It's been a sort of extreme memory-family reunion this weekend - not just with fifteen other memory masters and their families and friends, but a whole pile of American competitors standing by to take part if necessary (it wasn't) and helping out with the organisation, the Washington University in St Louis gang, casino-cheating expert and card wizard Sal, mnemotechnics.org webmaster Josh and two entirely non-memory-related local friends, I've been constantly surrounded by a horde of people I know, some of whom I hadn't seen for ages. But now I'm in San Diego airport, on the way home (the plane's delayed by half an hour, exactly like the one on the way out - it's probably the same plane, and has been running thirty minutes late for months) and need to try to summarise everything that happened at the Extreme Memory Tournament for the benefit of my loyal bloglings.
I hope everyone was following the action on the internet, because that site and all the software really was amazing. Never in the history of "memory sports" have we had the ability to watch everything going on, even from far far away (like in Australia, where Simon Orton was at work non-stop, patching up minor bugs as soon as they arose). Live coverage of which cards the competitors were looking at at any given moment, and the ability to follow along with the excitement as they recalled! You can see the results of every match on there now, if you're interested.
Although Group D was very much the group of death, it did come last alphabetically, meaning I had the opportunity to watch the other three groups have their first match before my turn. Plus, my first match was names, against Simon "the iceman" Reinhard, which I was never going to win, so there was no need to worry about getting off to a worse-than-expected start. It wasn't until the second match, numbers against James "the one who decided that Simon's nickname is 'the iceman'" Paterson that I got off to a worse-than-expected continuation, setting a 'safe', slow-ish time of 25 seconds but not being able to remember one of the images.
When one competitor stops his or her timer, the border around the other competitor's screen turned blue, signifying that they could take the full one minute and concentrate on getting a perfect score - James did just that, and won. It was worrying, because I was significantly more sluggish there in the competition than I had been in training.
I pulled it together against Bat-Erdene in the words, and also got a win against him in numbers later (he went for an extremely fast time and didn't quite get the recall right). But those were the only two of my six matches before lunch that I won, and it really wasn't looking good for me at the half-way point. Simon was crushing everyone in his path except for one slip-up against Bat in numbers, but if I wanted to scrape into second place, I really would have to buck my ideas up in the afternoon.
The hectic pace had made it hard to keep up with what was happening in the other three groups, in between my own matches every half hour, but Jonas was the star of the day, winning everything in group C - the other three places were extremely close together and the tension was running high, as everyone could tell from Boris's loudly-yelled rude word in German when he made a mistake in the numbers against Andi. Group A was seeming pretty easy for Johannes (he got the group of life, or of undeath, or of whatever the best word for the easy group is), with Gunther and Mark Anthony closely matched behind him. Ola and Christian were fending off the challenge of Erwin over in Group B.
After lunch, I was thrown into action against Simon in words, another guaranteed loss - two wins out of seven now. I could afford to take it easy against James in cards, with 45 seconds, but I was disturbingly feeling like that was as fast as I could manage to go, with my mind not being fully up to speed. Three wins out of eight. Six out of twelve was realistically the minimum I needed.
That left names against Bat-Erdene to be a real must-win. Since I tend to regard names as being more of an inevitably-will-lose, that was worrying, but on the other hand, he's not so great at names either, so I did have a chance. And I won, just barely. I cheered "Yes!" quite loudly, before even remembering to shake hands, in all the excitement. Four out of nine. Simon had beaten James in the names, too - I really needed Simon to win his matches against my rivals if I was going to finish second, so that was a relief. That put me into second place, ahead of James on the XMT equivalent of goal difference (% recall).
Numbers against Simon, and he stopped the timer in a super-fast sub-15-seconds time - he had by that point set the best score in three of the four disciplines, just needed numbers to complete the set, and had no reason not to try as fast as he could and not really care if he made a mistake. Luckily for me, he did. Five out of ten.
Words against James. I messed it up, getting everything one place out of sequence and not being able to correct myself in time. Wouldn't have made a difference anyway - he'd scored enough to beat me if I had had the time to correct myself. Five out of eleven, back into third place in the group, all to play for in the final round.
Which was cards against Bat-Erdene, who'd not had a good day and was already out of the running. I stopped the clock on 43 seconds and did manage to recall it correctly, much to my relief. But wait - had Simon messed things up against James? Luckily, not quite. He had gone for a fast time and only got 42 cards right, but that was still just more than James. He was only eight cards away, as Boris and Johannes happily informed me immediately after the match. But no matter! I'd qualified for the second day's competition, just barely, on tie-break, with six wins and six losses!
