Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #315 – Bribery, Collusion, and Betting

StarCityGames.com Open Series: Indianapolis on March 13-14
Thursday, March 4th – Several players and I got into a long discussion of bribery and collusion last week. People seemed confused – and since these things can get you into serious trouble quickly, that’s bad. Let look at what’s illegal, and where the boundaries are.

Several players and I got into a long discussion of bribery and collusion last week. People seemed confused — and since these things can get you into serious trouble quickly, that’s bad. Let look at what’s illegal, and where the boundaries are.

First, some plain English definitions:

Bribery means giving someone something in return for special treatment or a deviation from the rules.

Collusion means acting together to cheat or break the rules.

Betting or Wagering means to offer a bet or stake on the outcome of an event or situation.

The DCI does not tolerate any of these.

The “Philosophy” section of the Magic Infraction Procedure Guide (MIPG) is clear and succinct on these issues:

Bribery and wagering disrupt the integrity of the tournament and are strictly forbidden.

… And…

Using a random method to determine a winner compromises the integrity of a tournament.

Players that violate these rules can, should, and do get disqualified. Personally, I have disqualified more players for violating these two rules than for all other reasons combined. (At least I think so. I’m not keeping score.)

The philosophy section provides the general idea of what the rules are supposed to do. Legally, this would be akin to the “legislative intent” portion of a bill or law. The legislative intent explains what the legislature wanted to do. In a court case, however, the judge will look at the actual wording of the law. In this case, the “law” appears in two separate places: the Magic Tournament Rules (MTR) and the Magic Infraction Procedure Guide. Here’s the relevant part of the MTR:

5. Tournament Violations…

5.2 Collusion and Bribery

The decision to drop, concede, or agree to an intentional draw cannot be made in exchange for or influenced by the offer of any reward or incentive. Making such an offer is prohibited. Unless the player receiving such an offer calls for a judge immediately, both players will be penalized in the same manner.

Players are allowed to share prizes they have won or will receive in the current tournament as they wish and may agree as such before or during their match, as long as any such sharing does not occur in exchange for any game or match result or the dropping of a player from the tournament.

The result of a match or game may not be randomly or arbitrarily determined through any means other than the normal progress of the game in play.

Players may not reach an agreement in conjunction with other matches. Players can make use of information regarding match or game scores of other tables. However, players are not allowed to leave their seats during their match nor are they allowed to ask spectators for such information.

Players in the single-elimination rounds of a tournament offering only cash and/or unopened product as prizes may, with the permission of the Tournament Organizer, agree to split the prizes evenly. The players may end the tournament at that point, or continue to play with only ratings points at stake. All players still in the tournament must agree to the arrangement.

Players in the announced last round of the single-elimination portion of a tournament may agree to divide tournament prizes as they wish. In that case, one of the players at each table must agree to drop from the tournament. Players are then awarded prizes according to their resulting ranking. DCI ratings will not be affected because no match will have been played. Such an agreement may never include a concession or an intentional draw.

5.3 Wagering

Tournament participants, tournament officials, and spectators may not wager, ante, or bet on any portion (including the outcome) of a tournament, match, or game.

(I removed the examples.)

The MIPG also includes language on wagering, bribery, and “improperly determining a winner.” Here are the relevant portions of those matches.

5.3. Unsporting Conduct — Improperly Determining a Winner

Definition: Players use or offer to use an outside-the-game method to determine the winner of a game or match.

Philosophy: Using a random method to determine a winner compromises the integrity of the tournament.

Matches that result in a draw due to time are expected to be reported as such and are not excluded from this penalty if the players use a random method to determine the outcome.

Penalty: All Levels: Disqualification

5.4. Unsporting Conduct — Bribery and Wagering

Definition: Bribery occurs when a player offers an incentive to entice an opponent into conceding, drawing, or changing the results of a match, or accepts such an offer. Refer to the Magic Tournament Rules for a more detailed description of what constitutes bribery.

Wagering occurs when a player or spectator at a tournament places a bet on the outcome of a tournament, match or any portion of a tournament or match. The wager does not need to be monetary, nor is it relevant if a player is not betting on his or her own match.

