Report from WESPA Youth Cup 2018

WESPA Youth Cup 2018, the thirteenth version of the event previously called World Youth Scrabble® Championship, was held in Dubai. Eric Kinderman (US) kindly arranged for us to use the gymnasium and other facilities at the school where he teaches - GEMS Dubai American Academy. We thank the school for their wonderful assistance.

Each year, we appreciate the effort that most teams make, to present themselves as teams. This year, the Sri Lankan team excelled themselves. The Sri Lankan government recently accepted Scrabble as a sport, and the Sri Lankans players are taking their game very seriously, ensuring they put on the best show possible. For the last three years, Sri Lanka has won the team prize, best combined performance from their top 3 players. They looked like winning it again in 2018, but were pipped at the post by Pakistan, when the top Pakistani player beat the top Sri Lankan player in the last game, thus snaring both the individual Champion title, and the Champion Team title!
Team Sri Lanka

Approximately 7 years ago, I travelled to Sri Lanka with Alastair, to conduct a coaching clinic for 60 young players. These 60 were chosen from 30 schools, who sent their best 2 players for a two-day program. The students saw this as an honour to fight for (or maybe they just enjoyed having two days off school!) I believe this is an excellent way to start - set up an interschool event, where schools have to choose their top players - this forces the school to train and test players, and really encourages their competitive natures (finding us the type of player we need for Scrabble tournaments) Sri Lankan have expressed a desire to host WESPA Youth Cup in 2020. (We previously held the event here in 2014).

This year, there was a noticeable increase in female players competing in WESPA Youth Cup, which bodes well for the future. Best novice this year was a young lady from Thailand, Pornnapas, who finished 15th. Last year, three countries snaffled all top ten places (Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Thailand), and all were male. This year was different, with a lady player in the top 10 - Radinka (LK). For the first time, Hong Kong featured in the places (twice) and India was represented by Vraj Jain (in his 5th and final attempt at the crown - sorry to see you leave us, Vraj!). In 2015, some HK university students approached us for assistance to organise serious Scrabble in HK: I responded that they needed to recruit some younger (school) players, which they duly did, making their debut in Perth, with both youth and adult players. HKSPA (Hong Kong Scrabble Players Association) in conjunction with Mattel Asia, organised their first major international event early this year (around 200 players). They are now achieving the results they deserve. They are also working with Japan, to encourage them to join the world circuit. All being well, we *will* have some Japanese players next year.
Team Malaysia

WESPA Youth Cup was held in the Middle-East, to make it more accessible to local players, and those from African and European countries. Sadly, the only country which took advantage of that proximity was Kenya, who fielded a complete team. (There was one Nigerian player, two from UK, one from Oman, and three from UAE). Numbers from these areas where much reduced from 2013. Hence, future events will be based in central Asia, allowing full participation by countries such as Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, as well as (eventually) new countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Taiwan, and China. WESPA Cup 2019 is scheduled for the end November, on a weekend adjacent to Princess Cup in Thailand, which caters mainly for young players up to 20 years old.

Every year, players receive a souvenir booklet, which includes details of all players, plus inspirational writing from various sources. Players were given a trivia quiz, based on information in the booklet. The only answer not found in the booklet was to name the highest WESPA-rated female player in the world (this required consulting WESPA website). Here are some of the other questions asked: Which country has produced the most World Youth Champions? .. Which two players here have competed in the most WYSC/WYC events? What did Nigel say was the secret of winning? "just …. …. ….". Nigel's nemesis at North American Scrabble Championship 2018 (Joel Sherman) said what, in regards to Nigel? "Don't just envy the winner, … …". Other questions related to WESPA - what it is, who is the Chair, and who was the Amnuay award (for mentoring young players) named after. One player spent 2 hours, determined to answer every question correctly, and won a Scrabble set for her determination - Mariyah, UAE.
(Answers to quiz questions: Lisa Odom, US and Helen Gipson, UK - both 1932; Australia - 3 World Youth champions; Vraj Jain, India and Ronnie Bennett, UK/Aust - 5 each: ".. learn more words"; "..emulate him.")

This year, the champion was not decided until the final game, played between Janul de Silva (LK) and Syed Imaad Ali (PK), tied on 19 games, and both Gibsonised. When Imaad won, he also tipped the balance for the team event, such that Pakistan won by 1 game, over Sri Lanka, with Thailand close behind. Janul, runner-up for the second consecutive year, is still young enough to return next year. Syed, at 12 years old, was the second-youngest Champion in history - the youngest being 11-year-old Anand Bharadwaj (AU) 2011.

Details of all prize-winners are available here