It's been a few days since the competition but I wanted to give myself a few days before I wrote anything. So if you haven't heard...I didn't win. Good god it feels like 2010 all over again. It actually doesn't even feel like I even won the last two years, haha. I came in 2nd, actually. Quite frustrating because if you look at the USA Memory Championship website, it looks like I won because it says I was in 1st place overall. But that's the nature of the competition. It doesn't really matter how you did through all the events, but rather how you do in the last event. Here's a recap of how the day went down:
I decided to get to the competition early this year just to scope things out. The Science Channel had supposedly put all these cameras and cranes and things up, and if there's one thing I've learned about myself and memory competitions is that I need to know the who, the what, and the where of everything before I go in or else I freak out and lose focus. So I did just that.
I did my usual walk down 3rd ave listening to my memory competition play-list, made a right on 14th street and found the all-too-familiar Con Edison building looming above me. There was a camera guy waiting outside to film competitors arriving and no sooner did I enter the building I got a tap on the shoulder from the camera guy asking if I could pretend walking in one more time. Reality TV is so not EVER real!
Anyways, I met a few familiar faces on the elevator ride up and then entered the main hall. I actually expected more of a to-do from the Science Channel. There was just one large crane and the amount of media present was really the same as previous years except all of them were Science Channel folks in orange shirts (I think other media had been limited by the organizers).
I was placed in the first table as usual, in close proximity to past winners Ronnie White, Chester Santos, and Ram Kolli (who finally showed up after a two year hiatus). I was actually pretty excited to see Ram (little did I know he would later beat me. HA.). Did a few interviews, said hello to all the usual suspects, then sat down in my seat ready as ready could be.
First event was Names and Faces (15 minutes to memorize as many names as possible). I love starting with this event because it isn't a very stressful event because you don't know what you're gonna get. No pressure. Last year I got 163 names right and the record is 174. In practice I had been hitting 195-200 names. I didn't pace myself very well and only touched 180 names this time. I usually get a handful of spellings wrong, so it's safe to deduct 20 names or so for a final score (you don't get points for incorrectly spelled names). I was pretty on target with that guestimate because I scored 162. Better than most everyone. Michael Glantz hit 152 - solid. I was surprised how low everyone else's scores were compared to ours - I think the next closest was around 132.
Second event was Speed Numbers (5 minutes to memorize as many digits as possible). First trial was a mess. I was too distracted by cameras and found myself going slower than usual. I made it to about 300 digits before I had to start reviewing. Made a ton of mistakes during recall and ended up with a score of 194 digits - meh. Second trial felt so smooth. I made it to 342 digits and I felt perfect about them all. There was a stupid mistake made by the organizers though - they forgot to stop everyone at 5 minutes, so people kept memorizing and I had to awkwardly shout out that time was done. I honestly blame that moment on the fact that I made 2 mistakes in my recall. Because of that I got 302 digits instead of the full 342. The last 4 digits on the 320-340 digit row were 3161 but I had memorized them by a quick mental photograph when time ran out. But when I had to shout out to correct the judges on the time, I guess I was distracted enough to flip the 61 into a 16 in my mind. So I wrote 3116 and got that row wrong because of it. Had i gotten it right I would have beaten my old record with 322 digits. DAMN. But 302 is still respectable and miles ahead of anyone else (the next closest was 132 digits).
Third event was Poetry. It was a tough poem with long lines and super erratic punctuation. I went for about 220 points (I went for 233 points last year) and ended up with a score of 165. Good enough for tied 3rd with Mike Mirski.
Fourth event was Speed Cards. First trial I decided to play it safe just to have a good score under my belt. That usually means I need to go through the deck twice. I nailed it in 1 minute, 7 seconds. Johnny Briones did an awesome 1m28s next to me. I felt awesome because nailing it in the first trial allowed me to go buck wild in the second. I typically go too fast the first time, get it wrong, then have to stress about getting it right the second. But this time I was free to go nuts for the second trial. I just went for it and slapped the timer at 34.97 seconds! On the recall I felt good, had everything correct except two cards. ARGHHH! Swapped them. So close to a personal competition best and a huge USA record. Oh well. Until next year, I suppose. I was expecting Jared Alderman to shine here, but I guess certain things didn't go his way. It happens.
