Saito Busted at GP Florence and What It Means

Saito Busted at GP Florence at What it Means
Pro Tour regular and Japanese Magic player extraordinaire Tomoharu Saito has been disqualified without prize from Grand Prix Florence 2010 this weekend for Cheating (Stalling). According to GP Coverage writer David Sutcliffe we have this gem from Saturday November 27:

We are never pleased to have to pass on bad news, so we are sad that we have to announce that Japan’s Tomoharu Saitou has been disqualified without prize from Grand Prix Florence following his sixth round match.

Head Judge, Level-4 Nick Sephton, explained why the disqualification occurred:
“We disqualified this player for Stalling, after it was observed that his play speed seemed to change based on his observation of the clock. It was observed by a high-level judge that twice in the round he appeared to change his play speed based on considerations that were outside the game. Consulting among the senior judges we decided that, on the basis of what we had observed, we had no choice but to disqualify the player.”

Nick [the Head Judge] continued with advice for players wanting to avoid falling foul of this rule themselves:
“Players should be able to play at a reasonable pace throughout a round. Judges recognize that a player’s speed of play can change during a game – Magic is a complicated game and produces difficult situations for players – but it’s important that players are still able to play at a speed that allows games to be completed. It’s a valid play skill to be able to make difficult decisions quickly.”

So what does this all mean? Well for one it means that the legendary Saito may be looking at a suspension and may see his pending Magic Hall of Fame induction take a hit. We break it all down after the jump!

Earlier this year Pro Tour regular Billy Moreno broke news for the whole world to see regarding a small sample size of Saito’s alleged Stalling at Grand Prix Columbus 2010, one of many accounts which allowed him to go on to win that GP in question. This was not the first time Saito has been seriously accused of Stalling before or since. The DCI has apparently been taking notes and has been increasing their in game surveillance of Saito at the last few events from my understanding, and they finally decided to drop the hammer it seems.

When people get busted for cheating (Manipulation of Game Materials, Hidden Information Violation, Fraud, Stalling, etc.) they are automatically disqualified without prize from a tournament they are in, and then a suspension often follows based on the offense. From the words of a judge nicknamed cdr on The Source:

Suspensions are what happens after DQs. Each month, a panel evaluates all of the DQs that happened in the previous month (from the PT down to the smallest store events) and issues suspensions based on the particulars of the case. Being caught Stalling by a high-level judge guarantees a suspension, likely a significant one.

While we don’t yet know for sure the length of any potential suspension, the impact it may have on Saito’s Magic: the Gathering Hall of Fame eligibility and Magic resume may be crippling, and we’ll explain more about this below. We also don’t know when this panel will meet or if they will make a decision on this quickly, but I would urge them to convene quickly to examine the facts at hand, which I’ll briefly outline here.

In 2001 Saito was busted and disqualified without prize at the APAC Championships for Bribery (in a Top 8 no less). Later in the year Saito was then busted for Unsporting Conduct – Severe at Grand Prix Kobe 2001 for manipulating the game state and ultimately trying to get his opponent penalized after he himself called the judge. Not exactly the most sterling character, and the DCI didn’t think so at the time either, handing him an 18-month suspension to follow that up. Even with this in mind somehow Saito was still voted in to the Hall of Fame this year (garnering the third most votes in the process), but has yet to be inducted. The induction ceremony usually kicks off with great pomp at the World Championship tournament held at the end of the Pro Tour season (this year it will be held December 9 at Worlds in Chiba, Japan).

As my friend Mike Torrisi noted, the Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame Rules on Wizards’ site clearly state:
In order to appear on the Hall of Fame selection ballot, a player must meet the following three requirements:
1. The player must have 100 lifetime Pro Points
2. The player must have participated in his first Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour at least 10 seasons prior to the current voting year.
3. The player must not be currently suspended by the DCI.

Now the first two of these qualifications Saito passes with flying colors, having been one of the most successful Pro Tour player ever. But the third qualification may be the sticky issue. Saito has been busted before for repeated offenses, and has been under the microscope for some time as his reputation for manipulating the rules to his advantage has grown, so if the DCI meets quickly to discuss his latest shenanigans I would think that would be all that would be necessary to drop a year or longer suspension on Saito for the latest incident in which he was caught.

