[Photos in this report are courtesy of Thailand Crossword Association, Thananon Boonkrong and Yuhei Kusui]
Central Plaza Westgate was once again the venue for the annual BRANDS King’s Cup International Open. The $10,000 USD winner’s purse attracts a handful of top Scrabble players in the world each year. Held alongside is the Sudoku Queen’s Cup where the winner takes half as much at $5,000 USD. There were many side events including A-math (an equation-building boardgame) and Kumkom (a Thai version of Scrabble).
The Scrabble Open was hotly contested over 4 days with 29 preliminary rounds and only the top two scorers would proceed to the finals. It was clear from the get-go that Canadian mathematician Adam Logan was in top form. The 2005 World Champion only dropped one game to local Taewan Sutthasin to top the rankings after day 1, a position he firmly held onto all the way to round 29. Adam would only lose 4 more games and finish comfortably ahead of his rivals with a magical score of 24/29.
The only question looming was: who is going to be facing him in the finals? Austin Shin, who beat Adam twice consecutively in rounds 20 and 21, briefly reserved the second seat in the finals after round 20. But at the home stretch it was a horse-race between; computer programmer Komol Panyasophonlert, a world championship finalist in 2013, and the defending champion Nigel Richards.
With two rounds to go Nigel had a 1 point lead over Komol. It seemed like a fantasy story but Komol outscored the legend himself in both of their round 28 and 29 encounters, a feat that rightly deserves a spot in the three-game finals.
Game 1 was won by Adam but Komol struck back in the last two games tilting the combined score of 1326-1319 to his favour by a margin of only 7 points!
Over to the Sudoku side, regular visitors to Thailand were absent this year. Notably the defending champion Jan Mrozowski had to miss out due to an injury. Triple winner Kota Morinishi also missed another year. But those who were there lived up to their expectations.
Sinchai Rungsangrattanakul topped the tables after 6 rounds to take the centre stage in the 5-person finals. He was joined by current world champion Tiit Vunk, the only solver from Japan this year Yuhei Kusui, a member of our national team Supachai Thongsawang and newcomer but recognizable Jan Zverina, who is currently ranked number one in the LMI sudoku ratings list.
These 5 quickly rose to the top during the qualifiers and there was little doubt that the distant 6th place Hu Yuxuan would not catch them. The finals consisted of 4 difficult standard-variant Sudokus to be solved in 20 minutes. Tiit was the only person to complete all four puzzles correctly and won the Queen’s Cup on his second attempt (he came 3rd last year). The remaining placings had to be settled by counting the number of correctly-filled cells. Jan’s almost perfect grids landed him in 2nd place while Sinchai took 3rd place. Yuhei and Supachai ended at 4th and 5th respectively.
The organization of the Sudoku Open was rocky to say the least. Rounds were delayed by hours and points were allocated inaccurately (as expected from non-solving test-setters). But more unforgivably; this year’s event was riddled with no less than 4 broken puzzles!
After 10 years running the event, clearly, the organizers haven’t learned (or bother to learn) from their mistakes. I end this report with the same mood that I have ended previous editions’ reports: on a low note. It is a shame that the highest-paying Sudoku competition fails to produce anything close to a high-quality event. The organizers in charge should clearly seek expert opinion if they wish to see more than a handful of big names to turn up and participate in the future.