match. They didn't know, because they forgot how many games they played.
… I'll repeat that. The players, in the span of a half hour, couldn't collectively remember how many games of Yu-Gi-Oh! they'd played. Of course, they didn't keep life on paper, so referring to a written record wasn't an option. They couldn't remember their starting hands, their opening plays, when they figured out what the other guy was running… it was like they literally woke up and started moving cards around, then went back into a blackout.
Don't use first names unless you ask for them: This one comes down to not looking biased. If you know one player but not the other, you don't want to give off the impression that you're favoring the one you know. I mean… hopefully you aren't. That's like… the very first thing. Be impartial. But should you know one of the players and not the other, don't use first names. It'll just be bad news for you later if the player you don't know decides to rant about it online or in person.
If you can effectively handle judge calls, you're well on your way to being an effective judge! If you have any questions about this, card interactions, game mechanics or tournament policy, send me an e-mail (one question per e-mail please!) to firstname.lastname@example.org and your question could be answered in a future Court of Appeals!