Vulching

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Cheynem
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Vulching

Post by Cheynem » Mon May 13, 2019 12:52 pm

Vulching is a very important skill in quizbowl that we don't talk about a lot. In fact, I might argue a lot of the "gospel" about vulching scenarios is incorrect, or at least very superficial. Thus, I'd like to explain my theories about vulching.

How many times have you seen this scenario? Team 1 negs a tossup. Team 2, even though they can hear all the clues and probably knows the answer, screws up the vulch. Someone ends up buzzing who doesn't know. The person who does know doesn't buzz. Etc.

First, let me clarify that I'm not really talking about "power vulches." I'll cover those briefly at the end. This is mostly about vulch scenarios in which the other team has negged pretty far into the tossup.

My biggest point is I want to challenge the conventional wisdom, which goes something like this: "Wait until the very end of the tossup before buzzing in a vulch scenario." My belief is that in many instances, this is a recipe for disaster. Even if you do something like "the person who knows puts their buzzer up," you will almost certainly get things like "a person thinks she knows the answer, raises her buzzer, and realizes at the giveaway that she isn't 100% sure" or "a person very eager for PPG aggressively buzzes with only a guess." I've seen this in games, this has happened to me at games. I lost a game for my team once by raising a buzzer because I was sure the answer was Bannockburn, preventing my teammates from saying the real answer (Culloden Moor). I guarantee you that even if you think your team has a system to avoid confusion here, you will end up in confusing scenarios.

My philosophy is wait until the tossup is beginning the "For 10 points," that is sliding into the giveaway, and then, if you are 100% sure--that is, if this were a live tossup in which you would neg if you were wrong--then buzz in. The clause here is very important. Screwing up a vulch is somewhat equivalent to a neg in that you punt the chance at a loss of points--if you are just "sort of sure" or "have a guess," then don't buzz. If you are 100% sure, then buzz now to avoid any confusion at the end. At very easy tournaments, you will presumably end up in instances in which a number of people might buzz around this time (but see below).

This involves basically checking ideas of PPG in service to the greater good of the team. Sometimes I think during vulches people (both top scorers and fourth scorers) think this is a good chance for someone who hasn't buzzed much all day to get a correct answer. If they're 100% sure, fine, but in other instances, this could just be further screwing up such players' confidence when they buzz at the end with what they think is a correct response that is not. My general philosophy would be to basically defer such buzzes as to what you might expect such buzzes to be in a game scenario--if it's a science vulch, you might want to let your science player buzz. If you're a fourth scorer, unless you're 100% sure, back off and let your lead scorer play. Don't think about your own PPG here. (Again, if they don't seem to be buzzing and you're 100% sure, jump in).

Another unheralded reason to buzz in earlier during a vulch is that sometimes the giveaway makes a question harder. Some dubious questions will do things in which they will accept a familiar nickname or a description through most of the question, but then make that part of the giveaway. An example might be a tossup on the "Red Baron" in which they accept the Red Baron during most of the question, but suddenly the giveaway is "Name this World War I flying ace nicknamed the Red Baron" or a tossup on the "Spanish flu" that at the end requires the year (I realize these are mostly bad questions, but they exist).

What if nobody actually knows for sure? Then, wait until the end. Then, after the question is finished, wait a beat. At least a second. Too often, I see during vulches is that people want to buzz in immediately even if it's a guess. Wait to see if somebody knows. If the format allows this, maybe wait another beat if you don't even have a good guess, to allow for someone who might have a "reasonable guess" (i.e., I am going to guess an actual author from this period and not just buzz in and say "Smith."). Finally, after two or three seconds, you can buzz in with any sort of guess.

Finally, power vulches. These are high risk, high reward. I would basically say you should do this if you feel 100% confident, as sometimes this can make a difference in a game. But be careful, obviously.

To sum up:

After the other team negs:

I believe:
-the person who 100% knows the answer should buzz in as the giveaway is beginning. In most cases, this would be the person you would "most expect" to answer this question. Do not worry about PPG or sniping points or anything like that. The person buzzing in should have complete confidence--this would be a buzz the player would make at the risk of a neg in a real game scenario.
-If you 100% know, there is no point in waiting until the very end, in trying to "race" your teammate, or in trying to get somebody else to buzz.
-if you don't 100% know, wait until the end. And then wait a second.
-if you have a strong guess, buzz in now.
-if you're just completely guessing, wait another second or two.

That's my opinion.
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Re: Vulching

Post by jonpin » Mon May 13, 2019 4:10 pm

I think for the large proportion of teams, an ironclad instruction of "Don't vulture!" is going to do a better job of preventing teams from punting away points than anything more complicated. Yes, there are times that it can result in confusion, but I see veterans do this because they're showing off, and I see rookies do this because they don't know better. Telling the former that "No. Do not do this." and telling the latter "This is a bad idea because..." is important baseline strategy.

