Directly from the Tricon (Pittsburgh web site)
TRICON Judging - How it Works
If you've entered a model at one of the Three Rivers TRICON shows in the last 10 or so years you noticed that things were a little different as soon as you put your models on the contest tables. Instead of lots of small areas marked off for very specific scales and subjects (such as 1/48 Aircraft - Single Engine Prop), there are whole tables marked for broad categories like 1/48 and larger Aircraft. And when it came to awards time, things probably seemed even more different as modelers were given gold, silver and bronze medallions instead of the usual 1st, 2nd and 3rd place plaques.
Three Rivers is one of a few clubs using a system known as Chicago Rules or Open Judging. The big difference is that rather than pick the 3 best models from a small group of models, Open Judging scores every model into 4 tiers: gold, silver, bronze and no-award. All of the models scoring a gold receive a gold medallion, all of the models scored silver receive a silver medallion, and so on. If there are four really good 1/48 P-51s entered, all 4 can receive a gold medal and go on to compete for the Best Aircraft award. In a regular 1st-2nd-3rd sort of contest, the judges would have to sort out which of the four was the best, second best, third best and which went home empty handed. It helps eliminate the element of luck: under Open Judging a model's chance of earning an award no longer depends on what other models happened to show up that day.
So why doesn't everyone use Open Judging? Some of the reasons are practical. Since you don't know exactly how many models are going to win awards the club needs to buy a lot of extras. And since the judges look closely at every model, judging takes a little longer than at a 1-2-3 event. This is all true, but they are not impossible problems - as demonstrated by the number of big long-running shows using this system. Open Judging is used at a lot of big (non-IPMS) figure and model contests, including MFCA (figures), AMPS (armor), and Wonderfest (sci-fi). The club has refined this system over the years, and it's now a point of pride in the club that we've made it work when lots of experts said it couldn't be done.
How does it work? A lot like judging at a regular IPMS contest.
There are 3 man judging teams, made up of Three Rivers club members and outside volunteers.In this way we get diverse opinions and introduce more people to the open judging system. We also invite potential judges to accompany the teams to learn how our system works. If you are interested, please contact any club member at the show.
Each judging team works through the models in a category, looking closely at every model (the team puts a colored sticker on the model-entry form to keep track of which ones they've looked at so far).
The judges are looking for the same things, using the same criteria they would at a regular IPMS contest - all the basics listed in the IPMS Competition Handbook. After giving the model a good once over, each judge tells the other judges the good and the bad that they found.
Each judge then privately assigns a score to the model - either Gold, Silver, Bronze or No Award - according to these guidelines:
Bronze: The model has no glaring flaws in finish or construction as seen from a casual viewing distance. At closer range a number of minor flaws may be noticeable but are not concentrated in one area and do not indicate a lack of basic skills (for example, one decal, but not all, may be silvered). This level of quality indicates the modeler is doing the right things but needs to be more consistent in execution. Basic craftsmanship is good, but realism or attention to details may be lacking.
Silver: Compared to Bronze, the model has a higher level of craftsmanship in all areas: very few flaws, finishes are realistic, stance and ride height are correct, basic techniques have been used to add detail and improve appearance (exposed edges are realistically thinned, gun barrels or exhaust stacks are drilled out, etc).
Gold: In general, a Gold award indicates an exceptional level of craftsmanship - practically no flaws or omissions of basic techniques should be present. Current best practices for assembly and finishing are used throughout and are executed correctly. Often the difference between a Silver and a Gold award comes down to how challenging the build was; a more elaborate or highly detailed model is likely to demonstrate a level of craftsmanship that offsets minor mistakes. An out-of-the-box model can receive a Gold award, but it must exhibit the highest standards.
After the judging team scores a model, the individual score sheets are handed in to a scorekeeper who totals the 3 scores in much the same way that school grades are averaged to compute a GPA. In general, in order to receive a Gold award, at least 2 judges must score the model as a Gold, and similarly for Silver and Bronze. Experience has shown that individual judges usually agree quite closely; the scorekeepers watch for disparaties and in the rare case they find one will ask the team to re-evaluate the model.
Hopefully that gives you an idea of what to expect at our show. If you have any questions, or if you've tried our show and have comments about the judging we'd love to hear what you think - please drop us an email or grab a judge at the show.