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Finish with a flourish

I've only just found out that Magnus Carlsen completed his win in the 2016 World Chess Championship with a queen sacrifice. That's like going 2-0 up at the end of the World Cup Final with a scorpion kick - yes, you'd need to get the opportunity but imagine the coolness and daring in achieving it. What a star.

Organisational improvisation

The last individual round of the WSC was cut at no notice from 30 minutes to 20 minutes for the single puzzle "because we have decided it is too easy". Sure enough after about six minutes the first cry of "Finished" went up and began to be echoed all round the hall. It seemed there was only one lady collecting the scripts (and writing the times down on them) as she began to exclaim "Oh!" after each call. There was even a note in her voice suggesting competitors should stop doing this to her.

Of course, we had to ignore this and crack on with the puzzle, and I was surprised that when I finished, my paper was collected by another of the (best) competitors, who had finished quickly and decided to become an extra invigilator to fix the problem. In the other half of the room I saw another of the top solvers doing the same. I was very impressed at the ingenuity and selflessness behind poachers turning gamekeepers so suddenly.

Less impressive were the official organisers on that final day: first one round was delayed by an hour - it turned out that the printers had sent through two batches of answers the evening before rather than one of puzzles and one of answers. When I complained that this was going to make me miss my flight, I was reassured that one of the team rounds had been cancelled, as late testing revealed the puzzle was broken (whether ambiguous or impossible I don't know). And then the same late testing had determined that the round mentioned above should be shorter than planned - all in all, quite a lot of failures in the preparation. All serving to remind one how smooth the London tournament was last year; well done to the UKPA.


Similar to the WSC, the UK's 4-man A-team all finished in the top 50 at the WPC: James McG 21st, Neil Z 29th, David McN 44th, Tom C 45th. Great results in a way, and better than the WSC, though I suspect all 4 team members may think things didn't fall their way. Still, great to see David claim the Over-50s prize in this event too! So many parallels.

On to the Times Crossword Championship, which was simultaneous with the finals of the WPC this year: I was able to steer through a tough set of final puzzles in just under 30 minutes to claim a ninth success, but well done to Neil Talbott who finished in 36 minutes and change some way clear of a virtual dead-heat for 3rd (David Howelll and Chris Williams). The Times surprised me by welcoming Craig from the Guinnness World of Records up to announce a new category for most successive wins in this event. I suppose I would have claimed this three years ago if it had existed, but after his fourth win in 1975 John Sykes famously was asked not to compete if he had won the year before.

The fact that he competed in 1979 and didn't win means he only ever won (a mere!) five successive events in which he took part, though, so I don't feel too bad about this 'record'. And the article in the newspaper has consequently impressed people who know me more than usual. So that's nice.

WSC update

Just back from Bulgaria. Well done, Kota Morinishi, who has successfully defended his title as World Sudoku Champion. It was also fun to catch up with many who are gradually becoming better friends from this annual tournament. Some fabulous puzzles too. Great fun!

British results:
David McN 19th
Heather G 44th 1,790 pts
Neil Z (B-team) 1,765 pts
Mark G 48th 1,740 pts
Tom C 49th 1,737 pts

All 4 A-team members in the top 50 is a great result, as is David's top 20 finish. This and our team round performances took the UK's A team up to 8th, ahead of some teams we would never expect to beat. Note that participants who did not qualify for official A teams do not get officially placed, so probably a dozen or so people, including Neil, finished ahead of me without pushing me down from 48th. Bad luck, Tom, who was reeling me in all the way after his bad first two rounds and came up short by the tiniest possible margin.

And perhaps I'm the only person in the world who cares about this UK one-two in the Over-50's category: 1st David McNeill, 2nd Me.
MSO: didn't attend, as was predicted. Times Sudoku: I came 2nd, as was predictable. Well done, Tom Collyer, the only person in the field I KNOW is better than me. Note careful phrasing to allow that others may be.

This time next week I'll be solving at the World Sudoku Championship in Sofia. Can't deny I'm excited.

Thought for the day: The WSC and WPC (World Puzzle Championship) are always run back-to-back, which is very sensible, as many compete in both. Unquestionably there is always a vibe that the WPC is the senior discipline, and of course this will be the 24th WPC and only the 11th WSC. While I'll acknowledge that sudoku is the younger discipline, I note that it is the one that generates all the outside interest, including press coverage - as people can understand what it's about in theory due to exposure to sudoku, while (logic-style, language-neutral) 'puzzles' have to be explained in some detail.

At some point the WSC will seem like the more important competition, I think.

Is Bridge a sport?

The EBU continues to argue that bridge is a sport and Sport England that it is not. The case is going to judicial review after Mr Justice Mostyn, in April, answered Sport England's case that “The starting point of the definition of sport is physical activity, bridge cannot ever satisfy this definition” with “If the brain is a muscle, it does – you are doing more physical activity playing bridge, with all that dealing and playing, than in rifle shooting.”

The EBU clearly want to be eligible for a share of Sport England's grants. Sport England see it as their remit to get Britain fitter.

Given that this blog is called "Thought sports", and that I am clearly very interested in competitive mental pursuits, you might expect me to argue for the inclusion of bridge as a sport. But I am afraid that it does not seem very sensible to me to argue for a word's meaning to be extended to cover things which most people who use the word don't mean when they use it. My title is a metaphor.

Instead, in an ideal world, the Government would allocate some funds to be shared around chess, bridge, Scrabble, perhaps even sudoku. Maybe not crossword solving. A very small disbursement of public funds in these areas would go a long way to promoting activities beneficial to intelligence, in my view - and the same applies to private funds, dear reader with a sponsorship budget.