Philosophy: Bribery and wagering disrupt the integrity of the tournament and are strictly forbidden.

Penalty – All Levels: Disqualification

Let’s talk about what this all means. We’ll start with the simplest — randomly determining the outcome of a match. In short — rolling a die.

Most commonly, this happens at the end of a Prerelease tournament, or other event where prizes are based on match wins. Two players are in extra turns, and both are one match win short of prizes. If they draw, neither gets prizes. If one wins, that player gets some packs, and the other gets none. They decide to “roll for it.”

As a result, neither of them wins any packs.

Remember this: The result of a match or game may not be randomly or arbitrarily determined through any means other than the normal progress of the game in play.

Intentional draws are a different story.

I often hear players say “but person X did that and wasn’t penalized,” or “but some other judge said that was okay.” Maybe. I would certainly like to meet that “other judge” who makes a lot of these rulings. He makes the strangest calls, then seems to create amnesia in the players. They can never remember his name, where he judges, his description, or other identifying factors. But I digress.

The other day, I did 80 mph in a 55 mph zone. I did not get caught. Did that make what I did any less illegal? I had reasons / excuses for doing that speed, and I probably could have talked my way out of a ticket, but that would not mean that what I did was not punished. It was not legal. There was a speed limit, and I broke it.

As Magic Judges, we have less authority to ignore offenses or to “let someone off with a warning,” in the way police officers can. A police officer does not have to issue a ticket if they think that other remedies will prevent future offenses. Magic Judges are supposed to abide by the MIPG and MTR, and to enforce them. In that respect, we are more like a sports official — if the player was offside, we have to call the penalty.

With regard to this offense, however, the MIPG includes some leeway. The MIPG, in the section on randomly determining a winner, concludes with this sentence:

At Regular REL, the Head Judge may, at his or her discretion, downgrade the penalty to a Match Loss if he or she believes that the player committing the infraction was not aware that what he or she was doing was illegal.

It does not give the judge authority to ignore the offense, or to create their own penalty, but it does allow the HJ to give out a match loss instead of a DQ under very specific circumstances. First, it has to be an event run at Regular Rules Enforcement Level. That means a prerelease, FNM, a store event, or certain public events. If this happens at a PTQ or higher level event, it is a DQ, always.

Second, as HJ, I have to believe that the players did not know that what they did was illegal. That may be easier if the players are both eight years old and I gave them their first DCI cards five hours earlier, but I could believe it even if the players were 80 years old and their DCI numbers were five digits long — but there would have to be a lot of other evidence and explanation of why they didn’t know. (Starting with not having played in a tournament this century, and building up from there. It’s not impossible, but if you were one of the first 100,000 players ever to get a DCI card, and you still have that card, then I am going to have to hear some pretty good explanations before I believe something that unlikely.)

The downgrade provision is fairly new. A few years ago, rolling a die was always a DQ — no exceptions. Now, at Regular REL, you can make an exception, and educate the player. Note that the players still get a match loss, so the players in my example above are not getting any prizes.

I do get players trying to argue for loopholes. I have heard players propose lots of options or special cases, like “suppose we play a game of Pokemon to decide?” or “suppose we flip, but I use a two-headed coin?” The idea, here, is that the result is not “random.”

True, these are not “random” methods of deciding an outcome. That makes no difference. The official title of the infraction is “Improperly Determining a Winner,” and the definition is using an “outside the game” method of determining the winner. Pokemon is outside the game in a Magic tournament. As for flipping a two-headed coin in the process of committing a DQ offense — well, as a judge I should probably DQ you for Improperly Determining a Winner, with an additional comment on my official report about cheating — fraud for using the two-headed coin.

Players have suggested foot races, dice, rock-paper-scissors, random numbers, etc. etc. What you use does not matter if it is not playing your match of Magic: the Gathering.

