Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Haikou Adventure

If you haven't seen it already, check out Nelson Dellis's blog of his World Memory Championship exploits!

Nelson is quite right to start with the post-competition meal, which as I've mentioned before is always the highlight of any memory championship - the Indian restaurant down the road from the hotel was really nice, and the drinking competition was a fitting end to three solid days of memorising. My own slow drinking time happened to be exactly the same as the world record time for speed cards, which gave everyone a laugh, and after the meal we all (that is, me, Phill and Jake from Team Britain, Nelson, Brad, John and Ademola from Team USA, Boris, Florian and Tsogbadrakh) went back to the closing ceremony and found that cheap cans of lager made the usual interminable event comparatively fly by!

But to start from the beginning, departing from Manchester at some point in the early morning, travelling via Amsterdam and Beijing to Haikou and getting to the hotel about half past one in the afternoon of the next day, local time, is the kind of thing that disturbs your sleep patterns. I really didn't sleep more than a couple of hours a night while I was there, which didn't help my performance in the competition. Granted, a lack of training contributed perhaps a little bit to that as well... But having arrived, I went straight to my room, had a nap, then went for dinner (KFC) with Simon, Boris, Florian, Søren and Søren's wife (whose name I must try to remember next time), and got prepared for the excitement of trying to remember things for three solid days.

Two things I learned on the long flight over: the Chinese subtitles for the Big Bang Theory seem to include explanations of the untranslatable plays on words as well as translations of what the characters are saying, and the film "Edge of Tomorrow" is completely, surprisingly, awesome! I'm sure everyone's describing it as a cross between Groundhog Day and Independence Day, but that's not entirely fair, because Independence Day was rubbish. It's actually a cross between Groundhog Day and a REALLY GOOD alien invasion movie!

Things I learned after arriving - I still get mobbed by fans who want a photo with me (or, moving with the times, "can I take a selfie with you?"), even though it's five years since I've done anything impressive in the memory competition world. And, more importantly, it's still great to go out, eat junk food and talk at length about memory systems with other enthusiasts. I must spend more time doing that in future, it's the only cure for lack-of-motivation!

"Your name here, make the game more meaminful", was the bold and slightly unusual slogan on the giant World Memory Championship poster in the hotel lobby for everyone to sign their names on. Phill, Jake and I (the entirety of Team Britain) had a chuckle about the spelling mistake before Phill unveiled the new and extremely stylish Team Britain T-shirts, with personalised designs on the front and back. Mine had "Zoomy" in big letters on the back, with "Ben Bridmore" underneath it. So, you know, most of the letters were right, and a little dab of tippex would have made it say my actual name, but we left it as it was. More meaminful that way.

Oh, and this whole thing was captured on camera, so I hope it'll be a highlight of the finished documentary! The Chinese team were all sporting uniform shirts saying they were at "The 23rd Word Memory Championships", so really, we were just following the trend.

Rather than writing about my own performance, which was uniformly awful, it'd be better to focus on the battle between the two people sitting either side of me in the front row of seats - Simon Reinhard to my left and Jonas von Essen to my right. It was a close contest all the way through, which took me by surprise a little; judging others by my own standards as usual, I had assumed Jonas would struggle to keep in training the year after winning the championship for the first time, but in fact he was hugely on the ball, all the way through. It all came down to a thrilling finish with the speed cards, just like all the best championships do!

Going into the final discipline, Jonas was ahead by 357 points, but everyone knows that Simon is capable of super-fast times at speed cards, while Jonas hasn't yet been able to get under 30 seconds. (In my day, nobody could get close to 30 seconds, and there were only a tiny handful of people who could do under 40, but it's a new world out there...) Not being involved in the fight for the top places, I could play about with possible permutations on my spreadsheet to my heart's content - if Jonas did his roughly-estimated 'safe' time of 41 seconds, Simon would win it with 23. If Jonas did 35, Simon needed just over 21...

Actually, Jonas did do a perfect pack in 35.55 seconds in the first trial. Simon attempted 21.95, but didn't get it right. That time wasn't quite quick enough, anyway - 21.35 would have done it. So in the second trial, he went all in, and stopped the clock in just under 19 seconds! But, sadly, it wasn't quite correct, and Jonas retains the World Memory Championship for another year!

Results can be found here - of note are the performances of Team Mongolia, spearheaded by Sengesamdan Ulziikhutag (difficult to pronounce but also very difficult to beat at memorising!) and numbers-master and master-boozer Tsogbadrakh Saikhanbayar. I really hope to see them at a lot of competitions in the future, difficult though it always is to get visas in and out of Mongolia. Marwin Wallonius was also hugely improved and awesome this year - flatteringly enough, he was still asking me for advice on how to improve his systems while producing the kind of scores I couldn't even dream of. And Boris Konrad was as consistent as ever; this is his tenth consecutive World Memory Championship that he finished somewhere between 4th and 8th! That really takes some doing, since the scores get higher every year and the people at the top keep changing...

