Patterns of behavior and an eighteen month DQ

So, we all know about this.
…and it has naturally sparked the expected mountain of conversation, although that has calmed down a touch, at least on the twitter side. I assume people are still vigorously flaming each other on various forums, and Luis’s announcement about dropping Saitou from ChannelFireball is clocking in at a svelte 367 replies, last I checked.
Immediately after the initial DQ, I wrote about slow play, stalling, and related issues, and I’ve previously written about my disappointment about general impressions of cheating in any group, be it “Japanese people” or “pros.” I reiterated that concept over here.
Notice that those ideas vary between paranoid (pros) and head-slappingly racist (Japanese people — come on, folks, Kenji exists!).
Eighteen months?
Saitou strikes
However, all of that stuff aside, there’s the bonus question of “is this offense worth an eighteen-month suspension, or is that too long?” Sam Stoddard brought up a good analogy that I expect occurred to many people – suspending Saitou for Stalling may be like jailing Capone on tax evasion.
Or, in a closer analogy, like suspending Katsuhiro Mori for “sloppy play” when even everyone’s favorite Magic cherub, Rich Hagon, out-and-out says that Mori cheats.
But I think it’s a little different than all that.
Most of us don’t need to think too hard about the fact that all of our accrued Warnings during DCI-sanctioned events are tracked. I figure I rack up about one Game Play Warning of some kind per every three or so tournaments. It happens. Someone misses a trigger, or a card ends up in the wrong place. No big deal.
However, it’s been reported to me that Saitou very consciously tracked his Warnings during each tournament. Second-hand info is second-hand info, so take this with that giant caveat (e.g. don’t invade any countries based on it), but the report was that he was not just “being aware” that he’d picked up a Warning, but actively and repeatedly calling over judges to check on his total Warning count.
Billy Moreno has also posted a report about Saitou’s slowness that strongly suggested intentionality.
What I suspect the DCI did is decide, following a pattern of extensive accrued Warnings for Slow Play, that the identification of intent behind the latest slow play issue forced them to reconsider this as a pattern of Stalling.
Let me explain a bit why that’s a reasonable idea.
Mistakes versus cheating
Niels Viaene wears his focus on his sleeve
Over in science, people screw up. It happens.
Back when I was in grad school, another lab produced a very exciting result. It was a result that everyone in our research area would want to build on.
So we all tried to, and nothing worked. Extensive research by other labs came to one undeniable conclusion — the reported result wasn’t real. Our various labs came together and spoke to the head of the lab that published the report. He put his head together with the postdoctoral fellow who’d done the work and they realized, much to their embarrassment, that they’d screwed up.
They found the mistake and amended their research paper on the topic to explain that they’d screwed up. And then, because the head of that lab is the kind of guy who is almost certainly going to win a Nobel in the next decade or so, they re-did the work with their mistakes patched up, and found a new awesome result to replace their mistake.
Fair enough. In science, that’s someone screwing up an experiment. Basically the same as when you miss a critical trigger and inadvertently win a big match because of it, and that can’t be fixed afterward. You’ll feel embarrassed and apologetic to the other guy, but no one was cheating.
Sometimes, a researcher has one scientific paper that has to be yanked because of some issues in it.
Then they have another.
Then another.
And then a committee from the Office of Research Integrity really looks into the issues and realizes they faked data in that third paper.
Suddenly, you must presume that those other “accidents” weren’t accidents at all. They were cheats.
Over in science land, this means we re-evaluate the experimental work via the published version and the scientist’s original notes…and in cases where there’s been one fraud, there’s usually lots of fraud.
In Magic, we don’t have the luxury of looking back at the games where a player picked up a bunch of the same Warning. However, the presumption of intent based on the discovery of intent later on is just as reasonable.
A genuinely glacial player will pick up a stream of Slow Play Warnings through their career, but it is highly unlikely that a judge will see behavior that suggests intent when watching them play.
PTQ semifinals match
Michael has never looked like he’s cheating to me. Kind of looks like he’s actually died at the table sometimes, but never like he’s cheating. His pace of play does not change. It’s just slow.
In contrast, it can be hard to pick up on a player who changes the pace of play voluntarily, largely because people don’t call judges on slow play early enough or often enough, and, as I discuss in that link, judges can lose track of time, too. However, even if you miss the tempo shift where the player starts to intentionally play slowly, you’ll still see the resulting slow play, which is enough to earn the warning.
The shift is intent, the outcome is slow play.
More briefly, Slow Play never looks like Stalling, but Stalling frequently looks like Slow Play…at least to the judge who wasn’t there the entire time.
I think it’s reasonable, then, to look at a pattern of abundant Slow Play Warnings and reconsider them in light of having caught the player Stalling. Given an identified case of Stalling and a history of Slow Play Warnings, it is highly likely that some portion of those Slow Play Warnings are really Stalling offenses…and if so, the player in question has dodged some finite number of DQs, including in events they may have won.
The overall view
Sort of like a guardian angel
This picture makes me sad.
It’s from PT San Diego and it is, appropriately enough, Saitou watching Mori stall.
In retrospect, it makes me think that Saitou was hanging around with the wrong crowd. Kenji wasn’t at San Diego, of course, but we don’t see Mitamura, Nakamura, or Watanabe birding his matches (and, as I recall, they pretty much split into two groups along those lines).
Saitou and Mori both are very good players. They are also two players who can play well while playing quite quickly – even frenetically. Watch Saitou and Mori in their top eight appearances. They snap through plays without making any errors – in the Worlds 2005 coverage, Mori ends one game so quickly that Randy Buehler isn’t sure who won!
I’m sad that a player who has excellent play skill is also highly likely to have been cheating over the last couple years. Saitou may or may not have considered it a “big” cheat, but as Sam Stoddard reminds us, they all matter.
Saitou is not among the CFB writers whom I know personally, so I can’t say much about him from that perspective, but as a player who has watched him play and has seen him drastically alter his pace of play beyond what is reasonable – and has heard about a lot more of that behavior – I think it is reasonable to believe that evidence of Stalling now does provide enough suspicion of intent for many, many prior Warnings…
…and a year and a half off from the game is not unreasonable.

