[Photos in this report are courtesy of Thailand Crossword Association and Thananon Boonkrong]
The 2018 BRANDS King’s Cup happened earlier this month drawing the world’s top Scrabble players to Bangkok from 6th-9th July. At the same venue, Central Plaza Westgate, some big names from the world of sudoku also vied for the BRANDS Queen’s Cup.
The 29-round preliminary for the Scrabble Open was anyone’s game as no particular player established a stronghold at the top spot. A slow starter, the Scrabble legend Nigel Richards seized control of the standings from round 13. Nigel would gradually distance himself from the pack and ended round 29 with a healthy 3-game margin over second place. The question was; who was going to face the bearded wonder in the finals?
It looked like 2017 King’s Cup title defender (and a former world championship finalist) Komol Panyasophonlert was up to the task, clinging onto second place at the last stretch from rounds 23-27. However it was the 2003 world champion Panupol Sujjayakorn who pipped Komol at the post to earn a seat across the 13-time winner of the King’s Cup at the finals.
The winner was determined by the point-difference after 3 games. Nigel blasted ahead in the opening game with a 193 point margin. Panupol has to create miracles to overcome this huge deficit in the two remaining games. He started his quest wonderfully, by taking game 2, but only at a 20-point spread. Despite winning game 3 as well, Panupol loses in the combined score and finishes second to the greatest legend of the game. For his 14th win, Nigel Richards took home $10,000 USD.
Over to the Queen’s Cup, with the delegates from Japan notably absent this year, the race to the finals wasn’t as hotly contested. Last year’s top 3; title holder Tiit Vunk, Jan Zverina and Sinchai Rungsangrattanakul were all back. Two of China’s young talents made their debut at the King’s Cup; Dai Tantan (5th at the 2017 WSC) and Sun Cheran (the wunderkind from the 2013 Beijing WSC) both comfortably join the trio in the finals.
Although Sun Cheran narrowly escaped elimination when local stars Pichaya Apichetyota, Supachai Thongsawang (5th last year) and Tawat Mahancherdchuwong (finishing closely behind in 6th-8th place) made great strides only to come up short. Based on his stellar online results you’d think Sumet Juariyamark would also be a favourite but dismal offline performances (including 12th place here) keep my skepticism alive.
The four-grid final proved a challenge as the irregular sudoku was tough as nails, tripping up solvers left and right. As the time limit was reaching its end it seemed no one would raise their hand to submit and a 5 minute extra time was on deck. Suddenly, with 40 seconds remaining on the clock, Sinchai went for broke and started bifurcating which proved successful as he was the only one to submit his answers. His answer wasn’t perfect though, earlier he had left two cells blank in the classic sudoku. Luckily, no one else came close to match his on-stage performance.
Tiit, Sun and Jan all completed 3 puzzles so it was down to the number of correct digits. With 30 correct digits in the irregular sudoku, Tiit finished in 2nd place. Only three cells behind (with 27 correct digits) Sun Cheran took the bronze medal. Jan Zverina only had 6 digits correct in the irregular and settled for 4th. Dai Tantan completed 2 puzzles so she finishes 5th. Sinchai won $5000 USD which would go a long way to help his participation at the upcoming WSC in Prague– for which it looks like he will qualify for the Grand Prix finals again.
With this victory, the Queen’s Cup returns to Thailand after 6 years since Poramet Yosamonsuntorn’s victory over Rishi Puri in 2011. Accolades go to the organizers who are finally realizing the beauty and importance of handmade puzzles (even though there were some computer-generated ones, it’s a good trend) and from what I’ve heard; there were no egregious mistakes this time.
It’s very nice to see improvements are being made after 11 editions. Hopefully the quality continues to increase so that the Queen’s Cup would be as popular as its King’s Cup counterpart.