Top Grandmaster Memory Systems


Top Grandmaster Memory Systems
Just wanted to know if anyone knew what were some of the systems used by the top 20 Grandmasters in the world. I’ve put in parentheses the systems that I think are used:

  1. Wang Feng (Wang/China System)
  2. Simon Reinhard (Simon/Ben System)
  3. Johannes Mallow
  4. Ben Pridmore (Ben System)
  5. Christian Schafer
  6. Gunther Karsten
  7. Clemens Mayer
  8. Liu Su (Wang/China System???)
  9. Astrid Plessl
  10. Boris Konrad (52 Images/52 Loci)
  11. Cornelia Beddies
  12. Andi Bell (PAO)
  13. Joachim Thaler
  14. Dominic O’Brien (Dominic System)
  15. Su Ruiqiao
  16. Zheng Caiqian (Wang/China System???)
  17. Jan Formann
  18. Li Wei (Wang/China System???)
  19. Guo Chuanwei (Wang/China System???)
  20. Yuan Wenkui (Wang/China System???)


From what I heard, Johannes Mallow uses a 3 digit system for numbers, for cards, 2 images per loci, earliger 3 images per loci. For cards I think he has 1326 images (half of 2652) and two different combinations of two playing cards has the same image. To know the difference he has a “staying on the journeypoint” / “jumping to the next journeypoint” to know if its combination 1 or combination 2.

I think Clemens Mayer and Gunther Karsten used/uses a 2 digit / 1 card per image.

I heard that you use the Ben System. I also use the Ben system. I use a spaced repetition program and practise 30 minutes a day with this program in addition to normal memory training to make the images pop up in my mind faster and faster.

What have been your stratigy for learning the system? And do you use it for binary and numbers also?


Thanks Olarisa, Johannes’s system is interesting (i.e. using the actual journey to differentiate the two card combo).
I use the Ben System a lot, given that I work with numbers (portfolio manager). I convert images whenever I can usually with license plates, gas prices, and deals that I’m working on. I also found the phone app “memory ladder” to be a great tool. I’ve been using it a lot lately.

One trick with the Ben System, is that you can practice all 2704 images with decimal. Here’s how:

First Consonant:
• S/Z/Soft C = 0
• T = 1
• N = 2
• M = 3
• R = 4
• L = 5
• J/CH = 6
• K/Hard C = 7
• F/V/TH= 8
• B = 9
• SH = 10
• P = 11
• D = 12
• H = 13
• ST/SP = 14
• SK/SN/SM = 15

Vowel (Connector):
• U sound = 0
• a = 1
• e = 2
• i = 3
• o =4
• u = 5
• A = 6
• E = 7
• I = 8
• O = 9
• ow = 10
• or = 11
• ar = 12

Second Consonant:
• S/Z/Soft C = 0
• T = 1
• N = 2
• M = 3
• R = 4
• L = 5
• J/CH = 6
• K/Hard C = 7
• F/V/TH= 8
• B = 9
• SH = 10
• P = 11
• D = 12

You can convert any of the 2704 images to a decimal this way. I call it the extended Ben system (or the Terrell system if people think it’s novel enough) Here’s an example. I use for 4 of Hearts/Queen of Spades an image of Popeye. You would convert it to decimal via 11 §, 4 (o), 11 §. So the decimal comes out to be 11411. You can have images up to 6 decimals, for example I use for King of Spades/ Queen of Hearts an image of a (pencil) Sharpener. You would convert it to decimal via 10 (SH), 12 (ar), 11 §. So the decimal comes out to be 101211. It takes a little bit of flexibility to get use to, but in time you’ll be seeing 6 digit decimals as one image.

I do use the Ben for binary, which is an area that I’m really focused on improving. I’m up to about 500 digits per 5 minutes. The only thing that’s setting me back is converting the code to image. At 500, my equivalent decimal number is 150 (500/10 *3). I can hit 240 in 5 minutes with the decimal system fairly easily. So all need is practice with the conversion.

I’m also working on my spoken numbers with the Ben. I can hit 50, but you really need to know your images with spoken numbers using a 3 digit system.


