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Joseph Saelee survives Koryan's challenge, wins second straight CTWC

Joseph Saelee has won the 2019 Classic Tetris World Championship, becoming a back-to-back winner after surviving a tough challenge from Japanese Tetris Grandmaster Koryan.


Sunday proved to be an incredible final day for the 2019 Classic Tetris World Chapionship. At the end of the day, defending champion Joseph Saelee was back to try and win it all again for the second year in a row. On the other side was Tetris Grandmaster from Japan, Koji "Koryan" Nishio. At the end of the day, it was Joseph Saelee surviving a tense final game to win the series 3-2 and take home his second straight Classic Tetris World Championship.

The fifth and final game started badly for both players, as they each hit a significant long bar drought. Saelee was in trouble early and while he was able to dig himself out of it, it allowed Koryan to build a one-Tetris lead. But Koryan was in big trouble at Line 60 and busted early, which gave Saelee the opening to take the fifth game and win the tournament.

Saelee dazzled in the first game by digging himself out of dangerous situations. But despite his best survival efforts, he wasn't able to recover from a swiss cheese tower. Saelee busted, giving the first game to Koryan. Game 2 was more of the same. While both players had clean fields, Saelee got himself in some early trouble, though he captivated the crowd with a wild T-spin to get himself out of a messy scenario. However, Saelee burning multiple lines opened the door for Koryan to take a lead. However, Koryan slipped and busted at Level 19, which allowed Saelee to climb back and take Game 2. Saelee maintained his momentum through Game 3, able to keep his field clean, while Koryan couldn't survive the Level 19 transition.

Game 4 opened in exciting fashion, with both players opening up with the exact same board all the way through their first Tetris. While they didn't play the exact same moves forever, the two players were neck-and-neck throughout the game, even carrying tied scores heading into Line 80. Koryan struggled slightly heading into Line 100, which gave Saelee a chance to pull away slightly. Saelee carried a 100,000 point lead heading into Level 23, but Koryan mounted a furious comeback and was able to pull ahead at Level 27 to tie the series at two games a piece.

Sunday was the second straight year that Saelee and Koryan met in the CTWC Top 8. Last year, Saelee defeated Koryan in the semi-finals, en route to winning the 2018 championship. While Saelee took the field largely by surprise last year, this year he entered the Top 8 as one of the names to beat. He proved more than prepared to defend his title, maxing out twice in his quarterfinal match with Tomohiro "Green Tea" Tatejima. In fact, Saelee and Green Tea both maxed out in Game 3 of their series, the first time such a thing had ever happened in the ten-year history of the Classic Tetris World Championship.

Prior to the Grand Finals, the CTWC crew celebrated the 35th anniversary of Tetris. On top of shouting out to The Tetris Company, the crew welcomed Tetris creator Alexei Pajitnov for a pre-game interview. Pajitnov also officially launched the Grand Finals match, while awarding the winner and runner-up trophies after the finals concluded. Just before Saelee held up his trophy, Koryan soaked in the cheers of a capacity crowd and vowed to return next year.

For his victory, Joseph Saelee takes home $3,000. Runner-up Koryan goes home with $1,500. The Classic Tetris World Championship will return in 2020 and will be held on the weekend of August 14-16 at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo. Stay tuned to Shacknews throughout next week, as we wrap up our Classic Tetris World Championship coverage with player interviews and more. For now, take a moment to catch up with our interview with Joseph Saelee, conducted earlier today.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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