THE WORLD MEMORY CHAMPIONSHIPS

Can you imagine sitting down for an hour and attempting to memorise as many packs of cards or as many random numbers as you can? Well, competitors in the World Memory Championships do just that.

The World Memory Championships (also known as the Memoriad) began in 1991 and was set up by Tony Buzan, one of the world's leading experts in memory and learning, and Raymond Keene, the British Chess Grand Master and Times chess correspondent.

More recently it has become a key component of the Mind Sports Olympiad, held this year at the Novotel Conference Centre in Hammersmith. Always an international event, competitors attend from all over the world including the UK, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Malaysia, America, and Sweden.

The competition consists of 10 events that take place over two days. Competitors are invited to memorise separate packs of cards in one hour, a single pack of cards in under five minutes, random digits in one hour, binary digits in half an hour, random digits in five minutes and a spoken number presented at a rate of two seconds per digit. Other events include remembering a list of words in 15 minutes, a poem in 15 minutes, numerous names and faces in 15 minutes and as much information as possible from a 15 minute video.

Each event has its own rules and scoring system. For example random digits are presented in rows of 40 numbers. When recalling the numbers, if one digit in a row is wrong then the line only scores 20 points but if there are two mistakes, the whole line scores nothing.

The spoken number event is even less forgiving. It is scored on a sudden death basis so that the first mistake in the stream of numbers marks the end of the correctly recalled sequence.

It has been known for World Champion contenders to memorise 300 digits (a staggering feat in itself) but score zero because of a single mistake at the first digit.

To give you an idea of the standards of the leading competitors in memory competition, the world record for a single pack of cards was broken in this year's competition when Andy Bell memorised a single deck of cards in 34 seconds. The current world record for random digits in one hour is 1620 numbers, for cards it is 22 ˝ packs in an hour and for binary numbers it is 2385 in 30 minutes. The competition has for a number of years been dominated by five times world champion Dominic O'Brien. Jonathan Hancock won the title in 1994 and this year the new world champion is Andy Bell. All of the world records set in the Memoriad have been set by one of these three "mentathletes".

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So is success in the competition the reserve of an elite few? Well, training for the World Memory Championships does take dedication and effort to which few are prepared to commit, but anyone is capable of high achievement if they will only believe it and do the necessary work.

For each event it is important to have a technique and a strategy. For example one technique may be to create images of people to represent playing cards and link them in pairs at stages of a mental image of a journey around somewhere that you are familiar with. Then it is simply a case of practising your methodology to reach the standards that you want to achieve and refining and rehearsing your strategy. A typical strategy in the one hour card event may be to rapidly memorise three packs, quickly review them and then move on to the next three packs.

Fitness also plays an important part in competition preparation. Regular aerobic exercise will ensure a good flow of oxygen to the brain that will enhance its performance. A good positive mental attitude is also important to cope with the stresses and strains of world-class competition and to create the belief that success is possible.

The 1998 World Memory Championships also encompassed a Junior Competition and this year saw a giant leap forward when the Junior World Binary Record was shattered by 7 year old David Seidel from Germany who successfully memorised 630 Binary Digits in 30 minutes.

Next year's world championships will take place in London in August. Before then both the American and German competitors will have taken part in their own national championships. Perhaps soon there will be a British national championships.