I don’t usually do book reviews, but I figured I’d throw one out there.
I just finished reading Rafael Nadal’s autobiography “Rafa” the other day. While it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, it did provide a great look into the mind of a tennis champion.
I was never really a big fan of Nadal but after reading more about his journey to the top of the tennis world and gaining some insight into how he thinks during his matches, he grew on me. Mostly because when he described his mental game during his incredible 2008 Wimbledon win, among others, I was able to connect with the things he was saying in relation to how I felt as I went on to win the 2011 USA Memory Championship.
The 2011 championship for me, felt mostly like a tennis match between Ron White and I. Ron White, the two-time champion (the Roger Federer of memory) had stolen the win from me in 2010 (you could say he had the mental edge on that one, managing to stay focused and cool under pressure while I did not), and there I was in 2011 battling to the same exact spot I had been in the year before, head-to-head against Ron White.
We went into the final event, where we were given 2 decks of cards to memorize in 5 minutes, knowing that it was going to go until the very end. But I was composed this year. I had matured a lot after having stared at myself in the mirror for a long time after losing in 2010. I knew what I had to do and I knew how to do it.
I memorized both decks. A gamble for sure…but something I had done numerous times in practice without any mistakes. Ron White, while I wondered if he had upped his training to manage two full decks in 5 minutes this year, went for a safe, yet solid, deck and a half. The idea: go a bit slower, make SURE to know all the cards. My idea: go fast, hope that it all sticks.
So there we were on stage. Him, with the solid composure and experience of 2 previous championships under his belt. Me, with a young temperment and the sting of losing in 2010 burned deep in my mind. We sat there reciting the decks, one card each, back and forth – like two professionals rallying in tennis. I didn’t even think about whether I knew the rest of the deck, my strategy was to blurt them out as fast as I could to shake Ron’s nerves. You only get 15 seconds to say each card, so if your brain suddenly shuts off, as it can often do without warning, you can lose.
I remembered how in 2010 Ron had recited his cards slowly and I knew it was because he wanted to make ABSOLUTELY sure he didn’t mess up. He didn’t. But now here I was using that to my advantage. He would take 5-8 seconds to say each of his cards, pass me the mic, then I would quickly fire back the next card in 1 second, then return the mic immediately back to him. He was definitely taken aback with my speed and even though I will never know for sure, I assume it also threw his game off a little. But he held the rally. It kept going back and forth, until finally, he ran out. I had out-muscled him. My gamble had paid off. We had made it to his last-memorized, 72nd card. He had nothing left.
I proudly said the next card with a feeling of elation. A feeling as if a huge weight had fallen off of my shoulders. I had never worked so hard for anything in my entire life and it had paid off. Hours and hours of training. Staying in when all my friends were going out. Days of solitude in my room staring at numbers and cards. It had all paid off.
Back to the book. Rafa details his journey to winning all of the Major titles and I couldn’t help but relate to the fact that his winning was a result of his hard work. Federer was better than him, just naturally a beast, but Nadal, like me, won on pure gut, stamina, and hard work.
I’m not saying I’m anything close to Nadal. Not at all. He is an incredible athlete and has proven to be one over his long and successful career. But reading his book allowed me, and should allow anyone with a competitive spirit, to piggyback on his champion mentality. It’s definitely a great read for anyone who enjoys competition and wants to know what it’s like at one of the highest levels.
Saw this video last week:
An 18 year old kid memorizing a deck of cards in what seems to be about 20 seconds. If this video is legit then that right there is a world record, beating out Simon Reinhardt’s record of 21.90. The video looks pretty real and I have no idea how it would have been faked, so I contacted the guy. Turns out he’s a super nice guy and has savant syndrome (you can read more about it on his website: http://mentalglitch.co.cc/).
Anyways, even though his video shows him memorizing in a way that isn’t quite like how it’s officially done in competition, he still has the ability, which is all that should really matter anyways. I asked him if he uses mnemonics and he said no, but that he can only (at the moment) do it with a particular deck of cards because the font size of the numbers and suits works well with his synesthesia. COOL. He also told me that reciting the deck out loud afterwards is quite hard for him because any outside noise or stimuli can interfere with his synesthesia and cause him to lose some of the cards from memory.
