The headline must be the World Memory Championship held in Bahrain at the weekend. Local coverage reports that the wonderful Ben Pridmore beat over forty competitors from four continents to regain the title he first won in 2004. (Accompanying it is US$10,000, which is worth considerably more in pounds sterling now than it was when Ben set off for the event.) The official site was reasonably good at updating with results event by event, but gave up towards the end of the second of three days, so I don't know the final scores. I also refuse to link to said official site because its header contains copious egomaniacal pictures of people, some of whose behaviour I consider to have been weak-minded, greedy and disloyal - and the perfectly nice Dominic O'Brien, too.
This is an excellent result - truly, the real winner is the sport of memory itself - as Ben is, I have long contended, a lovely bloke. He has a delightful blog which shows his self-effacing and whimsical nature off to a tee. Ben gains 150 cool points from me for, frankly, really not taking the whole memory thing too seriously, and another 150 cool points for not only having an avowed passion for furry web comics but also cheerfully sharing his own. (Including his slashier work.) I am delighted that Ben won; I'm sure he won't take offence at me saying that it's wonderful to see that an exceptionally talented and sufficiently hard-working amateur (which is intended as no slight; lest we forget, the word amateur is derived from the Latin verb amare, to love) can beat the professionals who aren't nearly as much fun. The campaign to have Ben Pridmore win a nomination for Sports Personality of the Year starts here.
In Chess, the world championship match between Viswanathan Anand of India and Vladimir Kramnik of Russia continues today, with the tenth game in progress as I type. The match is to be held over the best of twelve games, with tie-breaks if required, so 6½ points required to win the match; of the nine games so far, Vishy has won three and drawn six to lead the match 6-3 and Kramnik needs to win the last three in a row to even force a tie-break, though he has promised to fight to the end. The Week In Chess has commentary updated frequently and you can follow through to other sources of live commentary out there, some even free.
Staying with chess, the European Club Cup took place in Greece last week and was scarily strong. Out of the 32 players in the world that FIDE rate at 2700 or more, 22 of them played in the event. Top seeds URAL Sverdlovskaya ended up beating the other 63 teams, with six match wins and only one defeat. I'm guessing that Sverdlovskaya is the team location and URAL refers not to the mountain range as much as the motorcycle manufacturer of the same name. The only match they lost was against second seed MIKA chess club of Armenia, who wanted to play like Bob Fischer, but his brain was too mad. (I could play black! I could play white! I could play pawn to e4! Could be in zugzwang, could take en passant, could take a Grandmaster draw...) Ahem. Next up: two weeks until the Olympiad, the national team competition, which may be a shade stronger still. Russia start favourites, as usual, but only finished sixth last time.
Swiftly onto puzzles, where the 17th World Puzzle Championship takes place this week in Minsk, Belarus. having been changed from an abortive hosting bid by Lithuania four months ago. You can see the instruction booklet (.pdf) and, man, do the puzzles look imaginitive, in the usual WPC fashion. Hopefully there may be people keeping us up to date in worldpuzzle, but I wouldn't count on it. I look forward particularly to learning about this year's play-off format and seeing if we have another ninth-to-first climber like Pal Madarassy, from Hungary, last year.
The UK team is sadly missing some of the usual suspects, but Steven Barge justifies his place as top UK finisher in the US Puzzle Championship used as our qualifying test. (George Danker came 6th of 19, Simon Anthony 7th and Ken Wilshire has extensive WPC experience.) Wei-Hwa Huang (who approaches Pridmore-like levels of loveliness and blogs as onigame) is the man on form; Thomas Snyder (motris - also apparently lovely, though I have not yet had the pleasure of verifying this loveliness in person) reports on having just lost the US Sudoku Championship to him in an exciting final. The usual suspects - Ulrich Voigt, Niels Roest and many others - will likely loom large.
Earlier in the month we had the World Mind Sports Games, another attempt to stage a multi-sport festival like the Olympics, except for mind sports. As is traditional for such things, the home nation swept many of the gold medals; part of this reflects China's massive talent, part of this reflects the presence of Xiangqi - Chinese Chess - as a discipline (oddly enough, China went 5-for-5) and part of this makes you question just how international an event it was after all. I suspect that the Chess event was rather less world-class than the rest, not least due to the existence of the near-simultaneous European Club Cup, but the other four events look as definitive as hoped. England won a gold medal and two silvers, all in bridge; our national women's team beat all 53 opponents, with our national open and world under-21 teams coming second out of 71 and 18 respectively. Damn fine show!
One particularly interesting WMSG participant was Joanne Missingham of Australia, who made it to the quarter-finals of the Women's Individual Go tournament. Sensei's Library: "Born in Brisbane, Queensland on 26th May 1994, Missingham moved with her family to Taiwan when she was four years old, and started to play Go at the age of six. Two years later she passed the amateur 1-dan milestone. In 2005 she moved with her family to San Diego, California, USA; In April 2008, she moved to Tianjin, China, where she studied with Wu Kai until her promotion to professional shodan in July 2008." She's already representing Australasia in open tournaments and is clearly on the fringes of world class. (Students of go prodigies - specifically, the one who came to MSO 4 in London in 2000 - might care to compare against the progress of Liao Xingwen, born just three months earlier and now pro nidan.)
The American Go Association made far too little fuss of the hidden jewel in their crown while she was Stateside; born to Australian and Taiwanese parents, Joanne is likely to be the public face of Australian go for years or decades to come. As nobody has claimed Google-dibs on the phrase "the next Rui Naiwei", let me do so, as knowingly ridiculously presumptuous as it is to compare a 14-year-old new pro with the first woman 9-dan. It's almost as if the universe recognised the lack of a strong female lead in Hikaru no Go, Umezawa ("Go Go Igo") Yukari apart, and provided a real one. Remember, though, she's fourteen, so I suggest Joanne No Go would be a no-go.
Going back to the World Mind Sports Games, the International Go Federation had a really interesting daily blog. Of particular interest to me is this quote: "In response to a question from a British reporter, he urged people to work for Olympic recognition of mind sports, similar to the recognition gained by the paralympics, as a key step toward holding another World Mind Sports Games after the London Olympics and Paralympics in 2012. He added that if London decided against this, another city was already fully prepared to host the event." At this stage, I'd bet small money against London hosting in 2012. It's all down to sponsorship; while the Chinese-language WMSG homepage suggests success in finding sponsors, I'm not as confident that London might. Should the International Mind Sports Association remain as puritanical about restricting themselves to four mind sports and only grudgingly letting Xiangqi in as a fifth, it may well essentially be their loss.
Endgames: link of the indeterminate time period is New in Go. The Mindzine used to have Go coverage that was second to none; New in Go has one of our two sources putting out general interest stories to give the best English-language coverage of Oriental Go around, as ever it was, but this time without having to worry about the audience focus being on mind sports in general rather than go in particular. The London Games