2016 European Open Recap

This past weekend I had the opportunity to go to London for the IAM’s first European Open Memory Championship. A lot of firsts for me on this trip: first time I’d been to England, first time I’d competed at a memory event not in the US or China. Originally I’d had a conflict, but things shifted at the last minute, so the preceding weekend Cathy and I found ourselves huddled around the kitchen table booking airline tickets.

The event—like the recent UK Memory League Championship—was held at the London headquarters of Peak, a brain-training app which also sponsored the event. Not the biggest space, but it had the sleek stylings of a Silicon Valley startup and ample room for the nine of us competing. Joining me were Simon Reinhard (world No. 4, has probably broken more world records over the course of his career than anyone), Katie Kermode (names/words specialist, recent UK MLC winner), Marlo Knight (UKMC winner), a few other familiar faces (Jürgen Petersen, Tobias Achleitner, Søren Damtoft), and a few I’d never met (Lars Christensen, Javier Moreno). Organizing and arbiting were Ben Pridmore (who must’ve organized half-a-dozen events this year), Gaby Kappus, and Nathalie Lecordier, with scoring assistance from Cathy and Dominic, a former student of Andy Fong’s.

On the whole, I couldn’t have asked for a better competition. As always, I’d been hoping to do better here or there, but I escaped the weekend with few mistakes and a few huge breaks.

Day 1: 15m names, 30m binary, 5m numbers, 5m dates, 30m cards

Nothing particularly interesting to report up front. I managed decent scores in the first four, then managed to break Ben’s longstanding 30m analog cards record of 884 (17 decks). I came into this event never having tried the 30m number/card events, since I’ve always focused on the 10m (national standard) and 60m (WMC standard). Playing it safe, I opted for the same review strategy I use for 30m binary. This worked well enough, although I’ll probably adjust it in the future. I encoded 19 decks in total, screwing up the last one and making one error on another (which discounts half the deck; not sure whether it was an encoding or writing mistake). I’ll take it!

Day 2: 15m words, 30m numbers, 5m binary, spoken numbers, speed cards

The latter parts of memory competitions always tend to be more nerve-wracking, courtesy of words (harsh scoring penalties), spoken (first mistake stops scoring), and speed cards (do or die). I’d come into the second day with a total of around 4300, putting my projected total around 8600. I was happy with this. Given it’s an “international” event and the millennium standards are higher than those of national events, I wasn’t expecting to top my 8792-point result from the US Open this July. I’d mainly hoped to have shots at the two 30-minute records and the open title. With one record behind me and the lead heading into Day 2, I was feeling good. I managed 239 in words and 1014 in binary, both solid if unexceptional scores. I felt great about 30m numbers, memorizing over 2000. A few mistakes brought my result to 1933, enough for another record!

At this point, I sat about 1600 points away from my 8794 mark. With good scores in spoken and cards, it was within reach. I got off to a stellar start by flubbing the first spoken attempt; I listened to 150, had multiple blanks, and landed a score of 36. Not great. Luckily, things turned around on attempts #2 and #3. I managed 216 (with no blanks) on #2 and—after counting all the way up through my system to find the missing image 558, with two minutes to go—265 on #3. Good enough for a competition best and 770 points!

I needed sub-25 on cards to surpass the US Open mark. After hitting the timer on attempt #1, I looked down to find 21.5. I filled in all images without much trouble, although I hesitated about the order of two in locus #9. These situations are always frustrating, as I can often convince myself the wrong one is right. I gave it a hard think, and, against my better judgment, changed my initial choice with a minute left. Correct! Breathing a sigh of relief, I calculated my new total to be just under 9000. I was thrilled and ready to throw caution to the wind on attempt #2. Racing through the deck as fast as I could, I clocked 16.957, well below my IAM best of 19.41. Speed cards was another record I wanted a crack at, so I’d have loved to nail this. Recall left me with two cards (locus #10) which didn’t look quite right. Not a good feeling. I scanned through and found a card on locus #2 which would give me the image I knew to be correct on locus #10. This meant I needed to have made an encoding error on locus #2. So yet again, I went into the side-by-side check with a queasy stomach. Correct again! Phew.

That pushed my score up to 9144 points! I’d really gotten all the lucky breaks I’d needed all weekend. Simon finished in 2nd with 7484 (taking the official title of first “European Champion”), and Katie took 3rd with 6216. Thanks to everyone involved for a great event! You can find all results here.

I then had one day to squeeze in all the London sightseeing I could. Cathy and I met up with two of her college friends for some English pub food (fish and chips, toad in the hole, you know) and spent the day speed walking from Borough Market to the London Eye to Big Ben to Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace to Platform 9¾. Fantastic. I can’t wait to go back. But first, Singapore!