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...

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