Looking Back On MSO 2017

  By VennerRoad, 4th Sep 2017

Last month, the Mind Sports Olympiad was held at JW3 in North London for the fourth year in a row.

The 2017 Pentamind Medalists

The first MSO was held way back in 1997, what seems a lifetime ago, well, a third of a lifetime ago for some of us. You can find some background to MSO here.

The twenty-first event was held from August 20 to August 28, as usual under the watchful eye of Tony Corfe. By the third morning, there were twelve hundred entries, only twenty-five short of last year’s total. There were many new entrants, and more than a few old timers who turned in their usual stellar performances. One of these latter was Dario de Toffoli, who overcame a serious medical problem to pick up a bronze and two silver medals. Tim Hebbes picked up two silvers and a gold, while Vincent Frochet won the gold in Abalone for the third year running. If you are not au fait with Abalone, it is a game that has been around for a mere thirty years and is played on a hexagonal board.

Another successful defending champion was Mike Dixon in Eurogames, who also took the silver in 2015. Like the Pentamind, Eurogames is a meta-event in which players compete in a basket of relatively new games including Acquire, Dominion, and Terra Mystica.

Other games require no introduction. As usual there was several backgammon tournaments; newcomer Anna Price won the gold in the 4 X 11 Point Olympiad Championship while Mahmoud Jahanbani – whose plethora of of backgammon medals goes back to 1998 – won the gold in the 6 X 7 Point Championship as well as a silver and a bronze.

MSO was sponsored again by Twickenham Preparatory School, Chess & Bridge, and especially DeepMind Technologies, whose co-founder Demis Hassabis is no stranger, having won the Pentamind World Championship no fewer than five times. Neither his name nor that of his brother Geoge were among the medal winners this year – Demis has more important things to do – but his sons Alexander and Arthur Hassabis picked up a medal apiece in Settlers Of Catan, a family specialty. Alexander who first appeared at MSO as a babe in arms, won his first medal aged just 7 in 2013.

While mental calculations wizard George Lane could manage only bronze this year – disappointing for him – any disappointment he felt will have been tempered by his taking gold in the Texas Hold ’Em. Because poker for real stakes is legal only on licenced premises – ditto backgammon – there are no cash prizes for any of these tournaments, but there was substantial prize money for some of the others.

The craziest event has to be chess diving, the brainchild of Etan Ilfeld, a regular gamester since 2008 and a member of team Corfe. This has to be played off-site, the venue owners having objected to a swimming pool being constructed in the cafeteria; curiously this year there were four gold medal winners, including Etan. You can see some footage from this year’s chess diving on YouTube. Just don’t try it at home!

Finally, the Pentamind saw James Heppell triumphant for the second time; the 2015 champion finished ahead of 2013 champion Ankush Khandelwal, while the bronze medal was won by Estonia’s Andres Kuusk who won the gold in 2011, 2013 (jointly with Ankush) and 2014.

In spite of their youth, Messrs Khandelwal and Heppell are veterans of MSO: Ankush picked up his first two bronze medals as a junior in the 2002 event while James goes back even further winning his first bronze in 2000. To date – man and boy – they have won a staggering 192 medals between them including seventy-one golds. James Heppell comes from a family of gamesters; his twin brother Charles and their mother Madelaine have finished among the medal winners in previous years.

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