TDs competing in tournaments that they run

Wondering if most Tournament Directors compete in events that they run?
Any ethical concerns to consider doing this?

I am a TD/league runner who plays in my own league and tournaments. It’s probably rarer for a TD not to compete in their tournament. It’s less than ideal, but necessary to support how many tournaments currently exist. People often run tournaments because they want there to be tournaments in their area, or at their home venue, for them to play in. If they couldn’t also play in them, a lot of people would be less likely to put in the work to run them.

There are, I would contend, inherent conflicts of interest with this. They can be minimized, but not eliminated. It is the accepted practice that TDs don’t make rulings on matches that involve them. They designate a secondary TD to make rulings in those cases, who will also in most cases be another player in the tournament. The trouble is that almost everything that happens in a tournament affects every player in the tournament, directly or indirectly. I can still have an incentive to, for instance, make a ruling that disqualifies a player even if I’m not playing them at the time, if it’s a strong player whom I would otherwise have to play in the next round. The main way to avoid this is to train players not to tell you who the players are when they come to you with a ruling. That is, they should say “Player 1 did XYZ, then player 2 did ABC” rather than giving the names of the players. Unfortunately this doesn’t help when you were watching the match, or for some reason happen to know the player order.

Another important way to minimize conflicts of interest is to have the rules of the tournament, including the minor eventualities, written out and fully explicit prior to starting. For instance, you don’t want to be deciding once a tie happens how a tie will be dealt with – you want to already have a rule about this so you aren’t tempted to make a decision to benefit yourself (or your friend, partner, etc.).

To sum up, I would say “yes, there are ethical concerns.” This is not to say it’s unethical, just that it raises ethical concerns because it presents a conflict of interest. The conflict of interest can be minimized and mitigated but not entirely eliminated. However, I also think that the value of having enough people enthusiastic enough about running tournaments has to be weighed against these concerns. I think that the benefit to the community of allowing TDs to play in their tournaments outweighs the drawbacks.


I do. I just make sure there are enough impartial TDs that can make a ruling on a game I’m involved in. Use the TD slack channel as a back up as well.

But for Pincinnati, there are too many things going on for me to play too. I TD only those tournaments.

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For BIG events you may not have time to TD / TECH and play at the same time.

@seedees and @WxManBookie had a good podcast episode about this.

There was also a thread I started about this a while ago back when the SCS tournaments starting having a very high payout. I’m of the belief that in areas where there are plenty of tournaments and locations, don’t participate if you run them unless they’re small.

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I started running tournaments because I wanted well organized events to play in. As soon as someone tells me I can’t play, I’ll stop running them.

So yeah, I’m of the belief that anyone who wants to run a tournament and play should absolutely do so without guilt. Any tournament director making decisions that benefit themselves over the players in their events are going to find their events poorly attended and is risking their reputation.


I couldn’t say it any better than Jay.

As for me, I started running tournaments in my small town to hopefully build a pinball scene. Turnout is such that if I didn’t play, I’m not sure there would even be an event. Hopefully one day there will be enough people that I can have to make that choice to sit on the sidelines.


I’m over here in Delaware, the only TD in the state. I started tournaments in 2017 and I only run monthly tournaments. Every tournament is 40-48 players with 1st place paying $350-$450. We have a year end championship that pays out over $2500 in prize money with 1st getting $800 guaranteed. To date I have ran about 35 tournaments and I play in them and TD them including the year end championship as well as the State tournament. I’ve never experienced any issues to my knowledge. If I couldn’t play and TD, I wouldn’t run tournaments.

For all of the tournaments I have run I had one small mishap where I made a ruling on my own game inadvertently. The ruling was clear cut in that the player was in a mode with a stuck ball and his mode ran out. He asked for a ruling and I just instantly gave him the ruling without thinking.

Lastly, I’m in the early planning stages of running/hosting the Mid-Atlantic Pinball open in 2022. This will be a high caliber high payout tournament, and it’s one I will NOT be playing in.

EDIT - One thing I forgot to mention is that Delaware has no public venues capable of running a pinball tournament, so all of our tournaments are held in 3 different private homes. This is another reason why I TD and play in each event.

2 - the total number of events I have won while TD’ing
2 - I was the #1 seed 2 out of 3 years for the Tour Championship, never won it
3 - I’ve been the #1 seed for the SCS for all 3 years we have held it, never won it and the 2020 SCS was held at my house on my games and I got knocked out in the first round
6 - I have finished second 6 times!


Also remember that this is a small community. If a TD develops a reputation for making unfair calls or otherwise poorly running their events, people will just stop attending that TD’s events.

