The funniest moments of the 2023 W.O.C.8 November 2023
Written by Carlo Affatigato
Let's make it clear immediately, for the sake of honesty: if you are looking for a serious recap of the 2023 World Othello Championship, this is not the right article (you better head here and read about Nagano's victory and everything around it). No, this is the other article: the one about the hilarious highlights, the curiosities, the funny stories, the things to remember. Because the World Championship is not only the most important competition you can ever join in Othello: it's also an exciting place to be, with the most friendly environment you can imagine, many lovely people, and a lot of key moments that make the occasion memorable. If you weren't present at the 2023 W.O.C., the eight stories below will give you a clear idea of its unique atmosphere.
On day 1, after the registrations, all the Othello players were calmly enjoying the evening at the tournament venue, waiting for the first round's draw. Among them, you could spot Michele Borassi and Alessandro Di Mattei laughing at each other in the backyard. Michele and Alessandro have been "enemies" in many competitions over the last few years, but they are also great friends outside of the Othello World. In that conversation, Borassi was listing the results he collected in the World Championships since he started playing Othello: "I got first, second, third... I was also 4th and 5th, and let me check, right, I was 7th too. So this year, I must finish 6th to complete the collection." "Oh, I have that!" says Alessandro at some point, referring to his result at the 2022 Championship. Borassi ended up quite disappointed by that detail; he couldn't accept that Di Mattei had an achievement he missed. "Oh, but that's not the only one; I've been Italian Champion too. However, you decided you are Swiss lately, so that's out of reach for you..." That's when Borassi solemnly promised he would finish 6th in the Championship. But you know, things don't always go as you wish...
When youth calls
The youngest player in the 2023 World Othello Championship was Wutong Ren from China. He is six years old, but as you know, that doesn't mean you can relax against him: Wutong collected five wins in 13 rounds, finishing the Championship in 76th position. The point is that Othello is not exactly the dream game for a 6-year-old kid, especially in a tournament context: you sit in front of a board for two days, thinking about the best move, dealing with complexity, losses, and discipline. A little different from the natural way a boy like him would spend a weekend.
So, between one game and another, you could spot him out of the tournament room, running among tables, chasing his mom, laughing and screaming like every kid his age should. You could sense the urge coming from his nature, after so many hours sitting silently and flipping discs. If he had a ball, we would have seen him dribbling the Othello tables and shooting at the press room door.
The perfect transcript method
There have been many talks lately about transcripts. Having them mandatory or optional, forcing players to write them with pen and paper, or introducing an electronic device for that purpose. The 2023 World Othello Championship was pretty fine from that point of view (unless you want to listen to those who complain about the pens not working), every player was carefully transcribing every move, and all transcripts were officially documented. However, if you are looking for the perfect transcript method, ask Yasushi Nagano, the 2023 Champion. He doesn't write transcripts while he plays; he focuses on the game without distractions, making the best out of his concentration. Then, when the game is over, he looks at the referee and says, "Oh, you want it on paper?" He grabs the pen and starts writing the whole game, move after move, on the black and white paper, without needing any help, without seeing the board changing after each move. It's all in his head. Some of us wondered what operating system was installed in his head, but we couldn't find out.
"The moves you should not play"
In the World Othello Championship, you can always expect some memorable game that deserves to be extensively discussed afterward, and the discussion about the tournament-defining move was still active some days later. One of the most exciting games of the 2023 W.O.C. was definitely Borassi vs. Urano in round 3, with Borassi playing a shocking x-square at move 19, followed by an incredible midgame built around that sacrifice.
After that game, in the main hall, I spotted Damiano Foschi commenting on that move with Di Mattei: "I'm a teacher, I teach Othello in schools, right? And sometimes, I have to explain to my kids that there are moves you should not play, like unnecessary x-squares or extreme sacrifices when the situation doesn't require it. Well, Borassi played exactly that kind of move against the World Champion, and he won!" We will keep you informed about how his students' gameplay will change this year after what happened.
