Saturday, December 29, 2012

Do you remember the first time?

I'm in a talking-about-memory mood lately. I'm even in a practicing-some-memory mood! I did a 30-minute binary practice today, which went quite painfully slowly and mind-wanderingly, but I know I can only improve. If I manage to do the hour events in the next couple of days, it'll set me on the course to my new year's resolution for 2013 - to do lots of training and then win the world championship! I like to aim high.

I've also been catching up on Nelson's blog, and since I don't remember plugging it here before, go and check it out now! Lots of memory talk to be found there!

Meanwhile, I thought it would be fun to blog about the olden days of memory competitions some more, just so that all these newcomers can get a feeling of what it was like in the days before I even had a blog! (I always assume that my blog is the sole source of information about everything, everywhere)

Cast your mind back, then, to August 2003. I was considerably younger, and the "Ben System" was younger still - I'd come up with it about six months before, and had been enthusiastically practicing with it ever since, although I was still a long way from world-beating levels. The MSO Memory Championship was the first time I'd had a chance to use it in a real competition, and I was thinking about switching back to my old system for things like speed cards, because I still hadn't got to the kind of speed with my two-card-image technique that I'd been capable of with the one-card-image thing. But I decided to just plough ahead with the new system, reasoning that every bit of training would get me closer to winning the world championship. To be honest, I was sort of obsessed with that idea at the time.

I was newly bearded, still had my original hat, and had lost a lot of weight since the previous August - something which I hadn't actually realised until John Louis pointed it out to me. I was possibly the thinnest I've ever been, a combination of giving up coca-cola for financial reasons, a lot of walking and probably a lot of mental exertion with the Ben System. I also had a really bad, streaming cold that week, and had to spend the competition pausing to wipe my nose constantly while trying to memorise numbers and pick up packs of cards. Blowing your nose while other competitors are trying to concentrate is sort of frowned upon.

The MSO championship had been a separate thing from the WMC since 2001 - if you want a fun read, look for the public correspondence between David Levy and Ray Keene as to why that was - and had fluctuating attendance figures. The 2001 event was a couple of days before the WMC, and also in London, and got quite a lot of people taking part as a bit of a warm-up. In 2002, the MSO went to Loughborough, a week before the WMC, and got a whopping three competitors. In 2003, at the university in Manchester (a really great MSO location, by the way!) but with the world championship set for Kuala Lumpur in November, the MSO memory competition amassed nine entrants.

It was very multinational, too - along with me, there were John Louis from India and Pierre Berbinau from France, who'd both started competing within the last couple of years; old-timers and hot favourites Gunther Karsten of Germany and Yip Swe Chooi of Malaysia; debutants Ed Cooke from England and Charlie Garavan from Ireland (possibly the two most fun guys and best conversationalists ever to attend a memory championship!); and Dr Yip's two latest students from Indonesia, Titiani Loren and Fanny Boediman.

You couldn't make it up, could you? The avuncular fifty-something Dr Yip accompanied everywhere by two attractive young women who cheerfully introduced themselves to everyone as "Titty and Fanny". James Bond meets Moonwalking With Einstein.

The competition was six disciplines over two days, including both hour-long marathons and speed cards - the organisers were keen that people should have the opportunity to achieve the new Grand Master norms. The 2002 event had taken the same approach, but squeezed the whole thing into one day, which was seriously exhausting!

2003 was rather less stressful, and produced lots of results that were awesome for the time - four new Grand Masters (me, John, Titty and Fanny) and two new world records, both from Gunther. I was absolutely delighted with my own performance all the way through (even pretty happy with names and faces) and really, hugely, super-enthusiastic about memory!

We started with binary digits, which I'd always disliked in the olden days, because I hadn't been able to come up with a good system. Now that I had, I loved it! I got a score of 2850, which I'd be disappointed with today, but back then for anyone to get 3000 was practically unheard-of, so my score was considered really amazingly huge! Gunther broke his own world record with 3180. He was always far and away the world's best at binary back then. Heehee, I soon took over that position!

Next was random words, which I hadn't trained for at all, but I still got a really great score for the time - 168. Perfect memory, too - not a single mistake. I was just in such a positive frame of mind after the binary, despite my rotten cold, that anything seemed possible!

Finally for the first day, hour cards, and the improvement over my original system was huge - I'd long since realised that doing more than ten packs with one image per card was impossible - each of my 52 images would appear once per pack, and it was just too confusing. With the all-new Ben System, the only limit was struggling to remember my 2704 images quickly enough, and even though I was still new to it, I got 13 packs. The lowest score out of the nine competitors was six packs, which is quite impressive, isn't it? Small turnout, but good quality.

So I was actually in the lead after the first day, which was better than even I'd expected!

Day two started off with hour numbers, which the all-conquering Ben System is admittedly not so hot at. But I still managed a hugely impressive 1630 nonetheless. Dr Yip was famously good at numbers, and got 1855, but Gunther surpassed even that, with another new world record score of 1914.

In names and faces I managed 70, which isn't so bad. Gunther somehow got 83, when he's normally even worse than me at names! Newcomers Ed and Charlie got the highest scores, with 99 and 88 respectively - okay, pretty low winning scores, but the rest of the competition was full of great results!

So we went into the speed cards, and I just needed a reasonably good time to win the competition. Treading carefully with the new system, I did 2 minutes 40 seconds in the first trial (going through the pack twice) and then 1 minute 38 in the second. I sped up a lot once I'd had a bit more practice! Dr Yip had the best time with 1:13, which with Gunther not getting a pack correct (he tried 55 seconds both times, but had errors) was enough for second place overall.

So I won my first memory championship! There was prize money, too - a whopping £300 for first place! It was a great couple of days all round!

As one final note, did you know that Indonesia and Monaco have nearly identical flags? I didn't, until I just noticed today that Fanny Boediman's got the wrong one on the memory sports statistics site!


nELSON said...

Thanks for the mention!

Poland has the reverse of Monaco and Indonesia. They must have some type of alliance.

John said...

Thanks for a great read. A few more stories like that and you'd have the basis for a good book.
I was confused by your comment "hour numbers, which the all-conquering Ben System is admittedly not so hot at". I would have thought that like hour cards there would still have been an advantage with the Ben system (even though 1,704 images are not used) as opposed to a 100 system.

Zoomy said...

Nelson - hmm, the axis of red-and-white flags is starting to worry me now. They're strategically placed to conquer all the important parts of the world!

John - thanks! One of my must-get-round-to-it-one-day ambitions is to write a book called "Noughty Memories", a complete guide to all the memory competitions of the first decade of the 2000s. I started it ages ago, but barely got as far as summer 2000...

And yes, the 1000-system was much better than the 100-system for hour numbers, but it was nothing new or original. Gunther was already using that kind of system, and had been for years. I have a big advantage in binary and cards, because I came up with something that had never been done before!

NobodyInteresting said...

2003? Old days?!?

1995. That's more like the old days. When being able to memorise almost anything was enough for a top 7 position...

Zoomy said...

Yes, but in 1995 I'd never even heard of the concept of remembering things. I didn't think there was such a thing as memory until I discovered it in 2000...