Most of the time, the reality is that TDing an event is enough of a distraction that it tends to be detrimental to the TD’s performance.


well with sports betting in the mix then it’s an big issue.

I hope to address this topic in my upcoming interview with Jeff Teolis for Pinball Profile. I’ve seen quite the variety of and evolution of the “fairness” issue over the past 50 years. Stay tuned.


Not really. Part of smart sports betting is not betting on any event where you suspect the refereeing may be detrimental to your wager.

If you were TD’ing and also winning (including a nice cash prize) your regular tournament though - don’t you think the player pool would start to think that stinks, and possibly start to question some of the decisions made if not the ethics entirely?

So I think so long as your TD is sufficiently poor enough to never even rank in the top half of the field, then things will be fine :wink: .

Eh. Our TD at the local bar wins probably 8-9 out of 10 tournaments and it’s never been an issue. He’s just that good. Haha. I haven’t seen anyone stop playing because he always wins either.


I have considered the ethical concerns and I generally will not play in A division finals. Mostly because I don’t want to delay the event while I figure out the prize payout and make correct change.

I have alternate judges available to make rulings. In the rare case that I make a player error (think play out of turn) I apply the strictest penalty available to myself.

I also remove myself from consideration regarding any door prizes. If I need a random number I’ll ask someone nearby to use to generate one and show me what it is. I mostly track money collected over a period of weeks and have that information available if people want to see it. (They almost never have, going on five years of at least monthly, sometimes weekly events.)

In a perfect world there would be an ample number of people available and willing to handle every scenario that would benefit from multiple sets of eyes and judgements.

In the real world there are generally only a couple people available and willing so you compromise to get things done in an expedient manner. But if you think you’re the only person who is willing I think you should ask around more. Let go of a little control in order to get others invested in your process.


Ye Old saved me a lot of typing.

Should you be in your own tournaments? Only if you’re willing to risk your integrity on a controversial ruling.

“But what if it doesn’t affect me?” You’re the TD. Every ruling affects you directly or indirectly.

I have occasionally, but only with prodding, participated in my own tournaments. Before agreeing to do it, I designate an alternate official whom I am certain knows the rulebook. (And you can review all the rules in my videos at If I can’t find a suitable alternate TD, then I am forced to stay out of the event. I can’t risk people perceiving me as unfair for the sake of a few WPPRs.


I TD all my tournaments and I play in them. I have no ethical issue with it and everyone still comes. Just make your calls impartially whether it affects the best player in the tournament or a brand new person. Over time most of the players know what the calls are going to be before you make them.


I think this really gets to the crux of the issue, no :wink: required.

It’s no coincidence that the good TDs and good techs also happen to be good players. If you (or your community) want to take that away consider what the alternative is. If you want to start trying to pay for a TD to not play, consider how that further changes the dynamic of the events you’re attending.

Personally, I’ve only ever witnessed a few rulings where I would say “this is bs” in more tournaments than I know how to count at this point. And only one ruling that affected me in a way that I felt was entirely unfair and incorrect. And not a single one of those would I attribute even the slightest bit of malice to. Was I mad, yeah a bit at the time but was it personal? Obviously not. Was a TD trying to get rid of me so they could make another $40? That’s absolutely ridiculous.

I didn’t start into this pinball thing in the “dark days” but I’m so grateful for all the directors that worked their butts off trying to get people to come to leagues with 3 games, 7 players or whatever, or the people opening the doors to their homes for us so we could have tournaments somewhere, anywhere. These people, these TDs, these players are why we have what we have today. I don’t for one second think that pinball would have grown this much in spite of them and frankly, when I hear people complaining about it, it feels ungrateful for the decades of effort they’ve put in and which we’re all now reaping the reward from.


It’s kinda gross.

EDIT: I’m not saying this to be contrary. There are situations where a TD can play in their own tourneys without a huge conflict of interest. Sadly, I personally have seen and participated in some tourneys where TDs don’t mind being ethically challenged. And if I’m just some pinball noob and I’ve seen this sort of thing happen quite a bit? Seems weird to me that other people aren’t noticing it as well.

This being a hobby where you totally have to watch your step without pissing the wrong people off, or, god forbid, seem ungrateful? Can’t say I’m surprised.

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I’ve run a ton of leagues and tournaments and I’ve played in all of them. Sometimes I win, sometimes I don’t. I’ve never had a problem arise from that. As others have said, I always designate a couple alternate TD’s to make a ruling if I’m playing in the game in question.