Countdown in St Albans (CoStAl) took place on 2nd July for the third consecutive year at The County Club, hosted by James Robinson and Jeff Clayton.
The event drew 27 players including international contenders Eddy Byrne from Ireland and Bertrand Adam from France, and consisted of five rounds of heats before a Swiss-style groups stage to deliver an overall winner.
The first of five heats matches began just after 10am, using the “Perfect Tens” format coined by James and Jeff — LLNLLNLLNC, using 1/0 scoring instead of regular televised scoring. Players mark two match points for a win or one apiece for a draw; there are no sudden death conundrums. All players were drawn against each other at random at the start of every game.
The objective in Perfect Tens is to score in each of the ten rounds and to mark the maximum ten points from the five matches. Scoring in 45 of 50 rounds was Mark Murray, followed closely on 44 by Tom Cappleman, Rob Foster and Giles Hutchings.
Ultimately it’s match points that matter and Graeme Cole emerged as #1 seed — the only player on nine points. His four wins (8-7, 7-4, 9-7, 9-7) were nearly scuppered early doors by Callum Pickering drawing 9-9 in heat two. No fewer than six players followed Graeme on eight points, with Giles Hutchings on seven points nicking 8th place in Group A thanks to a better goal difference.
After the heats, players were separated into four groups based on their results and battled it out to see who would win each group. Each of the quarter-final and semi-final played out as nine round matches (LLLNLLLNC), before the 14-round final (LLNLLNC, x2).
Upsets were on the cards however as #1 seed Graeme Cole and #2 Eddy Byrne were both defeated in their quarter-finals (32-54, 33-50). And in a strange twist, seeds 1, 2, 5 and 6 in Group A all lost their quarter-finals whilst the same in Group B all won theirs!
Stewart Gordon won Group D defeating Natasha Pratesi 78-53 in the final. New entrant and local resident Jon Elmer won out 79-67 over Callum Pickering in Group C. Group B’s final was a war of the roses, pitting ardent Leeds United fan Callum Todd against Wigan Athletic follower Robin McKay, but with Callum triumphing 88-73.
Giles Hutchings (#8) won the battle for third place 83-62 over Mark Murray (#4). The grand final in Group A, between #3 seed Zarte Siempre and #7 Rob Foster, ran concurrently with the mainstream but with different conundrums, which were played out on the buzzer in front of their captive audience. The conundrums were set by James and carried a ladies’ names theme.
TOCLAUDIA seemed to escape both finalists when Rob Foster buzzed on 29 seconds and offered “autodical”, which was incorrect. Zarte responded immediately with “AUTOCIDAL” (a form of pest control) and scored the points, admitting Rob’s guess was a big help!
ICUANGELA was the final round of the day but neither contender took the points. The correct answer was GUANCIALE, an Italian cured pork. The last conundrum wasn’t crucial though, and Zarte triumphed 94-78 over Rob.
The prizegiving concluded by 6pm – the top three each bagging an engraved salver to take away, along with other prizes across all groups. Most players then took the short walk to the O’Neill’s pub in town to enjoy some well earned dinner and watch Germany play Italy in the Euro 2016 football quarter-final.
With my thanks and a special mention to James, who not only organised the venue, the lunchtime catering and obtained some of the prizes, but who also single-handedly surveyed 100 people for a five-part Pointless contest, based on the BBC quiz show. We hope you enjoyed our mix of mostly shorter Countdown matches, interspersed with general knowledge, and look forward to seeing you again at another FOCAL event. And don’t forget the Birmingham finals in December!