[Photos from the event courtesy of Thailand Crossword Game Association]
The annual BRANDS Crossword Game King’s Cup was moved from the capital to the province of Nonthaburi. Last weekend, hundreds gather at Central Westgate, a newly-built shopping complex which was just opened less than a year ago last August. The main event (Scrabble) attracted competitors from 20 countries. This year the narrative was more exciting than what the organizers hoped for.
Central Plaza Westgate was opened just last year
Before the event Pichai Limprasert, ranked 101st in the world (due to less opportunities to play in official matches), had collected seven (!) consecutive wins in national events throughout the season. The level at the top of Thailand’s Scrabble players is very narrow – which made this record previously unimaginable. Would he be the one to snatch the 31st King’s Cup from 3-time world champion, New Zealander Nigel Richards?
Every square inch of the hall was used to accommodate thousands of competitors
Crowds gather at other venues inside the mall
When the 29-round qualifying matches begun, Pichai looked like a champion in the making as he led the pack from round 2 to round 5. His dominance was briefly interrupted by Singaporean Ming Hui Wee for four rounds before Pichai reclaimed his lead. Pichai reigned supreme until the very end (round 9-28!) until finally succumbing to Nigel Richards in their round 29 encounter.
Scrabble players compete in 29 qualifying rounds…
… but only two spots in the finals
The two qualified for a three-game playoff and traded one win each allowing a cinematic last game. Nigel won that 469-356 and defended the King’s Cup once again, pocketing a handsome $10,000 USD.
Nigel Richards (left) defends his King’s Cup from a new challenger, Pichai Limprasert (right)
The match extended to a third game
For the last two years, the King’s and Queen’s Cups remained with their defending champions – but this was to change since Kota Morinishi, after getting a new job, was absent from this year’s tournament. Familiar international favourites include Jan Mrozowski (his 4th trip to Thailand), Yuhei Kusui (who won in 2012) and his compatriot Takuya Sugimoto, who is still looking for his first podium finish.
Like previous years, the prizes were donated by the Royal Family
A new name struck fear among the competitors in Tiit Vunk who flew in from Estonia to have a go at winning the Cup. Once again, putting up the resistance is half the Thai national team; Sinchai Rungsangrattanakul (who won in 2010) and Supachai Thongsawang (who came 3rd twice in 2014-15).
Jan Mrozowski, his 4th time in Thailand
Yuhei Kusui was the last holder of the Queen’s Cup in 2012, before Kota’s three-year reign (2013-2015)
Sinchai Rungsangrattanakul, looking for his 2nd win
Newcomer, Tiit Vunk
The format of 6 qualifying rounds provided little drama and 4 names quickly distanced themselves away from the field to secure spots in the final 5; Jan, Tiit, Sinchai and Takuya. Only Supachai and Yuhei had realistic chances to earn the 5th seat in the finals. When the preliminaries were over it was Yuhei who remain in the fight for the 10th Sudoku Queen’s Cup.
2016 finalists: Takuya, Sinchai, Tiit, Jan and Yuhei
The finals consisted of 4 basic variants to be solved on stage. After three years of getting used to the whiteboard, Jan Mrozowski finished all four puzzles, just 21 seconds before Sinchai, and is rewarded with $5000 USD. Tiit Vunk earned the bronze medal despite having 4 errors in the Irregular Sudoku. The two Japanese finalists had uncompleted grids and finish 4th (Takuya) and 5th (Yuhei).
Jan Mrozowski adds another title to his name
Sounds like a fun weekend to me!
Previous winners of the BRANDS Queen’s Cup
2007 – Chatchakarn Roongsiri
2008 – Panupol Sujjayakorn
2009 – John Robert Valcos
2010 – Sinchai Rungsangrattanakul
2011 – Poramet Yosamornsoontorn
2012 – Yuhei Kusui
2013 – Kota Morinishi
2014 – Kota Morinishi
2015 – Kota Morinishi
Only Kota has won more than once. Runners-up have included Rishi Puri (on multiple occasions) and well-known Chinese author and solver Chen Cen (2010).