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!).
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
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.
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.
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
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.
So, we all know about this.