Between Germany, Sweden and Mongolia, it's hard to imagine how Team Britain can ever force its way into the top three, but that's our resolution. I really want to get back in training and challenge for the title again, and I throw down the gauntlet to all other British memorisers - somebody beat me! We've decided that losing to my own countrymen would really give me the kick up the backside I need!

Big cheers and thanks and wild admiration as always go to the people who organised the whole event - Phil Chambers was struggling with a terrible cold, but ran things perfectly. Dominic O'Brien was a great ambassador for the sport as always, and caught at least one genuine cheat! Andy Fong, Angel Lai and Elaine Colliar got everything running extremely smoothly, Tony Buzan was his own inimitable self, and an army of arbiters did a sensational job! Roll on next year, when I might even get back into the top twenty...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

XMT is coming...

Are you ready?

I am, anyway, but I hope you're all keeping an eye on the website and getting prepared for the qualifying.

Meanwhile, I'm going to belatedly fill you all in about the adventures I've had in China, just as soon as I get a chance. Watch this space. Or take a break now and then to watch the telly, I won't mind.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

China awaits!

The World Memory Championship in Haikou is almost upon us! I'm much much less prepared for it than I ever have been for a world championship before, so I'm sure it's going to be a lot of fun. I hear that there are more competitors than can fit into the competition room, so it's bound to be an interesting event, and I'm flying out tomorrow morning! Via Amsterdam and Beijing!

I actually can't remember the last time I went somewhere exotic. Was it San Diego, in April? I probably shouldn't complain that I'm only having two trips to different continents this year, should I?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Doctor Who is rubbish nowadays

And to think I spent most of last year being awestruck by how wonderful it was, too. It's like they've genuinely run out of ideas - everything we've had in 2014 (and the Christmas special in 2013) is just re-hashing the same stuff they've done over the last few years, without any kind of original thinking behind it. It's not Peter Capaldi's fault, you could see he'd do a good job if they gave him a script that let him say or do anything, but they really need to re-think the whole thing and go with something new.

Get rid of the contemporary Earth setting for a bit, it's been done to death, and go out exploring the universe of time and space, will you? It's a time machine...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Another extremey update

I should address this now, before anyone gets some funny ideas. Obviously there is a lot of money at stake here, and having a qualifying round online is going to bring up all sorts of questions and concerns for most serious competitors. Specifically with regards to cheating.

But rest assured. First of all, all online submissions must be accompanied by a video. The requirements will be EXTREMELY strict (continuous filming, no cuts or edited segments, shot at a specific angle, with certain things that must be in view of the shot, etc.). Any case that is questionable or leaves us unsure, will be disqualified. Obviously there will be some level of subjectivity. The judging committee will be made up of a few of us who are organizing the event (we are all very involved in the memory world and know what's up), and we will always hold the right to reject, question, re-try, accept anyone we choose (if you don't like that, then you don't have to compete, simple enough). The goal is to be as fair as possible, obviously. But we are going to look at every case with the same amount of care as any other. For example, If we've never heard of you and you come in with an absolutely crazy amazing score, you bet your butt we are going to look into that very carefully. But also, if you're the World Memory Champion and you hit a world record, we will equally look into that as well. That's not to say we will assume it's cheating, but we will make sure it is legit as best as we can so that every one has an equally fair chance of making it into the 2015 XMT.

So there you have it. While this is supposed to be a fun and exciting competition amongst competitors who are passionate about memory sports, a day will come when someone wants to cheat their way to victory. Yes, this competition has rules and regulations, but it's still relatively "mom and pop" run. Simon Orton and I (Nelson Dellis) created this thing and will NOT stand for cheating.

So let that be a warning to you all (imagine me waggling my finger sternly at this point).

For the avoidance of doubt, I wasn't at all saying that any of my memory friends and loyal blog-readers would even consider cheating in my last blog entry! Anyway, I like this strictness, it gets my whole-hearted approval. I also want to try the qualifiers as well, even if I don't have to, so I'll try to dig out my old video camera and see if I can get it to work.

Other Extreme things that have occurred to me - in this year's competition, we had twelve matches each in the group stage; in the new format it'll be twenty. That's quite a bit of brain-strain for one day, even if the matches are just one minute of memory and four minutes of recall - will we see the best results at the start and competitors will burn out later on, or will we warm up to the task and be flying through the memorisation at record pace by the end of the day?

