The Eyes from Above

An Op-Ed on the Experiences of a Judge in the Pokémon TCG Circuit

Hello, my name is Corey Scott and I am very excited to bring you my very first article! For those of you that do not know who I am, I am a Stage Two Judge of the Trading Card Game we all know and love. I started my third full year of judging this past weekend at the Hartford, CT Regional Championships. In my time judging, I have judged the 2017 World Championships, 2017 NAIC, Head judged Seniors at Wisconsin Regionals and the Origins Special Event, floor judged seven other regionals in 2017, and will be going to London for the 2017 EUIC in November. I also had the privilege of being a second head judge in the master’s division in Hartford. Enough about me, let’s get to it.

Editor’s Note: All efforts have been made to edit only for readability, and not content, of this piece. Bolding, highlighting, capitalizing, other cosmetic effects, and some minor word changes were the extent of the editing undertaken here.


Earlier in the week, Doug Morisoli made a post in Heyfonte about a ruling that happened due to a sleeve issue. This issue caused the delay of the top eight being posted for about fifteen minutes. In the post, he raised a point that stuck with me for the next day or so.

“I know it is fashionable and sometimes deserved to criticize and bash judge staff. But sometimes you don’t get to see the “behind the scenes” activity where the judges go to great lengths to advocate for the player’s point of view and consider all perspectives.”

Thinking about it, the community does seem very fast to jump down the staff’s throat when there is an issue. Yes, we wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for all of you. But, we are only there to help ensure that the game is being played correctly by all participants. Our goal, is to ensure a fun, fair and fast tournament takes place.

I hope that after reading this article, you will have more of an understanding of typical weekend for the judge staff at the tournaments you all enjoy.

A Judge’s Weekend

As previously mentioned, I was one of the judges at the Hartford Regional championships this past weekend. So, I am going to use this Regional as my example weekend.

My weekend began on Friday at 6 A.M. with my three travel companions. It took us a little over nine hours, with stops, to arrive in Hartford. I check into my hotel room, drop my belongings off, and head over to the tournament venue. As I arrive, I check in. There is an exchange of pleasantries with other staff that I have met from my other travels to tournaments. Then, I begin to help with whatever needs done. Some staff was putting out all of the table numbers, others were cleaning the tables, some were putting together the prize wall.

I had the pleasure of putting some tablecloths down. After this, I finally got to meet the PTO of the event—the person who I had agreed to work for, for the weekend. After this, I make my way to the staff dinner. After the dinner portion of the gathering, we have a meeting that lasts from 8-10 discussing different things that will be happening at the event. After the meeting, I make my way back to my room. I shower, crawl into bed, and have a short conversation with the judge assigned to be my roomy while there. It is now about 12:30, and I am going to bed.

Saturday comes around and I get woken up at 5 A.M. by my bunk mate’s alarm going off. He now has to go shower. I get out of bed around 5:45 and begin staggering around the room to get ready for the day. Once ready I head to the venue for the 6:30 meeting time. Staff is walking in, coffee in hand, waiting for instructions on what to do. We have meetings with division head judges, the event head judge and the TO. We are then assigned to what we will be doing for the check in process. There is line control, check in with the use of a smart phone, and deck checks (counting to make sure all lists have 60 cards, have sets and collection numbers written down, and are all standard legal).

After check in, the tournament gets started for everyone. This is the beginning of a long haul for everyone involved. The players go through nine rounds of play. But, so do the judges. The judges are on their feet for most of this time—except for in between rounds, when we finally get to sit for a little bit, have a judge meeting to discuss any issues that happened during the round, and rest our feet. During rounds, judges walk the tables making sure that there are no issues and that they are available for rulings, questions and assessing penalties when needed.

Luckily, the way lunch worked out at this event, judges were able to go out and get lunch at the same time as the players. After nine rounds of play, standings then go up, players collect prizing and then leave. But, the judges are still there for all of this and ensure that everyone leaves, has received prizing, or knows when to be back for Day 2 before they leave themselves. Personally, I didn’t get back to my room until about 10:30 that night, and that was before I went and got dinner.

pokemonscreenshots.tumblr.comSunday rolls around at a 6 A.M. wake up time. I go shower and get ready for my day. Report time for staff was 7:30. As judges show up to the venue, we meet and get re-assigned for that day. There were 20+ judges in Masters on Saturday. All but seven of them were sent to side events on Sunday. Once assigned, we had a meeting to discuss issues from Saturday, and how things were going to be handled for Sunday. After that, since we went through a long Day 1, we do some stretches to loosen up and make sure we are ready for Day 2. I had the pleasure of getting picked to stay on for Masters Top 32. This meant another five rounds of Swiss, at the very least, I would be on my feet for.

Final standings are posted so players can see who is in Top 8 and still competing to be champion. For Top 8, I found myself stream judging top eight, top four, and the finals. Once the finals are over, we crown a new champion, and it is time to start breaking things down, and leave for the day. I got back to my hotel room at 8:00 that night.

To finish off my weekend, I drive home the nine hours on Monday, back to Ohio. Once there, I drop my stuff off…and then go to Pokémon league.

