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once the event is announced as closed, the rest of the cards are given to the computer operator so the no-shows can be withdrawn from the event.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the registration list to make sure there aren’t any uncircled numbers and to make sure the numbers of checked-in and withdrawn fencers add up to the proper total.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.

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.