The Mind Sports Olympiad Bounces Back In 2014

The Mind Sports Olympiad was held in London last month; the first event took place at the Royal Festival Hall between August 18 and August 24 1997, and it has been held annually ever since. Apart from 2002 to 2005 and 2007, it has been held every time in London, this year at the new venue of JW3.

Etan Ilfeld with Tony Corfe

The first four MSO events were truly spectacular; after those, for reasons that need not concern us here, it lost its way a bit. This year though it has regained some of its original lustre; there were 334 players from a typically international line up, many of them competing in multiple events making a total of over a thousand entries. MSO was the brainchild of artificial intelligence aficionado and chess author David Levy; chess organiser Tony Corfe is responsible for the day to day running of the events.

This year, sponsorship from DeepMind Technologies, Mitsubishi Electric UK and Winton Capital Management resulted in a substantial prize fund with the top prize of £1,200 for the Pentamind World Championship going to Andres Kuusk of Estonia, who went one better than last year when he shared the title with chess player and regular MSO medalist Ankush Khandelwal.

There were new names as well as old at this MSO, actually there was a bit of both. The name Hassabis has appeared on too many trophies to count. Neuroscientist and whiz kid Demis is the big one, winning the Pentamind on no fewer than five occasions; his son Alexander followed in his father’s footsteps last year winning a junior gold medal in Settlers of Catan; and this year Arthur aged only five picked up a silver in the same tournament. Demis also has a brother, George, who has been known to put in an appearance here and there, and win a medal or two.

The Pentamind may be the most demanding of all the tournaments, but the whackiest is undoubtedly diving chess, which made its debut in the 2011 event in Central London. It was invented by Etan Ilfeld, who is now part of the MSO team. Although it was treated with more than a little skepticism and probably written off by most people as a one-off novelty, it looks as though it might stand the test of time. The regular chess tournaments were somewhat lacking this year, but other games more than made up for it.

The Mental Calculation World Championship was won by regular, Londoner George Lane – no surprises there. Although it may never reach its initial dizzy heights, the Mind Sports Olympiad is definitely here to stay, and the team are already looking forward to next year.

[The above article was published originally September 1, 2014. The archived version of the original article can be found here].

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