I judged in San Diego over the weekend. A couple of thoughts and observations;
I judged IPA and American Ales
About 90 IPA's were judged, About 20 advanced to a mini-BOS.
About 60 American Ales were judged, 15-18 advanced to mini-BOS
This is the first time I used the "Checklist" Scoresheets. I like them. At first I was hesitant, but I think they are effective. Talking to other judges, they had the same sentiment.
If you want to have better odds on advancing to the 2nd round, brew lagers, ciders, and meads. Most of them had less than 10 entries per category. I believe the Pilsner category only had 5 entries.
Quaff and the local organizers run a great 1st round. They get a lot of judges. For the IPA category, they had 22 judges and most if not all were BJCP certified. I don't think any judges judged more than 10 beers per flight.
Also judged in San Diego and agree with your comments. They do a great job running it, I think this was my 4th or 5th year and it gets better each time.
I had Strong Ale and there were 24 entries for 8 judges, 9 made the mini-bos and were all very good of course. So although I'm confident we got it right it was challenging and took some discussion and give and take to get there. A very enjoyable mini-bos session with the other two excellent judges.
One of the hard things about the mini-bos format is to see a beer not medal when you think it might have been one that you scored >40 on a score sheet. I purposely try to NOT to remember the entry numbers of the ones we send along so I can (hopefully) be more objective, so most of the time I have no clue or I'm just not sure.