Zero Tolerance on Bribery revisited

Hi, I’m Oliver Blank, a local Level 1 judge from Bern.

This article in itself is quite old, but as I have been made aware of, not outdated or in any way unnecessary. A few days ago I saw a heated discussion on reddit about a Disqualification at a Grand Prix in Houston. I was inclined to post a link to my old article. But I realized it missing the point that was central in the discussion.

This updated article is trying to adress the issue of bribery as a whole and in that regard the role of the people involved in this situation. I hope you enjoy the read and might get a better understanding of the problem at hand.

Let’s start with two situations that I went through in my career as a judge and as a player.

  1. Abby and Nathan are both at 4-2 at a PTQ. Players with 5-2 get a chance at playing in the Top-8, whereas a 4-2-1 is not enough to get any chance at all. After an intense match time in the round is called. Both players won a game. And none of them has a chance to finish the 3rd game in the extra turns.
  2. Andrew and Norman are playing in a GPT. Andrew does not plan to go to the GP the byes are for, but the store offers a price payout for all Top-8-competitors. Norman doesn’t care about the prices at all but wants to compete for the byes at the GP. One round before the Top-8-cut they are paired against each other both able to enter the Top 8 with a win.


Obviously both situations are destined to start a talk that could potentially involve bribery and I would like to develop a bit on this topic.

The Infraction Procedure Guide (short IPG, the document that defines all penalties and infractions for competitive Magic) is pretty clear on its definition on bribery, so lets start with that.

 Unsporting Conduct — Bribery and Wagering

A player offers an incentive to entice an opponent into conceding, drawing, or changing the results of a match, or accepts such an offer.

Obviously none of the situations described above is an infraction in and of itself. No situation starts as an Infraction and I just wanted to showcase different examples  that might lead to compromising situations.

  1. After reaching for the result slip Abby mumbles „A draw doesn’t favor anyone of us. Now none of us gets to play in the Top8. I would have given you 10 Francs…“
  2. After Andrew and Norman are seated, Norman asks Andrew if he might not concede to him because Norman wants to go to the GP.  After Andrew has stated that he only plays for the price being handed out in the Top8, Norman says „you can get my prices“.

Now we get to the point where an infraction has been committed: A player is offering an incentive to alter or predetermine the match result in his favor. Even if the person making the offer is not aware of the thing he/she has done, we are now talking about a pretty severe Infraction.

The Penalty

The penalty for Bribery is a disqualification. Most people think that this is a little bit harsh but once you understand the underlying reasons you will see that its the only appropriate penalty we got.

Emilien Wild a Belgian L3 Judge sums it up pretty well in one of his articles, which I would like to quote here:

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.

– Wild, Emilien

A little extra here, since some players think that a disqualification equals a suspension: Players normally do not get suspended when they didn’t know that what they were doing was wrong, although sometimes there are aggravating circumstances.  However, when a player knew that he was doing something bad and did it anyway, suspensions are somewhat more common, especially if the player planned the infraction out in some detail.

The Opponent

So what should the appropriate reaction of the opponent be?

Like we always state in the announcements at the beginning of a tournament:

„Raise your hand, call a judge, leave it up till the judge is at your table.“

It’s not because you are a sneaky guy and want to get your opponent penalized. There’s an even more simple reason.

Unless the player receiving such an offer calls for a judge immediately, both players will be penalized in the same manner. This is explicitly stated by the Magic Tournament Rules (short MTR, one of the other official document regarding Magic tournaments).

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.

So by calling a judge immediately you just prevent yourself from being penalized.

But why do we have such a strict penalty for the player not actively seeking an advantage?

Spotting intend of a player receiving such an „offer“ is a difficult task. You might know judges are not equipped with mind reading abilities. Even in case the judge is standing right beside you, it is not as easy as you might think. Language is a tricky thing. Any sentence is subject to interpretation.

„That’s not worth it for me“

Let’s just make it simple and say this sentence can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. I could say that you’re declining the offer, OR
  2. I could say that you tell the other player his offer is too low.

In the same manner we could talk about bribes made as a joke. How do we identify the offer being made as a joke?

We need a clear cut in rulings and, as I said before, spotting intend is a difficult task. So the easiest way to make us aware of you not considering the offer, is calling a judge.

The Bystander

„But what if I’m a player not directly involved in the match and I overhear such a situation?“

You are not obligated to call a judge on a game you are not involved in. Sounds great, right? Just leave those two talking about cash or prices or whatever and make your way to your table. You are not a snitch after all…

The problem here is the following: The person bribing his way into the Top-8 removes a spot that otherwise might be taken by a player that has played the whole day as best he could. He didn’t get unlucky and now ends in 9th place. He was cheated of the rank he could have had if everyone had played fairly. How does that affect you personally? Maybe, on a different occasion, the cheated player will be you on the verge of getting some price or making it to the top 8 of a PTQ. Would you not feel grateful to the spectator if you heard some collusion had been averted? Would it not be good to know that, even if you do not get any cards, boosters or Byes, at least the tournament was fair to all participant?

Like I said, judges will not (and actually cannot) force you to make any calls on games you are not involved in. However, in those cases, the integrity of the tournament is determined and upheld by all people involved in it, judges and players alike and you should feel honor bound to stand up to this injustice and not turn a blind eye on a situation like this.

Summing up

Bribery is a pretty severe infraction and compromises the whole integrity of the tournament. If you’re involved in a game where something along those lines happen, please call a judge immediately.

As a spectator, you are allowed not to interfere at all, but I highly recommend to call a judge, since not doing it will directly and unfairly impact someone else in the tournament.

I hope this article helped you better understand the bribery infraction and that some of you are now more aware of the impact it has on the tournament.

Kind Regards,
Oliver Blank