I suppose there is no better time than the day after a tournament to tell the story of that day and perhaps sharing the story will do me good as well.
My focus for the 2011 USA Memory Championship began in earnest in October. I had set out to implement Ben Pridmore’s memory system for cards. Yep, that is right – I was out to create an image for every possible card combination of two random cards. If you pull two cards out of a deck at random and place them side by side there are 2704 different possibilities.Â I hired someone to put all these combination in a Power Point presentation. Once this 2704 slide monstrosity had been assembled the task of creating images for all the combination’s began. Finally by the first week in December and two months later it was complete. By December 18th I had memorized 1300 of the slides but soon realized that if I was to master this system it could very easily take a full year and I was only 80 days out from the tournament. Two months had been wasted and on Dec 18th I scrapped the plan and the real training for the 3-Peat began…..
I worked once a week with my US Navy SEAL coach TC Cummings via phone calls as I had done the years prior. Every week we worked on my mental game, my mindset, my discipline, my focus, my confidence and work ethic. In 2009 I was hungry, I felt I had something to prove, something to avenge, something to make right. I was a man on a mission. My training for 2011 never seemed to get that same feeling. I could never capture the same hunger I had in 2009. Although, make no mistake – I trained and I trained hard. I ran through a deck of cards over 1100 times from Dec 18th to March 7th. This is not to say I memorized the deck but simply ran through it seeing the images.
In the months prior, I spent at least an hour a day six days a week and many days I trained 4-8 hours per day. On several occasions I had memorized a deck of cards less than 1 minute 10 seconds and I was ecstatic about that and once in January even hit the 1 minute 1 second mark that was never approached again. I memorized 25 poems in my preparation for the tournament, practiced tea party, words and numbers. I had definitely put in the hours even if the burning to prove something wasn’t always the same as 2009.
The Monday before the tournament I had my final coaching call with TC. He asked me how I felt and I replied, ‘As if I have nothing to prove…’ He said, ‘I have been waiting to hear that for a long time.’ I tell people all the time to compete in a tournament of any kind or set a goal of any kind not for the prize at the end but for who you must become in the process of the goal. My focus on the 2011 USA Memory Championship and the years prior had helped turn me into a more focused, disciplined, organized and driven person. The results of Saturday would not change that and in essence I had arrived. I had reached my goal 5 days before the tournament took place.
I arrived in New York City on Wednesday and did not memorize anything the entire week prior to the tournament. It was just time to relax my brain. I walked around Times Square, got a massage and laid in my hotel room. There was something different about this year though. I felt good, relaxed and at peace. In 2010 I was so wound up I couldn’t sleep the night prior. I entered a mental tournament in 2010 with 70 minutes sleep because I was so restless. This year, I was asleep by 9:45pm the night before and slept well until 6am. I couldn’t believe how calm and relaxed I was.
As I entered the room that Saturday I was wearing a blue checkered shirt with no message on it. I had planned to wear a shirt that said, ‘Operation Enduring Freedom Veteran’ and it was in my luggage to NYC. Everyone knows I am proud to have served in the military and in Afghanistan but the night before the tournament this shirt didn’t feel right any longer. I was at peace, I had nothing to prove, no message to send to my competitors, nothing other than simply going in and doing what I could do. Earlier in the week I had placed, ‘Free and Easy’ by Deirks Bently on my ipod and that had become my motto. ‘Free and Easy down the road I go….I may make a million or wind up broke. Free and easy down the road I go…..’
I looked around for familiar faces and the first I saw was Paul Mellor. Paul is a friendly guy and always has something good to say. We chatted for a few moments before I found my spot. It was disappointing that Ram Kolli and Chester Santos were not going to make it this year. Both had become good friends of mine in the previous tournaments. Soon enough everyone had arrived and I was seated next to Nelson Dellis. All the pre tournament chatter from the PR company was that Nelson and I were the two top favorites. Every time that was brought up I had brushed it off. With the ‘playoff’ system’ we have in this tournament anything can happen and anyone can win. Yet, for media purposes Nelson Dellis and I were at the front table side by side.
Photo of Nelson: