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BC Diary: NAC A, Day 2

For strip management, we’ve got an easy start this morning: Div I Women’s Saber gets two pods to double-flight their 13 pools on, and Div I Men’s Epee gets everything else-—including the finals strip—for their 37 pools.

We’ve had a bit of a scary start to the ME—there was a medical withdrawal after the pools were posted. But the fencer was not among the protected group and was in a pool of 7, so we didn’t have to pull the pools back and restart. Then it turned out that two fencers were listed in other pools but were not actually here. Fortunately, they too were unprotected in pools of 7, so we escaped a huge reseed by pure luck.

This is why I love the new scanners for check-in out at registration. Traditionally, fencer check-in has been done by hand. A fencer appears at registration, the check-in person finds their name on the registration list, and very neatly crosses out the number next to their name. If it’s not done neatly, it can look as though the fencer above or below was checked in, too, so precise marks are very important.

Ideally, about 10 minutes before the close of registration, the registration staff will go carefully through the list and circle any numbers that are not yet crossed out. For each circled number, they will take an index card and put a label with the fencer’s name, division, and event on it. (Or if labels haven’t been made, they’ll just write the info on the card.) If the fencer shows up while the cards are being made, they’re crossed off the list just as the others were and their card is torn up and discarded.

Then the registration list and the cards are delivered to the bout committee, where the staff member running that event reads the names of all the fencers on the cards to give them their one last chance to come check in. Any who show up are crossed off and their cards discarded, and once the event is announced as closed, the rest of the cards are given to the computer operator so the no-shows can be withdrawn from the event. As part of this process, both the event manager and the computer operator go over the registration list to make sure there aren’t any uncircled numbers and to make sure the numbers of checked-in and withdrawn fencers add up to the proper total.

As you can imagine, there are numerous opportunities for error in this system. XSeed’s tiny print makes it difficult to find uncircled numbers, even using a straight-edge to check each line of the list. In large events like today’s ME, it takes a lot of conscious effort to stay focused on those marks through four full pages of fencer names. If a card is not made for a fencer who has not checked in, that name will not be read, that fencer will not be withdrawn, and we’ll end up with a fencer who is not there listed in one of the pools. It’s also pretty easy for the person doing check-in to mark off the name above or below the proper one, so that a fencer who is actually here will be listed as a no-show and withdrawn,  and end up missing from the pools. (That’s one of the reasons we post the “revised” or “updated” seeding before we post the pools, so that people can verify that they were properly checked in. Unfortunately, most fencers don’t bother to check that list, so we often don’t discover those errors until after the pools are posted and they can’t find their names there.)

With the scanner system, which is actually a patch to XSeed written by Joe Salisbury, one of our BC computer staff, fencers simply get the barcode on their membership cards scanned (the system has a membership number lookup for people who show up without their cards, but that’s a bit slower). At the end of check-in, the bout committee is handed a printed list of the fencers who haven’t checked in from which to make the usual n0-show announcements, and we don’t have to depend on unreliable human vision to find all the no-shows.

So how did we get two no-shows in pools in the ME this morning? Out at registration, with that huge line of fencers waiting to check in, they decided it would be faster to divide the registration list in half and do two check-in lines by hand instead of using the scanner. And all the eyes out at registration and in here on the BC stage who looked over the list and the cards missed those two names which were not crossed off. Exactly the situation the scanner system was created to prevent, so we’ve mandated that accuracy at check-in gets priority over speed, and that the scanners should always be used, even if using them takes more than the hour provided for check-in. An extra 10 or 15 minutes there is far easier than having to reset pools, especially after they’ve been posted or fencing has actually started.

Once the fencing is well underway, though, the day goes fairly smoothly. The Div I WS moves quickly through its two flights of pools and its DEs, vacating strips for the Veteran events coming in later in the day. The ME finishes pools and shrinks to only 16 strips, leaving room for the 18 pools of Div 2 MF when it starts. Today, at least, the schedule is working essentially as it was supposed to.

Today’s officials’ lunch is egg rolls and three varieties of fried rice, not great for sustaining referees through the long afternoon. The national office staff has a chat with the caterers and assures us that tomorrow’s menu will have more protein.

The ME, with repechage once again this season (much to our dismay), finally finishes after 11-1/2 hours. about 2 to 3 hours longer than it would have been without those extra rep rounds.

Tonight is once again a meal voucher night, but not as late as last night. It’s amazing how much easier the late nights are when the concession stand food is reasonably good.

Saturday stats:

10 events
603 competitors
End of competition: 8:30ish?

