If you judge events on a regular basis, you come across all types of people. This game can attract a wide range of personalities, and the ability to interact with everyone in a professional manner's an invaluable skill. Some would make the argument that being able to converse with players is more important than knowing rulings; rulings can be taught, but being personable is a huge part of customer service (and thus a huge part of judging) and can't be learned from a book.

In the world of retail, encountering problematic customers is a certainty. In the world of judging, problematic players are also inevitable. In this week's Black and White, I'll share some insight to help you deal with difficult duelists by being both proactive and reactive.

Being Proactive
The first step is to know what you can about the players enrolled in your event. At a local, this is pretty easy since you can personally interact with each of the participants at any given time. If during your conversations you detect things like undue sarcasm, general feelings of anger or displeasure, or the player who starts telling you about various rulings or policies that are less than true, be prepared for it. Yes, you can correct those inaccurate facts, but from my experience, the type of player that goes out of his way to tell you what the rulings or policies are is the same player that will think he's right anyways when you try to correct him.

At a Regional or YCS, you won't have the luxury of personal interaction with every competitor. The best you can do is keep an eye on the zone you've been assigned to. You won't be able to speak to everyone, but you can overhear duels in progress and you can observe mannerisms and general attitudes during the course of a game.

Being Reactive
On the other hand, you won't be able to completely prepare for all kinds of players all of the time. Thinking on your feet and adjusting to the situation at hand is a required skill for judges at the premier level. If you plan on volunteering for Regionals or YCS events, you need to be able to change gears on the fly. Dealing with all kinds of players is a big part of that.

When you identify someone that could be an issue, the first thing you want to do is make an assessment. What kind of player is this, and what kind of attention does this require?

Stubborn Sam: This is a player who knows he's right and won't accept any other answer without a valid reason. Unfortunately for this game, you'll encounter Sam more often than the others characters listed here since not all of the game mechanics are published… which means you have to default to "this is how this works," which Stubborn Sam will take as a personal affront to his knowledge and intelligence.

Being proactive with Stubborn Sam is hard to do because you can only identify this player through interaction. Dealing with a Stubborn Sam is purely reactive. Once you know that a player genuinely thinks they know it all, you've most likely already taken a judge call from that table. Stay around there, because you'll inevitably get called again. You don't need to hover over their match, mind you, but you'll want to stay close by. Another judge call's likely.

And if you happen to get two Stubborn Sams in the same match… welp… make sure those judge calls have a quick turnaround, oe else the time extensions will get out of hand in a hurry.

Anxious Annie: Anxious Annie is, as you can see, overly anxious. That's not to say that being nervous in a high-pressure situation is something that requires specific attention (because that's natural), but some players will have a chemical or neurological anxiety-related disorder that can make a prolonged high-stress situation like a 9-round Regional Qualifier a real issue.

Being proactive about this is a little easier. If there's a medical condition involved, it's usually a parent that will bring it to a judge's attention. If you're a floor judge, it's best to let the Head Judge or Tournament Organizer take care of this, as there are a number of preventative solutions. The most common one is to assign the player a table that's in a more open area than the rest of the tournament; being cramped between a whole mess of card gamers is an experience that won't exactly calm the nerves of anyone, let along someone suffering from a genuine anxiety disorder.

To emphasize, assigning a table is a special circumstance. It should be granted only if there's an actual need for it.

Kevin Spacey: No, the actor Kevin Spacey doesn't play Yu-Gi-Oh. At least, I don't think he does.

The Kevin Spacey character is a dude who… well… he's just kinda there. The lights are on, but no one's home. He's… in space.

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Again, this has more to do with neurological or even developmental issues, but you can almost immediately identify this type of person right off the bat. They'll likely need direction and may ask repeated questions throughout the tournament. Your best bet is to keep a judge close by during their matches.