Concessions and Bribery

Usually, if we get to this part of the discussion, some player will usually point out that players can concede, and argue that a concession is not part of a Magic game. Actually, it is. Players may concede at any time, and the game ends at that point. The Comprehensive Rules include concessions as one of the ways to win. Technically, a player wins if all of his/her opponents leave the game. (CR 104.2a) A player who concedes leaves the game immediately. (CR 104.3a) Ergo, conceding a game or match is an in-game method of determining the outcome.

Concessions are fine. They are legal. Players may even concede for a tactical advantage. A player may realize that game 1 is hopeless, and that time in the round is short, and concede game 1 to have time to play out the later games. That’s perfectly legal — and probably a smart play.

A player may also concede when the situation in the game and match is hopeless, but the opponent’s victory is several turns off. Players are not required to watch their opponents beat their heads in, even in game 3.

A player may also concede for any number of reasons. I have conceded many times, even when I am winning. If I am playing to qualify for an event I am not going to attend, but my opponent would attend, I will try to get lethal damage on the stack, then concede. I may also concede to friends, if it helps them more than it hurts me. (Admittedly, I am rarely in the position to “scoop a friend into the Top 8” anymore, but I have done so, and it is generally legal.) I have even conceded because I was hungry, and dinner seemed more rewarding that playing it out.

What is not legal is scooping in return for anything of value. If you throw the match because of promised remuneration, then you are guilty of accepting a bribe. That is illegal.

On the other hand, the DCI definitely does not want to penalize people for having friends. They do allow prize splits, and so forth, between friends. If a carload of friends drives down together, and agrees to split all winnings evenly, that’s fine. If you agree to split prizes with your teammates, or with the person that supplied you with cards or deck tech, that’s fine.

What is not fine is varying the outcome of a particular match because of any compensation.

Let’s create an example. It is round 4 of a store tournament. Prizes are for 4 packs for a 3-1 record, and nothing below 3-1.

Let’s assume that we are both at 2-1. The winner of the match will go to 3-1, and win three packs. The loser will be at 2-2, and get nothing.

We can do a prize split, provided that outcome of the match is not affected by the deal. We can agree to play it out, with the winner getting 3 packs and the loser just one, or agree to a 2-2 pack split, and just play for the rating points.

Let’s assume a slightly different situation — let’s assume that you have a 2-1 record, and I am at 1-1-1. Now, if you win, you get 4 packs. If I win, I get nothing. If I say “give me two packs, and I’ll concede to you,” that’s offering a bribe. That’s illegal. If you report it immediately to a judge, I’ll be DQed. If you even discuss it, or start negotiating, then we will both be DQed. I’m offering to throw the match for compensation, and that is illegal.

However, I am allowed to concede a match at any time, and for almost any reason. One allowable reason is altruism — I can concede so my opponent gets better prizes. I can concede so you get some / more packs. I may even expect that if I scoop you in, you’ll pay me back. Is that wrong?

You know, I have real problem answering that.

Having a match decided by the expectation of prizes, rather than playing the cards, seems wrong. Having a player lose because he expects to get paid, in cash or product, seems like bribery. Philosophers, ethics scholars, and theologians can probably argue that for days.

A lawyer could argue that I didn’t do anything wrong, under the letter of the current MTR. There was no “exchange” involved, and my concession was made long before I knew whether I might get a share in the winnings. Technically, I have no qualms about the concession, but I’m not certain that the player conceding should get a split of the winnings. On the other hand, prize splits and concessions are both completely legal.

Lawyers and theologians can argue this all they want. Magic judges have to operate on a more practical level. We don’t have to try and judge a player’s internal motivations; we only care about clear evidence of problems and infractions. In general, we assume altruism and innocence unless there is some evidence to the contrary.

Put another way, unless we hear players talking about a deal, we are likely to assume most concessions are innocent. If we hear about a quid pro quo, however, that’s evidence of bribery, and a DQ is likely.

At large events, and even PTQs, you will generally see judges near the posted standings in the final rounds. We are not there to make sure the standings don’t fall down — we are listening for collusion.

