World Memory Championships 2015 : What is it like to compete in a World Memory Championships?

World Memory Championships 2016

I competed in the 2009 World Memory Championships in London and to be honest I didn’t want to go. But it was an INCREDIBLE experience and one I hope to do again. Back story:

I won the 2009 USA Memory Championships and back then the USA Memory Champion would get as a prize for winning a (roundtrip ticket on British Airways) to the World Memory Championships.

So every year the USA Memory Champion would go to the World Memory Championships as a reward for winning the USA Memory Championship and that is really all it was for the USA back then. It was more like the NFL All Star Game (exhibition for fun not competition).

You went but most Americans went at half speed. There was no talk of rankings for Americans (back then), no talk of winning or even finishing top ten. Rankings just weren’t something we talked about.

We would set a few personal goes but really just go more for fun with no pressure.

However, that isn’t how the world competitors viewed it back then or now. They were jockeying for points, rankings and to win. Why did the USA competitors not take it seriously? Because we weren’t at that level yet (more on that in a minute)…

After I won the 2009 USA Memory Championship it was a major life accomplish. I set 2 national records in the process and it was the culmination of 4 months of intense training. After I won, having done better than any American up to that point there was so much pressure on me for the World Memory Championship.

2009 World Memory Championship

Tony Dottino (the USA Memory Championship founder) got me on a 3 way conference call with Tony Buzan and told him, ‘Ron is going there to do really well.’

No joke. I was honored to talk with Tony Buzan (World Memory Championships founder) but on the other hand I just wanted to go for fun…

Details magazine flew a reporter with me on the trip and followed me around in London for the week. No pressure right?

3 days before the event I went to the airport to fly there and the British Airways ticket wasn’t good. I told Tony the award ticket wasn’t good and to be candid I was SOOOOO RELIEVED! I didn’t have to go! I hadn’t trained. Now when I say I hadn’t trained that isn’t code for I hadn’t trained in a week. That is code for….

The USA Memory Championship was in March and now 8 months later all I had trained was memorizing a deck of cards (speed cards). I didn’t have a strategy for binary, spoken numbers, historical dates and had NEVER memorized a deck of cards for 1 hour (these are events at the WMC).

So now I didn’t have to go and it didn’t look bad on me because it wasn’t my fault (British Airways ticket). So I went home relieved and next day Tony called me, ‘Go back to airport, we got you a flight!’ Mixed emotions…

I landed and 12 hours later I was in the tournament memorizing. I am SO GLAD I went. It was so much fun for so many reasons:

I met Ben Pridmore! He is a legend in the memory sports world and was the undisputed king back then. He could memorize a deck of shuffled cards in under 25 seconds! I remember before the event he wrote on a piece of paper and taped it to his chest, ‘Don’t ask me what my card time will be!’ It was funny and obviously he was getting the question a lot.

Ben Pridmore World Memory Champion

Ben Pridmore World Memory Champion

I met Gunther who was an older guy and held the record at the time for memorizing a crazy amount of digits in an event called spoken numbers. They say a digit every second and after 300 seconds (300 digits) you see how many you can recall. He scored 202 digits in 2008 (year before I met him). I asked him his strategy and he said he memorized in groups of 2 digits. So I took this piece of advice and did the same. Odd to be developing a strategy on the spot but this was my first tournament.

Gunther Karsten

Gunther Karsten

The best memories are the times just laughing with the group:

  • Laughing about when they were recalling the list of words they had memorized the PREVIOUS YEAR!! Haha
  • Laughing when we were discussing our pictures for images after an event. One guy said, ‘I could remember I had someone falling in a hole but couldn’t remember if it was Elvis or Santa Clause!’ We all laughed because for once we had someone who understood our memory problems.

The events are:

Name and Faces 15 minute
Binary Numbers 30 mins
One hour Number 60min
Abstract Images 15 mins
Speed Number 5min
Dates 5 mins
One hour Cards
Random Words
Spoken Number
Speed Cards One pack

It was a time in my life of sooo much fun and I wish I was competing at the World Memory Championships 2015. But I’m not.

I wish I was for many reasons:

1. I’d love to see what I could do with preparation. I literally asked someone how to memorize binary digits a few weeks before the event and never really practiced it. I got 630 and actually very proud of that. But I know what it looks like when I prepare for a competition (USA Memory Championship) and to my standards I hadn’t prepared.

2. I had never memorized a deck of cards for an hour and when the recall stage happened I was shocked that instead of reassembling 12 decks (what I had memorized) I had to write them down. It really threw me off and I didn’t even get 1 deck right! Ugghh. I wish I had trained this. I basically got a 0 in this event.

3. Back then not 1 American was talking about rankings. Not one. To be candid I didn’t even know there was such thing as a national ranking until 4-5 months ago (6 YEARS later). But not thinking about scores or rankings then I just went all out for speed cards and had 2 attempts both around 1 min 15 seconds and messed them both up. Had I only known I would have slowed down for the sake of rankings….

Or would I?

Not sure.

I’m a competitive guy. When I trained for the USA Memory Championship I went ALL IN! If I had known back then that 6 years later there would be Americans paying attention to rankings would I have went ALL IN?

Maybe…maybe not.

USA Memory Ranking

USA Memory Ranking

The current top 3 of Lance, Alex and Nelson in the USA. I will never reach their level.


They are silly crazy good.

So knowing what I know now and looking back on 2009 if I had known in 2009 that one day these 3 would exist I think I may have reasoned the same. Just go and have fun.

Which I did.

However, now that I know there is something to compete for (this chart). Will I ever GO ALL IN?

Maybe but let’s also be realistic.

My scores will top out around middle 3,000 range give or take. So I would only be going for top 10 in the USA.

I considered competing at the World Memory Championships 2015 but I didn’t for 1 reason. Now that there is a ranking for Americans I only want to go if I can perform to my best ability.

For the World Memory Championships 2015 I couldn’t bring myself to compete if I wasn’t trained up and going ALL IN as I did for the USA Memory Championships 2009-2012.

When did Americans become conscious of rankings? My opinion is when Nelson started competing. That was the first time I ever heard an American mentioning a ranking.

Why? Because Nelson is crazy good and he was the first American to ever really hang with the big boys.

But I only heard of rankings in terms of WORLD ranking not national even when Nelson was discussed.

It’s odd now because I am looking at a ranking chart that I never knew existed and I am competitive. If I had known this chart would be here 6 years later would I have approached it different? I don’t know…

The last 5 years there has been 110% more talk about rankings for Americans.

What can I say about that?

1. I didn’t have the ability to bring ranking to the national conversation. Nelson did. GOOD FOR HIM AND THE USA!

2. I’m glad there is something else for Americans to be competitive about in the memory world. It only brings out the best in everyone.

Regardless if I ever compete in the World Memory Championships again 2009 was an incredible experience for me. I recommend it to anyone and everyone:

  1. It is a BLAST
  2. You see CRAZY things you won’t see anywhere else (a guy memorizing a deck of cards in 25 seconds!)
  3. You meet amazing people
  4. You are exercising and pushing your brain
  5. You are learning a skill that you can use in other areas of your life

I put this blog on this website because it is more about ME and My experience. But the World Memory Championship is so much bigger than MY experience. So all my future blogs won’t be about my experience but the tournament in general and you can follow those are 

I will be watching the World Memory Championships 2015 very closely!!

Go team USA!! (Alex, Nelson, Lance, Brad and Luis!)