Saturday, March 12, 2016

Go go gadget

Okay, first things first, here's the epic battle between Team China and Team UK on "The Brain"!



Spoilers - we lost. But that's okay, because (as they flatly refused to allow me to say) we really were all just there to have a good time and create an entertaining programme for everyone, and I'm pretty sure we succeeded at that!


But the most interesting news in the world of mind sports right now is that the AlphaGo computer has repeatedly beaten the world go champion! This is quite a cool thing for computers everywhere, because even though all the best human players of my favourite board games have been long since surpassed by what machine minds are capable of, go has proven quite stubborn in resisting the cybernetic invasion. And incidentally, remember a couple of years ago when I said I didn't know what the company Demis Hassabis sold to Google did, if anything? Turns out this is what it did.

You can watch the match here - you know, if you've got six hours to spare. There really ought to be a thing where you can display the game on a blog like this and click to advance a move. There probably is, but I can't find one on the internet that doesn't talk about possible copyright violations if I put the game on here, so I'll play it safe rather than get in trouble.



I can quite see how the unfortunate human champion Lee Sedol is at a disadvantage here; even if AlphaGo isn't objectively a great player, a computer is bound to play completely differently to the human opponents he's played before. Plus it's like being a human memory champion going up against a chimpanzee - it's really not a story if the human wins, so he might as well go down in history as "the first go champion to lose to a computer". It didn't do Garry Kasparov any harm, anyway.



I don't play go myself; I've always struggled to understand the basic concepts of it, so it's one of the few games at the MSO I never even competed in for the fun of it. I know enough to be familiar with terms like 'to make two eyes', meaning to have an enclosed area with two empty spaces on it so that your stones can't be captured, which is why any mention of go always reminds me of a sequence in my favourite webcomic Order of the Stick, many years ago, that made me squeal with delight at the cleverness of it being titled "Two Eyes in the Dark" - it centres around the Creature in the Darkness, who consists of a pair of eyes shrouded in darkness and at this point is being gradually guided round to the heroes' side by O-Chul and his extended go metaphors. This is a subplot that's still bubbling under the surface of the comic, incidentally, all these years later - the great thing about OOTS is how long-term it is.

 photo OOTS_zpslh5e79k3.jpg



There might also be copyright issues with posting that comic page up there as well, of course, but you can't play it safe all the time. Now go and buy all the OOTS books, you'll love them!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The XMT draw

Qualifying is over and done with, and people have confirmed whether they're going to San Diego or not. So these are the 24 qualifiers for the Extreme Memory Tournament! There follows a run-down of their results in the previous two XMTs, along with my made-up and entirely unofficial, unendorsed ranking. And my own notes from a purely personal perspective about how I think they'll do in 2016!

Johannes Mallow
2014: 2nd - 2015: 1st - Made-up ranking: 2nd
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards5224.662015
Images3022.942015
Names2260.002015
Numbers8021.012015
Words4760.002015
The reigning champion - where do you go after winning the big prize? I'm wondering if he'll not be quite so driven this year; he's already got great personal bests in everything too. But he does have a fierce friendly rivalry going with Simon, so perhaps they'll drive each other on to greater things...

Boris Nikolai Konrad
2014: QF - 2015: 2nd - Made-up ranking: 3rd
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards5241.022015
Images3019.292015
Names2160.002014
Numbers8038.052015
Words4757.732015
I'm pretty certain Boris would just love to outdo both the top Germans this year and finally take his place as number one! You could never accuse him of lacking enthusiasm and excitement for the competition, and he really is scary in all five disciplines when he's at his best. Maybe Boris's year this year?

Simon Reinhard
2014: 1st - 2015: 3rd - Made-up ranking: 1st
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards5223.342015
Images3027.452015
Names2860.002015
Numbers8026.242015
Words4960.002014
The consummate pro; set the top score in three disciplines both previous years, and you wouldn't bet against him doing the same again, or better. Everyone's hoping to somehow avoid Simon in 2016...

Alex Mullen
2014: n/a - 2015: 4th - Made-up ranking: 6th
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards5234.922015
Images3060.002015
Names2560.002015
Numbers8025.702015
Words4260.002015
Surprised everyone with fourth place at the XMT last year, then surprised everyone with first place at the WMC... after that, you can't surprise people any more, so now he's just going to be expected to win everything. Time to add the XMT to his list of honours?


Katie Kermode
2014: n/a - 2015: QF - Made-up ranking: 7th
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards3960.002015
Images3043.572015
Names2560.002015
Numbers8060.002015
Words4760.002015
Star of the British team, I sort of have a side bet on Katie being the first to record a perfect 30 names and 50 words this year. Still a bit weak in the numbers and cards, but getting better at a steady rate...

Christian Schäfer
2014: QF - 2015: QF - Made-up ranking: 5th
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards5248.812015
Images3025.852015
Names2157.792015
Numbers8037.552015
Words4759.882015
Two quarter-finals in a row, and still a bit overshadowed by the more senior Germans (this is what you get when you look about twelve years old - poor guy will be constantly getting asked for ID in you-can't-drink-until-you're-21 America), Christian is deservedly in the top six seeds and in with a real chance of doing something extra-special this time round.


Enkhjin Tumur
2014: n/a - 2015: QF - Made-up ranking: 8th
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards5237.172015
Images3014.402015
Names2060.002015
Numbers8032.882015
Words3060.002015
The images master; he took it to new levels that nobody else had dreamed of last year, which is a hugely admirable thing - in memory, people are often subconsciously constrained by knowing what the world record is, and aim to beat it by a tiny little bit. Not so for Enkhjin. But his performance in 2015 has opened the way for everyone else to start knocking up to ten seconds off their times, making us wonder - what has he got up his sleeve this year?

Lance Tschirhart
2014: n/a - 2015: grp - Made-up ranking: 20th
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards5242.422015
Images3060.002015
Names1760.002015
Numbers8050.132015
Words2960.002015
Some sensational performances in training and qualifying, Lance is one of those people who puts an excessive amount of work into his practice. I think last year he was more focused on the US Open and Memo Games the following week, so maybe this year we'll see a vast improvement in those personal bests...

Johannes Zhou
2014: n/a - 2015: R16 - Made-up ranking: 9th
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards5250.142015
Images3021.242015
Names2260.002015
Numbers8060.002015
Words3854.812015
A very dangerous opponent all round, he's always up there with the best scores in everything; might well get closer to the grand final this time.

Marwin Wallonius
2014: grp - 2015: R16 - Made-up ranking: 16th
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards5256.702015
Images3023.642015
Names2160.002015
Numbers8059.642015
Words3760.002015
Steadily improving over the last few years, he's now one of the absolute best in the world, though he's underperformed at the XMT in the past. I have a feeling this is a major focus for him in 2016, so we should all be afraid...

Yanjindulam Altansuh
2014: n/a - 2015: R16 - Made-up ranking: 19th
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards5250.172015
Images3021.402015
Names2357.742015
Numbers8060.002015
Words4760.002015
Another one capable of much better scores than the personal bests above - I wouldn't be surprised to see Yanjaa up there with the group winners this time around.


Purevjav Erdenesaikhan
2014: n/a - 2015: n/a - Made-up ranking: n/a
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards


Images


Names


Numbers


Words


Just fractionally missed out on qualifying in 2015, and so made extra sure of it this year with scores including a lightning-fast 18.06 seconds in numbers. Solid scores in all the other disciplines, too.


Tsetsegzul Zorigtbaatar
2014: n/a - 2015: n/a - Made-up ranking: n/a
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards


Images


Names


Numbers


Words


Getting down into the people who I don't know much about, now. But hey, that's the great thing about these competitions - meeting new friends!

Shi Binbin
2014: n/a - 2015: n/a - Made-up ranking: n/a
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards


Images


Names


Numbers


Words


Star of the Chinese memory championships, fifth in the WMC last year, It'd be good to see a big Chinese contingent coming to XMTs in future, let's hope this is the start of something big!

Anudari Adiyasuren
2014: n/a - 2015: n/a - Made-up ranking: n/a
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards


Images


Names


Numbers


Words


Another Mongolian mystery woman (to me, anyway).

Bat-enkh Shijir-Erdene
2014: n/a - 2015: n/a - Made-up ranking: n/a
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards


Images


Names


Numbers


Words


And now a Mongolian mystery man! The Mongolians all train together and drive each other to keep on improving, so the whole gang of them are to be feared...


Melanie Höllein
2014: n/a - 2015: n/a - Made-up ranking: n/a
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards


Images


Names


Numbers


Words


Another German memory master joins the XMT lineup! Melanie's improving fast, all round.