I encouraged him to train and compete in the 2012 USA Memory Competition. I currently hold the US record for memorizing a deck of cards, but I couldn’t care less if I lost that title. I’d be much more excited to see someone nab the world record (especially an American) by breaking the 20 second mark.
I’m starting to get the feeling that next year’s competition is going to have a strong showing. It will be awesome. There just seems to be more of a buzz on the web about all this memory stuff. Maybe it was Josh’s book? Who knows.
Just a quick heads up. My contact form on my Contact page is acting a bit wonky and wont let me see the email addresses of people who have messaged me recently. So, for Scott, I’m assuming it’s Scott Hagwood….in which case, thank you so much for your message! You are awesome and I hope to meet you some day! As for Lexi, I’d love to speak with you but I don’t have your email. Email me at email@example.com.
For all you memory nerds out there….I have been spending a ridiculous amount of times studying Abstract Images. I’m afraid of myself when I really focus on something. Holy cow. I forget how dangerous I can become when I really want to do well at something. Back in college, that’s how I ended up with a 3.9 GPA in my Physics major. I would study so damn much. Never wanted anything but an A grade, I never got anything else. I’m rambling here, but what I have to say is important. Because of how well I did in college, a lot of people often say “wow, damn you must be really smart” or “you must be a genius”…a lot of people also say that now because of my memory skills. But it’s all bullshit.
All I do is put forth a lot of effort (or “ass-time”, as my friend likes to say – basically how much time you sit on your ass working on whatever it is you are trying to get better at is a good indicator of how good you will get). That is all. And it’s no secret either. Look at anyone who is the best at what they do. No one just magically “gets” it overnight. It all comes with sweat and tears. I lost the US Memory Championship in 2010 when I thought I had it in the bag. So what did I do? I made damn well sure that I wouldn’t happen the next year (and obviously it didn’t) by working my fricking ass off thrice as hard.
This post went from talking about a contact form to persistence. Ha. Well bringing it full circle. Google the name Scott Hagwood. Here is a guy who worked his ass off in the most difficult of situations. He had thyroid cancer and pushed himself to train his memory while undergoing chemo. He won the USA Memory Championship 4 times back in the early 2000s. It all goes back to WANTING. If you want it, you will do whatever it takes to make it happen. And that includes the hard work.
So stop sitting on your ass and get to work on the things you want to do. I guarantee that with hard work you can play the violin like a true virtuoso, run a 4 minute mile, or even memorize a deck of cards in under a minute. Stop reading this and GO!
Alright so Day 2.
Woke up fresh and ready to break some hearts.
Random Words – 15 min. The goal here was to go for 200. I usually practice this in 5 minute intervals and can do around 90 words. Anyways, I went for 200 but only made it to 186. I made 2 dumb mistakes, flipping two pairs of words around (those mistakes each nixed a column of 20 points) and one spelling mistake (who the hell spells “putty” like “puddy”? Apparently me). So my score ended up being 145. Not bad, but I can do better.
Marathon Cards – 30 min. I had done 8 decks solid in practice. I was hesitant to go for that in competition (because in competition it’s always 10 times harder for some reason) but I said to hell with it and just tried. I ended up doing it completely perfect. I can’t help but think that being able to memorize 8 decks of cards in under a half-hour must be useful SOMEWHERE in SOME casino, right?
Historic Dates – 5 min. My new favorite event. Only just started practicing this one with my new 3-digit system a few weeks ago and I keep improving everytime I practice. I’ve been managing in the high 40s lately and that’s exactly what I got: 47 dates. My goal is to push that up near 100 by the WMCs. Done.
Spoken Numbers. This event is awesome. We listen to a computer spit out random digits, 1 at a time, at a rate of 1 digit a second and see how far we can go before our brains fart. There are 3 attempts, 100, 300, and 400 seconds worth of digits. I tried for 100 digits each time. The first time I lost concentration around digit 42 and couldnt keep up. The second attempt I got all the way to the 100th digit but had a 4 digit gap at around the 48th digit (I couldn’t remember Dr. Dre setting himself on fire…CURSE YOU DOCTOR!!). The final attempt I went for 100 again and messed up after digit 50. So I ended up with 50. Respectable, but not great. My goal is to get over 200 in this event next time. I used to be able to do 160, just need more practice.
