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My brain was calm, very well rested and I felt good. If I was not to be the winner today it wouldn’t be because my brain wasn’t ready. It was…

The first event I scored 128 names and I was pleased with that. I was shooting for 140 but that score put me in the top 5. The next event was speed numbers and I had once held the record in this event at 167 consecutive digits. The current record holder Nelson Dellis was sitting to my left and not only did he break his record of 178…HE SHATTERED IT! Nelson Dellis memorized an outstanding 248 digits. I was blown away. He made my score of 140 look like child’s play and raised the bar to a level that could indeed stand for years in the USA. My score of 140 was good enough for second place in this event.

Poetry as the third event and the event I concluded would be my secret weapon. I had developed a strategy and memorized 25 poems in the 6 weeks prior. Yet, something went terribly wrong. I wrote down at least 200 points worth of words yet when the scores came back I only received a 100 point score and Nelson had achieved second place with 189 points. A new record was set by Michael Glantz with I believe 237 points in poetry. Also an incredible score.

The final event of the morning was speed cards (how fast can you memorize a deck of cards) and I opted to just play it safe. There was no way I was catching Nelson Dellis at this point but I didn’t have to. I was set for the playoff round and my real goal was winning the tournament not setting a record. In my first attempt I had flip flopped two cards and this caused me to play it even safer in the second try. My score was 2 minutes 20 seconds and Nelson once again crushed it breaking my record at 1 minute 3 seconds.

The afternoon round was set. The top 8 was Nelson Dellis, Ronnie White, Michael Glantz, Brad Zupp, Christopher Harwood Capobianco, Vishnu Patel, Hamisha Patel and Sophia Hu.

We cruised through the words event getting up to 72 words I believe before two were eliminated. In the Tea Party Event the scores were incredibly good. This has a lot to do with everyone getting better but also how it occurred. For the first time ever the participants were ushered into a back room to memorize the information once it was presented. This gave us an extra 2-3 minutes and that 2-3 minutes extra is golden when it comes to memory. Two people should have been eliminated in this event by receiving ‘3 strikes’ or misses. Yet, only 1 was eliminated and for the first time ever 4 contestants moved into the final round of Double Deck of Cards (how many cards can you memorize in 5 minutes)

Nelson, myself Michael and Sophia had made it.

Now the strategy begins….

Nelson certainly could get two decks in 5 minutes, yet I never had. I had never even been close to that. So to try it now would have been foolish. I had to stick with my game plan. I had to hope that Nelson would go for two complete decks of cards memorized in 5 minutes and in doing that he would make an error. Instead, I would go for 85 cards perfect and hope it didn’t get past 85. As I walked out on the stage that final time, I only had 71 cards in my memory. Michael and Sophia went down somewhere in the first deck and it was up to Nelson and I to press on.

We made it through the first deck and I knew Nelson had gone for two deck..I just knew he had, but I was hoping for a stumble. That stumble never came. On the 71st card I said 6 of Hearts. Mentally I was standing on the ISAF military base in Kabul Afghanistan on the tennis courts (where I had mentally stored the image of the 6 of hearts) and in this location, mentally on a military base, I had fired my final shot as the 2010 USA Memory Champion. If Nelson said the next card correctly I was out of the tournament. I handed him the microphone knowing what he said would determine the winner. I don’t know what card he said all I know is that it was correct and and the microphone went back to me.

In this moment I was the only one in the room who knew I had lost. It sucked. It really really sucked. I could have made a guess at the 30 something random cards we hadn’t mentioned yet but to keep that kind of effort for the next 30 cards would have been impossible. Instead, I opted to go out on my terms. Announcing to the group what I had known for a fact for the last 5 seconds and what most began to suspect the entire day as Nelson Dellis broke record after record. I leaned into the microphone and said, ‘I would like to be the first to congratulate the new USA champion Nelson Dellis….’ I stood up and we locked eyes as I shook his hand. Two champions with mutual respect and one very reluctantly passing the torch.

The next few hours I spent wandering the streets of New York alone. I tried to have a drink or two but couldn’t get into it. My phone was strangely silent, no show producers calling for the next interview. I ended up in a small pizzeria on a no name street and sat eating a slice of pepperoni alone and posting my congrats to Nelson on Facebook. For me Facebook was killing two birds with one stone. Giving Nelson his props and announcing to my friends what I didn’t want to text or call them about. Within minutes my dad saw the post and texted me words of encouragement and I realized it wasn’t the worst of things that could have happened. Not 20 minutes later my phone rang and it was the CBS Early Show asking if I could come on for an interview (no doubt because Nelson was set to be on the Today Show) but at least I was still relevant and that felt good.

The US Navy SEALs don’t wear helmets. Most feel it cramps their freedom to move and they say, ‘Hey if someone shoots me in the head that is a good shot. They deserve the kill.’ At the 2011 USA Memory Championship I didn’t lay down, I put up a tough obstacle for Mr. Dellis. Any prior year 71 cards would have won the tournament. But, well….’that was a good shot. He deserved the kill.’

Congratulations to Nelson Dellis for raising the bar for all Americans in the sport of memory. As for me, what is on my horizon? Not 100% sure, but for now…….’Free and easy down the road I go…..I may make a million or wind up broke….but free and easy down the road I go….’