Alarm’s set for 6:00 am.

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BC Diary: NAC A, Day 0

My flights into Cincinnati were completely uneventful and the scheduled shuttle (provided for officials by the local sports commission) was there to pick me up, so I checked in and dropped off my bag at the hotel and got over to the venue by 4:30 or so.

Why e-readers are good to have in armory lines. (Photo - Delia Turner)

The hotel is connected to the venue by a skybridge, so getting there in the morning will be easy—no need to worry about shuttles or light rail.

The hall is long and narrow, so we just have one straight run of 4-pods this time, with the BC stage and the trainers roughly in the middle of the room. The armory is behind the BC stage, and there’s a long line, nearly to the end wall, of fencers waiting to have their gear checked.

Unusually, all the strips are laid, but there are no scoring tables, so no towers or boxes or reels or cables set up yet. That means there’s not much for the armorers to do until the tables are here, so most of them are working gear check for now.

Tanya is already here, of course (she came in yesterday), as are Joe and Marc, two-thirds of our three-person computer staff, and Carla, as ever, is working on the seeding for this weekend’s events.

The layout, for once, is unchanged from the map I’d already been sent. For this tournament I’m going to try numbering the strips alphanumerically—each pod will be labeled with a letter and the strips within each pod will be labeled 1 through 4. I think this will be easier for me to work with for strip assignments, and both the armorers and the trainers seem to like the idea, too—they expect it will make it quicker for them to head in the right direction on strip calls.. I don’t think it will confuse the fencers too much, so we’ll see how it works. (A couple of people express some skepticism about using an idea I got from fencing.net, but it’s not the first useful idea I’ve picked up there.)

While I’m labeling my venue map and making copies, the scoring tables finally start showing up.They’re still not covered and skirted, though, so the armorers are still waiting to be able to set up the scoring machines, though they’re distributing reels and cords and towers around the room.

At 6:00 pm, the entry doors are shut—the armorers will finish checking gear for those who are already in line, but that’ll be it for tonight, aside from the people who sneak in while others are leaving. At 7:oo pm, we shut the entry doors again. Since we can’t put up the strip numbers until the scoring machines are set up, I turn on my computer and work on the strip assignments for tomorrow morning. That doesn’t take long—with just two events, Div I Men’s Foil and Div II Women’s Epee, first thing in the morning, everything else will depend on when they finish their pools, so I’ll wait to do the later events until tomorrow.

On what will be my F pod, the first of four video replay systems is being set up. Nobody’s quite sure how this will work: the idea is to use replay from the round of 8 for at least the Div I events, but there are only four sets. If we put one on the finals strip, that leaves only three for the F pod. But we’re not even sure yet whether there will be anyone to run the replay systems—the FOC was not informed of them in time to hire the extra bodies needed to use them, and nobody’s been trained on this equipment. Makes my little strip numbering experiment look pretty trivial.

Kathy Brown, the head armorer, decides that they can’t wait for the table covers any longer but will go ahead and start setting up the machines. As it turns out, just as the armorers start, the venue crew appears with their supply of table cloths, so only one scoring table ends up without a cover. We ask them to leave the BC tables without covers, too—these tables have reasonably good plastic surfaces instead of the chipped and splintered wooden surfaces often found in convention centers, so we won’t have to deal with wrinkles and any spills will be easier to clean up.

Oops, there’s one table with a curvature twice that allowed in sabres. Turns out it’s cracked, so we call for a replacement.

Tanya and I ask Kathy if there’s anything we can do to help, since there’s not much we can do until the machines are set up, and she gives us a lesson in machine setup: unpacking the scoring boxes and power supplies and cords, attaching the boxes to the towers with cable ties, trimming the tie ends, attaching the floor cords to the boxes, stashing the machine boxes under the tables, etc.

Tanya gets called away to handle something or other, so Gerrie Baumgart and I end up hanging a couple of pods’ worth of scoring machines on their towers. By then I’m out of cable ties (and I trust the armorers more to do things right, anyway), so I turn in my snips and return to more familiar chores. I leave copies of the map for the head referees,  drop off copies for the armorers and the trainers, and start putting up strip numbers on the half of the room that now has finished towers. But before I finish, the rest of the gang announces they’re heading out for dinner, so I grab my computer and join them. We’ll come over early tomorrow and finish up.

Since it’s after 9:00 pm, we go directly to the restaurant (a Rock Bottom Brewery, home to much BC comfort food—and drink). My immediate—and not unreasonable—goal for this tournament is to finish early enough to eat at least one more evening meal in a place where we get to sit and have food brought to us at our table.

