2002-2003 and 2008-2009



A retrospect by Michael Nolan, one of the participants



In this retrospect, I’ll describe the conditions that have defined the WCF and its two Camelot World Championship Tournaments; later, I’ll analyze the quality of play during the 2008-2009 tournament’s final match.

Let me quickly admit that any description of our WCF Camelot World Championship Tournaments as ‘official’ is an exaggeration, at best.  The only way our tournaments could have gained recognition as official world championship tournaments was if they had been held under the auspices of an organization that was recognized by most of the world’s Camelot players as a legitimately representative governing body, if the tournaments had involved a group of competitors that included a majority of the top Camelot players in the world, and if the games of the tournaments had been all played in person under classic time controls.

Sadly, this was neither the case with the 2002-2003 nor the 2008-2009 tournaments.

The first issue raises questions about the legitimacy of our organization, the World Camelot Federation, to represent the world’s Camelot players.

To give you some historical background, I established the WCF on January 20, 1999.  During the ten years since its creation, I've tried to increase its membership ranks in many different ways.  Of course, membership has always been free, so no membership fee has ever been an impediment to someone who wanted to join.

I have repeatedly announced the WCF's existence on Internet news groups and game-related sites, including Abstract Strategy, Board Game Geek, and Board Game Central.  I wrote to the United States Chess Federation, the American Checker Federation, the Manhattan Chess Club, the Marshall Chess Club, and the Mind Sports Olympiad.  I wrote to Dr. Jonathan Schaeffer, head of computer game studies at the University of Alberta.  I wrote many times to Hasbro, the purchaser of Parker Brothers, the company that introduced Camelot to the World.  I placed or contributed advertisements, notices, and articles in Chess Life, the United States Chess Federation’s publication, in Games Magazine, a popular publication whose circulation includes the general gaming public, in Abstract Games Magazine, before its demise an advanced publication for game devotees, and in the AGCP Quarterly, the publication of the Association of Game and Puzzle Collectors.

I strongly encouraged and sometimes even helped with the implementation of Camelot for the Zillions game-playing engine, with the adaptation of Camelot for the Cyberboard, Thoth, and ZunTzu boardgaming platforms, and with the development of CHAXX, the world’s first independent Camelot computer program.  I successfully requested and assisted with the introduction of Camelot to the ig Game Center, BrainKing, and GoldToken Internet game portals.  For several years, I even sent a personal message to anyone who placed an eBay bid on a Camelot set, offering him or her a free WCF membership.  (Eventually, eBay disallowed such activity, forcing me to discontinue that practice.)

Therefore, I believe that it is through no lack of trying on my part that the number of WCF members is not larger than it is.  My efforts have so far attracted 197 people to join the organization during its history.  Of those enrollees, 135 have remained active to some degree.  Additionally, at least 130 individuals are currently playing Camelot on the previously mentioned Internet game portals.

How many actual Camelot players currently exist?  In the 1930s at the height of the game’s popularity, through the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s when Camelot was still marketed by Parker Brothers, and even in the mid 1980s when Inside Moves, a renamed version of Camelot was sold, there may have been a great number of players.  Now, however, it may be true that the WCF actually represents a majority of all of the world’s Camelot players, a very small number, indeed.  On the other hand, it may be that it represents only a miniscule fraction of that not-so-small number.  Until that question is answered, there is no way to determine if the WCF is a legitimately representative governing body for Camelot.

The second issue, the question of whether the WCF tournaments involved a group of competitors that included a majority of the top Camelot players in the world, is tied inseparably to the first issue.  Since every WCF member received an invitation to play in the tournament, the answer to the question depends upon whether the WCF represents most of the world’s Camelot players.  If it does, the participant question is answered positively.  If it does not, then the participants were not representative of Camelot’s best players.

The third issue, the requirement that the games of the tournaments were all played in person under classic time controls, went unfulfilled for obvious financial reasons.  There were no prize funds for the tournaments; therefore, there was no incentive for participants to incur the expense of traveling to a remote playing site.  Thus, the games were all played by email, with the time limitations and obvious inequities of such a vehicle.

How could all players be subject to a classic time control if the moves were transmitted by email between different time zones?  More importantly, how could the games themselves be equitable for all players if some players analyzed their games over a period of days, while others responded directly after a single look at their board?  Some players did not even have a board, so they were forced to look only at a computer screen, while other players set up numerous analysis sets, scrutinizing numerous variations to their great advantage.  Those were match conditions that probably realized their potential to be grossly unfair.

Only the games of the final match of the 2008-2009 tournament between the champion, Dan Troyka, and the challenger, me, were played in person, with a classic time control of 40 moves in two and a half hours, as such games should be played.

