When it comes to getting experience as a judge, there's a strange dichotomy at work: on one hand, large events like Regional Qualifiers and Yu-Gi-Oh! Championship Series events are the among the best places to judge, because there will usually be a core of experienced judges one can learn from throughout the day. On the other hand, the place where a judge can make the biggest difference is at a local; the Official Tournament Store is where your players will do most of their playing. And just looking at the numbers, there are way more locals than there are Regionals or YCS's. Yet most locals will have one or two judges at most. It's a strange paradox. But, luckily, there's a way to maximize the amount of learning you can do at your local.

There's a practice that's employed by judges at YCS's during the playoff rounds that's used because the tournament becomes so small that the number of matches left is close to the number of available floor judges. This week on Black and White: Table Judging. I'll go over what it is and how you can use these practices to improve your local and give you experience in overseeing matches in progress!

The Life Points Sheet
Very simply, table judging is the practice of watching one match from start to finish. In the swiss rounds of a local, you'll want to stay moving and visible to all players. That cuts down on the amount of time they're waiting for you to get to their judge call. But during a Top 8 playoff, all four tables will usually be close by. Ideally, with one table between each match, you'd still be able to fit the Top 8 along three 8-foot tables making every match easily accessible. If there's a match you want to pay particular attention to, you could sit down at the table and watch things progress.

Now, there's no hard-and-fast rules to follow, but I've found the following practices work for me when table judging.

First, get a blank sheet of letter-size paper. You'll be keeping track of Life Points during the match. Keep in mind you're keeping track of Life Points for your own purposes. The players must still keep track of both players' Life Points as well. Start by having two columns starting with "8000", then when one player's LP changes, make a note one line below the latest change for either side. That means if there are five changes for one player, then the other player's LP changes, That Sixth change is going to be way below the last change for that player. This is done so you can easily get a chronology of what changes occurred compared to all other changes, not just one player's changes.

If a player asks you what Life Points are, don't immediately volunteer that information. (Remember: it's their responsibility to keep track both players' Life Points during a match.) You're keeping Life Points in case there's a dispute between the two players and you need to sort out where an error occurred. Remind the player they need to keep track of LP themselves, and remind them that calculators are only to be used to assist in calculations. The actual record of Life Points should be kept on paper. A calculator that keeps a history is still a calculator and is unsuitable for keeping Life Points. Yes, I know it's easier, and yes, I've done it before myself, but it's still no excuse.

When a game ends, draw a zero with a line through it to indicate who lost. You may think it's obvious based on Life Point totals, but it really isn't: how often does a duelist make a comeback and bring an opponent from something like 6400 to 0 when they're at 1200? If you don't write that zero, you're going to be at a loss when trying to figure out if there should be a Game 3. After the zero, draw a line across both columns and note the time left in the round somewhere just above that line. This is to keep track of how much time each player has used for Side Decking. Policy Documents only allow for three minutes for Side Decking, so writing down the time will give you an exact moment to look for. Once those three minutes pass, if someone's still deciding on what to side, you'll want to remind them that three minutes have passed. If they still haven't decided on their swaps after that, they're committing Slow Play and can be penalized accordingly.

After Side Decking is complete, write the time left in the round under the line between the two games, and repeat.

During a game, you can use the sheet to keep track of effects that need extra care. How many turns is one player under Reckless Greed? How about Deck Devastation Virus? How many spell cards were activated after Spellbook of Judgment resolved? (…In Traditional Format, of course.) Did someone use their re-draw in a Battle Pack tournament match? How about one-per-duel effects like Blackwing – Zephyros the Elite? That's all information you can use your Life Point sheet to track.

When To Intervene
This is a skill that parlays very easily into floor judging. You see a card activation that shouldn't have happened. What do? Well, I'll tell you what do.

First, mandatory effects have to happen. It's both player's responsibility to remember mandatory trigger effects for both themselves and their opponent. (Mandatory trigger effects will not contain the words "you can" in the effect text.) It's important to not jump the gun when a player doesn't quickly indicate an effect activation. The player has to try to do something that isn't a mandatory trigger effect before you can properly remind the player of the missed mandatory trigger.

But before you jump in, wait to see what the opponent does. Since both players are responsible for mandatory things, if the player in control of the mandatory effect doesn't catch it, the opponent has to remind them. You'll want to see if the opponent remembers that effect. If they don't, they've also committed an infraction… but is that infraction PE-Minor? Possibly.

Remember how I wrote about cheating last year? Well, one concept that was addressed in the Comments section of that piece was "soft cheating," which is really just slang for "opportunistic cheating," which is actually just straight-up "cheating". If someone misses a mandatory trigger, and the opponent doesn't remind them, you have to at the very least consider the idea that there's a possibility the opponent remembered the trigger but allowed the player to continue the game without taking the proper actions. It's ok if you immediately dismiss the idea and presume no ill intentions, but this sequence of actions is consistent with someone who will take advantage of the opportunity to gain an edge the game shouldn't have allowed. Be wary of that and investigate as you feel necessary. If you feel either or both players intentionally allowed the missed trigger, the infraction is Unsporting Conduct – Cheating, and the penalty is Disqualification Without Prize.

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After making the necessary correction, apply the appropriate penalty. (Easily corrected gameplay errors are a Procedural Error – Minor infraction, the penalty for which is a Warning.) If the opponent points out the error, they're doing exactly what they're supposed to and haven't committed any infraction. If they also missed the mandatory trigger and you believe there was no ill-intention, then they've also committed a PE-Minor.

Other Things
Besides what I've already highlighted, you'll also need to apply the basics of floor judging. Know what questions you should and shouldn't answer, know how to be a professional judge, and try to stay impartial. It may be tempting, especially at a local, to joke around if you're familiar with one or both duelists, but it's best to play the role of judge when you need to. You can be friendly with the players after you're done being a judge for the tournament.

As a table judge you need to let the players play their game. You should be as invisible as possible, except when you need to intervene or if the players have a question. I've been tempted plenty of times to adjust cards into a neat graveyard, but touching the cards for the players doesn't help anyone. If you need to remind them to keep the graveyard in a pile, do so verbally, as it forces the player to actually take the action of neatening up the graveyard.

If you were paying close attention, everything I mentioned about being a good table judge can also translate to being a good judge in general. Letting players play their game? Intervening when necessary? Reminding players when three minutes have passed during Side Decking? These are all things judges are responsible for. Developing good table judging skills also develops good judge-related practices! The ability to watch a match from start to finish will also let you as the judge see all the nuances and habits that players shouldn't do, like not communicating phase changes, not declaring ambiguous actions, slow play, and so on. You'll be in a prime position to see it in action and correct the behavior through penalties as necessary.

If you have any questions about Table Judging, card interactions, game mechanics or tournament policy, shoot me an e-mail (one question per e-mail please!) to askjudgejoe@gmail.com and your question could appear in a future Court of Appeals!

-Joe Frankino