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Mind Sports Olympiad and why board games are awesome



4 minute read

Have you ever heard about the Mind Sports Olympiad or Pentamind World Championship? It’s happening this Sunday in London. I’m going to explain in detail how it works later in this article. Before that, I would like to share with you how I started playing board games, why they are so important in my life and what makes playing games so awesome.

I’ve loved playing board games since I was four and watched my dad play chess. I couldn’t wait to learn the rules and play with him and my grandfather. By the time I was six, I was able to beat many of my dad’s friends and at age 11, I won the USA Junior Open for my age. Eventually, I was competing against all ages and gaining confidence.

Board games have enriched my life. In addition to having fun, board games can:

  • teach you multiple skills
  • are intergenerational
  • transcend demographic boundaries
  • improve cognition
  • delay Alzheimer’s
  • improve social skills and mental health

Chess Diving - physical and mental exercise


Playing board games is a great way to exercise your mind and body. Honing your concentration burns a lot of calories, and you can take the physical aspect to the next level with Chess Diving. This takes place in a swimming pool and requires each player to consider each move for as long as they can hold their breath underwater.

Chess taught me many skills. For example, the touch rule, which impels you to move a piece once you touch it, so you better think twice before you make your move. I also learned sportsmanship which meant losing gracefully - even though kids hate to lose! And of course, I learned how to calculate tactics when planning for the short term, and to recognize patterns for strategic long-term thinking.

Mind Sports Olympiad


While I dabbled in various board games, it wasn’t until I discovered the Mind Sports Olympiad that I fell in love with the wider world of board games. It all started innocently enough with a few chess tournaments at MSO, but when I saw that many of the players kept competing and playing other board game tournaments (there were 70 different events!) my curiosity got the better of me.

I learned the rules to a few new games. Settlers of Catan is considered to be the gold standard for 4 player games, which combined strategy with a bit of luck using dice. This was very different from chess, and yet no less enjoyable. The mixture of interactions and trading with the other 3 players tested new skills, such as diplomacy. While MSO also has a Monopoly tournament, Catan is by far the most popular game as it’s very well designed so that unlike Monopoly you are never truly out of the game and always have a chance to make a comeback. These types of new games are called Eurogames as they were mostly invented in Europe over the last 30 years and involve game design that makes them a lot more fun to keep playing than older games such as Risk. Catan, for example, always has a random starting position so that each game is different.

Pentamind World Championship

Mind Sports Olympiad

The Mind Sports Olympiad celebrates the diversity of games that have been invented and hosts demos for new games. While anyone can come and play in any tournament, the crown jewel of MSO is the Pentamind World Championship, which is a sort of Pentathlon where you can pick and choose any 5 games from all of our events, and the person with the best 5 scores wins the world championship title.

There are a few restrictions, such as only being able to use one score from each type of game (i.e. one chess score and one backgammon score), and this encourages players to learn lots of games.

The Pentamind World Championship is the ultimate mind sports championship to find the best board games player in the world. Past champions have included Demis Hassabis, the founder of DeepMind, and game designer Dario de Toffoli. The 2019 Mind Sports Olympiad takes place between August 18 to the 26 and includes over 70 different games ranging from Chess Diving, Scrabble and Backgammon to Catan, Chess and Dominoes. Additional mind sports competitions at MSO include Sudoku, Puzzles, Memory, Creative Thinking and and Speed Reading. For more info, visit

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and start sharing my passion for board games. Looking forward to seeing you at the Mind Sports Olympiad.

Written by ilfeld

Etan Ilfeld has loved playing board games since he was four years old. He is a US chess master and the inventor of Diving Chess where each player can think for as long as they can hold their breath. Ilfeld is the founder of Tenderbooks, Repeater Books, and the managing director of Watkins Media and the Mind Sports Olympiad. He is also the author of Duchamp versus Einstein and Beyond Contemporary Art.