So, regarding the World Camelot Federation and its championship tournaments, although I can truly and enthusiastically say that I did all that I could to make the organization and its contests the best they could be, a great deal is still left unaccomplished.

The final part of this retrospect is my impression of the games of the championship match of the 2008-2009 tournament, games in which I was one of the participants.


When beginning the 2008-2009 tournament in July 2008, I was determined to hold the World Championship Match under proper conditions, if possible, but that could only happen if I could manage to win the Candidates portion of the tournament.  If another participant won, he or she would likely be unable or unwilling to undertake the necessary travel to challenge Dan Troyka, the World Champion, in person.  However, I reside within 65 miles of Dan, so a real match under real conditions was a real possibility, if I could just win.  Luckily for me, I did.


Match conditions were as follows:

1. Time control: 40 moves in 2-1/2 hours

2. Players draw for colors (first move) in the first game, alternating colors thereafter

3. First player to win four games, draws not counting, is the World Champion


Actually, the third stipulation was not clearly stated prior to the match.  Draws are very rare in Camelot, so I hadn't even planned for that eventuality.  The match was advertised simply as "best four-out-of-seven."  However, there is overwhelming historical precedent for draws not counting in World Championship Matches (Chess and Checkers), so that proviso was adopted.


After three sessions totaling sixteen hours of play, Dan won the match with four wins, one loss, and one draw.  He is a worthy World Champion and a person with great intelligence and lots of class.  I consider him my friend.  Nevertheless, even after having lost twice to him, in 2003 and again in 2009, I look forward to challenging him again, someday!


I have a great deal of experience playing games under tournament conditions.  I have played tournament Chess for 42 years; I'm a Class A player.  I became a Bridge Life Master eight years ago.  I have played tournament Checkers, tournament Backgammon, tournament Othello, and tournament Cribbage.  I have written books on Chess and Cribbage.  Furthermore, I have seriously played all sorts of games my entire life, so I believe that I speak from experience when I say that Camelot is probably the most tactically difficult abstract strategy board game ever invented.  Go, perhaps the most difficult of all abstract strategy board games, is very strategic.  Chess is half strategy and half tactics.  Checkers is mostly tactics, but it is nowhere near as difficult to think a few moves ahead in Checkers as it is in Camelot.  Camelot is almost entirely tactical, often after only a couple of moves.


Camelot's tactics are tough enough to get right when you have the benefit of multiple analysis boards with which to study all of the variations and sub-variations, and hours or days to contemplate your move.  Even then, you often get it wrong.  The 2002-2003 tournament is a perfect example.  Studying positions for long periods of time was often of no help as blunders were frequent and massive.  But when you're faced with Camelot decisions that need to be made over the board with the clock ticking and only the current position and your opponent staring you in the face, Camelot seems almost impossible to play, or at least to play well.


Jose Raul Capablanca, Chess World Champion from 1921 to 1927, was a confirmed Camelot player.  Emanuel Lasker, Chess World Champion from 1894 to 1921, and Frank J. Marshall, U.S. Chess Champion from 1907 to 1936, were known to have at least occasionally played Camelot.  These players, perhaps, could have seen their way through the complex tactics of Camelot.  These players, perhaps, could have calculated outcomes ten half-moves distant, with each of those moves often being Canters, Jumps, or Knight's Charges consisting of numerous hops during the same move.  I doubt it, though.  No scores of their Camelot games are known to exist, so it is likely that we'll never know.


An inspection of the championship match between Dan and me makes one thing clear: both players made many mistakes.  In the first game, a draw, as well as in the second game, a victory for Dan, both players had five critical lapses.  In the third game, again a victory for Dan, I experienced four serious errors and Dan made two.  In the fourth game, a victory for me, Dan had four consequential gaffes and I had two.  In the fifth game, another victory for Dan, and perhaps the most difficult game of the match, I made nine grave misjudgments and Dan made seven.  Finally, in the sixth and deciding game, a final victory for Dan, I made six serious mistakes and Dan made four.  In six games, that's 31 serious blunders by me, 27 by Dan.  Nevertheless, I think that we're both relatively skillful Camelot players!


I would describe the quality of our play as being generally very good, but with all of the tactical blindness incidents that you would expect in Camelot over-the-board play.  In any case, playing for the WCF Camelot World Championship under real match conditions was a thrilling and rewarding experience.  I hope that you get some enjoyment out of my Camelot retrospect.




Go here to the 2002-2003 WCF Camelot World Championship Tournament webpage.


Go here to the 2008-2009 WCF Camelot World Championship Tournament webpage.