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:
FrankKarsten2005QF.jpg
…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:
MaxBracht.jpg
…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.