Trivia playing ban = civil rights violation?

Over the weekend, I received this message from a trivia player in the Hudson Valley.  And although I wasn’t sure how to respond… I do have some ideas, based on my personal experience in playing bar and tavern trivia.

Here’s the tweet in question.


At the time, I initially responded back to him about several possible scenarios why a trivia host could restrict someone from playing if they won on multiple weeks.

This morning, I received another message regarding the situation.

Yes, the timestamp on those cell phone screen captures is accurate.  I do write blog posts at 3:00 in the morning.  But let’s get back to the topic at hand.

First off, my suspicion is that there is more to this story than meets the eye.  Yes, I’ve dealt with bar owners who felt that my winning trivia games at their establishment was bad for business, so much so that at least one bar owner said that I won too many times and he didn’t want me playing there any more.  Eventually I felt that if they were willing to ban me from playing, then I was going to boycott that restaurant.  And I kept that boycott for a few years – yes, I do hold grudges – until eventually relations normalized and the bar owner and I made peace.

I’ve also dealt with trivia hosts that have gotten their nose out of joint – most recently last year, when my trivia team participated in a tournament final.  The host of the trivia company didn’t appreciate that one of my teammates wrote some criticism of that host’s game in my blog, and actually banned my teammate from participating in the finals.  Let’s put it this way.  We won’t know if we could have won WITH my teammate that night, but I do know that we lost WITHOUT my teammate that night.

And a trivia host DOES have the right to ban someone from the game should he suspect that they’re using a cell phone to get answers.  True story.  Way back in 2011, I participated in a trivia game in which one team missed the first question, then they went 18-for-18 with correct answers.  But here’s the thing.  They were using a cell phone the entire night, and the trivia host – who caught on rather quickly to the chicanery – simply let them keep playing, then at the final question, he disqualified them from the final prize for their use of a cell phone in the game.

A trivia host can also ban a team from playing if they discover that a team might try to “game the system” to win a match.  For example – although my regular trivia game is Monday night at Brown’s Brewing in Troy, I sometimes will play a game at Jessica Stones on Friday nights, or maybe Recovery Room in Troy on Wednesday nights – you know, if I feel like getting an extra game of competitive team trivia under my belt.  But if I do play at these other locations, I will let the host know that I’ve played there in the past, so that he won’t re-use the questions on another night, thus giving me an “I know these questions already” advantage.

A few years ago, one of the trivia hosts caught a team doing a “double-dip” trivia game – they would play at the host’s Friday night “happy hour” trivia game at one location, and then the team would drive to another bar that same evening – where the game would start later and the questions would be re-used, albeit with a different host – and run the table and win.  That lasted about two weeks before the trivia hosts caught on and kept an emergency set of questions handy should that team try such a stunt in the future.

See, here’s the thing.  Competitive bar trivia is supposed to be a fun time.  You’re playing for beer and wings and a gift certificate and maybe two tickets to the local open mike show at Yuk Yuk’s.  If you don’t like playing trivia at that location, certainly there are other places where you can get your brain-training done.

And if a trivia host feels that you’re violating the spirit of the game – cheating with a cell phone, double-dipping to get the same questions at multiple locations, that kind of thing – they do have a right to say that you or your team can’t play in their game.

The solutions?  There are many.

Sometimes a trivia host can restrict the number of times a person can win over a period of a month.  Say, if you won three weeks in a row, you couldn’t win the grand prize for another couple of weeks.  Or if the prize had a substantial cash value to it – say, box seats at a Yankees game – the trivia host could install a lottery or raffle system, in which your winnings over time would translate into raffle tickets, which would be drawn at the end of the trivia game or tournament.

But something tells me that I’m not getting the complete story regarding this current player’s ban from the trivia game.  The old adage about there being three sides to every story – his, hers, and the truth in the middle – makes me suspect that there might be more to this tale than I’ve been told.

That being said, here’s how I feel about the situation.

Competitive team trivia is more “team” than “competitive.”  Nobody’s going to start a Jets vs. Sharks rumble after a trivia game.  Well, there was that one time where one team went totally Grape Ape over another squad winning, and chewed out the trivia host because of it

And trivia hosts do appreciate having a team that wins legitimately week after week, if for no other reason than other teams want to try to defeat the “big bad trivia team” and win the prize.  Heck, if the Skidmarks can win Trivia Bowl, then anything is possible. 🙂

So here’s what I say about all this.

It’s a game.  It’s not life or death.  Playing competitive team trivia is a way to spend time with friends and eat and drink and share your knowledge of useless information.  It’s an opportunity to have a good time.

And if the host or the bar feels that a team is winning too often, they can either restrict the number of times a team can win, or they can try to round up other teams to play at that location.  If they do restrict the number of times a team can win over a certain period – say, you can’t win the grand prize three weeks in a row – they have to announce that ahead of time, not after the team has won its third week in a row.

Also… if you don’t like playing at that location, there are dozens of trivia nights in bars and restaurants.  Can’t stand the host on Tuesday night? Go play a game at a different location on Wednesday night.  Heck, I’ve seen some players actually try to host their own game.  You know… walk a mile in the trivia host’s shoes.  Of course, then you’ve walked a mile away and you have the host’s shoes…

I still think, however, that there’s more to this story than I’ve been told.  And maybe, just maybe, there’s more to this little spat than meets the eye.

So tell me what you think regarding all this.  Do you think the host has a right to ban teams or players?  Do you think that the player is being discriminated against for winning too many times?  Or do you think this is eventually all just a tempest in a teacup?