And the judge's ignorance is disappointing if he thinks the brain is a muscle. Also given that competition bridge players never have to do any dealing, 'move between rounds' is the only exertion other than picking up and putting down cards. So I think even rifle shooting trumps it.


Well, predictably, a dearth of postings deteriorated into none at all. So let's try a little catch-up before the last one becomes fully twelve months old. That was looking at competition season having just finished, while this one looks at competition season just approaching.

Firstly congratulations to the following winners in the last eleven months:
Magnus Carlsen retaining the World Chess Championship in November - I didn't 'watch' much of it but I happened to be online when Carlsen made his mistake in Game 6 and Anand replied with his own within ten seconds thus failing to capitalise. Carlsen went on to establish a lead he never lost - very exciting stuff (honest).
Craig Beevers winning the World Scrabble Championship for the UK for the first time in 21 years.
Kota Morinishi and Ulrich Voigt, the World Sudoku and Puzzle Champions, Ulrich for an impossible tenth time and Kota bringing the championship to its spiritual home for the first time.
Misremembered Apple, for winning DASH 7 (London): I don't know who you are but you helped depress the Magpie team, as did the fiendishly hard puzzles. On reflection, many thanks to the organisers - we're at the end of the spectrum who prefer puzzles being a bit hard to a bit easy. And we were mollified by being in the top 20 globally, after assuming we'd had a lousy day.

Now then, on the horizon (or already underway):
Mind Sports Olympiad: 23-31 Aug, London. The Sudoku/Kenken event is on Sunday, and my wife is telling me I can't go. Boo.
Times Sudoku Championship: 19 Sept, London.
World Sudoku/Puzzle Championships: 11-18 Oct, Sofia.
Times Crossword Championship, 17 Oct, London.

A successful run

Quite a lot of competition has been going on lately.

First, the Mind Sports Olympiad Sudoku/Kenken competition on Friday 22nd Aug: as usual, there were just over a dozen entrants, and this year the test was pretty stiff - I suspect the organisers had underestimated how hard Kenken is once the puzzles start getting bigger than 6x6 and there are no givens. Things started badly when I misread the start time, and turned up after the contest had begun; however, I finished the 14 puzzles, with checking, in 80 minutes, and waited another hour before going back to work. Nobody else had handed in at that point - but then came the longest wait ever for marking results, fully 8 days. Surely in this modern age, some method of communicating the results was possible? Still, being marked correct made everything OK - and congrats to the UKPA's David Collison, who took bronze too.

Then, the Times Sudoku Comp on Saturday 29th Aug. A fascinating mixup between the organisers and puzzle providers led to the standard of puzzle being much harder than usual (Super Fiendish rather than Fiendish was the prevailing view), and this meant that only 9 competitors out of 90 had a fully-correct 4 puzzles in each of the two one-hour sessions. 7 of the 8 finalists had been in finals before (and two had won the event), but it was 20-year-old Nina Rowe who finished first, in 20 minutes. This was very galling for me, as I was just finishing my fourth puzzle, and so resigned myself to a 40-minute wait for results as a prelude to a 1-year wait for another crack at the title. But in fact, Nina had erred on the tough Puzzle 2 (which I also broke when I tried again two days later!), and I won this competition for the first time. Bad luck to Tom Collyer, who finished second, having comprehensively whipped me in both heats, and who will know that it was my annoyingly unscientific method that allowed me to get there first - perhaps by chance.

A week later, I was teaming up with Tom and four other members of the UKPA for a puzzle hunt in London called Girls and Boys Come out to Play. Ten excellent puzzles and a fair bit of walking later, we put Humpty back together again, and greatly enjoyed the process. Not really a competition this time, as lunch-breaks and asking for hints are entirely up to each team, but we were pleased to reach the final venue ahead of the other six teams! And it was a great chance to introduce my daughter to the world of puzzles, so thanks to my teamies for their tolerance.

WSC 2014

Ah, the joys of competition! What a buzz to take part in the World Sudoku Championship, the first one in the UK, and to enjoy again the cross-cultural camaraderie of a world championship.

My 'stretch goal' was to get into the top 50, so to finish 48th (officially, amongst the qualified competitors - actually 58th of the 176 total entrants) was a pleasing result. The icing was to edge into the 2nd UK placing (by one position, and a mere 14 points out of 2,000).

The Guardian caught me at a low ebb after Round 4, and the quotes in their online article suggest I was having a nightmare - which was true enough at the time: though Round 4 proved the toughest, it was also my personal relative worst and after it I was lying 68th. Every round after that went much better for me, and provided a real buzz with plenty (by my standards) of puzzles completed, usually including one within the last minute of the allocated time - which always leaves you feeling quite high.

Much kudos goes to the organising committee who, from a slow start, have achieved a successful and well-run event at the beautiful Selsdon Park Hotel. The puzzles have been excellent, and also the production values, while the admin has gone very well despite a huge effort required to maintain it. Thanks, all.

And good luck to the World Puzzle Championship contenders, starting out as I write. Real hopes here for Neil Zussman and James McGowan to push the UK team to new heights and achieve great things individually.


Puzzled Pint

A great time at PuzzledPint last night - 4 puzzles and the meta all done in 20 minutes. Admittedly we had seven in our team, but that's four less than Germany and it took them 20 minutes to score five too.

I suppose the only trouble is that division of labour means no player has had a chance to see all the puzzles while they're live, but they can always catch up on the others thanks to the organiser's generosity in giving out extra copies afterwards (but no hints unless you're asked for them, Dan, even after the official clock is stopped!).

We also discovered that our winning time was swapped with another team's in the official results last month - that's cold.