Saturday, August 23, 2014

Memory memory memory

It's the usual dilemma - do I write about the UK Championship before I've got the results to hand, and forget something or get something completely wrong, or do I wait until then and get everyone nagging me about when I'm going to give my rambling bloggy account of the event?

Well, there's no MSO today, so I'll write a bit and maybe fill in the gaps at a later date. The competition took place in the headquarters of TVapex, who did a live streaming of the last bit of the championship (sorry, if I'd known about it earlier I would have mentioned it here) and had a nice venue for us, with a stage at the front, good sound system for Chris's music and the right amount of desks. I did a quick interview with a local radio guy who thought my first name was David and my surname was Pridditch, and so was someone I can hugely sympathise with. Saying hello to the other competitors and trying to remember whether I'd met them before and was supposed to know who they are, I had conversations like "I'm Milan, I talked to you at the World Championship, I was asking you about what brand of cards you use, don't you remember?" Of course, I said. It's nothing personal, it just takes me two meetings at least before I can remember people.

Indeed, meeting up with Yanjaa at the train station to get there involved a bit of guesswork - I saw someone with the kind of hairstyle I was pretty sure she had, standing in the middle of Liverpool Street station and looking like she was waiting for someone, and just sort of walked in front of her, prominently wearing a hat, until she saw me and said hi.

More competitors need to follow the lead of Krzysztof Kuich and wear a T-shirt with their name and nationality prominently written on it. Compulsory name-badges worldwide would make my life so much easier. I may not have the results here, but I did write down everyone's names on a piece of paper, so that I could blog about them without forgetting them entirely or forgetting just how many unnecessary Zs their names contained.

Team England were me, Marlo Knight, Clay Knight, Phill Ash, Jake O'Gorman and Mohammed Afzal Khan. Jake was accompanied by his girlfriend Starr Knight (no relation - I very much approve of everyone at these competitions having the same surname, so hopefully Marlo and Clay will have success in their plans to get their nineteen siblings competing too. That's not an exaggeration, by the way.)

There was a three-man Team Wales - James Paterson (no relation to the writer with two Ts), Daniel Evans (no relation to the tennis player) and Dai Griffiths (returning to competing instead of arbiting for the first time in six years). And a huge international contingent, made up of Yanjaa Altantuya (Sweden), Wessel Sandtke (Netherlands), Javier Moreno (Spain), Søren Damtoft (Denmark), Krzysztof Kuich (Poland), Milan Ondrašovič (Slovakia), Melanie Höllein (Germany), Sebastien Martinez (France) and Ekaterina Matveeva (Russia). Isn't that a great sampling of European memorizers! And I've made a real effort to remember what they all look like, too.

The team of arbiters was small but widely experienced and capable - Nathalie Lecordier, Peter Broomhall and David Sedgwick, under the watchful eye of Phil Chambers and Chris Day. A great gathering, all in all!

As for the competition itself, I was probably more out of practice than I've ever been; I just haven't been able to do any training at all for months. We started with names and faces, which was a pitched battle between James and Yanjaa, then I got a really terrible result in binary which Phil described for the cameras the next day as being astonishingly wonderful, and we followed that up with abstract images, speed numbers and hour numbers, which all followed the same kind of pattern for me.

There was, however, a close contest going on, as we found out when we got the results on day two. James, Yanjaa, Marlo and Milan were all tussling for the top position, setting personal bests, national records and other milestones. And everyone else was happy with their results, too (Søren and Wessel at the head of the chasing pack) - hopefully in my role as the old man with a huge supply of anecdotes about memory competition history, I enhanced their experience as well.

I did rather better on day two - in words I got a low score with lots of little mistakes, but the important thing was that I was memorising a lot more fluently than the day before. 30-minute cards I got 11 packs, attempting 12, which was enough to comfortably beat everyone else even if it's below what I'd normally go for, dates and spoken numbers were okayish, and I just about managed a pack of speed cards, getting 38.11 in the second trial with a recall that took a lot of brain-racking. Milan, though, was the star of the day, getting a time of 29.96! That makes him the seventh person in the under-thirty-seconds club, which really isn't such an exclusive thing any more.

We should get a clubhouse and a secret handshake.

Anyway, that made Milan the winner! By virtue of Marlo and Yanjaa not managing to get a complete pack, I ended up second, pipping James to the post by the narrowest of margins and annoying him immensely, since I did basically the same thing in the crucial speed cards at the XMT. It was a great event! I'm looking forward to the next one already, and maybe I'll manage to do a bit of training and keep up with all these youngsters next time...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Oh, and

I've changed the format of the blog - I got annoyed by not having any "older/newer posts" buttons. It's still the most boring, basic format that has those, so I'm not getting too fancy or artistic...

