I"m going to try and not write a post about Lance"s Mustache....but OMG LANCE"S MUSTACHE! I don"t think anyone will remember the 2015 USA Memory Championships, but they will remember that "stache. And his 29 second deck of cards record (Watch here).
Here"s a recap of the event and how it went down (also, as a pre-emptive TL;DR: I won my 4th USA Memory Championship).
For the first time in my 7 years of competing, I was actually in NYC as a resident rather than a visitor. In the past I would always travel up a few days before, get comfy in my hotel, do all the things I typically do before a memory competition, compete, then fly home. But this year, home was just a train ride uptown. Weird, but cool. And different.
The night before, I stayed in my apartment training some last minute things. Mostly training the final tie-breaker event which had been changed suddenly just a week prior to "two decks shuffled together with 90 seconds to memorize as many cards as possible." It had been 3 minutes before, which was super doable. But the 90 seconds, while still doable, was way harder under stress. Anyways, at this point before the competition, I was pretty unsure of how I was going to perform the next day. Last year, after I won the 2014 championship, I told myself I would take a month off memory training (I hadn"t taken a SINGLE day off since the end of 2009). That month ended up being 6 months. In those 6 months I went through a lot of shit that distracted me, which kept it increasingly harder to get back on track to train. I"d have spurts where I"d get back into it for a bit and while I"d be a bit rusty, after a couple days I would be back in fighting form. But I knew I wasn"t going to improve if I kept that up, I"d only maintain. Then the World Championships came around in December and I found myself training a little more, but not as much as I would have liked. It was enough to get me an 8th place finish surprisingly. After that, went through a pretty devastating Christmas holiday, coming out into the new year in a pretty shitty place. About mid-feb, something hit me and I said fuck it, and decided to move to NYC. I had had a job offer sitting there, but didn"t really want to take it until that point.
It was a tough transition, and I"m still in transition, but good god was it the best thing I could have done for myself. I keep telling people when they ask me how I like New York, that it was EXACTLY what I needed. I got a place, got serious, back on track, and started training every morning and night around my job. I wasn"t going to break any massive records this year, but I sure as hell was going to be at the top vying for the title.
So the morning of the competition came around, I woke up nice and early, put on my pre-memory competition playlist jamz, did some drills, ate a bowl of milk and cheerios with chopped fruit, then headed out to the subway.....without my wallet. FORGOT. MY. WALLET. Ugh, worst memory champion EVARRRR! Lucky for me, I had a camera guy filming me so he shared his subway pass (in exchange for capturing that totally embarrassing moment on film). Got to the venue about an hour before it started and was a bit taken aback by its lack-luster feel. The event this year was held in a different place than it had been the past 17 years (not the Con-Edison building but rather in the basement of a random, blah, Armenian church).
Anyways, they put me in the front row as per usual, with Lance Tschirhart (who I expected to break every record and win the whole thing) sitting in the table/seat right behind me. Lance had a magnificent mustache that reminded me of the cops from Super Troopers. Meow. Alex Mullen was in the table to my left, looking in tough mnemonic form, and then Johnny Briones (aka mini-Bruce Lee) was on the far left. Livan (the other finalist from last year) got stuffed all the way in the back, the lucky bastard, getting to avoid all the attention. All in all there were 64 competitors, about the average amount we"ve seen in the past few years.
Names and Faces
First event, memorize names and faces for 15 minutes. 20 minutes for recall. Either my memory is really good or the set they use for pictures is running thin. I swear I remembered all of those faces from past years. Anyways, it was rather easy. Made it through all 117 faces (that"s 234 names) with time to spare and got to review a lot. I knew I was going to get a 200 score. Recall was easy. Ended up with 201 correct names memorized, a new USA record, woo! I hate this event, why am I so good at it?
I knew I was gonna have trouble here. Back in past years I"d hit 380-410 in training, but this year my best was 345 a few times. I think I had done speed numbers in practice a total of 20 times before the competition....so I was not in good form. The first attempt I went for 320, but made mistakes for a total of 258 digits. The second attempt felt better and I went for 340, and thought I had maybe one mistake, but apparently it was more. Got 262. Not great, but not horrible. Both Alex and Lance got 300 (320 and 360 respectively - both new US records).