One of the most interesting aspects of Othello is what I personally call "failure management": the unique way we explain to ourselves our losses, or the moves we miss, so they don't affect our self-confidence. It's a basic psychological technique that helps you maintain optimism and self-esteem, and I thought it was one of my unique peculiarities as an Othello player and a professional life coach who studies emotional intelligence. Instead, talking with the others at the 2023 W.O.C., I realized we are all massive experts at justifying our disappointing performances in a way that doesn't correlate to our skills or conditions. Luck, time, distractions, environmental conditions, whatever works in that moment. I could hear Daniel Dufour and his father Mark explaining that Daniel had bad luck the first day because he had white only with strong opponents. I heard Di Mattei explaining his 15th position with particularly tough pairings ("I played all former World Champions, it's incredible!"). It's a unique talent we have, and I'm perfectly aware of how useful it is to keep the focus during a competition. However, it didn't work with me when I lost against Niklas Wettergren in round 10 after having a clear win with six empties. I couldn't find the proper explanation. I was talking about it with Paolo Scognamiglio, and he tried to reassure me by saying that I was probably short in time, but I told him, "No, I wasn't; I had time, it was easy to count, I had no pressure, and still I missed it. I cannot find any excuse for what happened." Then, Paolo reached the verdict: "So you still have to get better. At finding excuses."
After Nagano's victory, the celebration dinner on Sunday became a hilarious moment. The tension of the last days was released; all players were genuinely smiling and having fun; no more concentration was needed, and you could finally enjoy the company and the environment. However, people present at the victory dinner reported a challenging time for Yasushi Nagano, with Di Mattei stealing the seat next to him and never leaving his side, demanding him to play, and man-marking him like Claudio Gentile against Maradona in the 1982 Football World Cup. Di Mattei was in heaven for the chance to spend the night with the World Champion, and he couldn't stop finding new ways of worshipping him. At some point, he started spoon-feeding him. There is evidence, in case somebody missed it, and it's now carefully preserved in the Italian digital archives. Tetsu Satani couldn't stop laughing.
The Italian commentary
For three days, the press room was the heart of communication. Luke Plowman led the team in every moment of the W.O.C. with interviews, analysis, and guests, focusing on the tournament's protagonists and the games on the first tables. When the day of the finals came, though, a dedicated team took shape in a hidden corner of the venue: the Italian group formed a passionate spot, offering the chance to watch the finals live with the Italian commentary. And the rest of the world could notice how "colorful" Di Mattei and Sperandio's style was, especially if compared with Plowman's British composure. At some point, during the first semi-final between Nagano and Kurita, if you opened the Italian live streaming, it felt like the penalty shootout at the FIFA World Cup final. You can enjoy it again starting from 2:24:45 here on Youtube.
"Who has parity?"
The last hilarious instant of the 2023 World Othello Championship occurred in a completely unintentional manner: we were all watching the same match we mentioned earlier, semi-final 1 between Yasushi Nagano and Seiya Kurita, but this time with the calm, phlegmatic approach of the English comments. Luke Plowman was analyzing the midgame position with Joseph Rose, but at some point, evil seemed to possess him. He asks Joseph a simple question: "Who has parity at the moment?" And a complete silence fell in the room. It was one of the most complicated positions of the whole tournament (Nagano will spend more than 14 minutes analyzing it), with an odd-numbered region reserved for black on the north, a sealed cell available to white on the south, and all adjacent areas ready to disturb the action. But for some reason, Luke believed that was a fair question to ask Joseph in those 30 seconds between one topic and another. We all wanted to hug Joseph Rose at that moment: he did his best to describe the situation; he explained that "if you look at the top five empty squares, honestly... they are five empty squares," we could hear his brain activating the computational mode, trying to provide a satisfactory answer to that critical question. He needed one full minute, but in the end, he reached the only possible conclusion: "In this case, it would be hard to say." Meanwhile, we all imagined Luke observing the scene while sipping his tea, proud of what he did. You can watch the full scene here on Youtube, starting from 2:10:40.