What does it take to be a World Memory Champion?


Hi guys.

Since I have researched and used memory techniques, I know that a lot of people can benefit and start seeing the effects almost immediately after applying them. That may be enough for a guy who wants to improve his memory.

Now, there are currently several memory athletes that aim to be the next World Memory Champion, but some have not been able to, others have a great plateau and there is probably one that is on the right track.

So, what is necessary to achieve that goal?

Several great mental athletes have said that their success is due to intense training of mnemonic techniques. But is that all? Are there other factors that have helped them to be at that level?

I say it for the case that I’ve been thinking about. For example, Alex Mullen says that he only trains 30-60 minutes a day on average and when a competition approaches he arrives at 1.5 hours. Only with that decent amount of training has it allowed him to get the title in a short period of time. However, other athletes spend possibly more hours than Alex in their training, reaching 3-5 hours. There are also people who match their hours but have spent more years in the memory sport.

Of course, Alex does not share all same systems with other athletes, so it is very difficult to draw a very precise conclusion, but I hope they understand what I want to reach since it has not been the only case of exponential learning (Wang Feng reference there).

However, it may not be the hours dedicated to the practice, but very effective training. So what brings me to my question, how different are your training methods from the other athletes? Could it be that he has talent? Maybe he spends more hours?

Finally, will hard work be necessary? The talent? Effective training? Genetics? Supplements? All previous?

What are your thoughts?


Hard work is absolutely not required. :wink:

Just kidding, but just like in any other sport it comes down to the way you train. If you know somebody who goes running every morning or say five times a week runs a couple of miles before going to work. That person it probably more fit than the next guy but really not that likely to compete at the next Olympics. Read that as: time spend doing “some sort of” memory training without clear structure or goal in mind is probably not what’s needed.

Surely, there is a bit of talent there too, some people are better at team sports, some are better in track and field. I doubt we reached levels in the competition yet where genetics really matters though as far as being a key factor… makes your training easier of course if you are interested in the subject matter and got a certain talent for it. I.e., some people might be better off using memory skill in metal computation competitions and vice versa.

Same goes for supplements, maybe cross-read some bodybuilding forums on the use of steroids as far as non-pro athletes. If you do speed cards in 5 minutes and you want to break into the 2 minutes then train and don’t go looking for a magic pill. If that is something you need to break a 12 second speed card world record is a different question, but the best natural boost you can get is by getting enough sleep.

Think of Brazil’s soccer team for example and how big a thing soccer is there. They won the most world cups. The U.S. definitely not bad at sports to say the least (think 90s Dream Team with Michael Jordan, Magic, etc.) is really nowhere near winning their first title let alone bag 5 world cups like Brazil did. Even though a “little” bit more of a sport there now, in the 90s soccer was a girls sport and not taken serious next to football, basketball, and baseball (add hockey for good measure too).

My point with the last example… even if Alex Mullen only “actively” trains 30-60 minutes per day, doesn’t mean that he’s not more in tune with it the rest of the day. If you check his YouTube channel, he gives example of how to memorize for medical school… so everything else course work related he uses memory techniques too, but I probably (and I guess neither does he) wouldn’t call that training. Compare that to someone who does 1 hour a day and then nothing related to it for the rest of the day.

(ant) #3

Mullen memorizes for medical school as do I and it does carry cover to memory tasks in general

But he’s a memory champion and I’m not though so haha (might try to compete one day). I’ve only memorized digits briefly but it’s not super siffficult after using techniques for several years for unrelated info

Sort of like doing deadlifts and leg press all the time then adding in doing squats for a year yet making massive gains just due to alreadying having a well developed body from a different routine


Lol… something like that. :wink:

More like doing dead lift and leg press for a while and not having to start at zero again when adding squats to the routine. I didn’t say that he used it for med school and then later started competing… consider it more like super sets to stay with your picture.

Okay, then let me add to that how he practices Chinese vocab on top of it (video) below. Point being as far as the original post:

Considering all the other things, that I wouldn’t count towards “training” it’s still a considerable amount of time adding everything together and comparing to others who do their 2 hours and then nothing related at all for the rest of the day.