How do you handle the other 997,296 six digit numbers?


Unfortunately, you can’t. Again, this is only a way to practice recalling all of the Ben System images when viewing decimal numbers, which of course are more common than seeing cards on a day to day basis. So, basically you’ll have the following break down:

3 Digit Images = 1000 total (No overlap)
4 Digit Images = 1290 (222 images with overlap)
5 Digit Images = 360 (18 images with overlap)
6 Digit Images = 54 (No overlap)

When I state overlap I mean two images can be derived from one number. For example:

  • 1(11)2 = Tornado
  • 11(1)2 = Pan

I use the first number as the main number followed by the second, etc. So I’ll always view 1112 as Pan.

(Josh Cohen) #6

I’d be interested to hear how you are doing that. Are you using Anki? Do you put words on one side of the card, or images?

My Ben System is still only partially done, and I want to finish it soon. I use a lot of the 3-digit numbers in daily life, but I’m missing too many images to memorize long numbers with it.

I finally figured out an easy way to get my version of the system into a spreadsheet, so I can export that to Anki once I have added all my images. Or maybe I will export only one side to Anki and just look up the image in my book if I can’t remember an image or two.


Hi Josh, I would avoid using flashcards. You’re better off memorizing your images with your journeys. I have a 104 deck (13 loci/26 images per deck) journey(s), which I’ve used to memorize each image. It’s easier to remember your images this way, because as we all know through rote memorization with flashcards you’ll be putting in a lot effort for little results.

(Josh Cohen) #8

Thanks… That’s an interesting idea. Do the images get stuck in your journeys? I still have faint ghost images stuck in one journey even after a year. I wonder if I repeat something too often in a journey if it will get stuck there.

1 deck is 26 images, and you’re placing 2 images per locus?
Do you use these same journeys for competitions or are they only for learning the cards?
If I put three images per locus, I think that would require 896 loci (2688 images divided by 3)


I haven’t had much of a problem with having ghost images. I think the more that you reuse a journey, the more agile your mind gets at wiping the slate clean - so to speak.

Correct, I use two images per locus. So I only need 13 loci for a full deck.

I haven’t been in any competitions yet, but I plan to in the future. Still preoccupied with my MBA, which usually coincides with my finals in the first quarter of each year.

I use these journeys for memorizing cards, numbers (decimal,binary,spoken), names/faces, random words, abstract images, and other non event related material.

You would probably need 902 loci (2,704 divided by 3). You’ll also need a 104 deck journey, but your loci per deck would equal 8.667 or ~ 9 vs. my 13. Now remember that you only use 2,652 images for a single pack of cards, but when multiple decks are shuffled together, you’ll be able to use the full Ben System amount 2,704 images.

This way you should get great training with both your images and journeys, which are equally important for recall/speed/accuracy.

(Josh Cohen) #10

Thanks… I’ll experiment with it.

I’m still not sure if I’m going to make images for double cards, so it’s just 2688 images at the moment. That might change though.

If I ever had to memorize two shuffled decks, I could use my single-card image and add a mirror. Whenever I see a mirror, it means that the previous image repeats.

I’m making some competition journeys at the moment. The next event is coming up soon…


For me a spaced repetition program has been very good since I then use more time to practice on the images I don`t know so well. I use iSRS a iphoneversion of mnemosyne. Until now I have put words on one side, but I have just started filling in images insted and I think this would speed up my times. It will probably take a few month to complete adding images to the database. A sample of a card in mnemosyne is attached. I have not used some of my 2864 journeypoints to learn my images, just flash card program.

Before I started to use the Ben system I used PVO and had following personal records.

Binary 5 min 630
Numbers 5 min 240
Speed cards 1:02

It took about a year to break all of this record with the Ben system from when I started filling in images. Now my personal records are.

Binary 5 min 1000
Numbers 5 min 315
Speed cards 34 sek.

Tips if you want to use flashcardprogram. Resize all the images to the same size.


Here is a picture from mnemosyne:

(Josh Cohen) #13

Thanks… that is very helpful information.