That said:
Cheynem wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 12:52 pm
-if you don't 100% know, wait until the end. And then wait a second.
-if you have a strong guess, buzz in now.
-if you're just completely guessing, wait another second or two.
is a very good model for the end of questions, whether open to one team or two. If you have a pretty good idea, buzz on the last word. If you have a decent guess, buzz on the count of one or two*. If you're just throwing something out, buzz on the count of three or four*. *-Adjust these on timed NAQT sets, of course.
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Re: Vulching

Post by Cheynem » Mon May 13, 2019 4:16 pm

Yes, I should clarify that these are guidelines for teams assuming some degree of experience (and of course, they are useless if the entire team isn't on the same page).

I
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Re: Vulching

Post by vinteuil » Mon May 13, 2019 5:38 pm

This is a good topic to discuss, and I think knowing when to just put the tossup to bed is a skill that has sometimes differentiated experienced team leaders from those who let close games slip away.

Mike lays out a bunch of good strategies. Another solution would be to develop clear non-verbal communication standards (buzzer up, sideways or down, maybe?)—but this does require paying attention throughout the tossup in, e.g. the case that somebody is "absolutely sure!" and then realizes they don't even know it at the end (this has been me before!).
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Re: Vulching

Post by Monstruos de Bolsillo » Mon May 13, 2019 10:54 pm

vinteuil wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 5:38 pm
Another solution would be to develop clear non-verbal communication standards (buzzer up, sideways or down, maybe?)
I feel like trying to make this distinction might make things more complicated, in that it might not be clear what position someone is in, they might be lazily doing it, etc. Also, trying to decipher it might take some concentration away from, y'know, actually listening to the rest of the question.
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Re: Vulching

Post by matthewspatrick » Tue May 14, 2019 3:52 pm

You should also tune the strategy to the rule set you are playing. More specifically: if the format you are using has timed rounds, that will impact your strategy.

With timed rounds, there will be some scenarios (in all of which you are behind, and time is growing scarce) in which the risk of vulching is justified by preventing additional precious seconds from draining from the clock.
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Re: Vulching

Post by Jangar » Thu May 23, 2019 2:28 pm

matthewspatrick wrote:
Tue May 14, 2019 3:52 pm
You should also tune the strategy to the rule set you are playing. More specifically: if the format you are using has timed rounds, that will impact your strategy.
Although I've never played in a format or scenario in which doing so would be relevant, I've heard of players performing "clock-killing negs" in order to run the game time down to zero when slightly up towards the end of the match. Obviously, though, there's a great deal of risk associated with this practice, and it would presumably be useful only in very niche situations.
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Re: Vulching

Post by matthewspatrick » Thu May 23, 2019 3:23 pm

Jangar wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 2:28 pm
matthewspatrick wrote:
Tue May 14, 2019 3:52 pm
You should also tune the strategy to the rule set you are playing. More specifically: if the format you are using has timed rounds, that will impact your strategy.
Although I've never played in a format or scenario in which doing so would be relevant, I've heard of players performing "clock-killing negs" in order to run the game time down to zero when slightly up towards the end of the match. Obviously, though, there's a great deal of risk associated with this practice, and it would presumably be useful only in very niche situations.
In events using official NAQT rules there is no such thing as a "clock-killing neg", as once the moderator starts a tossup-bonus cycle, s/he completes it even if time expires during the cycle.

Under College Bowl rules a clock-killing neg could potentially have been a thing. (In that format, on tossups a player may attempt an answer as long as s/he buzzed in before time expired, and any bonuses come to an abrupt halt when time expires.)
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Re: Vulching

Post by jonpin » Thu May 23, 2019 5:16 pm

matthewspatrick wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 3:23 pm
Jangar wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 2:28 pm
matthewspatrick wrote:
Tue May 14, 2019 3:52 pm
You should also tune the strategy to the rule set you are playing. More specifically: if the format you are using has timed rounds, that will impact your strategy.
Although I've never played in a format or scenario in which doing so would be relevant, I've heard of players performing "clock-killing negs" in order to run the game time down to zero when slightly up towards the end of the match. Obviously, though, there's a great deal of risk associated with this practice, and it would presumably be useful only in very niche situations.
In events using official NAQT rules there is no such thing as a "clock-killing neg", as once the moderator starts a tossup-bonus cycle, s/he completes it even if time expires during the cycle.