I didn't mention the new prize money distribution before, but that's very nice, and reduces the amount of money that one person can grab all for themselves by being better than everyone else (this is good news for everyone except Simon, obviously). $100 for each match won is an especially nice touch - will it reduce the incentive to try for a world record if you've already qualified for the knockout phase? Probably not, knowing memory people. We're not the type to go for a 'safe' hundred dollars and give up the chance of two thousand, especially since that comes with the accolade of having the best result.

And the inclusion of a knockout 'round of 16' is awesome, meaning that twice as many people get the fun of an Extreme Memory Task! With the top two in each group and also the four best third-place-finishers all qualifying, that should reduce the 'group of death' factor and make it less likely that someone really good will be narrowly edged out...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Let's get extreme! Again!

Woohoo, great news from the Extreme Memory Tournament!

Hello Extremers, finally some updates concerning next year's competition. Here are the new and sexy facts:

1. Dates: May 2nd and 3rd, 2015

2. Location: Same as last year at the fabulous Dart NeuroScience center in San Diego, CA.

3. New event: 1-minute Images (and no it's not silly Abstract Images). I'll let you guys try and imagine what that might be...more specific details to come soon.

4. XMT training website to go live in December. So you and everyone else can get their practice on.

5. Bumping up to 24 competitors, instead of 16. See #6.

6. Qualifiers: The top 8 competitors from last year will be automatically invited. The remaining 16 slots will be determined by a series of online qualifiers (on the XMT training website). Literally ANYONE can attempt to be qualify for the XMT.

7. Money: The prize fund has been bumped up to $76,000. Oh yes! No travel stipend this year, but everyone who qualifies will get SOME money, with many more incentives during the 2-day competition as well. See HERE for the specifics.

The Basics
•The Competition will be...◦two-day event held on May 2nd and 3rd, 2015

held at the Dart Neuroscience Convention Center in San Diego, CA

sponsored by Dart Neuroscience and Washington University in St. Louis (WUSL)

offering money prizes from a pool of $76,000

24 of the top mental athletes in the world will be competing to ensure that the competition is at the highest level. The top 8 from last year's XMT will automatically qualify for the 2015 XMT. The remaining spots will be determined by qualifying rounds, which will be held over 5 consecutive weeks starting mid-December 2014 (see below).

The competitors will be split up into 6 groups of 4, mixing the best and worst in each group to maintain fairness.

The competition will be run first in group stages (Day 1) and then single-elimination Round of 16, Quarterfinals, Semifinals, Runner-up Match, and Finals (Day 2).

All matches will be head-to-head competitive style, with competitors facing each other (1-on-1).

All events will be digital. All memorization/recall will occur on a laptop. For XMTs, a laptop may or may not be used (this will be announced prior to the task).

* * *

Qualifying Rounds

Starting mid-December (exact date TBD) and spanning over the course of 5 consecutive weeks, those who wish to compete in the 2015 XMT will have to submit their best scores on to the XMT training website for each of the 5 events. Competitors will have limited attempts and time to complete their BEST performance of the selected event of that week (the events will be the same ones from the competition: Names, Numbers, Cards, Words, and Images). The best 16 total scores over all events after the 5 weeks will be invited to compete in the 2015 XMT. More details to come...

* * *

More on the site, go and check it out!

First thoughts, apart from the general "yay!"... six groups of four, five disciplines, still one day for the first round, we must be doing it with four matches simultaneously. That'll give us 45 rounds, as compared to the 48 we had this year.

How does the seeding work? And will it take into account that I barely whined, moaned and complained at all about ending up as fifth seed for the 2014 event because Ola landed one measly point ahead of me in the recalculated world rankings, and then ending up totally in the Group of Death, and everything. Here's hoping it works out a bit more easy for me in 2015, but then on the other hand I do love a challenge...

Top eight from last year qualify for this one - sorry about that again, James.

And the qualifying tournament is what intrigues me the most, even if I don't have to qualify. I mean, it's really easy to cheat at online score-recording. And if there's a prize for just turning up, surely someone out there will be tempted to qualify dishonestly? There's some very strange people out there, after all - remember Evil Eugene Varshavsky?

Incidentally, how the heck did I remember Eugene Varshavsky's name after five years without even having to look it up? Maybe I'm turning into a name-memorising expert!

The new discipline "images" sounds an excellent choice! When Nelson started talking about adding a fifth discipline, I thought it would destroy the balance between system-memory and more-natural-ish-memory, but if the images is a completely-natural-ish-memory thing, it works! I'm looking forward to it!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Well I'll go to the foot of our stairs

There are people out there who think I sound very northern, but they should hear the people I work with now. It's true, Yorkshire is a very different world. I have to get into the habit of saying 'while' to mean 'until', and owt and nowt at every opportunity.