2015 USA Memory Championship Recap

I’m finally home after two days in New York City for my second USA Memory Championship. I didn’t win, but it was another stellar experience overall. The highlights: Nelson Dellis defended his title, bringing him even with Scott Hagwood for most USAMC victories (four). Records were broken in all four morning events. And here’s a snapshot of the results page. Alright, let’s get into it!

After a harrowing last-minute travel adjustment courtesy of US Airways, my fiancée Cathy and I arrived around 2 pm. We grabbed dinner with my younger brother and Cathy’s younger sister, then spent the night strolling around and taking in the sights. I slept a surprisingly solid eight hours and woke up feeling nervous but excited. After a pit stop at a nearby Starbuck’s for a berry parfait and tea, I arrived at the new venue: St. Vartan’s conference center. The new place was, unfortunately, underwhelming. Everything was functional, but the basement auditorium lacked the pizzazz that comes with being 19 floors up in the Con Edison building.

My fiancee and I, my younger brother Andrew, and her younger sister Dora (holding the camera)

I felt good throughout the morning round, raising my scores from last year in all four events and even managing bronze in names and faces! Speed numbers felt smooth, and in the second attempt I encoded to 380 before 3 mistakes knocked my score to 320. Ten points ahead of the old record, but would it be enough? I was keeping my eye on Lance Tschirhart. He and I talk pretty regularly, so I was expecting big things. Sure enough, the guy was on fire. 360! Nothing I could do about that, and it was on to poetry. I was worried I might’ve made an early mistake, but I lucked out and scored 193 points. Throwing caution to the wind during speed cards, I sprinted on my first attempt, and it paid off. I slammed my hands down onto the speed stacks timer: 39 seconds. Good enough for the record. A few rows away, 13-year-old Everett Chew clocked in at 41. In the end though, it was Lance who snatched the title in 29 seconds! Check out the video here. On to the afternoon round!

Spoken Words is always a tricky beast. One mistake and you’re done. After getting lucky and scoring 137 last year, I decided to play it safe and memorize 120, which turned out to be smart. It wasn’t until the 80th word that 3 finalists were eliminated. Remaining competitors were Lance, Nelson, Johnny Briones, Aaron Mirman, and myself. Tea Party (or “3 Strikes and You’re Out!”) is one of my favorite events, and despite some complicated cars, I felt great walking up to the stage. Apparently, so did everyone else. In the end, all five of us were headed into the final round of the 2015 USA Memory Championship.

Unfortunately, at that point, we found out that Livan Grijalva—a finalist from last year—had been left out of the finals because of a clerical error. A damn shame. The organizers decided to guarantee him a spot in next year’s afternoon round, not that he’ll need it.

My mom and I after the competition. Thanks to my parents, my Aunt Janet, and my cousin Jennifer for coming out!

We’d arrived at the final event: Double Deck o’ Cards (memorized in 5 minutes). Last year I hadn’t trained properly for this event. A dozen cards into the second deck, I’d blanked, and that was it. But not this year. I had them all. The first seven cards were rattled off, and suddenly the microphone came back to me. Crap! Where were we? The one thing I hadn’t trained for: recall with five people in the final round instead of the usual two or three. I’d been so busy making sure I knew the next few images that I’d lost our place in the deck. I just couldn’t put it together in the allotted time and had to hand the microphone off to Lance. To everyone’s surprise, Lance misjudged our position too, and we were both out in the blink of an eye. Aaron fought a good fight, but soon it was Nelson and Johnny going back and forth. A dozen cards into the second deck, Johnny made a mistake, and just like that, Nelson was a four-time champion! You have to hand it to him for keeping his cool through to the bitter end.

After the event, I had the chance to eat dinner with Lance, Nelson, Livan, Johnny, another finalist John Graham, and former champ Ron White, which was awesome. We attempted a repeat of the speed pint challenge from last year’s WMCs, with John putting Nelson and me to shame in 7 seconds. A great end to a great day. Now on to California!