As I walked into the 2015 USA Memory Championship this year there were a lot of things that were different. The location had changed for the first time since at least 2006 (maybe sooner), it was held on Sunday instead of Saturday, several of my friends weren’t competing and lots of new faces. But a lot was the same. Nelson was there as he has been every year since 2009. Paul Mellor was competing and lots of the top competitors that have emerged the last few years:
Livan Grivalva, Johnny Briones, Alex Mullen, Lance Tschirhart and Brad Sundstrom (a guy I expect to see in the finals one day, and any of these guys could and SHOULD win the USA Memory Championship in the coming years)
The night before I had met with Nelson and as we were leaving he mentioned he thought some of the competitors could be a really tough challenge this year. I casually said as we were leaving, ‘Just hit your numbers and you will win.’ That wasn’t a slap in the face to any of the other competitors but I am very aware of something that Nelson has that the others haven’t proven they have (yet) and that is the ability to focus and win on stage. But I will come back to that…
I arrived a little late and soon checked in with everyone. The first event of names and faces was in the books but the results were not posted. Then things got C-R-A-Z-Y
(Later the names and faces results were announced and Nelson scored 201. There is no point in saying the other scores because that is so far ahead of everyone else in that event. That’s a freakishly high score)
5 Minute numbers was next (how many numbers can you memorize in 5 minutes). This was the first sign that this years event would be different.
Lance Tschirhart got 360 digits correct.
Alex Mullen 320 digit
Johnny Briones 218
Everett Chew 180
The USA Memory Championship has lagged behind the world levels for years. For example, when the USA record for memorizing a deck of cards was 1 min 27 seconds the world record was 24 seconds! Back then I was asked, ‘Why does the USA Memory Championship lag behind the world so much?’ My response then was that the right people in the USA just haven’t started competing yet. Well, the right people are now competing in the USA Memory Championship and bringing our scores up to World Memory Championship levels.
Everett is 13 years old I think. That’s amazing. What is even more amazing is that all of those scores beat my score of 167 digits that I scored in 2009 to set a new USA Memory Championship record! (Let me clarify I’m not saying it was amazing they beat my score. I’m saying that my score was the best in the nation in 2009 and ALL these guys beat what was once the score that was best in the nation!)
Alex and Lance’s score obviously stand out. I am not 100% certain of this but I believe that Lance has mental images for every 3 digit number and then memorizes in groups of 9 using 3 images to memorize that 9 digit sequence.
The most startling thing about these scores for the more than casual observer is not just how incredibly high they are but also the shot across the bow that Nelson for the first time since 2009 has some serious contenders for his high scores. He is no longer alone at the top of the USA Memory Mountain. The title for the USA Memory Championship wouldn’t be a given this year and these scores echoed that loud and clear.
I was getting excited and I wanted to be the one to judge Lance’s speed cards. I just had a feeling something special was about to happen and I was right.
His first trial I think his score was around 49 seconds. I yelled, ‘We’ve got a new USA record!’ It sent shockwaves around the room but it only last for 30 seconds. Soon it was realized that Everett had scored 41 seconds. To put this in perspective you are given an shuffled deck of 52 cards. You then look at the cards as fast as you can and then are given 5 minutes to reassemble a new deck from memory. This meant that Everett only looked at the cards for 41 seconds before reassembling the new deck. And he is only 13!
Records are always exciting and I have watched the records at the USA Memory Championship improve over the years and almost every year. When a competitor breaks through a mental barrier you can see everyone else take notice what was once thought impossible now seems doable as the mental bar in everyone’s mind has been lifted.
Back to speed cards, the second trail Lance claimed the record at 29 seconds. To be candid I think this record could stand for years. Here is a video I filmed of him in this trial
And this is what the judging of that trial looked like. I am the guy on the left and he is on the right in this video. Can you sense the excitement that memorizing brings? Who would have thought you could have so much fun at the USA Memory Championship.
For the first time I think Nelson knew exactly how I felt in 2010. Click here if you want to find out what I mean and why.