Tight Call Basics

By Danny Jaffe, Brandeis University ’17

If you spend some time on APDA, you will almost certainly be in a round where it is necessary to know some debate theory. Usually, debate theory refers to tight calls, spec calls, status quo calls, and counter-cases, but it also refers to just generally debating about the rules and nature of debating. In this article, I am going to focus on the most common aspect of debate theory: the tight call.

What is a tight case?

While you can run debate cases about almost anything you want, there are some rules that govern the types of cases you are allowed to run. One of these rules is that cases cannot be “tight”. A tight case is a case that is unbeatable or inarguable, which can be possible for a few reasons:
1) It is a truism. For example…
Case statement: We say Barack Obama is the best Democratic president of the 21st century.
This case is tight because it is a factually correct statement that is impossible for opp to dispute. Barack Obama has been the only Democratic president of the 21st century, so he has to be the best.
2) It is a tautology. For example…
Case statement: Countries in NATO are required to defend another member of NATO if attacked. We say, if Russia attacks the UK, the US, should defend the UK.”
This case is tight because the UK and US are in NATO, and therefore the first statement, which requires NATO members to defend each other, is the same as the second statement since the US is required to defend the UK. In other words, if A (NATO) is required to do X (protect other members of NATO), and B and C (the US and UK) equal A (members of NATO), then B must be required to do X, and that cannot be debated.
3) It is simply correct/an obviously good idea. For example…
Case statement: We say the United States should legalize marijuana.
This case is tight because there is no way an opposition team could ever reasonably win a round arguing that marijuana should be criminalized. From unjust paternalism to medicinal value to public safety, no matter what an opp team says there are no arguments that would be compelling enough to beat the overwhelmingly strong arguments in favor of gov.
4) It is abusive. For example…
Case statement: We say that it would be preferable if countries that punish sodomy as a capital crime did not do so.
This case is tight because you are forcing opp to defend a position that just about every person on APDA would and should find deeply offensive and morally reprehensible. Don’t run cases like that.

The Rules

First: If opp feels like gov proposed a tight case, the LO at the top of LOC can “call the case tight”. The only time you can call a case tight is at the start of the LOC.
Second: The only issue now in the entire round is whether or not the case is tight.
Third: Opp is now proving why the case is tight and gov is now defending why it is not (imagine the two teams are switching sides).

Calling a Case Tight (if you are on opp)

You are on opp and the Prime Minister gets up to deliver case statement, and upon hearing it you realize you have no idea how to opp it because the case seems so…correct. If you literally cannot think of any opps to the case, or any opps you can think of are merely mitigatory or easily outweighed by other factors, then you can consider calling the case “tight”. Calling a case tight basically means that you are going to switch sides of the debate. You as opp are now going to argue why the case is unbeatable, and gov is going to argue why the case is beatable.
LO: If you want to call a case tight, make sure you explicitly say at the beginning of LOC that you are calling the case tight. After you initiate the tight call, spend a bit of time talking about the rules of tight calls and some debate theory. You want to do this because first of all, not all judges will know what a tight call is, but second of all spending some time talking about why tight cases are bad for debate and why the case being debated today specifically is bad for debate makes your speech much more impactful. One of the most important things you want to make sure you mention is that gov can’t just come up in MG and list off a bunch of potential arguments from a sheet of paper, as their burden is not to show there are arguments against the case but to show that there are arguments that can beat the case, which means they need to show how potential opp arguments could outweigh gov’s arguments. After you have talked about the rules and significance of the tight call, give an overview about what particularly about the case makes it tight. When you are done with that you should then start going over all of the potential arguments you could have made against the case, and then explain why these arguments would have been inadequate to win the round. Finally, after you are done talking about potential arguments, you should go back to the on-case and elaborate on why those arguments are unbeatable or how the MG could have made those points even stronger.
MO: Remember that the only voting issue in this round is that the case is tight. All you have to do is keep on explaining why the case is tight. The MO is the most important speech for opp in a tight call round because it is the only chance you will have to give constructive arguments to counter gov’s “tight block” (arguments against the case). Make sure if you do nothing else you respond to gov’s tight block to show why those arguments are still unwinnable (maybe they are weak, maybe they are easily outweighed, etc). Other than that, just rebuild what the LO said as your normally would, or flow through the drops if no rebuilding is necessary.
LOR: LORs in tight calls are pretty similar to normal LORs; just crystalize whatever the clash of the round was as usual, and make sure you pay attention to things like debate theory as well and not just arguments regarding tightness.

Getting Tight Called (if you are on gov)

First, don’t run tight cases. By running cases designed to be nearly impossible to engage with you are intentionally diminishing the value of the discussion and argumentation, but additionally, they tend to lead to worse rounds even if not called tight and that is likely to be reflected by the judges in speaks. On the other hand, if your case is not tight but gets tight called you should be ecstatic since it should be an easy task to prove your case is not tight.
MG: The most important thing to remember if you are on gov and your case gets called tight is the ultimate goal of your side now is to justify why your case is arguable and winnable for opp, so think of it as a switch of sides and that you are now opp trying to beat your case. The next thing you want to do is immediately think of and write down as many arguments as you can that could beat the case. After you do this, show why the case is reasonable by developing the arguments written down against your case, coming up with responses to all of the LOC arguments why the case is tight (both their overview(s) and “possible opps”), and explaining why your original points are not actually that strong. Now it is time to give your speech. The first thing you want to do is try to mock how absurd the tight call is by giving an overview about how obvious and substantial the opp is. The second thing you want to do is discuss some of the important debate theory of tight calls which are 1) by choosing to call the case tight opp has put an extremely high burden on themselves since they have to demonstrate that it was actually impossible to give any winnable arguments against the case and 2) that gov only has one constructive speech in the entire round now, so the burden of gov is not to “win the round” or “beat the case” but to just show that with a full round and two constructive speeches it would have been possible for opp to develop any one of the arguments against your case compellingly enough to win. The third thing you want to do is discuss the arguments against your case that you wrote down during LOC, occasionally weaving in statements about how easy it would have been for opp to make this argument. The fourth thing you want to do is respond to their “possible opps” by either strengthening those arguments or admitting that those arguments are just stupid opps and that a case isn’t tight just because opp can’t think of the opps. The final thing you want to do, if you have time, is go on-case and talk about why those arguments aren’t actually that strong, and maybe even by mocking your own case.
PMR: PMRs in tight calls are pretty similar to normal PMRs; just crystalize whatever the clash of the round was as usual, and make sure you pay attention to things like debate theory as well and not just arguments regarding tightness.

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