As we walk back to the hotel, we notice that The Colbert Report is on the downtown Jumbotron. Pretty cool, Cincinnati.

To bed by 12:30, after ironing clothes for tomorrow, but I’m still awake when my roommate, whose flight was delayed, shows up at 2:00 am. Oh, well, that’s still only midnight my time, and I dozed a lot on the planes coming in.

Alarm’s set for 5:30 am.

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Layout & Strips, Part 6: Repechage, Plus Some SN Considerations

I’ve been fond of repechage ever since I figured out how it works. As a moderately geeky, detail-oriented BC person, I find it an interesting intellectual exercise to calculate all the backside table reseeds and swaps, and it’s always fun to try to get it done before the computer operator hands me the printed version. But much as I personally like the double-elimination format, I feel strongly that it no longer belongs at national competitions, but should be relegated to camps and fun tournaments along with fencing-16-to-all-places (which can also be thought of as quadruple elimination).

Here’s why I (and most other BC people I know) are not happy about the return of repechage to national events. Let’s take the hypothetical tournament we’ve talked about in the last two posts and add repechage to the ME event. The pool round would be the same, of course, with the 23 pools of 7 and 6 pools of 6. The DEs start out the same: 158 of the original 197 fencers would be promoted to the DEs. Again, that’s an incomplete table of 256, on 8 pages in XSeed.

But around 1:00 pm, when the tableau has been fenced down to the 32, the double elimination kicks in, and two extra repechage tables are added to the process. If the round of 32 is fenced on 8 strips, as is typical, the event will finish around 6:00–6:30; if fenced on 16 strips, it will end a bit sooner at 5:30–6:00. Repechage adds between 2 and 3 hours to the length of the event.

But that’s not its only effect. Don’t forget that WF event, expecting to be able to go wide on 24 strips for its DEs. Depending on where the ME is when the WF pools are done, those 24 strips might not be available for the WF DEs. Because the ME uses more strips for more hours, the options for other events are reduced. For this relatively simple hypothetical tournament day, the consequences are not too serious. For a more complicated day, such as those we will face at the January NAC, where not only will we be adding repechage back to all the epee events but we will be adding six Cadet events to the usual Junior and Division I events, those consequences could well cause delays that cascade through the whole schedule. Each day could end up even longer than just the two to three hours added by the repechage itself.

Think about that for a bit: 12 large events over 4 days become 18 large events over 4 days. Instead of 3 events each day, we’ll probably have 4 events each on Friday and Monday, and 5 events each on Saturday and Sunday. And spread thorughout that assortment will be 6 large epee events with repechage making them 2 to 3 hours longer than they otherwise would be. Those days will have SN hours—with fewer events, they won’t be such complicated days as at SN, but they will be SN numbers and SN hours. It will be an interesting tournament.

There’s another aspect of repechage events worth talking about, and that’s the question of when the inevitable waiting around should occur. At every repechage event, there’s always at least one group of referees which runs their quadrant significantly faster than the rest and inevitably gets frustrated at not being able to keep going as far into the DE table as they want to.

One of the irritating quirks of XSeed is that it cannot print out the tableau or bout slips for the round of 32 and beyond until all 32 competitors are known. Sometimes the BC uses this to our advantage—if we need to reduce an event from 16 or more strips down to 8, we’ll stop at the 32 to move everybody to 2 contiguous pods. But this drives those hyper-efficient referees batty—they want to keep going and get all those frontside bouts fenced down to their 4. Sometimes, if we’re not moving to different strips, we’ll let them keep going, but to do so, we have to print out blank bout slips and start transferring bout results—both front- and backside—to a handwritten paper tableau. Eventually, once the whole 32 is in, XSeed will print the round of 32 tableau, but until then, keeping track of both the front- and backside bouts is a tricky and often frantic process for even the most experienced BC staff.

And the thing is, when those rapid referees finish off their quadrant 30 or 40 minutes ahead of everybody else, they get to sit around waiting for everyone else to catch up before the rep tables and the round of 8 can be fenced. Why waiting around then is so much preferred to waiting around earlier may be one of those referee mysteries I’m doomed never to comprehend.

If this glimpse into BC thinking about strip management has you thinking that strip planning doesn’t seem all that complicated, keep in mind that my imaginary tournament day was a relatively simple one. Some NACs—and JOs—are nearly as straightforward, but others are more challenging, such as the March and April NACs, with multiple age-level Veteran or Youth events, even though most of the individual events are not huge.

