Saturday, April 19, 2014

A tingle in the Extremities

We're just a week away from a whole lot of Extremeness in San Diego! I've been annoyingly busy at work and haven't been able to spend nearly enough time spying on my opponents to find out their training scores (people have been keeping things uncharacteristically close to their chests for this one) or planning devious underhand strategies, but I have been practicing downright religiously, doing each discipline once in the morning and once in the evening. Tuesday will bring up exactly 100 of these practice sessions (not counting other practices like devoting a lot of time to the numbers one weekend), and that will be a perfect time to stop and let my brain cool down a bit before the competition itself. I don't really want to do all that much extreme-memorising this weekend, for fear of over-training. Which is a real thing, I'm sure.

As a follow-up to my last post, I did indeed end up in the Group of Death - Bat-Erdene instead of Andi, but he was a close second in that pot. So I'll be relying on a great deal of luck if I want to get through to the second day's fun. Boris does take the view that his group (Jonas, Andi, Annalena and him) is technically more difficult if you look at the rankings, but I'm pretty convinced that mine is the deathiest of them all. Groups can be seen here.

Group A will be an interesting clash between Germany and the Phillipines - Johannes and Gunther will face a very interesting challenge from Mark Anthony and Johann Randall. I think Hannes should coast through, but I wouldn't like to guess who'll take the second place.

Group B is the kids' group - young-looking Ola goes up against Baby-Face Schäfer, Teenage Tearaway Marwin and Little Erwin. I think this will be a very evenly-matched one, with very little to separate the four of them.

Group C I'm thinking will see Jonas and Boris go through to the second day without too much trouble, but who knows? You really can't write off either Andi or Annalena.

And D for Death (Nelson and Simon Orton have both said sorry for it!) leaves me trying to formulate a strategy of rattling Simon somehow and making him make crucial mistakes in the cards and numbers, while simultaneously hoping James gets his words mixed up and trying to summon all my remaining neurons to keep pace with someone significantly less than half my age in a test of speed. It'll be tough...

The really good thing about this competition is that there are only sixteen of us taking part. This makes the whole thing more friendly, lets us all pose for some cool pictures together and allows anyone writing about the tournament to really get a grip on each competitor's individual personality and make the whole XMT sound genuinely groovy!

I should stop calling the tournament "the XMT". The Extreme Memory Tasks are called XMTs, so it's confusing.

Anyway, I think we ought to start thinking about world rankings - assuming that this is the start of a whole wave of new extreme-style competitions around the world, we can't really use the current ranking system for it. And since it's head-to-head, it would make sense to me to do a chess/othello-style thing based on the rating of the person you've won or lost against, maybe combined with a tennis/snooker-style system based on what round you get to before you're knocked out. It just sounds like an opportunity for some complicated maths, and as we all know, there are plenty of memory people who just love things like that.

Some sort of universal formula, maybe involving differential equations and imaginary numbers, to consolidate Extreme, Memoriad, US and WMSC format competitions into one big definitive list? I'm sure it's possible. But how to calculate it so that it says I'm the best, when everyone else is demonstrably much better than me?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

They are the X-Mem!

Interviews with the top favourites for the Extreme Memory Tournament (and also with me) can be seen on that link. But the main reason to tune into that website is for the draw for the group stages, this Tuesday, at 5pm British time (midday EST)!

Here's how it works - we're in four groups of four, and each one in a group has one head-to-head match against each of the others for each of the four disciplines (names, numbers, cards, words), making twelve matches in total for everyone. There'll be one from each seedings pot in each group, so they'll be arranged like this:

Pot 1: Johannes Mallow, Simon Reinhard, Jonas von Essen, Ola Kåre Risa
Pot 2: Ben Pridmore, Boris Nikolai Konrad, Christian Schäfer, Gunther Karsten
Pot 3: Andi Bell, Bat-Erdene Tsogoo, Marwin Wallonius, Mark Anthony Castaneda
Pot 4: Erwin Balines, Annalena Fischer, Johann Randall Abrina, James Paterson

So, what's a good group for me, and what's a group of death? In terms of the four disciplines, I'm very good at cards, pretty good at numbers, okay at words and bad at names. With words and names counting for half the points, I really need to pick up a couple of wins in those, as well as in my 'specialist subjects', so I'd like to avoid the people who are particularly good at those. I'd also like to avoid the best people at cards and numbers, because it's easier to make a mistake and get a low score in those two, especially if you're trying hard to beat a close rival.

Okay, so, pot one - obviously you're not going to get an easy opponent there. But here's a thing to consider: there are five people in the world who've done a pack of cards in under thirty seconds in competition, and one of them is me, one is the sadly-missed Wang Feng, and the other three are Johannes, Simon and Ola. Jonas is the one of that group who I'd feel most confident at beating at the cards. Am I really hoping I get drawn against the world champion? Well, maybe I am - I can say from experience that motivation tends to be at a low ebb the year immediately after a WMC win, after all. Johannes is the best in the world at 5-minute numbers and will probably be the best at 1-minute numbers as well. Simon isn't far behind him there and is the world's best at speed cards. The two of them are also very hot at names and words, more so than the others. So, weird though it sounds, my hope is to end up in a group with Jonas, or else with Ola.

Pot three - we go from one extreme to another here, no pun intended, with the man who's been in memory competitions almost since the start in Andi, and the youth who was barely even alive when Andi won his first world championship, Bat-Erdene. I tend to assume that young people are better at fast, computer-based challenges than old people (and, strangely, I still consider myself to be a young person when I'm making that kind of comparison), so I'd prefer to have the old man in my group than the young boy. But Andi was always very good with speed cards in the old days, he was always very good at names back when the world championship rules were the sensible kind that we have in the XMT, rather than the silly kind they're using now, and he's probably still the most dangerous all-rounder in this pot, elderly though he is. I'm crossing my fingers for Mark Anthony here, just because he doesn't have the long experience of Andi or the youthful energy of Bat-Erdene and Marwin, and because he's tended to shine in just one or two disciplines in the big competitions, and been less exceptional than the others elsewhere - he's the only one of these four not to beat the 40-second barrier in speed cards.

Pot four - got to avoid James here. He's in that pot because he's not so hot at cards and numbers, but he's fearsome at names and words, and I wouldn't give myself any chance of a win in those two disciplines against him. When it comes to cards, Johann is the one to avoid, and Erwin too - they're maybe not quite as fast as the top competitors, but they're getting closer. If I'm to have any chance of getting to the coveted second day of competition, I really want to collect maximum points against the lowest-ranked in the group, and I think my best hopes of that are against Annalena.

So, in summary, best group - Jonas, me, Mark Anthony, Annalena.
Group of death - Simon, me, Andi, James.

Or am I entirely wrong in my estimation of my opponents? Very probably.