April 26-27th saw the first ever annual XMT competition, held at the Dart NeuroScience building in outer San Diego, CA. The 2014 XMT went on without too many hiccups, and boy was it entertaining. More than I ever would have expected. I mean I guess, with the top 16 competitors in the world all under one roof, and a big prize fund, how could it not be?
A week ago today, the first ever XMT (and first head-2-head-style memory competition) began. My day started early, getting to the venue to set up all the laptops, make sure all signs and posters were up, and that everything was working smoothly (fingers crossed, praying to the wifi gods!).
As competitors and spectators started to trickle in, I started getting a little nervous, not sure how this first day of competition would pan out, how people would receive the event as a whole, and if the bloody software would work as expected! But I knew that once the first round of events had gone through at least once, we would be good to go.
Johannes Mallow started things off against Gunther Karsten (who doesn't really compete anymore but made a special appearance) in words. It went off without a hitch and Johannes won 35-27. Not bad. The next few iterations went totally fine, then came names, which also went fine (although scores were a bit low). Cards came next, and while nobody had really hit their stride yet, Ola Kare Risa managed the fastest time so far with a deck in 41.46 seconds. Then finally numbers came around and Jonas von Essen did a quick 20.95 seconds to memorize a 60 digit number perfectly. YES! We were through.
The rest of the day worked pretty much like a well oiled machine, cranking out match after match. We had 96 matches to go through, and while at times it did feel like a long stretch near the end of the day, people seemed to be liking the flow of the competition (in the future, the idea is to have 4 matches play at a time, which will improve the flow and speed of the first day considerably). Some of the most notable moments/matches:
- Just before the mid-day break, Johannes hitting a cards score of 32.59s, then Ola just after hitting a time of 30.40s! One personal best after the other!
- Boris screaming out the loudest German curse word I've ever heard after getting a really fast time on numbers and thinking he got everything correct, when in fact he swapped two sets of 3. Andi ended up winning across from him, going slow and steady.
- Johannes getting the best time of the day in numbers with 16.57s!
- Simon getting the best time time of the day in cards with 26.32s!
- Jonas and Simon going for some really fast times in numbers (15s and 14s) with nothing to lose as the leaders in their groups (they missed a few digits).
- Watching Simon attempt a near world record cards attempt at 21.95s (missed a few cards).
- Watching Ben and James battle it out for the last slot for Day 2. James missed it by 7 cards.
A great first day for the books! Not too many problems. Only one match had to be reset and a few scores didn't get entered as they should have. But it was all fixed on the fly and I think for the most part no one noticed.
As for day 2, we entered it in full stride, feeling a lot more confident having had the first day under our belts. But now we were introducing something that had yet to be fully tested, Surprise Events. I had run through each of them a few times on my own and felt fairly confident about them, but they were tough to come up with. Initially I had a ton of ideas for this part of the event, but then I had to consider skill level, language, and other factors of the competitors to make it all as fair as possible. That totally nixed the majority of my ideas, so I had to plan a bit more carefully. Anyways, I settled on a few that I thought were fair and interesting enough.
The Quarter Finals were exciting. Especially the match between Ben and Jonas. Ben had just squeaked in the day before and was fighting for his life. You could tell. He was totally on his game. But going up against Jonas isn't easy and in the end Jonas came through. Mark also pulled an incredible upset over the favored and higher ranked Ola (4-1).
In the Semis, Simon coasted through easy over Mark, but Johannes beat Jonas in what was (in my opinion), the best match of the competition. Jonas was up 3-0, needing just one more win to move on to the finals. But somehow, Johannes battled back and brought it back to a 3-3 tie. The final event between them would be Names, an event that both are quite good at. The score during that match was low and hovering around 10-10. Johannes put in a name that got him up one 11-10. Jonas entered an incorrect name but then moved his cursor to the correct face for the previous name he had entered. Everyone held their breath thinking his was going to also type the same name there.....but he didn't. Time expired and Johannes was the winner. PHEW for him!
The 3rd Place match had Jonas as the favorite, and he ended up coasting to victory 4-0. I guess Mark couldn't gain any rhythm there. Simon, on the other hand, in the Finals, had all the rhythm in the world and was flirting with going completely unbeaten on day two. He was absolutely solid on every match. Johannes eked out a victory near the end there and some of us were wondering if he was about to pull a second come back. Simon laid that question to rest when he memorized 43 words over Johannes' 35 in the final match, claiming the Extreme Memory Tournament Champion title for himself.
Overall, the tournament went a lot better than I expected. Everyone had such great things to say (especially Simon, who walked away with a total of $32K! Well done!). The exciting thing now is seeing where this thing goes. Simon Orton (co-creator) and I are already scheming and what's definitely for sure is that there will be many other XMT competitions to come!