Because Kevin Spacey isn't exactly aware of what's going on in a card game at any given time, he can sometimes be an inadvertent variant of the next archetype…

Rule-Breaking Russell: Russell's a nice kid. He makes jokes, likes to pull pranks on his friends and loves playing the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG. The show is one of his favorites. But he just doesn't see anything wrong with trying to draw two cards per turn if he can get away with it. It's a card game, so who cares, right?!

As a judge, this is obviously something that needs to be addressed.

Being proactive means watching the matches as they're happening. If you're doing Dragon Duels, you need to be on top of this. If you're assigned the Dragon Duel at a YCS, don't think you're being written off. The responsibility trusted to you is actually more significant than you realize. Remember that kids are the biggest target audience for Konami. To use a cliché, this is a children's card game. While adults can have fun with it (as some of them did when they were kids), the game is really about the kids, not so much about you.

That said, as a judge, you're tasked with providing a fair play environment for everyone involved. Having one participant that's taking too many liberties is something that, if left unchecked, will spoil the experience for everyone else. And to borrow a line from The Authority, that's bad for business.

If you come across a Rule-breaking Russell, you have to bite the bullet and apply penalties as necessary. If you need to bring down the hammer and issue a UC-Cheating, then that's what has to happen. Now, to be fair, I've never had to issue a DQ to a Dragon Duelist yet, but being twelve years old is not a free pass to cheat. Issuing a DQ is hard enough in the big kids' tournament, but doing so in a Dragon Duel requires conviction and a reassurance that the integrity of the tournament is above one single person's enjoyment. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few", as a wise, green-blooded Vulcan once said.

Belligerent Bob: As judges, we're held to a higher standard. You, as the judge, must act professionally all the time. It would be great if everyone were held to that same standard. But, sadly, that isn't the case. You will, on occasion, come across a duelist as stubborn as Stubborn Sam, but with a nasty attitude. This is Belligerent Bob.

Bob will voice displeasure at the drop of a hat and at a wide range of targets; his opponents, the judges, the event staff, and so on. He'll think he's being wronged if things don't go his way, and he may take things personally that aren't meant to be person, like a ruling going the other way or a judgment call not falling in his favor.

Again, like Stubborn Sam, being proactive is nigh impossible without prior knowledge, as there's no way of knowing who's going to be belligerent until they're actually being belligerent. Reacting to Bob appropriately takes a combination of a few skills. Patience is key, because Bob will most likely be mouthing off in your general direction; maybe not at you specifically, but maybe to you about another judge, or a previous situation that was just resolved, or whatever. The point is, you do want to allow players some leeway and some room to blow off steam… to a reasonable point. You'll also need to have conviction; when addressing Bob's grievances, take in all the facts and deal with the situation as you would normally.

The key though, is that once you've collected enough info to make a decision, Bob will resist if things don't go his way. He'll refuse to accept it and will attempt to continue the discussion until he gets the result he wants. You'll need to have confidence in your decision and to stick by your guns. Remember, the tournament has to go on and time is a limited resource. Your time's valuable since you, as the Head Judge, need to be elsewhere if there's other appeals to take care of, and if the situation's delayed more than it needs to be, round times will be affected which impacts all other players in the tournament. (Dear Bob: The Head Judge isn't writing you off. This isn't about you.)

You'll also need to have conviction if Bob's behavior crossed the line into Unsporting Conduct. Being belligerent could be an Unsporting Conduct infraction the player gets out of hand and performs any of the actions listed in the Penalty Guidelines.

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If a penalty's necessary, give the penalty after the situation's diffused by reinforcing what specific behavior was the offending behavior. Penalties are meant to be an educational and corrective tool. By giving the penalty, you discourage future unacceptable behavior from Bob and others.

Dealing with difficult players is initially a challenge, but it's a skill that gets better with experience. As you deal with a range of personalities, it gets easier. Hopefully this advice equips you to better approach these situations and run smoother tournaments, helping you have more pleasant interactions with your players! If you have questions about this, card interactions, tournament policy or game mechanics, send me an e-mail to askjudgejoe@gmail.com (one question per e-mail please!) and your question could be answered in a future Court of Appeals.

-Joe Frankino