Pinoy Sudoku champ bares secret of success

By Kristine Servando,

Posted at Apr 22 2009 08:20 PM | Updated as of Apr 24 2009 01:10 AM

Just five days after winning an international Sudoku competition in Thailand, 17-year-old John Robert Valcos said he is already raring to join other Sudoku competitions.

Fueled by his victory at the 3rd Brand's Sudoku Thailand International Open 2009 Princess Somsawali Cup held in Bangkok, the young champion says he is interested in following up his most recent victory.

Valcos beat more than 100 contestants all over the world, besting reigning champion Sarah Jane Cua, a fellow Filipino, by only one point.

However, Valcos said the competition was no walk in the park.

"I found my experience in the Thai competition to be very difficult, especially for me. I find my speed is not as fast as my other opponents, they're a lot faster than me. So I think my victory is overall a blessing from God," he said.

The secret, Valcos said, is to never give up. "I never did give up, and I really got my victory."

"I think also because there are many people who are supporting me and because I really like to win and I really love the game," he added.

Brain power

Valcos shared that he started playing the game about four years ago, during his freshman year in high school at St. Mary's College in Baliwag, Bulacan where he started solving puzzles that he came across on daily broadsheets.

"I just see Sudoku puzzles in the newspaper but I had a very hard time answering it. Then in my senior year in high school, my math teacher Marilene Ramos convinced me to join a contest and I was lucky to reach the national level there," he said.

He got 10th place on his first try at the competition, then went on to join three more national level competitions and three provincial level competitions prior to joining the International Open this year. The highest place he got, he said, was first place in one of the national categories.

Since then, he would studiously train with Ramos, who is also a Mathematics Training Guild center coordinator, at St. Mary's College during his spare time.

"My teacher gives me puzzles so that I will always practice, sometimes I practice with my own teacher. On average, I practice two or three times a week when I'm not busy with school," he said.

The Sudoku champ also shared that he enjoys other brainy hobbies like chess.

Ramos had been instrumental in encouraging the youngster to try his luck at the Sudoku competition in Thailand, where the Filipino delegates were taken care of by the Mathematics Training Guild.

'My favorite game'

Valcos, who is now taking up Information Technology at St. Mary's, said that he has learned to hone his skills using techniques he learned in school. "My course, which deals with computers, focuses more on logic and in making good decisions," he said.

His overall winning Sudoku strategy, he said, is his ability to attack a problem with accuracy and precision, without rushing things.

"At first, I look for the obvious answers. I look at the whole puzzle, and then just take my time and think it clearly," he said.

If anything Valcos said that Sudoku has taught him important life lessons.

"In Sudoku, it teaches me to take my time, I need to be sure of the decisions I make. Just like in life, if you make a mistake, you should accept your mistake quickly and you should correct them," he said.

All these techniques shaped up to be the winning strategy which helped him bag the top prize at the Bangkok competition. Valcos took home a cool $5,000, a trophy, and a supply of Brand's chicken products.

Now, with a winning title under his belt, Valcos says he will keep on pursuing what he calls his favorite game.

His advice to other Sudoku players is this: "Just never give up and if you love the game, and if you want to give it a try, just take your chances because you will really not lose anything."