World Sudoku Championships: Solvers count on kudos alone

There is no prize money, but being crowned champion is incentive enough this week

Some find it on a football pitch, others on a tennis court. But for a select few, greatness can be achieved within the confines of a modest nine-by-nine grid.

Today, 183 of the world's most powerful minds will descend on London, ready to do battle at the ninth annual World Sudoku Championships, which officially start tomorrow.

In 12 rounds of competition over two days, teams from 33 countries will battle for the title of World Sudoku Champion, participating in a number of individual and team rounds before their points are totted up on Tuesday evening and the winner is crowned.

This year's competition is not for the faint-hearted. It will begin with a sprint round, in which competitors will attempt to complete 20 classic puzzles in only 10 minutes. In subsequent rounds they will tackle a variety of quizzes, including a session of "strip Sudoku". Less risqué than it sounds, it involves using pieces of paper to conceal areas of the grid.

Among those representing the UK this year is an eight-times winner of Channel 4's Countdown, Neil Zussman. He caused a stir when he burst on to the puzzling scene in 2012, coming out of nowhere to claim 10th place at the World Puzzle Championships, which runs alongside the Sudoku Championships.

"A few years ago I found some Sudoku puzzles that had been used in previous championships," Zussman says. "I timed myself and realised I could be good enough to compete and thought it would be cool to represent my country."

Of course, some might say that "cool" is not the first word that springs to mind when it comes to Sudoku and similar mind sports.

"There is still a stigma when it comes to puzzling," admits Alan O'Donnell, chairman of the UK Puzzle Association. "But geekiness is cool these days, isn't it? One of the things people enjoy about Sudoku is having a problem that, on first glance, doesn't look solvable, but through effort they find new ways of working towards that solution."

The championships does not offer cash prizes; people compete entirely for the kudos of winning. Nonetheless, participants can be fiercely competitive.

"The competition is about finding the best solver in the world," explains Dr Gareth Moore, a prolific Sudoku and puzzle author who was responsible for creating the conundrums for this year's championship. "Everyone takes part because they love the puzzles and enjoy solving them and spending time with other puzzlers."

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