Sengesamdan Ulziikhutag
2014: n/a - 2015: n/a - Made-up ranking: n/a
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards


Images


Names


Numbers


Words


Leading light of the Mongolian championships, making his first attempt on the XMT.

Ben Pridmore
2014: QF - 2015: R16 - Made-up ranking: 17th
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards5226.732015
Images3023.552015
Names1560.002015
Numbers8058.472015
Words4760.002015
A bit of training, who knows, I might scrape through the group stage again...

Marlo Knight
2014: n/a - 2015: grp - Made-up ranking: 10th
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards5240.772015
Images3060.002015
Names2260.002015
Numbers8060.002015
Words2960.002015
Marlo has just had his first taste of fame and fortune, on Chinese TV! I bet it's inspired him to chase more and more publicity by winning the XMT now!


Johnny Briones
2014: n/a - 2015: n/a - Made-up ranking: n/a
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards


Images


Names


Numbers


Words


Actually qualified for last year's XMT (just squeaking in in last place) but had to pull out of the event at the last moment. Did a very impressive 27 names in qualifying this time round.

Jan-Hendrik Büscher
2014: n/a - 2015: n/a - Made-up ranking: n/a
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards


Images


Names


Numbers


Words


An entirely new name, from the country that produces memory experts by the dozen. One to watch!

Enkhmunkh Erdenebatkhaan
2014: n/a - 2015: grp - Made-up ranking: 22nd
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards5238.842015
Images3025.782015
Names1960.002015
Numbers7431.542015
Words2260.002015
Coming back for his second XMT will probably be a help; experience counts for a lot in this brand-new kind of championship.

Everett Chew
2014: n/a - 2015: n/a - Made-up ranking: n/a
EventScoreTime (sec)Year
Cards


Images


Names


Numbers


Words


Don't know him, but even the 24th seed is a force to be reckoned with!



For the draw on April 1st (unless the announcement of that date was some kind of April Fool joke) we'll be in four pots as usual, and my unimpressive qualifying performance puts me in pot four. So, given that there's no way I'm going to end up in anything other than a group of death; relatively speaking, what's a good group, and what's a bad group for me?

Pot 1 - Hannes, Boris, Simon, Alex, Katie, Christian

There was a rule last year about how many people from each country could end up in the same group, so I think Katie is probably excluded from my list of potential opponents. Simon is still the one who fills me with most dread out of this lot. You can make arguments for a lot of other people being the group-of-deathiest one among them, but I still always think Simon has the all-round edge; he's just good at everything and almost completely unflappable. Having named Alex as my group-of-life pick last year, only for him to beat me hollow, it'd be nice to avoid him, too, please. If I had to choose, I'd go for Christian - I feel a bit more confident that I could beat him at things like cards, on a good day. Also, it's his birthday today, so that'll make up for the devastation he feels at being my 'easy opponent' choice here!

Pot 2 - Enkhjin, Lance, Johannes Z, Marwin, Yanjaa, Purejav

A lot of people here who've got good results in qualifying but not so good in actual competitions before now - who knows what they'll do this year? Yanjaa scares me with her names-and-words abilities, Lance generally scares me with everything, depending on whether he's taking the competition deadly seriously this year or not. Marwin has tended to underperform in the XMT, so maybe this year he'll go for it and break all the records? I was in a group with JZ in 2015 and just barely narrowly finished ahead of him, so that'd give me confidence this time round. Enkhjin isn't exclusively an images god, so I might be making a fatal mistake when I think I could maybe beat him in everything else... and I don't know Purejav at all, so who knows? I'm thinking all six of them could be good or bad; let's say Lance for the group of death, Purejav for life. The Mongolians who haven't met me yet* tend to be a bit scared of me, so perhaps I'll get an extra point or two there.

*I'm thinking now that I actually have met him, maybe. Never mind.

Pot 3 - Tsetsegzul, Shi Binbin, Anudari, Bat-Enkh, Melanie, Sengesamdan

A lot of unfamiliar people here. The Chinese master worries me, but Sengesamdan possibly even more so. Melanie's the one I'm most familiar with, and so rightly or wrongly the one I would feel most confident about beating...


So, in summary, the group of death - Simon, Lance, Sengesamdan
And the group of life - Christian, Purejav, Melanie