I"m also good at this event, even though I hate it. WHYYYYY?? The poem was great. Tony Dottino, the organizer of the event, commissions his brother to write the poem every year. This year it was about Disney World, which is a place I have some very strong/recent memories from. The memories were kinda painful to think about, but they helped online casino me learn the poem really easily. I knew I had a US record. Sadly, I didn"t know that someone else had 1 point more than me and thus, had the new US record instead. Curses! The worst part is I wrote one last word at the end of the poem: "you." But I erased it because I wasn"t 100% sure it was correct. Coulda at least tied the record. Poop.
The record was 60 seconds flat (in US competition, from last year) and I was hoping to nail a sub 60-second time on the first trial, then go for low 30s the second. I was slow on the first try, with 67 seconds (UGH). Alex hit 39 seconds and Everett (a new comer who had only just started memorizing cards a year prior - GO EVERETT!!) hit 41 seconds. Lance made 55 seconds. So 3 US records just like that. Damn. Second attempt I went for sub-40 seconds and hit 38 and change. But I flubbed it. Didn"t matter because Lance made a fool of us all with a perfect 29 seconds. Awesome. That"s up there with the best.
After the first 4 morning events, I was in 1st place overall. And still quite commandingly. Cool. Didn"t expect that. The afternoon top-8 was Me, Alex Mullen, Lance Tschirhart, Johnny Briones, Everett Chew, Erica Want, John Graham, and Aaron Mirman.
For this event, the top 8 go in the back to memorize a list of 200 words for 15 minutes, then come back out on stage and one-by-one, say all the words. If you make a mistake you"re out. We continue until 3 of the 8 are out. In the past it was enough to memorize 100 to be safe and usually the 3 would get out before you would have to say anything near the 100th word. I went for 140 just for shits, and because the competition was harder. Don"t remember where we got out exactly, but it was somewhere in the 80s I think? Then we kept going and it was me and Johnny past 120. He ousted me at 141 (I think he memorized 150 something). Grrrrr....Johnny!
5 competitors left. We had to memorize a bunch of information on 6 random audience members (name, phone number, address, etc.). I didn"t practice this even once this year. It"s gotten too easy for everyone, I think. We all ended up nailing it. And all 5 of us were headed into the finals. I think they"re gonna have to make this event harder next year.
Double Deck O" Cards
Two decks of cards in 5 minutes. Recited on stage one-by-one. One mistake and you"re out. I thought for sure we would all nail this and have to go to the tie-breaker I mentioned earlier. I really thought I was going to lose. Things were good on stage until Alex stumbled on a card early on (like the 13th card or something?). In my head I was like "nooooooo wayyyy this is happening!" He couldn"t bring up the card to mind fast enough - it happens :( Sadly, he was out. He passed the microphone on to Lance, who I guess was in the wrong place in his memory palace, and said the wrong card. He was out too. "What the hell???" My two scariest opponents were out before I had even taken a breath. I knew Johnny could keep going with me, but was thinking that Aaron might possibly not know both decks (he was a newcomer as well). He made a mistake somewhere along the way and it was down to Johnny and I. We got through the first deck no problem and Johnny made an error on the 63rd card suddenly and there I was, being congratulated on my 4th championship. I couldn"t freaking believe it.
In the moment I was thinking to myself, damn...I don"t deserve this; I wasn"t the best out there. But looking back on it, I take that thought back. I was the best that day. Maybe not in certain events, but overall, and in context of what the competition is, I was the best. Everyone kept telling me how cool and poised I looked compared to everyone else. I didn"t understand that because in my head I was a fucking mess. But I guess it was an organized mess, and looking back at video of myself, I looked cocksure as hell. I liked that.
Anyways, the win felt good. Not my greatest. 2014 was my favorite. But this was the icing on the cake of a nice 7 year run. It"s cool to say that I"ve won 4 out of the last 5 competitions. Annoying to think I could have won 6 times if I hadn"t have been careless twice in the finals, but this competition isn"t about "almosts".
Now to focus on bigger and better things: onwards to the XMT!!!