2015 XMT and US Open Recap

What a week it’s been. Four out of five days spent memorizing in the hot California sun (well, not really). It was incredible to meet so many amazing people—memory athletes I’ve been reading about since day one.

I can’t give enough praise to Nelson, Simon O., and everyone involved in putting on this year’s Extreme Memory Tournament. Beautiful location, gorgeous venue, flawless technology, and prompt scheduling. It all came together into what I assume is the best memory competition money can buy.

I’ll get things going with Day 1. After a nerve-free Friday, I woke up feeling jittery, and for good reason. Part of Group F, I was facing 3-time world champion Ben Pridmore, XMT qualifying winner Johannes Zhou, and world #7 Tsogbadrakh Saikhanbayar. Needless to say, I wasn’t confident. Looking back, however, I should’ve realized that if I hit my safe marks, I’d stand a fighting chance. I went for fast but safe-ish times in cards (~35 sec) and numbers (~30 sec), as safe as it gets in images (60 sec), and just hoped for the best in the nards events. That’s the great thing about the XMT. You don’t have to be the best to win. It sure helps, but all you really need are consistency and some well-timed luck. Thankfully, it worked out as well as I could have hoped for, and I was heading into Day 2 with the top spot in Group F! If you missed it, check out Day 1 results here. You can also watch some video footage here.

Day 2: The stress, mercifully, was off. Anything more would be icing on the cake at this point. My first and round-of-16 opponent was Annalena Fischer, who’d topped Group E alongside her fiancé Christian Schafer. Again, if I hit my safe marks, I felt I had a shot of winning the match. After that, however, it was still either Ola or current world champion Jonas; still further, any manner of hellishly fast Europeans and/or Enji (who’d won the images event in a blistering 14 sec). Bolstered by my Day 1 success, I was poised to play it safe and hope for the best, secure in the knowledge that I’d be happy no matter what happened. Again and again, the dice seemed to be rolling in my favor. After winning numbers against Jonas to make it into the semifinals, I could hardly believe my luck. For the umpteenth time, I’d played it safe, and for the umpteenth time, my opponent had gone fast and made mistakes. I was both thrilled and shocked. My icing-on-the-cake attitude was being replaced by nerves yet again. Sitting across from world #1 Johannes Mallow, I started second-guessing myself. A mistake early during images started to eat at me, and before I knew it we were heading into the 7th and final event, tied 3-3. Throwing caution to the wind, I went for a fast card time, but I just couldn’t put the deck together. Disappointed at first, I soon re-discovered how exhilarated I was to have made it that far. There were tons of matches I should’ve lost, events I’d won by the skin of my teeth. It was an incredible end to a surreal weekend, but there was hardly time to rest! On to LA!

I was pumped about Florian Delle’s US Open for so many reasons. It would be my first official WMSC competition, the first fully digital WMSC competition, and my first shot at a world ranking and some “official” national records. My somewhat ambitious goal was 6,000 total points, which would place me around 10th on the all-time list. As expected, the day began with a myriad of technology hiccups, but nothing Memocamp whiz Michael Gloschewski couldn’t manage. Mentally exhausted after two days of extreme memorizing, I kicked things off with a horrendous 30 words in 5 minutes (12 less than my best XMT score, in 1 minute). Scoring for words is harsh, to be fair (2 mistakes and you lose 20), but I was heading into abstract images with a disheartening 240 points. Luckily, the early bumps were mostly smoothed over, with personal bests in abstract (301), dates (69.5), and spoken numbers (102)—and new U.S. records in 15 minute numbers (615) and 5 minute names (46)—giving me a much-needed boost. Around 9 pm, I finished up a draining day with a new U.S. speed cards record of 28.66 seconds, just edging out Lance Tschirhart’s 29 from March’s USA Memory Championship (he went on to post a 23 on Memocamp soon after the Open, so he’ll be back with a vengeance). Lance had plenty to be happy about, though. His 6,472 total points propelled him into 10th all-time, making him the first American ever to crack the top 10! Well done, Lance! I came up short of my 6K goal with 5,742, but my speed cards result had bumped me up into 17th on the all-time list! Not too shabby. A satisfying end to a mind-numbing, nauseating, and fantastic 5-day memory marathon. Now for some sleep, and about 80 neurobiology lectures to catch up on.