Under College Bowl rules a clock-killing neg could potentially have been a thing. (In that format, on tossups a player may attempt an answer as long as s/he buzzed in before time expired, and any bonuses come to an abrupt halt when time expires.)
It is worth noting that NAQT used a hybrid of that rule until sometime early this decade, wherein if a bonus was in progress it would be completed, but a tossup would die instantly.
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Re: Vulching

Post by ValenciaQBowl » Thu Jun 06, 2019 11:36 am

At Valencia, where I'm dealing nearly exclusively with new players with no QB experience coming in, I'm very strict about the no-vulching policy. Returning players can recite my standard example to noobs, which involves telling them they better wait even if the giveaway is "F10P, name this guy who lived at Mount Vernon and is on the dollar bill and also was the first president." (Obnoxious, I know).

Mike already noted that his ideas were more for experienced teams, but truly brand-new players (many of whom most on this board probably rarely see) will often vulch badly since they don't fully understand the points consequences. Further, I try to emphasize that we should always care about team success, not individual ppg, so it's not particularly important who answers (though I understand this is easier for me to say than players to always accept). If they want to buzzer race after the question ends, so be it, though I frequently get players who buzz with a couple words left in the question, which they justify by saying they thought the question was over (leading to another of my annoying coachisms: "You know how you can tell if the question is over? The moderator has stopped reading.")

I think a lot of this can be made moot by allowing non-verbal consultation (are there tournaments outside of the Florida CC circuit where this isn't allowed anymore?). Beyond what Mike and Jacob have indicated as possibilities, shrugs or pointing at teammates can help players decide who should take a dead duck that no one's sure about.
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Re: Vulching

Post by Cheynem » Thu Jun 06, 2019 11:48 am

What you could also do is if you do not have a guess at all, is put your buzzer down (carefully so you don't accidentally buzz).
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Re: Vulching

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Thu Jun 06, 2019 12:46 pm

I've seen captains point to a specific player on the team, to say "YOU buzz in and take this one". This could be another way to determine who buzzes in.

I agree with Chris that a lot of the advice in this thread is for like 99th percentile teams seeking to become 99.9th percentile teams. Most teams would be better served by having a strict no-vulch policy.
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Re: Vulching

Post by theMoMA » Thu Jun 06, 2019 1:54 pm

I do think that this whole discussion is helpful in the context of newer players and teams, simply because it's very disheartening when your team fails to convert something that one of you knew at the end, and it's very frustrating when you or a teammate vulches incorrectly and zeroes you out that way. I recall this being even more frustrating when questions the other team negged were the main chance for my team getting points.

I probably would not suggest that a random new team or player take Mike's strategy (which I'm also a fan of, especially when you have an open team of experienced players who don't have a well-developed chemistry), simply because I wouldn't think newer players would have a developed sense of when they were absolutely sure. But if I had some newer players whose big problem seemed to be confidence, and they were kicking lots of questions in vulch situations because everyone was sitting around being afraid to buzz, I'd consider having them buzz in before the end to gain more trust in their own abilities. In other words, I think Chris's approach with his Valencia teams makes total sense as a good default for newer players, but there are situations when being aware of other approaches might help, even for newer teams.
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Re: Vulching

Post by Cheynem » Thu Jun 06, 2019 2:01 pm

I think the key is no matter what you do, make sure everyone is on the same page and don't act out of thinking about PPG (yours or others).
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Re: Vulching

Post by John Ketzkorn » Thu Jun 06, 2019 2:39 pm

An attempt to craft a theory for more experienced players:

I maintain the writer has some responsible to ensure the giveaway isn't confusing or takes away a common answer, as such I usually operate under the assumption that the giveaway clue has the highest conversion rate of all the clues. Therefore, in high stakes, waiting till the end would be the optimal play in terms of expectation value. There is no concern of someone buzzing who shouldn't be if there's proper communication about who studies what categories on the team (even if there is overlap, there's a general feel for who knows a certain sub-category best). Illinois typically practices this at tournaments by having the person who studies the category pick up the tossup. If the de facto answerer is confused, they'll set down their buzzer and this gives a beat for someone confident to buzz in before the remaining members (including the person who set down their buzzer) to have a chance to buzz in with guesses*.

There are exceptions to waiting to the end when the clock is involved since time becomes a valuable currency when you're behind. Or the scenario where you need to power to even have a chance to win. When there are bounce backs, there's also the rare scenario where you just want to let the tossup go dead.

In the low stakes setting like a practice during off/early season, I like testing my knowledge of a clue and working on my game by treating the tossup as live even after the other team negged, but obviously if this is practice for a national championship or something high stakes, you should practice as you plan to play.

*Usually the person who covers the category / subcategory best delivers the guess, but if they have nothing with any confidence, it falls to whoever in good-faith believes they have a guess.
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