Magical cheating sauce

I write about narrative a lot.
Narrative is, briefly, the thing we do where we come up with an explanation that “sounds good” and then don’t fact check it at all. Typically, this means the narrative is overly simplistic as well – “The NASDAQ went up today as investors regained confidence in tech stocks following a solid Black Friday showing.” Things like that.
In fact, the easy narrative option can even overshadow genuine, valid “simple” answers – “The NASDAQ went up today because Apple stock went up, and Apple is a disproportionately large share of the NASDAQ index.” (That’s true, by the way, it is a pretty big chunk of the NASDAQ.)
I mention this today because Luis had to make a hard decision this week following Saitou’s DQ in Florence – Saitou will no longer be writing for, at least for the foreseeable future. You can read Luis’s explanation and a plethora of follow-up comments here.
Feeding the comment trolls…with truth!
Among the earliest comments was the risible suggestion that Saitou was just the first member of “team ChannelFireball” to be caught cheating, but now the DCI would get all of us!
This is, of course, an extended dance mix version of the “all successful players cheat” fallacy that I talked about here. This is a nice little narrative that lets a player off the hook for being bad at the game – or, at least, not as successful as they’d like to be.
After all, if everyone cheats, then losing becomes your marker of integrity.
Of course, this accusation just makes me feel as if I’m being cheated out of the magic cheating sauce that makes Luis, Brad, Josh, David, and many other writers at CFB so successful at the GP and PT level. What do they call that magical cheating sauce again?
Ah. Practice. Right.
But it can’t be practice, can it? Then we could all do things to improve our success at tournament Magic, and it wouldn’t simply be that other players are cheating their way to victory. After all, Brad and Luis must be cheaters – that’s why they do so well on MTGO, right?
Oh, wait. You can’t stack your deck and mark cards on MTGO?
Crap. Well, that’s a second try at that narrative down the drain.
Less sarcasm, more action
My paired Magic mantras these days are “Be good to each other, and call a judge.”
The former because this is a game with a community, and when we’re good to each other, we all win. This includes not short-changing yourself and hurting others by randomly accusing everyone who experiences an ounce of success with cheating (I bet these folks love a band right up until it signs with a major label, and then whine that they “sold out” too…).
The latter because it removes opportunities for conflict spawned by confusion (“How does this card work?”) and brings light into dark places where cheaters fester.
This has been a week of Theodore Roosevelt, oddly enough – from some twitter traffic about the man with Trick Jarrett through talking about him with family over dinner today. It is the essence of “speak softly and carry a big stick” to be warm, welcoming, and friendly to the community at large while reserving harsh and immediate responses for those few people who genuinely try to spoil the game by cheating.
I don’t have a handy politician to stand in for what our forum troll was trying, but it assuredly is the opposite – sort of “bark loudly and then refuse to back your claim.”
More Roosevelt, less of that. Please.