One thing to keep in mind about DCI infractions, disqualifications, and penalties in general is that like other missteps in life, once or twice people can make a mistake, but when you see someone’s name turning up repeatedly like three, four, five, or more times it is no longer a simple mistake that someone can or will learn from. It’s a conscious and probably malicious pattern. If the DCI’s latest actions were indeed justified and Saito is suspended again there is no way he should be allowed into the Hall of Fame, especially because the requirements specifically spell out that you cannot currently be suspended by the DCI and enter into the HOF.

Now in Olivier Ruel we have a similar case to Saito, being that Ruel was suspended twice in his career. Ted Knutson did an admirable job of breaking down the anti-Olivier case for the 2008 Hall of Fame vote so I won’t rehash that here. But the most damning words from the article were also the most succinct: “Because he’s a cheater.” Ted and other writers’ pieces didn’t seem to sway the voters’ minds in 2008, and Ruel was voted and inducted in the 2008 Hall of Fame Class. Like Ruel, Saito has essentially been convicted of cheating numerous times and been or will be punished, so it will be interesting to see what happens. I wonder how long people will continue to ignore the reality that voting people like this into the Hall of Fame ignores the fact that they cheated (often repeatedly), and this rewards them for that behavior, which in turn signals that it is OK to cheat to accomplish your goals of winning. The reinforcement of negative behavior is not healthy for the long term prospects of the Pro Tour and tournament Magic and should not be rewarded.

If the DCI really takes their time or drops the ball on this they will take a while to think about the issue, and this would benefit Saito immensely. If he is not suspended at the time of his pending Hall of Fame induction this coming December 9 (about two weeks away) he would by the letter of the law be allowed to enter the Magic Hall of Fame, because he technically would not have been “currently suspended.” Because of this I would urge the DCI to move forward with an expedient review of the case (hint: this week) and to announce their findings on their website in a timely fashion. An informed player base is a happy player base, and by getting the information out to the readers and players in a transparent way (as transparent as the DCI can be, at least) this will quiet the calls of fraud and whatever else people would probably allege. If Mike Long continues to be held as an example and the standard of shady behavior ruining the game of Magic for others at the tournament level I can’t really see a logical way for Tomoharu Saito to remain unpunished and be enshrined into the Hall of Fame that would honor other more noble and equally legendary players like Kai Budde, Randy Buehler, Rob Dougherty and others who have meant so much to the game. Repeated disqualifications and suspensions are not the makings of ill-conceived and innocent mistakes, but rather a pattern of manipulative behavior.

The DCI keeps an updated page of all players with suspended DCI memberships, and you can bet we’ll be watching that and every other page to see if or when Saito lands on it. We will also be following up with whoever we can reach for comment at WotC, so keep it dialed in to Eternal Central for the latest on this story as more breaking developments arise!

[UPDATE 11-28-2010]: According to the DCI Judge’s Blog the formal procedure in place for review of investigations and disqualifications is already clearly outlined. From the article on October 20 2010:
– On the 1st of each month, all the non-resolved cases are extracted from the Judge Center.
– The 7 members of the Committee have from that moment 3 weeks to make recommendations.
– The last week is made for debating on problematic cases, either because we have different feelings or the case is not yet covered in the Guidelines.
At the end of the month, recommendations are submitted to WotC.

So it appears the standard timeline it is about a month long review process, which in this case would mean if the standard timeline for decision making was followed Saito would not be suspended at the time of the Hall of Fame induction process December 9 2010. How convenient. It will be interesting to see if they follow this procedure as normal or if they expedite the process slightly because of the gravity and timelineness of the situation.

[UPDATE 11-30-2010]: Tomoharu Saito has been suspended by the DCI for 18 months, and we’ve got the complete story and details.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The pictures in this article are indeed modified for humor purposes, and we apologize in advance if any feelings may be hurt, or sensibilities offended. Thank you for reading, and your continued support of EC!)