Fun with numbers

Day one of the UK Memory Championship and I'm too tired to write it up at length - 18 competitors with a really wide range of nationalities (ten or eleven countries, depending on whether Wales and England count as one or two). I did badly, all in all, which is only to be expected with my not having done any training, but it's all to play for tomorrow. Probably.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


(from Monday night) - Saravanan, not Suravanan.

Anyway, I was the first one out of tonight's poker, but it was hardly my fault, someone else just got the outrageous luck that I always rely on. Still, it gives me time to mentally prepare myself for the UK Memory Championship over the next two days! I have to get up early tomorrow to get a train down to Ilford and find the venue - luckily, I'm meeting Jake and Yanjaa along the way, and I'm sure they've got some kind of sense of direction. So the only problem I'll have is the fact that I've done no training at all for months...

Today at the MSO was mental calculations (all the fun of a maths exam! I sometimes wonder why I enjoy this kind of thing so much...) and mastermind, at both of which I ended up somewhere in the middle of the rankings. Aww, I'm half way through my week of mind sports already!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Switching to poker instead of backgammon was a good plan - I came third! I'm still not a huge fan of lowball, but I suppose it grows on you. So that's one gold, one silver and two bronzes in three days so far, which is a pretty good haul! Still loving the MSO!

Things we learned today

Josef Kollar the ever-present MSO star is friends with Real Musgrave, the creator of pocket dragons. This is a pretty major thing to only find out after seventeen years, isn't it? I'm pretty sure my pocket dragon t-shirts have been to the MSO quite regularly over the years...

Also, I'm not good at oware or quoridor. Possibly I'll drop out of the backgammon tonight and play poker instead. I'm not good at poker either, but losing at poker is more fun than losing at backgammon.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mind matters

You know, I vaguely remember that the last couple of times I went to the MSO, I felt like I didn't enjoy it as much as I used to, and maybe it wasn't really my thing any more. I don't know why that was - I've had huge fun there this last couple of days! Games to play, people to meet who I haven't seen for years, ways to stretch my brain into unusual shapes working out strategies on the spur of the moment, it's just brilliant! It's official, I'm an MSO man again.

In continuo this morning, I started off against Matt Cordell, one of the few people who really knows strategy for the game and thinks ahead, instead of just putting the tiles down wherever it looks like they'd score a lot of points, and got completely thrashed, but then I narrowly won one and narrowly lost another (against the game's creator), so all in all that wasn't too bad a showing.

During the day there was an ongoing saga of whether the Memory World Cup was going to happen. Nobody else from the memory world had signed up (shame on you all!), and indeed nobody else from any other world either. But the organisers were very keen for it to happen anyway (rather keener than I was to be in a competition with just myself and maybe someone else making up the numbers), so it did, and I'm very glad it did! We had organiser Etan competing, and newcomer-whose-name-I-should-have-written-down-because-I'm-probably-spelling-it-wrong-now Suravanan, and yes, it was an excellent competition that needs to happen again next year! I'll write about it at length when I get a bit more time.

I also spoke with organiser Tony about maybe holding an XMT tournament in a hotel alongside a bunch of other mind sports next January or March. I'll keep you informed.

Continuo overran, so without more than a few minutes for lunch I went straight into Blokus, which turns out to be an excellent game (it involves placing tetris-ish-shaped tiles on a board so that they touch at the corners, and blocking off your (three) opponents. I won my first ever game, against two experts and one beginner - with a bit of luck, but this kind of thing was exactly what I always loved about the MSO - learning a new game, working out on the fly what would be a good way to play it and maybe occasionally confounding people who know the 'right' way to play and win and weren't expecting me to play the way I did. That only works with brand new games, obviously, and only if I'm lucky - I lost my next two games horribly, but then ended up with the same two experts on the final round and won it, jointly with one of them. So I ended up somewhere in the top half of the final rankings, which goes to show something, but I'm not sure what.

Then it was the memory in the evening, but I seem to have already talked about it, and chronology be damned. I did win, though. So that means in the first two days I've had a bronze, a silver and a gold!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Medaled for England

Granted, it wasn't all that difficult to win medals at the MSO today - we had four players in the Stratego Duel and five in the Classic, and in the latter the bottom three all finished on equal points so it turned into an everyone-gets-a-medal kind of event. But the point is, I was third in the Duel and second in the Classic, so I ended up with two medals and the satisfaction of knowing I didn't come last. And I didn't quite come last in the poker this evening either; I was the second one out.

Now, you might say "So, what you're saying is, you finished second-to-last in everything?", but that's a very glass-half-empty way to look at it. And did YOU win two medals at a prestigious annual mind sports event today? No, I didn't think so.