Wednesday, October 26, 2016

11th World Sudoku Championship and 25th World Puzzle Championship - Part 1


A week. One full week of puzzle solving. And once again, it is as if it ended before it even started.

From the 16th to the 23rd of october, more than 300 puzzle and sudoku enthusiasts gathered in Senec, Slovakia, for the 11th World Sudoku Championship and the 25th World Puzzle Championship. Most of them I already knew, and most of them I had not seen in a year - same old recipe since 2011 and my first participation. But unlike the previous editions, there was a tiny difference this year: I had injured my right forearm just one day prior to my venue, and it looked quite bad as it was far from certain I would even be able to play.
After having done my best to use my arm as little as possible during sunday, I went to bed with very few expectations since my state hadn't changed a bit between morning and evening. On monday morning things were slightly better though, and I was able to hold a pen but at the condition that I would stop every couple minutes at most to let my arm rest, and so on. I did what I could, but after the first couple rounds it was clear that this was not the year Tiit and pals would have to worry about me.

That being said, I was still able to play. The situation being what it was, I decided to focus on harder sudokus to minimize the writing I had to do, and to use as little pencil marks as possible. My playstyle, if I may say so, has always consisted in making as little use of pencil marks as possible, so it wasn't really a big deal - and since I prefer harder sudokus... well, you get the idea. The difference was much more noticeable on the sprint rounds (of which there were quite a few, unfortunately) than on the longer ones where I managed to perform honorably. The second day went about the same way as the first one, not great but good enough that I would still be able to bring some points to the team, my primary focus.

I would not have bet a cent on it but as it appeared when the results were published, I had (barely) managed to make it into the top 10 and, more importantly, we were standing at the fourth place as a team - which meant I would soon have to take part in two play-offs.

The individual finals went as expected. Ahead of me were Qiu Yanzhe (China) and Hideaki Jo (Japan), and I was to start right before Jakub Hrazdira (Czech Republic). I knew I had very little chance to catch up with the first two in my current state, and indeed Hideaki was the one to make his way to the second round. Despite messing up royally on a Palindrome Sudoku, erasing it again and again (which my arm did not thank me for), I still managed to finish second from the round, hence ending at the 8th place. More than satisfying, since 48 hours ago I was considering resigning from my A-team spot!

In the end, and despite Jakub Ondroušek having been very impressive during the rounds, Tiit Vunk clinched victory and earned a long-time deserved world title. Jakub got Silver and, unsurprisingly, Kota Morinishi completed the podium.

Meanwhile, Qiu Yanzhe had had his revenge by taking the crown in the under 18 category, with Chen Shiyu earning Silver and Sun Cheran Bronze. The finals were extremely tensed and it was obvious that all five contestants were doing their absolute best, so I believe Hu Yuxuan (4th) and Dai Tantan (5th) deserve congratulations as well. The Chinese team did shine bright this year, as well in results as in their attitude.

The over 50 category saw Zoran Tanasic (Serbia) crush the finals despite starting in third place, and beating Mark Goodliffe (United Kingdom) who had been easily dominating the competition up to this point. Third was Taro Arimatsu from Japan.

Then came the time of the team play-offs. There was Japan, there was China, there was Czech Republic... and then there was us, France! There was no wonder we were overmatched (after the preliminary rounds we were standing at a modest 17k when the other teams were over 20k), but at least we had made it to the finals and we didn't have anything to lose. The format of the finals was a Weakest Link, meaning all four members of each team would have to solve two puzzles individually before they would be allowed to the team table and given a fifth of a Samurai Sudoku (the fifth - central - puzzle would be waiting for us on the table). There, our task was to reconstitute the Samurai and solve the whole puzzle. There was strategy involved, as it was necessary that the four players would reach the team table at some point in order to complete the Samurai; hence Timothy and I were given the - supposedly - hardest sets, which included a Little Killer Sudoku and a Fortress Sudoku, so that Yannick and Olivier would have an easier time going through their own sudokus and we would all meet at the table at around the same time.

Things didn't go exactly as planned but eventually the four of us were standing around the table, struggling a bit to build the Samurai, until we finally figured the correct layout. We went on a rush to solve what was left of the puzzles... then got interrupted by applauses as team Japan had completed theirs and taken the third place. Czech Republic earned the gold, and China was a good second.
Fourth once again, but with nothing to be ashamed of. All three of our opponents had a fantastic team composition (all four players of China-A were in the top 12!), and considering we started with a 5 minutes handicap on team Japan and would have needed about 2 to 3 more minutes to finish the Samurai... well, between 20:30 and 21:30 on the 18th of october 2016, we were actually faster than team Japan. Well worth the trip to Slovakia!

And that's it for today. Soon, a few (probably short) words about the WPC, and an overall review of the week.

Pictures are courtesy of Théophane Garçonnet.

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