World Memory Championships 2006

And so today was the final day of the 2006 World Memory Championships held in London at Imperial College.  After being runner up in the competition and then running it for a couple of years, I had moved away from competition memory to concentrate on teaching others how to improve their memory, remember much more and retain information for longer.

But today I returned to the event to say hi to a few friends from my competing days, meet the new stars of competition memory and catch up with my friend and mentor, Tony Buzan.   This is a truly international event and one that attracts competitors from all over the world.

This year saw competitors from the UK, USA, Germany, France, Austria, South Africa, China and Malaysia battling away (if indeed you can battle away in a memory competition :-)) for the top prize.  Perhaps at a later date I will explain each of the memory events in more detail but there are ten, spread out over three days and they are:

Day 1:

Abstract Images (a new event proposed and devised by 8 times World Memory Champion Dominic O’Brien that is designed to test “pure memory”)

Binary Numbers (Let’s see how many 1’s and 0’s you can remember – you’ll be staggered to find out just how many the top guys do)

1 Hour Number (the longest number you can remember from pages and pages of randomly generated digits – again we are talking thousands of digits here)

Day 2:

Names and Faces (I think everyone I meet has a challenge with how to remember names and faces and so this is a good test of the techniques that these top memorisers use)

Speed Numbers (This is like the hour numbers only instead of being an endurance event, this is a sprint version where competitors only have 5 minutes to memorise as many digits as possible)

Historic and Future Dates (Another new discipline since I competed in the World Memory Championships but one that has been around for a few years now.  This is about being able to remember a series of dates and the implications of those dates)

One Hour Cards (This is another of the marathon endurance memory feats where competitors are given an hour to memorise as many decks of playing cards (that’s 52 cards in each deck) as possible).

Day 3:

Random Words (In just 15 minutes the challenge here is to correctly memorise as many words from a list as possible.  This is the first event that competitors can get to do in their own language – marking the papers is a bit of a challenge though!)

Spoken Number (A few years ago scientists predicted that the human memory had a capacity of 7 digits plus or minue 2 digits – as few as 5 and as many as 9 – for a number recited one digit every second.  As with many of the other psychologically defined limitations, this one is shattered many times over)

Speed Cards (Probably the most exciting of the events in the competition because it is one that is over very quickly for the top competitors.  This is the one that the cameras all come to see because it is so fascinating to watch people whiz through 52 cards often in under a minute)

If you want to find out more about the specific rules and standards of the events at the World Memory Championships then visit the official website for the event at

So why do people do it?  That’s a very good question and the reasons differ for each individual.  For myself when I competed, achieved the coveted Grand Master of Memory and came runner up to Andi Bell it was to get credibility so that I could go out and teach people how to be much more effective learners.

For others it ranges from just having a go to see how well they can do through a test of memory development to manic almost obsessive perfection in beating the current world records. Of course there is a trophy (which you can see me holding on the right here) and there is the prestige of calling yourself “World Memory Champion”.

And what is the point of trying to memorise as many packs of cards as you can in an hour…..surely there are better things to do with your evenings?  Well that is the sort of comment I often get and I suppose the simple answer is “to see if I can do it”.  I did and I found I was quite good at it which means I wanted to get even better.

I didn’t do too badly to become the second best competition memoriser in the world when I last competed :-).  However what I have found is that the mental (and to a certain extent physical) development that you achieve to be able to whiz through a pack of cards and remember them in around 60 seconds gives you tremendous focus and clarity of thought that you can immediately transfer to other areas of your life (let alone the added benefit of being able to learn and remember anything you want).


Anyway back to this year’s event.  I will post a more detailed set of results for you later this week but in summary German Clemens Mayer retained his title from last year and significantly new world records were set in the hour cards (27 decks) by Ben Pridmore and speed cards (31.16 seconds) by Andi Bell, both from the UK and both former World Champions.

There were other records too and if you can’t wait for my post with a summary of the results you can visit the Official Site of the World Memory Championships to see the full records (with graphs too!).

Whilst I was there I was able to catch up with some old friends (and rivals) and to meet some new ones too.  The rest of this post is a collection of some of the photographs I took of the people who were there with a few lines to tell you a bit about each person.  See what follows as a sort of “sharing my holiday snaps” sort of thing…

This is Andi Bell setting the new world record for the correct memorisation and recall of a standard deck of 52 playing cards.  I can remember being the official timer when he set one of his many world records and on that day his record was 34.12 seconds.

At this year’s World Championships as you can see from the photograph he set a new record of 31.16 seconds.  That is a staggering time and watching him do the recall was a nail biting moment and there was a loud cheer from everyone when the last card was recalled correctly.  Below you will see me congratulating Andi (no hard feelings for beating me in the championships….honest :-))

One of the top Memory stars over the last few years has been former German Champion Dr Gunther Karsten who was my closest rival for the runner up spot a few years ago.

Gunther has been one of those people who has given a tremendous amount back to the sport and has personally trained many of the rising German stars and even a Junior World Champion.  Not only that but he is a nice bloke too.  It is his wife (then girlfriend) who broke the world record for remembering birthdays when we made the attempt on the Guinness Show.

Gunther has been knocking on the door of the World Title for years now and just doesn’t quite seem to get there.  I’d love to see him win it but in the meantime here we are together at this year’s event.

But of course the new stars keep popping up out of nowhere.  During the speed cards event I was one of the arbiters and one of the contestants I worked with was 16 year old Corinna Draschl from Austria.  A confident competitor who took the Junior World Memory Championships title and came a creditable 9th overall in the adult competition.  Here you see me with Corinna just before the prize giving.

And of course no World Memory Championships would be complete without 8 times winner, Dominic O’Brien.  Dominic’s impact on competition memory has been significant not least for his domination of the title.

He didn’t compete this year and some think he might have retired from competition memory however when we chatted in the week’s before this year’s competition he did indicate that he wouldn’t mind having another crack at the title just to prove that he can still do it.  I have no doubt that he can, and will and so look out if you intend to compete in the future.

It was Dominic’s system that inspired me to compete and I must say that I have drawn great inspiration from his books over the years.  I am also delighted to announce that Dominic has agreed to write the foreword to my book that will be published by Duncan Baird Publishers in the spring of 2007 – watch this space and i will keep you posted on that one.  Here is me with Dominic O’Brien just before we had dinner after the 2006 World Memory Championships.