Slow play, stalling, and enforcing the rules

In case you missed it, Tomoharu Saitou, fellow ChannelFireball writer, Hall-of-Famer-elect, and generally skilled player was disqualified without prize from Grand Prix Florence today.
Here’s the announcement.
In this case, Saitou took the hit for Stalling, which is, essentially “Slow Play with intent.”
We’ve had hearsay about Saitout being a total clock watcher in the past year, most notably at GP Columbus, and this seems to play into that idea. Given that Stalling is an intent-based offense, there will naturally be a follow-up investigation, which could put the DCI, and subsequently Wizards, in the odd position of having a player who can’t attend his Hall of Fame induction because he’s actually on suspension right then.
This differs from Bob Maher and Olivier Ruel, who both had their suspensions done and out of the way before being inducted. Of course, Saitou was in that position of having his suspension “out of the way” as well…so if he picks up a second one, that’s bonus unpleasant for everyone involved.
One thing this brought up over in the resulting twitterstorm is just how underenforced clock penalties are. One of the issues here is that they’re a little more subtle than obvious problems like spells cast on the wrong mana or running a double nickle cheat. The other issue, of course, is that players don’t think to call a judge on slow play, either because they’re shy about calling a judge on their opponent or because they’re simply used to thinking that play takes as long as it takes.
Two of my favorite events of all time include some serious Slow Play (we’ll capitalize it now, since we’re talking about the actual tournament rules offense here):
The first is Mihara in the quarterfinals of Worlds 2006, in which he actually does pick up a Warning during his incredible recovery turn, but quite probably should have picked up a second Warning, leading to game loss.
The second features this guy:
…taking about a million years to consider each play in the quarterfinals of Worlds 2005. I love that match, but if you’re going to watch the video, make sure you do it in the background, because Frank’s play is glacial.
Now, the important point here is that both of these are instances of Slow Play. When I wrote most recently about Mihara over at Channel Fireball, a couple people suggested he should have been disqualified – but that’s not right. Mihara is clearly not Stalling, which is burning the clock with intent. After all, he’s not even in a timed round. He’s just trying to figure out how to not lose, and, well…picking up a Warning or Warnings for Slow Play in that case is pretty much fine. What’s the worst that can happen?
Right. Two Slow Play Warnings, the second one upping him to a Game Loss, and he’s out of the quarters…but not disqualified!
Now, I was talking about this match with local L2 Judge and rules guru Eric Levine a little while ago, and we both agreed that Mihara probably should have received that second Warning, escalating to a Game Loss and thus being out in the quarters…but there are some reasons it probably didn’t happen.
First, it’s incredibly hard to knock someone out of the final stages of a big event based on a seemingly prosaic series of Warnings. We can all understand this – it’s like telling Lance Armstrong he has to lose because he wore the wrong color jersey (or, perhaps, like not being able to run for office because your paperwork was misfiled).
Second, the rule of thumb for judges is that if you’re bored, it’s slow play. So, if you’re fascinated by how Mihara (or whoever) is going to get out of this sticky situation, you don’t realize you’ve been watching him for minutes at a time.
…and, of course, it sucks for someone in Paulo’s position, because as much as Magic players like to complain that Mihara took too long, you know you’d be calling Paulo even worse things if he’d called a judge to get his opponent Game Lossed out of the the top eight.
But nonetheless, it probably should have happened, just like Karsten probably should have picked up a Game Loss against Leung — and a Warning during the match, instead of between the quarters and semis.
But that’s all Slow Play. What does that have to do with Saitou?
Well, I think that the degree to which we don’t tend to enforce Slow Play opens us up for Stalling, which is what earned Saitou this DQ, and earned Max Bracht:
…a suspension.
In reading what other people have to say about slow play generally, it seems to me that in the Northern California area we’re pretty intolerant of it. I don’t know if you’ve seen people Game Lossed out of events for accumulated Slow Play warnings, but I have. I’m also a relatively brisk player, but I’ve nonetheless been given the “hurry up” by our judges more than once when I paused too long during a single turn.
It’s possible that they just don’t like having long rounds. I think it’s more likely that they dislike seeing pace of play abused, so they tend to crack down on pacing issues regardless of intent.
As we’ve seen with a lot of the other cheats out there, the more you clean up a general area of the game, the more obvious it is when someone cheats. When you follow rigorous drafting procedures, it’s harder to monkey with the cards. When you make players shuffle each others’ decks at competitive-level events, it makes stacking and marking harder to pull off.
Similarly, if you make sure to keep every opponent on pace, it’ll be glaringly obvious when someone is Stalling rather than simply falling victim to Slow Play.
And you know, to paraphrase Zac Hill, “It’s fun to finish games.” I don’t really have a lot of room to spare for analysis paralysis in casual, non-tournament games, whether we’re playing Magic, Axis & Allies, or checkers. It’s actually rude to the other players, and makes for a boring time for all. So I definitely don’t enjoy having it both spike the fun in tournaments and open up opportunities for stalling.
Short version – call a judge on slow play, everyone has more fun.

On game losses

Kevin Binswanger has a good article up at SCG about how rules are standardized, and why that means you may end up seeing someone game lossed in a top eight, or even game lossed out of the finals.
Worth a read.
You can also read Tom Ross’s winning tournament report over at ChannelFireball. Here’s Tom’s comment on not conceding the final game (and thus allowing his oppoennt to make that critical third error):
Remember, you never have an obligation to concede to your opponent. You paid good money to game in a competitive environment and theres nothing wrong with wanting to win. Of course, there are times when conceding is correct, such as to save time for the next game in a timed match or in response to something like Duress to hide information when the game looks unwinnable anyway. In untimed rounds such as the Top 8 of a PTQ it