Avoiding Disqualifaction : Bribery

March 1, 2020

About
Emilien Wild

Level 3 Judge that judges a lot of GPs.
Also judges in all sorts of events in Belgium.
Top 16 GP Lyon 2012

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Bribery is the act of linking a result to an incentive. As a judge, it has also been the most common reason for which I had to disqualify people. Which pains me, as it’s also a really easy infraction to avoid if you understand what is and what isn’t allowed. With this article, I want to increase awareness on this topic, both to avoid a feel bad moment for you, and to avoid future paperwork for me.

Why is Bribery happening?

To understand what Bribery is and how to avoid it, it’s important to understand in which situation a Bribery situation could occur.

Magic events are run in a certain way due to some logistical constraints. Swiss timed rounds, cut to playoffs, etc. are tools to make sure events are run on time and in clear and practical ways. However, they sometimes produce situations in which players have incentives to not play their matches and agree on some results. Because we can’t enforce the interdiction of these agreements, we have to allow them. In a perfect world, players would sit down every round to play their best Magic and at the end of the day the guy or gal whom won the most would get recognition for his or her skills and awesome prizing. But we’re not in a perfect world, so sometimes these situations occur :

A draw is the worst outcome possible.

Both players would be greatly hurt by the match ending with a draw. They both have an incentive to win, and, failing that, to have the other player conceding to them.

Example 1: Players need at least 7 wins during day 1 of a Grand Prix to go on day 2. Agnes and Nicolas are both at 6 wins and 2 losses, and are about to play their last round. A draw would mean that they are both out, a concession that at least one of them will play day 2 and may get cash and pro points.

A draw is the best outcome possible.

Both players would benefit greatly from the match ending in a draw. They both have a reason to agree on an intentional draw.

Example 2: During an 8 player FNM, Alyssa and Nadine are the only undefeated players at the start of the last round. An intentional draw would mean securing for sure the first and second places and the best prizing. Playing the game would mean the winner would be first, but the loser would be ranked anywhere from second to fourth.

The stakes are not the same for both players

Usually, players have the same outcome for winning their match. However, sometimes, a player will get far more from a win that his opponent. Because of this, the win isn’t worth the same thing for both players.

Example 3: During the last Swiss round of a PTQ, Angelina and Napier are paired together. However, Angelina has one loss and Napier has two. Angelina will be top 8 for sure with a win, but even with a win, Napier’s chance are really slim. Angelina has far more to win from this match than Napier, and has a great incentive to ask for a concession.

Example 4: During the last round of a Grand Prix Day 2, Ambrose and Normina are paired together. They have the same amount of wins and losses, and the winner will get some amount of cash and pro points, while the loser will go home empty handed. However, Ambrose is a rising star in his country and has already 19 Pro Points. Normina is playing her first professional event and has no pro points so far. If Ambrose wins, the extra point will get him to Silver Pro level, giving him an invitation to the next Pro Tour. If Normina wins, the extra points will not get him any perk as he’ll need a lot more of them to get to the first threshold. Ambrose has far more to win from this match than Normina, and has a great incentive to ask for a concession.

A player has more information that his opponent

A player is more savvy about how tournaments work and is able to calculate what is the best outcome, but his opponent can’t do the same.

Example 5: Alan and Nevaeh are paired together for the last Swiss round of a PTQ. Alan is a veteran and calculates the most likely standings of top players if their match ends with an intentional draw, and is fairly confident they will both top 8. Nevaeh doesn’t really understand the maths and is afraid that Alan is trying to trick her into something detrimental.

What is Bribery ?

As I said in the introduction, Bribery is the act of linking a result to an incentive, most often some split of the prizing (but it could also be cash, single cards, etc.) Basically, in all of the examples we have just seen, at least one player could get an advantage even if he agreed on giving part of his prizing to his opponent, on the condition the opponent agrees on the most optimal result for their match. Making (or accepting) such proposition is Bribery. For this reason, all of the following situations would result in a disqualification:

Example 1: Agnes tells Nicolas “Concede to me, and you’ll get 50% of my day 2 winnings.”

Example 2: Alyssa tells Nadine “Let’s draw and split the prizing”.

Example 3: Angelina tells Napier “Concede to me, and I’ll give you half of the extra boosters I get from my ranking.”

