Interviews with the top favourites for the Extreme Memory Tournament (and also with me) can be seen on that link. But the main reason to tune into that website is for the draw for the group stages, this Tuesday, at 5pm British time (midday EST)!
Here's how it works - we're in four groups of four, and each one in a group has one head-to-head match against each of the others for each of the four disciplines (names, numbers, cards, words), making twelve matches in total for everyone. There'll be one from each seedings pot in each group, so they'll be arranged like this:
Pot 1: Johannes Mallow, Simon Reinhard, Jonas von Essen, Ola Kåre Risa
Pot 2: Ben Pridmore, Boris Nikolai Konrad, Christian Schäfer, Gunther Karsten
Pot 3: Andi Bell, Bat-Erdene Tsogoo, Marwin Wallonius, Mark Anthony Castaneda
Pot 4: Erwin Balines, Annalena Fischer, Johann Randall Abrina, James Paterson
So, what's a good group for me, and what's a group of death? In terms of the four disciplines, I'm very good at cards, pretty good at numbers, okay at words and bad at names. With words and names counting for half the points, I really need to pick up a couple of wins in those, as well as in my 'specialist subjects', so I'd like to avoid the people who are particularly good at those. I'd also like to avoid the best people at cards and numbers, because it's easier to make a mistake and get a low score in those two, especially if you're trying hard to beat a close rival.
Okay, so, pot one - obviously you're not going to get an easy opponent there. But here's a thing to consider: there are five people in the world who've done a pack of cards in under thirty seconds in competition, and one of them is me, one is the sadly-missed Wang Feng, and the other three are Johannes, Simon and Ola. Jonas is the one of that group who I'd feel most confident at beating at the cards. Am I really hoping I get drawn against the world champion? Well, maybe I am - I can say from experience that motivation tends to be at a low ebb the year immediately after a WMC win, after all. Johannes is the best in the world at 5-minute numbers and will probably be the best at 1-minute numbers as well. Simon isn't far behind him there and is the world's best at speed cards. The two of them are also very hot at names and words, more so than the others. So, weird though it sounds, my hope is to end up in a group with Jonas, or else with Ola.
Pot three - we go from one extreme to another here, no pun intended, with the man who's been in memory competitions almost since the start in Andi, and the youth who was barely even alive when Andi won his first world championship, Bat-Erdene. I tend to assume that young people are better at fast, computer-based challenges than old people (and, strangely, I still consider myself to be a young person when I'm making that kind of comparison), so I'd prefer to have the old man in my group than the young boy. But Andi was always very good with speed cards in the old days, he was always very good at names back when the world championship rules were the sensible kind that we have in the XMT, rather than the silly kind they're using now, and he's probably still the most dangerous all-rounder in this pot, elderly though he is. I'm crossing my fingers for Mark Anthony here, just because he doesn't have the long experience of Andi or the youthful energy of Bat-Erdene and Marwin, and because he's tended to shine in just one or two disciplines in the big competitions, and been less exceptional than the others elsewhere - he's the only one of these four not to beat the 40-second barrier in speed cards.
Pot four - got to avoid James here. He's in that pot because he's not so hot at cards and numbers, but he's fearsome at names and words, and I wouldn't give myself any chance of a win in those two disciplines against him. When it comes to cards, Johann is the one to avoid, and Erwin too - they're maybe not quite as fast as the top competitors, but they're getting closer. If I'm to have any chance of getting to the coveted second day of competition, I really want to collect maximum points against the lowest-ranked in the group, and I think my best hopes of that are against Annalena.
So, in summary, best group - Jonas, me, Mark Anthony, Annalena.
Group of death - Simon, me, Andi, James.
Or am I entirely wrong in my estimation of my opponents? Very probably.