I agree with that. And depending on your goal you can change your approaches to achieve it.

Some people have a talent for basketball, others for soccer, baseball, etc. But if they do not work on that talent, I doubt they will reach their full potential. I put Alex’s case because I also think he is someone very good and talented. In addition, great memory athletes such as Ben Pridmore, Florian Dellé, Lance Tschirhart, Boris Konrad, and many others have pointed out his case.

Lance: Alex is king of a special case, but he would not tell you that either because he’s too modest or he does not get it. He’s good at practicing, and he’s good at thinking, so he’s good at improving

Ben Pridmore: Alex Mullen is absolutely amazing he comes out from nowhere in the last few years not just cut out the people that have been doing for years, he surpassed them.

Florian Delle: I think is a talented guy. I do not like to bring talent on the sport because everyone can do that and we have not really seen the end of the year. But Alex seems to be one and effortlessly do all of these things and you can probably say that is a talented memory athlete well the others are hard working memory athletes

I agree with Ben that Alex also works hard, but you could also say he has talent. Maybe the question is not will hard work be necessary? Could it be will hard work be enough? So, memory athletes that are out there will only have to work hard to be the next World Memory Champion? Or have we reached a point where having hard work + other factors like the ones I mentioned are the only things that will get you there?
Talented memory athletes or Hard-Working memory athletes?

This reminds me of the phrase: Hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard

On the other hand, it is true that Alex uses the techniques “passively” when studying for medical school and can benefit him. For example, I have spent much of my time on the PC, but I never made a deliberate practice to improve my typing speed. However, despite having acquired a style of low effectiveness, I can reach 80-100 WPM. I would not call it training either, but it seems that switching between these types of “modes” could help to improve a lot.

Anyway, thank you both of you for your answers to my question.


The last one makes it sound like talent and hard work is mutually exclusive. Take Michael Jordan for example; probably had a good amount of talent but don’t you tell him that he didn’t work hard to get to where he got. But let’s talk about will hard work be enough?

Back to my first point about somebody going jogging versus serious running for competition. Take somebody going to the gym and doing cardio exclusively. The muscle fibers he trains are for endurance (slow twitch type I). Take somebody else doing weight training instead (fast twitch type II). They both spend an hour in the gym in the morning and another at night, five times a week.

Eat. Sleep. Train. Repeat.

After two years (~1,000 hours) we could send them to a bodybuilding competition or to run a marathon. Either way, one of the two will have done the wrong training even though they spend the same amount of time in the gym. It’s not a matter of talent or genetics but rather having a training routine that gets you to your goal. They both trained hard but that’s not what matters.

Bear in mind that World Champion means the highest points overall (10 disciplines), so also in some way most versatile. Some people spend an unproportional amount of time on Spoken Numbers or Names and Faces because they see a better chance of getting a world record or at least first place in the discipline rather than trying for overall with a more balanced training routine.

Have a look at the statistics page… people with 2,000 - 3,000 point in competitions. Let’s assume they’re using a 2-digit system, then each card is the equivalent of a two digit image and 52 cards is the same as 104 digits memorized. So anybody who can do a deck in less than a minute and a half should be able to get all 100 digits (first trial) Spoken Numbers correct as they are only spoken at one digit per second… that’s not the case. Take this a step further:


Let’s say if you can do:

  • one digit per second
  • one card per 2 seconds
  • one word per 3 seconds

the first two are equivalent in a two digit system and let’s add one second to words for abstract words that require a little more work encoding. So 20 words per minute x 15 minutes = 300 words.

Speed cards only gets you only 288 point, Spoken 200 more, and Words is really close to the world record. I hope we can agree that these are all pretty much the same thing. The points are on a scale, so if a lot of people push up the records in speed cards, the points go down accordingly.

This is partially due to the fact that for IMM (previously GMM) titles you needed: a deck in under 2 mins, 10 decks in an hour, and 1,000 digits in an hour. Enough posts in here with people asking for help getting to exactly these milestones. Put the same effort into words on names and faces instead and you’re looking at a much different overall score, but that won’t put you in the running for an IMM title.