Example 4: Ambrose tells Normina “I really need this extra Pro Point. Concede to me, and I’ll give you the cash part of the prizing.”

Example 5: Alan tells Nevaeh “Come on, what are you afraid of ? Missing a couple of boosters ? Here, take this draft set if that’s so important to you.”

Note that the offer doesn’t have to be direct. Putting your wallet on the table and asking for a concession while winking is Bribery. Saying to your opponent you’ll be “really generous” is Bribery. Saying to your opponent you’ll give him “the usual deal” is Bribery. Basically, as soon as your opponent understands that he’ll get some stuff from you for a result, it’s Bribery.

Also, note that players have the obligation to call for a judge if they get a Bribey offer. Calling a judge is not being a rat, it’s an obligation, and not doing it could get you into trouble. Don’t feel bad for your opponent if you call for a judge: you’re just protecting yourself.

Why is Bribery forbidden ?

So, you’re not allowed to do those things. Why ? The two main reasons are, in no particular order :

– Public image of the game. Wizards of the Coast wants to have Magic separated as much as possible from gambling, and perceived as a pure mental game. They want to be associated with games like chess, and not with games like poker. Bribery muddles that line. Also, there could be legal reasons associated to this desire, but as it’s not my area of skills, I won’t expand on this topic.

– Integrity of the event. What I’ll write may sound stupid, but there could only be 8 players in a top 8. If you bribe your way into playoffs, you mechanically remove another player from it. This player earned his place through the sheer power of his playing skills. You’re removing him, and taking his spot, because you paid your opponent, and were able to spare some cash or prizing to begin with. That’s highly unfair.

Why is Bribery punished by a disqualification ?

The only way to enforce a rule is to punish its infraction by a penalty that is greater than the advantage you’re trying to get. If you’re trying to optimize your prizing, the only penalty suited is to get you out of the prizing, which is the end result of a disqualification. Anything else would make Bribery too attractive.

What is not Bribery ?

So, what should you do if you ever end in one of the situations we described and want to optimize your gains ?

– You could play your match and see what the result would be. That’s the fair play way.

– You’re allowed to propose a result, explaining your reasoning, without making any mention at all of the prizing or any other reward. For example, saying “I’m paired down, if you concede I’ll be top 8, could you please do so ?” is not Bribery. Your opponent has nothing to gain from accepting. Same for “If we draw, we’ll be both first and second of this FNM”: you’re stating a fact about the standings, you’re not offering anything from your pocket or own prizing. What is really important is that, when you come to an agreement on the result, neither you nor your opponent has any idea of what will happen to the prizing.

– You’re allowed to do whatever you want with your prizing once the event is done, including using it to thank another player for an intentional draw or concession. That’s your prize, as long as you don’t buy people with it, what you do with it is none of our business. As I just said, that should however be only a generous move, and not the part of any deal.

– You’re also allowed to agree on a prize split, as long as nobody knows yet what will be the match result. Saying something like “Winner gives 20% of his prizing to loser” is ok. Again, that’s just players distributing their gains as they see fit. “Concede to me and I’ll give you 20% of the prizing” is not ok.

– During the single elimination part of a tournament, if the prizing could be shared equally between players, all players still enrolled could agree to end the event and split the prizing equally. However, only prizes that could be evenly distributed, like cash, coupons, or sealed boosters could be split this way. If the prizing include stuff you can’t divide, like single cards, invitations, or a FTV pack, this option isn’t open.

– During the finals of the single elimination part of an event, any agreement will obviously not harm anybody else. For this reason, as an exception, players could discuss freely any kind of arrangement they want, as long as there is no bullying (and yes, pressing matters after getting your offer denied could be seen as such), no external incentive (you can’t bring stuff that isn’t part of the prizing), and, if there is an invitation or byes in stake, that the player not getting them drop from the event.

Please note that any deal that is made is purely a gentleman agreement. If the other player doesn’t feel like honoring it, neither judges nor WotC will intervene. Don’t make deals with people you don’t trust!

Also, in case of doubt, involve a judge as soon as possible. Tell him privately what you plan to ask to your opponent. The judge will tell you if that’s fine or not. If you go that far in an event, the last thing you want is to be disqualified. This article should help you to avoid that!

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