End of Causeway era

Not long after announcing his grand plan for a global Causeway circuit, Michael Tang stunned the Scrabble world with a new announcement — that the circuit would not go ahead, and the upcoming Causeway 2011, in Johor Bahru, would be the last.

His exact wording was: "Due to personal reasons, it is with deep regrets that I hereby announce the cancellation of the proposed Causeway Grand Slam 2012. I would like to sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused. I would also like to announce that Causeway 2011 shall be the 10th and FINAL edition of Causeway Scrabble Challenge. I would like to thank players from all over the world for making Causeway such a memorable experience for me."

Tang has since explained to the wespa.org that he was going to devote more time to his family and career — and also play a few more tournaments himself.

It is worth our reflecting on what Tang achieved over those 10 years. It began as a tussle between two countries — Singapore, where Tang lives and works, and Malaysia, where he was born. It gradually expanded to include other Asian countries (Thailand, the Philippines, India) and Australia. In those years, the tournament was dominated by Malaysia's Ganesh Asirvatham — apart from winning the title several times, he famously finished one tournament with an average of over 500.

In 2008, Tang expanded the tournament to 45 games and 10 teams, adding the US, the UK, New Zealand and Nigeria. He also ran a simultaneous open tournament (Swiss draw), running one day less. That year, Australian David Eldar won the Premier event, ahead of his countryman Edward Okulicz and Harshan Lamarbaduriya (UK). And Theodoro Martus (Phi) won the open event.

In 2009, Canada was added, while Malaysia and Singapore, the two original teams, were combined into one 'Causeway' team. The challenge was run straight after the WSC, held at the same venue, the Zon Regency hotel. Interestingly, Nigel Richards (NZ) finished just ahead of Pakorn Nmitrmansuk (Thai) — the exact reverse of the WSC final. And former world champion Mark Nyman (UK), on the comeback trail, was third. Ghana's Michael Akonor cleaned up in the Open field, which had been extended to 45 games also.

In 2010, the Causeway teams dropped out altogether, and the seven top country teams were joined by three mixed teams, based on WESPA ratings. Meanwhile, the secondary tournament was split into two fields: Masters and Open. Panupol Sujjayakorn (Thai) won, ahead of Mikki Nicholson and Brett Smitheram (both UK); Thacha Koowirat (Thai) won the Masters; and Helen Maurus (Aust) the Open. Craig Beevers (UK) provided a talking point with his 728 game.

That same year, Tang completely outdid himself, adding yet a fourth field to follow the main event. This was called the 'Tournament of Champions' and featured nine of the 10 previous world champions (only American Joel Sherman was missing), plus Eldar, the inaugural world youth champion. Never before had such a field of Scrabble luminaries been assembled.

The 10 players completed a double round-robin. Ultimately, Richards emerged the 'champion of champions', ahead of David Boys (Canada) and Panupol.

Meanwhile, the port of Johor Bahru, just over the causeway from Singapore, is gearing up to host the Causeway concept for probably the very last time, from 30 November to 4 December. This year's event will have three divisions (Premier, Masters and Open — but not the traditional elite teams division). Each division will play 45 games, with prize money down to 10th place. The first place-getters will win US$10,000, $3000 and $1000 respectively.

30 June 2011