My opponent in the quarter-final would be the winner of Group C. That was Jonas, who had completely killed his opposition, winning everything except for one late attempt at a super-fast numbers time long after he'd sealed first place in the group and had nothing to lose. Boris had also edged through in second place on tie-break over Andi, but as they say in Germany, a good horse only jumps as high as it has to.
Boris's cousin says that, anyway, on Facebook. I can't promise that everybody in Germany says it.
Ola and Christian qualified from Group B with no real difficulty. Johannes won Group A comfortably, and Mark Anthony prevented a completely European quarter-final lineup by finishing second there.
So the second day started with the first two quarter-finals - me against Jonas, Johannes against Christian. Four Germans and four Miscellaneous in the quarters, but we'd landed in two all-German ties and two all-Misc, so we didn't need to worry about a Teutonic whitewash. The other quarter-finalists were sealed away in a soundproof cupboard so they wouldn't find out what the surprise task was, and we got started.
It turned out to be an interesting challenge - a pack of cards would be split into three piles of seventeen (with the spare card put aside), and beside each pile was a piece of card with a ten-digit number on it. We had to, in this order, look at the first pile of cards, look at the number, recall them on a piece of paper, look at card pile two, look at the second number, recall that, repeat one more time for the third set, and finish. Fastest time wins, but every mistake in recall adds three seconds to your time. Correctly identify the missing card on the final box on the third recall sheet and knock ten seconds off your total time.
I went extremely quickly, more in hope that I could remember such a small amount of information with ease than out of a deliberate strategy. I had a lot of gaps in the cards recall, but I was gratified to see that Jonas was taking much longer, and finished a minute and a half after I did. I just took a guess at the missing card, writing down the three of hearts. First thing that popped into my head.
So then we added up the scores, and yes, I'd won - Jonas, a bit rattled by my speed, had made a fair few mistakes too. I noticed with some amusement that he'd also guessed at the three of hearts. But that made it 1-0 to me! First to four wins it.
From then on we were back to the four disciplines from day one. The loser of the surprise task got to pick which discipline to do next, and after that the choice alternated, with the restriction that you couldn't select either of the disciplines from the previous two matches. Jonas selected names, knowing that it would be an easy win. It was, although my score of 14 wasn't too far behind his 18. Score 1-1.
I chose cards for the next one. I'd woken up feeling a bit more positive about my abilities than when I'd gone to bed, but just to reassure myself further I'd done one practice run of cards, stopping the clock in 24.35 seconds and recalling perfectly. So I knew I could do it. I also knew that Jonas had never done a pack of cards in under 30 seconds. In the quarter-final, I stopped the clock at 28, got it all right, and moved 2-1 ahead.
Jonas chose words. I got a very creditable 37, but he managed 40. 2-2.
Left with a choice of numbers or names in round five, which isn't much of a choice, I went for numbers. I stopped the clock at an extremely fast 19.81 seconds, and had to spend a tense recall period wondering if I'd got the recall all right. It turned out that I had, but it also turned out that Jonas had stopped his own clock at 19.47, so immediately before mine that I hadn't noticed the screen turn blue. And he'd got his recall correct, too. 3-2 to him.
After that, it was a bit of a formality. Naturally he chose names for the next match, and equally naturally, he won. 4-2 and Jonas goes to the semis, but really, I was happy with my performance, I couldn't have done any better - no shame in losing in that way.
Johannes had beaten Christian by an identical score. He not unreasonably pointed out that a surprise task involving lots of picking things up, putting them down and writing is unfair to people with muscular dystrophy or any other kind of physical issues, so perhaps for the future we'll have more exclusively-mental surprises, but it didn't matter in the end.
The other four quarter-finalists were released from captivity and had their own battles. Ola slipped up twice in cards, which should have been his specialist subject, and lost 4-1 to Mark, surprising everyone. Rather less surprising was a flawless 4-0 victory for Simon over Boris. He was just unstoppable. In an interview with a New York Times reporter called Ben (I don't normally remember journalists' names, but this one was quite easy), I predicted that the final would be Simon against Jonas, with Simon to win. I'd been saying that all weekend, and saw no reason to change my predictions now.
(We'll be boarding in ten to fifteen minutes, apparently. I don't think I'm going to finish this marathon blog entry in time. We'll have to say "To Be Continued...", I'm afraid.)