Those are great improvements…


To London 007

I don`t quite understand your method of learning your 2704 images with a journey.

When you say you have a 104 deck journey, you mean you have a journey with 104 * 13 = 1352 journeypoints with all your 2704 images?

And when you memorize a pack of cards, you do this in a different journey, and the 104 deck journey is reserved for hosting your images? And when the image for 8 of clubs/3 of hearts don`t pop up in your head right away when you memorize a pack of cards, you look to your 104 deck journey on the journeypoint for 8 of clubs/3 of hearts to see that your image was donald duck and then place him in the ohter journey you used to memorize this pack of cards?

What I dont understand is why you need a journey for all your 2704 images, I used some kind of journey in the beginning to learn my difficult images, the ones that dont give me a real word then reading the “consonat wowel consonant” and adding some letters, but most of my images fits well into the code and pops up in my head right away. I also find that looking in these journeys for my difficult images takes to much time, the images need to come automaticly without me having to look for the image. After much practice with flach card program also these difficult images comes automaticly.

Have I understood your method the right way? Can you explain more?


I actually use two images per locus. So with 1,352 loci and 2 images per locus, I cover each of the 2,704 images. It was best for me to use this method for learning my images originally, because like you, I have some images that are not as easy to recall. Additionally, since I paired up each image, I found that I had an additional aid of recall (i.e. the other image used at the locus). Usually, if I had a difficult image to recall, I would think of its pair, which more often than not was an easy image to recall. When beginning to use the Ben System if I had a difficult image, then for me it was easiest to recall its pair, not the locus point.

I use my journey of 104 decks now for any type of memorizing. By originally memorizing my images using this method, I not only learned the images very well, but also learned each journey. Hope this explains it better.



What kind of rules did you have for paring the images in the 104 deck journey? Was typically the image for 2 of hearts/3 of hearts and the image for 2 of hearts/4 of hearts on the same journeypoint in your 104 deck journey or did you pair them randomly?

And how did you for example connect 2 of hearts/3 of hearts to the image? Did you see 2 of hearts / 3 of hearts together with the image on the journeypoint in your 104 deck journey, or did you typically have 84,5 journeypoints for all the images for the 169 different heart/heart combinations? And when the combinations of two cards is something with heart / hearts you know to look somewhere in these 84,5 journeypoints?

Looking foreward to see the results when you start competing! Not many people have took the job to learn a system as big as the Ben system, and if you continuing practicing and improving you should do really well in a competition!

And I still dont use the Ben-system for spoken, I still use PVO, Ive tried to use a tree digit system, but I havent got any good results with it yet. Its cool that you can do 50 spoken numbers already with the Ben system.


I actually paired (S sounds with T, N with M, R with L, J/CH with K, F/V/TH with B, SH with P, D with H, ST/SP with S/SN/SM) - These follow the numbers that I outlined in my second post (i.e. S = 0, T = 1, SH = 10, P = 11, etc.).

So each pair would be corresponding with the vowel/second consonant. This helped with the recall because of the rhyming. For example, A of Spades/7 of Spades = Sack would be paired with A of Clubs/7 of Diamonds = Tack. None of the images were paired randomly, they all followed the pattern described above.

Thanks, I’ve been practicing and seeing my times improve. I think right now I need to continue to work on my conversion times (i.e. being able to ‘read’ pairs of cards and 10 binary digits faster).

With spoken numbers using the Ben System, the hardest part is hearing each triad of numbers separately and obviously recalling 1000 digits. I found that by using my finger to separate the numbers while I’m listening helps. This is how it works. Press your finger down on a hard surface while you hear one triad of three numbers, and then release your finger for the next three of numbers. This is a simple trick that helps you space each pair of 6 numbers.


Thanks! I`ll experiment with this on my hardest images.


I happened upon this very old post which seemed interesting. If you are still there London am I right in assuming that the number 0 represents a Jack. Since 11 represents a Queen and 12 represents a King.
I have let 0 represent a ten with cards and I think Ben does this as well. Your system has the advantage of cramming more digits into fewer images. The only disadvantage I can think of is that in a rows of 40 numbers you are likely to get a different number of images.