After a hiatus following a successful 10 year-run, The Causeway Scrabble Challenge (CSC) is making a comeback this year on Saturday-Sunday 5-6 July 2014 in Singapore. At its peak, CSC was the most prestigious Scrabble tournament in the world, with the biggest prize fund and toughest field in the world, with its premier division once including 9 out of the 10 Scrabble world champions past and present.
This year Michael Tang, the man behind CSC, is bringing it back to its root. CSC started off in 2002 as a team tournament between Singapore and Malaysia across the causeway. The reboot of CSC this year is again an invitational featuring the top 10 players from Singapore and Malaysia facing-off in a team tournament. All participants will play all 10 opponents of the opposing team twice (starting and replying once each), making it a 20-round semi-double round robin.
The first CSC was won by Malaysia 114.5 – 85.5 , powered by Nigel Richards and Ganesh Asirvatham – arguably the two best Scrabble players ever on earth. Six of the victorious Malaysian team are returning for the CSC reboot, while only three of the previous Singapore team (Tony Sim, Ricky Purnomo, Michael Tang) remains in the new lineup.
So how do the teams of today stack up? Unfortunately it is not easy to directly compare the team with the information available. WESPA ratings are available for all 20 participants, but it captures only results from internationally-rated tournament. It will reasonably accurately reflect the levels of the well-travelled players, but the younger players who cut their home mostly at home (e.g. Vinnith Ramamurti from Malaysia, Yong Jian Rong from Singapore) may be short-changed. Fortunately almost all players from both teams have played in the other country before (with the exception of William Kang and Vinnith from Malaysia, for whom this will be their first Singapore-rated tournament), so rating data from Singapore Scrabble Association (SA) and Malaysia Scrabble Association (MSA) are also added in to reflect the players’ strengths as reflected in their respective local scene. Expected wins are calculated based on each of the ratings and blended with more weight given to the rating where more games have been played by the players. That forms the basis of the projected wins below.
In addition, head-to-head records of all players are also pulled to identify any nemeses: players whose track record against certain rivals are beyond what their ratings would indicate. Data for this are pulled from WESPA and SA only, as MSA data for these are not readily available.
Click on the tab above the charts to switch between the individual standings prediction and their head-to-head.
Singapore goes into the tournament with a slightly handicapped team, with only one of the top 4 in its domestic rating (Hubert Wee) available for this event. However the estimate calculation shows that the contest may still be quite close, with the estimated wins only differing by 7.7 points giving team Malaysia a 103.8 – 96.1 edge.
A quick look at the charts show the top 3 players – Nigel Richards (MY1), Hubert Wee (SG1), and Aaron Chong (MY2) – well above the others in expected wins, with Nigel dominating the field. Singapore seems to make up for it with an evenly-strong middle of the team, with 4 players predicted to be in the 4th – 9th spots.
Total head-to-head paints a different story, with Malaysia having a big 729-623 (excluding 7 ties) lead over Singapore. The head-to-head, however, would be skewed towards the veteran players who have met each other in various events, which seems to indicate the Singapore youngsters may have some surprises to bring to the table. And there’s the Nigel factor: clicking on the chart to filter just Nigel’s head-to-head against the entire team Singapore shows him having a 245-73 lead.
Some interesting outliers can be picked up in the charts. SG9 Jian Rong is ranked in the middle of the pack of the individual standings rather than at the back. SG4 Victor Gwee has much lower expected wins compared to the others, as his WESPA rating has been weighed down by past results as a junior player, and has yet to catch up with his Singapore rating where he is more active (and dangerous). So I expect Victor Gwee will be someone who can bring in the difference in points to help Singapore overcome the difference.
The head-to-head crosstable also offers glimpses of potential outliers. The head-to-head ratio is calculated between players who have met more than 4 times, and it will be greener the more wins the Singapore player has, and redder the more wins the Malaysia player has. It will be grey when the players are even, or not enough matches have been played between the two of them for the ratio to be calculated.
The head-to-head column for Nigel contains circles which are all small, indicating low win probability for the Singapore players. However, one of the circles is faintly green: SG9 Yong Jian Rong has a positive head-to-head (3-2) against Nigel. Indeed he is the only one in the field to have positive record against the world number one, courtesy of a 3-game winning streak against Nigel, all played in Singapore. We’ll see if Jian Rong can continue his odds-defying feat here. In this aspect, MY2 Aaron has a better record than Nigel, where all circles in his column are red where past records are available.
The greenest circle belongs to SG1 Hubert Wee, who has a dominating 25-3 record against MY8 Jocelyn Lor. At the other end, the reddest circle is SG10 Shim Yen Nee’s, against who else than MY1 Nigel, standing at 3-18.
The head-to-head circles for the youngsters in the teams are mostly grey reflecting lack of past matches they have against the rest of the opponent. I believe these are the unknown quantities that will largely determine the match outcome.
All in all, it looks set to be a close and keenly-contested tournament. Jian Rong is setting up a live update here where results for every round will be updated as the tournament progress. (Note: Jian Rong uses the current rating in his page, while I use the rating and ranking as of the qualifying cutoff date on 1 June 2014. I believe the rank during the actual tournament will be re-ordered to use the value on 1 June 2014).
Thank you to Yong Jian Rong for some pre-work done, and to Barry Harridge, Yeo Kian Hung, Tony Sim, and Edward Okulicz for help on understanding the rating calculations.