The monster of all challenging tournaments is, of course, Summer Nationals. With 6 to 14 events each day and daily entries ranging from 350 to nearly 800, figuring out which events should go where on  66 strips is a decidedly nontrivial jigsaw puzzle not found anywhere else in the fencing world.

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Layout & Strips, Part 5: DEs

At the end of the last post, we’d reached 11:00 am on our imaginary tournament day. All the pools from our ME and MS events have finished, and the promoted fencers are waiting for their DEs to be posted. While the scoresheets are printed and the referees assigned for those events, the 112 WF fencers whose event closed at 10:30 are reporting to their strips for their pool round.

As you may recall, the MS DEs will be fenced on 8 strips, in 2 adjacent pods of 4 at one end of the hall. Because the WF event will be the last to finish, I’m going to put their 16 pools of 7 on the middle 4 pods. Assuming that the BC stage is roughly in the middle of the room, putting the WF in the middle, too, will mean they won’t need to move to a different area for their DEs. The ME DEs will go on the remaining 4 pods at the other end of the hall. For the next few hours, every strip in the hall will be used for competition.

How do we decide how many strips to use for DEs? That’s determined mainly by the total number of strips available and the number and size of events to be fenced. In this case, we have 345 fencers in our 3 events: 158 promoted in the ME, 75 promoted in the MS, and 112 fencing in the 16 WF pools (from which 90 fencers will eventually be promoted to their DEs). That means we’re looking at a not-very-full table of 256 for the ME (8 pages of tableau in XSeed), a not-very-full table of 128 for the MS (4 pages in XSeed), and a half-full table of 128 for the WF.

Normally, we aim for the DEs to take somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes to fence down to 8 finalists, and we use our planning spreadsheet to see how many strips it takes (8, 12, or 16, usually) to achieve that. Sometimes we are forced into smaller numbers than we’d like because of a crowded schedule or a shortage of referees (fairly common in saber, where we might have 12 strips available but only 8 referees).

In this hypothetical, the ME is projected to take about 2-1/2 hours to fence down to the 8. Typically, the point weapons run about 30–45 minutes longer than our spreadsheet projects, mainly because we haven’t bothered to adjust the spreadsheet bout durations to align with the actual current durations. If the ME reaches the 8 by 2:30 or so, we’ll consider it on time. Since this is a relatively simple day, where no other groups will need any more strips, the only time pressure is the desire of the fencers and officials to eat their dinners at a moderately reasonable hour.

Since the ME is on an 8-page table, each pod will have 2 pages of the tableau. Depending on the preferences of the head referee and the number of referees available, we might send this out as four groups of referees and 2 pages per pod, or as 8 smaller groups with a single page for every pair of strips. The single-page-per-pair grouping would make the paperwork easier to track, but the whole-pod grouping would minimize delays caused by one or two strips being slower than others, since the larger groups can pick up the slack more easily to compensate. (The larger groups also make it easier to avoid referee conflicts, since there are more referees available to use.)

Similarly, the MS might be assigned with half the tableau (2 pages for each half) to each of the two pods of 4 strips, or with each one-page quadrant assigned to a pair of strips. A saber DE of this size would typically take 60–75 minutes to fence down to the 8.

Once each event reaches the 8, it could continue to fence straight through to the final, or we could pause to move the round of 8 to a single pod. On a relatively leisurely day like this one, we’d more likely take the pause and assign the 8 to the single pod closest to the BC platform, and then hold the gold medal bout on the designated finals strip, if there is one. If not, we’d choose a strip in the pod used for the round of 8 that allows the most space for spectators (and preferably a good view of the fencing and the score box for the BC).

The round of 8 typically takes 90–120 minutes for the point weapons and 45–60 minutes for saber. (Not only are saber bouts shorter, but it’s not uncommon for saber fencers—especially the younger ones—to opt not to take the whole ten minutes allowed between DE bouts.)

If the ME finishes as projected and there are enough foil referees, we’d be able to take the WF DEs wide and put their DEs out on 24 strips, 3 in each of 8 pods. With 90 fencers in a 4-page tableau, that would be a half-page for each of the 8 groups. That might save 20–30 minutes over the 16 strips originally planned for the WF DEs, not crucial for this day but perhaps highly desirable on a long crowded Summer Nationals day.

Under this hypothetical schedule, the MS would likely finish between 2:00 and 2:30, the ME around 3:30–4:00, and the WF around 5:00–5:30.

Next time: Repechage and some thoughts on SN complications.

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