Players often want to know what they can and cannot say in trying to get a concession or deal. That’s really tough. Basically, they are skating on the line between staying legal and a DQ. Crossing the line means the judge has to DQ them. The problem is that the boundary is not a bright or clear line, it is a judgment call. Worse yet, different judges may have different views of what is legal.

Let’s take a very common example. It is a big event, in a win-and-you’re-in match in the final round. It’s the middle of turn 5, and clear that neither player can win. A draw keeps both players out of the Top 8. What can a player say?

“Concede and I’ll share my winnings?”

No. This is an obvious bribe and an easy DQ.

“If neither of us concedes, we are both out. I think my deck has better match-ups given the likely Top 8. Would you like to concede so I can make Top 8?”

This is a statement of facts. There is nothing wrong with saying this — once. However, the rest of the tournament may well be waiting for this match to end. If this turns into a discussion or debate, then the judge should move to cut it off. Penalties for slow play or failure to follow official instructions announcements may be appropriate if the discussion/debate continues. Put another way, a short exposition is allowed, but not an extended discussion. Badgering an opponent for a concession is definitely not allowed.

“I would have won in two turns, and we both know it. If you don’t concede to me, I promise I’ll do everything to wreck your dreams in the future, in every way I can.”

This could mean that the player will do everything he can to win every future match, and never concede. It could also have a more threatening interpretation. The speaker and the judge, and probably the head judge, are going to move away from the table and have a discussion about this. At best, the player will get a lecture about inappropriate statements. At worst, a DQ for unsporting conduct — aggressive behavior.

“If you concede, I will be very grateful.”

This is a good example of how statements can have different interpretations. This could mean “I’ll be thankful.” It could mean “I pay my debts.” The first is fine. The second is bribery. It depends on the inflection — on how it was said. To be more accurate, it depends on how the judge hears and understands the inflection. I have discussed this with other judges, and the reactions are mixed. Some would allow, some would DQ. It would depend on exactly how it is said, and on what the players say in discussing this.

In the end, if the HJ believes that “I will be very grateful” means “I will give you stuff,” the judge is required to issue the DQ. And remember, a Magic judge does not need 100% proof of guilt to DQ — they need a reasonable suspicion of guilt. (For a good assessment of the “burden of proof” required, see Abe’s article here.)

For those of you who don’t see the later interpretation, try this.

“If you concede, I will be very grateful. Tom can tell you how grateful I can be.”

Most judges are going to have a problem with that statement.

When players ask me what they can say, here’s my typical answer.

“You can ask for a concession. You can explain the situation. However, if I hear anything that sounds like you are offering a bribe — anything of value, anything at all, in return for a concession — I will have to DQ you. Please don’t go there.”


Wizards has a very clear policy on gambling: no gambling at the venue.

We can speculate on why Wizards has this policy — whether they want to keep a clear distinction between Magic and Poker, whether there are legal restrictions or complications, whether gambling changes their tax status, etc. etc. It does not matter why. All that matters, from a judge’s perspective, is that Wizards forbids gambling.

Magic players, as a general rule, love to gamble. Many play poker. Many pro’s PT stories include descriptions of side bets, playing the “credit card game” at dinner, etc.

Speaking as a judge, what players do anywhere outside the venue is not our concern. However, we cannot allow gambling at the event. If we see something in the venue, we have to act.

I have seen people unpacking a poker set — one of the steel cases with chips, cards, etc. They hadn’t started dealing or playing, so I preempted the problem. I walked up and told them “I know that you are just showing your friends your nice poker set. I know you are not intending to play here, because Wizards does not allow it and I would have to boot you out of the venue if you started to gamble here. I would also suggest that you pack that back up before someone misunderstands what you are doing, and you get into trouble. If you do want to play, try the hotel lobby — there are some round tables in the back.” Had they been actually playing already, that approach would not have worked, but part of judging can be stepping in before things go too far.

The same thing is true about bets — if we don’t hear it, we don’t have to worry about whether players have them or not. If we hear players talk about them, we have to act.

Players: as a judge, I asking you to please make my life easier. Don’t make me do the paperwork that comes from DQing you.



“one million words” on MTGO