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The Mind Sports Olympiad 2020

The 2020 Mind Sports Olympiad, the first one to be held on-line, took place over the entire month of August bar August 31. Full details of the events and prize winners can be found on the official site, but in summary, it was a great success.

Because entry was free, but just as importantly because there were no physical barriers to overcome such as travel, there was a much larger turnout, but there was some striking consistency among the veterans.

Ankush Khandelwal won the Pentamind for the third year in a row, having previously been joint winner with Andres Kuusk in 2013. It’s difficult to believe Ankush is a veteran, but he first played MSO in Manchester as a schoolboy. Paco Garcia de la Banda won the Senior Pentamind, having finished runner-up last year and winning the Pentamind proper in 2010.

There was a particularly large turnout for most of the poker tournaments, which were held on the PokerStars website with play money. Because by law there were no cash prizes, one would hardly have expected there to be any cheating, in any case it is virtually impossible to cheat at on-line tournament poker. There are special programs that allow players to calculate the odds and the merits of calling, folding or raising, but anyone who has been busted out of a hold ’em tournament the very first hand with pocket aces will realise these programs are a waste of space.

There are though programs that allow people to formulate the best move in other games. Chess computers are now super-human; though there have been instances of people using them not only on-line but in the cyber world, would anyone cheat on-line at backgammon or other games? I raised this with Etan before MSO 2020 started, and he said they were taking precautions against that. Alas, someone was in fact caught cheating, in the Othello tournament.

Vasyl Razinkov, a previously unknown or largely unknown player, appears to have performed exceptionally. So exceptionally that concerns were raised about the veracity of his moves. An investigation concluded he had cheated, probably by using an Othello program known as Reversatile. He was given space to reply but declined to do so. He has been banned from MSO for ten years.

One person who should have entered and would very likely have won a medal was mental calculations wizard George Lane, but he is currently banned from MSO for five years for what can only be described as a bizarre demand regarding his accreditation.

Another person who didn’t show up was Eric Solomon, the inventor of entropy. He died earlier this year at the fairly advanced age of 85.  Eric came up with the game in 1977, and the first world championship was held at the massive inaugural MSO back in 1997. This year it was won by David Jameson for the sixth time, the fifth time in a row.

There were a number of new games, and it seems likely MSO will be held next year either on-line or at JW3 as usual. MSO has been a limited company since 2003, but one might ask if it not ought to become a registered charity too. There are chess charities and many sports charities, so why not a mind sports charity as well?

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.

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