So with winning 3 out of the 4 morning events, I was sure to get in the top 8. Actually 1st place. Thank the fricking baby jesus. I had been so stressed about whether or not I'd get in this year. So many people were talking about threatening this score and that, but in the end no one came even close. I never understand why this happens - it's the same story every year. Anyways, we had lunch and then started the afternoon rounds with the top 8: Me, David Kutz, Michael Glantz, Noah Ehrich, Mike Mirski, Johnny Briones, Ram Kolli, and Chester Santos (No Ron White! I was shocked).
Random Words was first (15 minutes to memorize as many words as possible from a 200 word list). I always go for 100, but I pushed for 130 to be safe. I can usually do something close to that in just over 5 minutes, so it's a pretty safe score for me. We went out on stage and nobody was getting any words wrong! I think we got into the 80th words before someone made a mistake. At around 100, we had our first 3 contestants knocked out. This is always the scariest event for me, just because it's so easy to slip up and you only have ONE shot. But I made it through, thankfully.
The Tea Party was up next, and in my opinion was a total shit show. The people that the organizers got to read out their profiles were so annoying - everyone suddenly thought they were professional actors or something (I guess because they were gonna be on TV?). It made the event look kind of stupid. Either way, I hardly ever listen to the people talking anyways. I just memorize it straight from the sheet. Then we got an extra 5 minutes to review everything in the back room. Easy. Didn't make a mistake at all. Michael, Ram, and I made it through.
On to the finals: Double Deck 'O Cards (5 minutes to memorize two decks). I had practiced this so much. In practice I had even gotten my 2 deck time down to 2m30 seconds. Typically in competition it takes me about 45 seconds to go through each deck the first time and then I spend the rest of the time reviewing the decks as many times as possible. So the 5 minutes ended and as we walked to the stage, I mentally rehearsed both decks. Knew them down cold. As we went started reciting the deck on stage, out loud, I remember being so careful and focused on saying each card correctly. It's easy to say the wrong card even if you are thinking the right one. Michael Glantz got eliminated on the 27th card, then I corrected him with "6 of diamonds", Ram: "10 of Spades", me: "9 of hearts", Ram: "2 of Spades", me: "Queen of Clubs", Ram: "Jack of Hearts". All while this is happening, Tony Dottino (the MC) is telling us to slow down and is having trouble showing the audience the cards. I remember the crowd kind of muttering at this point and me looking over at Tony briefly. I think at that moment is when my focus shifted and I temporarily lifted myself out of the memory palace I was in for the cards. When I went back in, I started speaking before I knew where I was. "2 of Spades" I said (which was the correct answer 3 cards prior)....instantly as I said it, I knew what I was saying was wrong. It was "Ace of Spades"....FUCKKKKKKK. And that was it. I lost. Just like that. Off of a stupid mistake. It felt like 2010 all over again.
Such is life.
So there you have it. My 2 year dominance stunted by a dumb mistake. Congrats to Ram for sneaking into the top 8 and having the persistence to stick it out till the end. That might have been my last USA Memory Competition....at least my last USAMC in that format.
Losing sucks, for sure. And it hurts especially when you know you could have won for a third straight time. But I have to look at the positive, and that is that losing is usually better than winning. At least in terms of where it takes you next. When I lost in 2010, it pushed me and motivated me like crazy to win in 2011. I did. But after winning for 2 years straight, it was a lot harder to push myself this time around. So with this loss, I know I'll have to push myself in another direction, and for that I am happy. I needed that boost. So whatever it is that I push myself towards next, watch out!
But for now, on to EVEREST!