With our FOCAL Finals event just 2 months away, read on for Jeff’s report from last year’s event…
36 people signed up for FOCAL Countdown’s second end-of-year finals contest in Birmingham at the 4* Hallmark Strathallan Hotel, hosted by Jeff Clayton and Ben Wilson.
The event was well represented both by event regulars and those making their tournament debuts, some of whom had discovered FOCAL during 2017 through Twitter and our website. Names from the television studio this year included series 76 winner Stephen Read, Amar Chotai, Ashwin Abanashi and series 77 finalist Tom Chafer-Cook. We were also delighted to welcome Pete Cashmore, who hails locally from the West Midlands, winner of series 35 in 1997 and runner-up in Champion of Champions the following year.
The finals day format was unchanged from 2016. This was a Round Robin in which the Top 8 all played each other once across seven 9-round games. Everyone else played the same seven games concurrently in an Open tournament; fixtures for the first four games were drawn at random, and thereafter using Swiss pairings according to performance. Letters for each round were chosen by a contestant in the Open, whilst in the numbers, each player could make their selection from our specially designed five-line grid.
Returning FOCAL champion, Jack Worsley, didn’t make the Top 8 this year but posted some strong results in Lincoln and Leeds along the way before going on to win Huddersfield. He also turned his hand for the first time to hosting in 2017, delivering FOCAL’s inaugural Manchester tournament back in March with Matty Artell. Jack qualified for our finals in 17th place, and emerged victorious in the Open contest, amassing six wins and 537 points — a run rate of more than eight points per round! — succumbing to defeat only by Callum Todd, who finished second with six wins and 511 points.
In this year’s Top 8, Rob Foster was the only contestant to go unbeaten in all seven of his matches and so he went forward as the clear favourite into the Grand Final. But right up until the end of the seventh game, it wasn’t clear who would be joining him. The standings returned four players on four wins, and so the points totals would separate them…
Rob and Jen had each attended six events throughout the year and qualified for Birmingham as #4 and #5 seeds respectively. Despite a mid-table finish in Lincoln, Rob finished 2nd in Manchester and in London, then emerged victorious in King’s Lynn, Bournemouth and Milton Keynes. No trophies for Jen on 2017’s circuit but she began the year with 10th/52 in Lincoln (then 4th/37 in the Hangover event the next day), 10th/33 in Manchester, 9th/35 in Leeds, 4th/11 in King’s Lynn and 3rd/52 in Milton Keynes. Testament and credit not just to their consistent abilities in Countdown, but also to the time, effort and money invested in travelling around the country to deliver such a high standard.
And so to the Grand Final.
Rob called the coin toss and lost, when Jen opted to be Player 1 to secure control of the second numbers game.
With her first letters pick (MSZNOEATA), Jen returned the very creditable seven-letter word NAMASTE, but Rob seized upon METAZOANS — multicellular animals with differentiated tissues — to take an early 18-point lead.
Both scored 8 and 7 in the next two letters rounds, and with the score at JS 15-33 RF, Rob opted for 1L in the numbers which returned a simple target of 500.
More points on the board for both and then into the second half of the match, Rob started to pull away with impressive eights in PRONEURS and DIAGRIDS. Despite a score of 25-59 with three rounds to go, Jen could still pick out a max 7 in ROOINEK, an informal term for an English-speaking South African.
Onto the last numbers, Jen opted for 6S — 2 8 2 6 1 6, 214 — not only adding 10 points for herself, but denying Rob a perfect game. Despite this, at the conundrum, Rob unscrambled FOCALSUIT in just over one second to offer CLAFOUTIS.
Final score, JS 42-76 RF. A thoroughly consistent performance from Rob all day, a very credible display from Jen and also an honourable third place for outgoing chairman Zarte Siempre.
– Jeff Clayton, December 2017