Light Read #4 – The Chinese Formula

In London 2009, at the World Memory Championship, Wang Feng surprised the field with a solid debut performance finishing at 5th place. This definitely got China conferring and in 2010, China auctioned off the rights to host 3 years of the World Memory Championships. Believing this would create a boom of Chinese mental athletes and hoping to produce a world champion of memory within three years, they set up the venue for the 2010 edition at Guangzhou.

By the time you finish fingering through all the cards, Wang Feng would've had it all memorized.

By the time you finish fingering through all the cards, Wang Feng would’ve had it all memorized.

In a little more than one year, the same Wang Feng claimed gold in his home turf at the 2010 World Memory Championship, setting the new world record of memorizing a deck of cards in just over 24 seconds. The record is later broken by Simon Reinhard in the 2011 German Open. In conclusion, China got their world champ in just one year of hosting. The three-year contract continued with Wang Feng also winning the 2011 title. The planned third year happened last week. The 2014 World Memory Championship will be held in outskirts Hainan and was dominated by Swedish Jonas von Essen.

WMC-banner-2014-600Last August in Tromso (Norway) 172 countries participated in the 41st Chess Olympiad. With an average rating of 2698 and as the 7th seed, China wasn’t sending their strongest possible line-up. Their (then) number ones and three Wang Hao and Bu Xiangzhi were absent. In the end, Wang Yue led China’s team and overcame all odds to clinch the gold medal by a reasonable margin.

Wang Yue was China's Board 1 at this year's Chess Olympiad.

Wang Yue was China’s Board 1 at this year’s Chess Olympiad.

I noticed another correlation with China and brain sports.
When Jin Ce was promptly scooped up by a mob of cameras after his win at the Beijing WSC 2013, I threw in the question, “With two young finalists in the top 10 out of nowhere, how did China pulled that out?” Tom Collyer, of Detuned fame responded, “I don’t know, but it must have involved a closed room with no windows”.

Whatever it was, it worked. China produced a World Sudoku Champion in a span of three years. The revelation could possibly be Chen Cen’s solid 7th place at the 2010 Philadelphia WSC. In 2011, George Wang consulted the World Puzzle Federation and organized the first Beijing International Sudoku Tournament (BIST). This huge event acted like a prodrome of China’s main goal; which was to host a world championship and ideally produce a Chinese world champion in the process.

Jin Ce defeated Kota Morinishi 3-2 at the WSC 2013 finals.

Jin Ce defeated Kota Morinishi 3-2 at the WSC 2013 finals.

Looking back, I attended the 2011 BIST in a very lax mood. College mercifully gave me half a week off and in an instant I was on my way to Beijing. I didn’t have my competitive nature with me at that time, and I absorbed every puzzle as a constructor. Instead of practicing I poured over the very well-made instruction booklet looking for beautiful patterns. I still do, but now I learn to separate casual-solving from competition. My puzzle booklet from 2011 BIST was so neat I couldn’t believe that they were written in a competitive environment. Here, take a look at this.

Neat writing and all notations erased. Clearly, I wasn't in the mood for speed solving.

Neat writing and all notations erased. Clearly, I wasn’t in the mood for speed solving.

To achieve this level of clean handwriting, one had to simply not care about rankings. I remember gingerly erasing numbers where I thought it could have been neater. Oh, the top circle of this 8 could use a little upsize (erases), eh? This nine has an uncomfortably long leg (erases). Of course, I don’t do that now but back then I just don’t have the competitive juices in me. Despite a dismal performance, I genuinely enjoyed the 2011 BIST. A year later the event was followed up with the 2012 BIST, then China felt they were ready to stage the 2013 WPC/WSC. There, Team China dominated the team standings and Jin Ce was crowned world champ.

It seems when China wants to achieve something, they quickly have full support from various reliable agencies and always ready to put itself on the map. However, I’m not entirely convinced. In the recently-concluded 2014 WSC, Jin Ce finished in a comparatively depressing 10th while a new name entered the sudoku elite in Dai Tantan who came in 6th. One explanation I’m trying to sell is that the puzzles from both BISTs and the 2013 WSC were alarmingly similar. I also notice the same variants popping up with high frequency in my collection of Chinese sudoku books. Practice and exposure to a certain style had to play a role.

Puzzles, due to their versatility, are different by a wide margin. Until there’s a Chinese world puzzle champion, I’m going to blindly stick to my hypothesis. Though, Qiu Yanzhe (19th in the 2014 WPC) might have something to say about that next year…

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