Speed Cards. Don’t even wanna talk about it. Luckily I was sitting almost comfortably in 2nd place by this point (although James Ponder was close behind). I was out of control the first attempt hitting 46 seconds, but butchering the recall beyond hell. Second attempt, I thought about slowing it down to make SURE I got it, but that’s not my style. I did it in 50 seconds with the utmost confidence! Turns out I flipped two cards (confused Jesus with Jack Black….clearly a forgivable mistake). So I ended up with a score of 3 cards haha. No worries, that’s how it goes sometimes. I still came in 2nd.
Anndddddd….I moved up in the international memory rankings from 101 to 38….finally becoming the BEST American (currently and all-time), beating out the awesome Grandmaster Scott Hagwood, the fake-American David Thomas, and the apparently of-cheating-fame, Yu Zhang (Eric Chang). Sweet!
Anyways, it was awesome hanging out with some memory nerds for the weekend. Always good fun. Cool to finally meet Rick de Jung and James Paterson, and to see Ben’s hat again (love that thing). Oh did I mention I met Dominic O Brien? He is awesome and sounds exactly like he does on his Audio book. Fancy that!
Day 1 of the UK Memory Championships.
How did I do? Eh….not so great, but I guess not that bad either. I know I can do a lot better, that’s for sure. But that’s why I’m in these competitions I guess, to figure out what needs the most work.
Names & Faces – 15 min.. This was the first time anyone had tried the “new” international Names & Faces (basically a harder version of what it used to be), so whoever scored the highest was owner of an instant world record. Schwing! I came in second with 113 correct names. Not bad for a first go at these incredibly fictional names (Princess Aliyev, Goda Dubois, Amirmohammed Shah, Zsofia Zuh….seriously?).
Binary Digits – 30 min.. So I had never tried this event in practice. I had only tried 5 minute and 1 minute sessions. I had a strategy but I tried using my 3 digit system which I think ended up slowing me down in the end. Also on paper it’s easy to lose your place in the sea of 1s and 0s, which is what happened to me numerous times. I’m used to doing it on computer where the digits you are currently on stay highlighted. Needless to say, I sucked. I was envisioning in my head, getting over 3000 digits (which I’m capable of, I just need to train), but ended up only getting to about 1200 digits, and got a fuck load wrong and scored only 700. Bah. More work to be done here…
Abstract Images – 15 min. I had practiced this one quite a bit. Not really great at it yet though. Another area to work on… I know there is a clever system for it out there, I just have to figure it out. I have a couple of interesting ideas so we’ll see. Anyways, I went for 200 images….made a bundle of errors and ended up with 158, I believe. Not bad….Better than my last score of 105. Gotta get it near or over 300 for the competition in Dec.
Speed Numbers – 5 min. This is arguably my best discipline, but for some reason I always eff it up in international competitions. I tried for 280 digits but was weirdly slow and only got to 250 with a few mistakes to give me a score of 171. I felt better the second time around and thought for sure I had it (at least over 200) but spent the majority of recall shifting digits over…it messed me up and I ended up with 71, whaaaaa?
Marathon Numbers – 30 min. So I practiced this the other day and did really well, scoring 800 or so digits. So my goal was to hit 800 on the nose. I did it pretty comfortably (although I was actually a tad slow…probably because I had already memorized thousands of digits already and my mind had turned to mushy peas) and recall felt great. I actually went for 870….a few rows had me troubled here and there but I made guesses that felt good. I’m pretty sure I AT LEAST got 600 digits. But let’s be optimistic and say I got between 750-870. We’ll find out the results tomorrow.
So tomorrow are all my favorite events: words (love it), historic dates (love it), spoken numbers (love it because I get to travel back to Mt. Everest for that one ), and carddddds (freaking love it). Can’t imagine me failing at any of those. Anyways….hopefully I can break into the 4000s for a score that might put me in the top 30ish. SWEET.