To recap, I spent 9 hours to get there, 5 hours of setting up and meetings on Friday, 16 hours at the venue on Saturday, 12 and a half hours at the venue on Sunday, and a nine hour car ride Monday. That is 28 hours total spent inside the venue. That is also typical of every tournament a judge works, give or take a couple of hours.

Stream Judging

Some judges truly hate judging on stream. Others look at it as a privilege to be able to judge on stream. Most times, your face is on camera, you are shown to be competent enough to be on stream, and you get a chance to rest your feet. Others view it as a bigger chore than floor judging. It is comparable to being in the hot seat, where if players make a mistake and the judge doesn’t catch it, they are ridiculed and disgraced in the community because they made a mistake.

Personally, I view stream judging/table judging a separate skill form being able to walk the floor as a floor judge. Being able to recall what the player has done this turn, the turn before, and how what they did has progressed the game is harder than floor judging. Many judges, myself included, will make a table judging sheet where we can mark what has happened in a players turn. For instance, Energy attachments, attacks, Retreating and playing Supporters. All of these things are important to know if they happened or not.

During streamed matches, I have on my sheet, S for supporter, E for Energy, and A for Attack. In the Supporter column, I will write what Supporter they used, in the E column what Energy they attached for turn—and I will also mark if they hit an energy off of Max Elixir—and, under A I have what attack they used. I’ll also note if they received Energy cards from the attack and how many prizes they took if they Knocked Out a Pokémon.

While stream judging in Hartford, each round was a little different for me. During top eight, I watched Sam Chen battle Ryan Sabelhaus. Personally, this was the easiest match for me to stream judge. The players knew each other, are friends, and were very talkative throughout the match. It was a lively game and easy to get through.

In Top Four, I began to hit a wall. The players were soft spoken when they talked, and didn’t talk very much at all. I was in a position where I was not directly at the table, so I was not writing down their actions. I began to zone out while they were shuffling after an N had been played. But, I had to maintain composure and be able to pay attention throughout the match. In this, I was able to catch a misplay where one of the players thought they had Knocked Out a Pokémon when they hadn’t.

During the finals, I reached my second wind. I felt energized yet again, and was ready to go. I chose the spot at the table so I could write down what the players were doing because I find that is one of my strengths as a table judge. In this match again, I was able to stop a player from using Steam Up while his opponent had used Shadow Stitching the turn before. Overall, it felt like a smooth Top Cut.


I believe this section could have an article to itself since there are so many different aspects of rulings that can be talked about. But, while touching on a couple of other subjects, I will only focus on rulings themselves, the chain of command, and interactions with players.

Rulings are a natural occurrence in this game. Players will make actions that are not legal, such as drawing an extra card, using an Ability when they shouldn’t have, taking too many Prize cards, and not placing Prize cards at all. These are all things that come with varying penalties. It is not a Judge’s job to want to give out penalties to players. It is our job to ensure the tournament is being played as fairly as possible. As a judge, my best friend at a tournament is the Penalty Guidelines. They give specific instances in what infractions deserve what penalty.

With that, it is my job to administer penalties to players that have earned them.

After the penalties themselves, there is the chain of command. Judges are tiered for each event. You have the floor judge, who walks the rows and watches for players’ hands to go up and actively watch game situations. The floor judge is often the first person to a match where the players are having an issue. Often, floor judges are only able to give Warnings without consulting a Second or the Head Judge.

If it is a Prize Penalty or higher, the floor judge will find a “Second” or the Head Judge for the division. Seconds are there to alleviate the stress on the Head Judge. They are the people who are able to approve Prize Loss and Game Loss penalties so that all twenty judges aren’t trying to talk to the same Head Judge about different rulings at the same time. The Head Judge is the end-all-be-all for each division. What they say goes.

When a floor judge is issuing a penalty, they should follow it up with asking if the player receiving the penalty would like to appeal to the Head Judge. If yes, the head judge is brought over to assess the situation, and determine if the floor judge’s ruling was correct or not. From my experience, most Head Judges already know what is going on in a situation since the floor judge has to get approval to give a penalty most players disagree with—few players argue over receiving a Warning. But, the Head Judge will go, talk to the players, and see if there is any information the floor judge missed or left out that will change the ruling.

Interacting with the players is always unique from the judging perspective. Many judges have friends at events, or people they may dislike, but a majority are complete strangers that they have never met before. But, it is a judge’s job to treat every player equally and without bias. I find this the hardest thing to do for some judges. A player may come up during the judge meeting in between rounds, and sometimes a judge will say “oh, they are from my area, they don’t mean anything by it.” But, in the grand scheme of things: we aren’t in your area anymore. We are at a tournament with large cash prizes.

Not only that, but a judge has to not show bias toward individuals who have treated them poorly as well. For instance, a player you may have bad interactions with on social media should not be treated any different in a rulings situation. In Hartford, it was specifically mentioned that judges should not go and high five and hug their friends during the event. Why? Because if players see that, and a judge goes to rule on their friend’s game, players may think that they are going to give their friend an unfair advantage.


From this, I hope you take away a respect for what judges do and how they conduct themselves at tournaments. We are generally the first ones there and the last ones to leave. We spend long weekend on our feet out of the love we have for the game. We don’t do it because we enjoy giving penalties or love getting yelled at by players because they dislike the ruling that they earned. Just remember: fun, fast, fair.

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