No rest from mental fight

The organisers of the first Mind Sports Olympiad believe that thinking can broaden the mind. William Hartston is not so sure

"I opened as usual with 1.e4, but was rather surprised when he replied with `n15' and told me this was the Go tournament. Thinking quickly, I played T23 and informed him that I had sunk his battleship, which would have been fine if he hadn't passed me the doubling cube and used all his seven letters in forming the word NO-TRUMP on a triple word score. Luckily for me, he fell down a snake the next move and I was back in the game."

At least, I think that was what the man in the Meatloaf T-shirt said as I passed him at the Mind Sports Olympiad at the Royal Festival Hall. Or it may have been half a dozen other chaps in six other T-shirts. Sprawled over six floors of the building, the Mind Sports Olympiad comprises competitions in 39 different games. From well-established international mental sports such as chess, draughts, bridge and backgammon, through the oriental world of Shogi, Go and Chinese Chess, the African Oware (in which the players appear to be absent-mindedly shifting olive stones between cocktail dishes), there is also room for Scrabble, Skat (a card game popular in Germany), Jigsaws, Othello, Rummikub, Speed Reading, memory and IQ tests, and a host of things I had never seen before, with names such as Abalone and Fanorona. There is even a Hare & Tortoise competition. My money's on the Tortoise.

With 1,000 entrants signed up before the event began, and another 250 enrolling for competitions on the first day, the event has surpassed expectations. Thanks to sponsorship from the Swedish insurance giant Skandia, the total prize fund is over pounds 70,000 with an additional pounds 35,000 in goods.

Organisationally, the whole thing appears - perhaps inevitably - rather shambolic. Apart from the medal ceremonies, with their garish trumpet- fanfare-adorned pomp, there was little sign of any co-ordination between the various events. The banners festooned around the building confirmed that everything was part of one unified event, but the only real confirmation was the constant sight of harassed-looking members of the organising committee, either collapsed in the press room or, more often, wandering up and down the stairs taking to each other wearily through earpieces. But perhaps the Olympic Games themselves are much the same.

By holding so many events under one roof, and attracting several world champions, even in events that most of us didn't even realise held a world championship, the first Mind Sports Olympiad has undoubtedly succeeded in one objective: this is the greatest Gamesfest ever seen in Britain. But there must be considerable doubt about whether the event has supported the organisers' underlying beliefs about intellectual games.

The event was the brainchild of Tony Buzan, a lecturer and consultant who runs courses designed to enhance people's mental capacities, and chess grandmaster Raymond Keene. Both have long propagated the view that intellectual games are good for you. "Mens sana in corpore sano," says Buzan whenever he is given the chance. One of those unhealthily fit-looking 55-year-olds who bound around exuding energy, Buzan maintains that physical and mental fitness go hand in hand. At the Festival Hall this week, however, "mens sana in pot-belly protruding between jeans and T-shirt" might have been a more appropriate motto.

The question is whether playing intellectual games really helps develop the mind for more practical purposes, and the evidence is less clear than the Mind Sports proponents like to believe. Take the world memory champion, Dominic O'Brien, for example, who is hoping to confirm his supremacy in the Memory event at the Olympiad. Able to memorise an entire pack of cards in 40 seconds flat, or a string of some 200 digits, or reel off the answers to all the questions ever seen in Trivial Pursuit, he is clearly a bright chap. Fit, well-dressed and having a wide range of interests, he stands out from the average group of contestants. Having trained himself to perform these prodigious feats of memory, he now does it for a living. And that is the great sorrow of intellectual games.

Just think of all those great minds battling away on the South Bank - people who are the best in the world at their particular areas of mental expertise. And what do they choose to do with their finely honed minds? They play draughts, remember long strings of digits, and shuffle olive pips.

Why do these fine minds not offer their services to London Underground, to help them put up signs at sensible places in Waterloo station so that people can find their way to the South Bank in the first place? Why do they not design an all-British Millennium Dome?

The answer is that playing games well is not good for you at all. It's playing games badly that helps mental development. Learning a game is mind-stretching, but once you have gained sufficient expertise at chess, bridge or gin rummy, all you're doing is improving your skills in one narrow direction. It's the losers at this Olympiad who deserve the medals.

William Hartston will be giving contestants silly things to do in the Mind Sports Olympiad Creativity competition this morning.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Neil Warnock
football'New' manager for Crystal Palace
News
peopleGerman paper published pictures of 18-month-old daughter
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicKate Bush set to re-enter album charts after first conerts in 35 years
Sport
Angel Di Maria poses with Louis van Gaal after signing for Manchester United
sport
Arts and Entertainment
BBC series 'Sherlock' scooped a hat-trick of awards on the night. Benedict Cumberbatch received the award for Actor, Miniseries or Movie ('Sherlock: His Last Vow') while Martin Freeman won the award for Supporting Actor, Miniseries or Movie. Neither actor was present to collect their awards
tv
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Oracle DBA (Database Administrator, 10g, 11g, PL/SQL)

    £45000 - £50000 Per Annum + £5k shift allowance, 12% bonus, benefits: Clearwat...

    Cover Supervisor

    £45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Cover Sup...

    IT Teacher September strt with view to permanent post

    £110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: IT...

    Qualified Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Crawley: This independent Nursery is looking fo...

    Day In a Page

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis