Why the World Championship of Memory needs to be decentralized

Dear Memory Athletes,

I have now been running the Canadian Memory Championship for 8 years as Chair and I recently began to believe that the format of the World Championship of Memory needs to change to something more open and accessible to everyone. If my idea here gets some positive feedback, we may go ahead with this approach for next year.

First, I think the sport should have 3 levels of World Champions of Memory.

  1. The Self Administered World Champion.
    One organization creates the memory disciplines and select the day memory athletes self-administer it. Obviously, this is wide open to cheating but this should not be a concern. It is like if you train and self report for yourself higher scores than what you actually get. It would makes little sense.

Such self-administered test are important for a number of reasons. I don’t want to cover all the reasons here but if a memory athlete is capable of creating special conditions at home --that aren’t possible at a group competition-- and these conditions help him/her achieve higher scores then it would be interesting to find out about that. Also, it is in the very nature of memory techniques to learn individually, on one’s own and so the self-administered memory disciplines should count for something and having a memory champion there would help acknowledge this.

But then some people might cheat anyway for the sake of getting attention but I think that in such a championship, finishing first is not what it is all about; participating is what it is about. Being part of a cool international event is what matters. You would get the sense that winning this competition is not what this event is all about because memory techniques should be about self-empowerment and not about finding the most self-empowered person.

  1. The second level of world champion should be assisted World Memory Champion. You have a friend and he’s helping watching and monitoring and reporting your score to the main organization that created the memory discipline as in 1). This would help ensuring that the memory disciplines are well administered and provide at least one witness to the performance.

  2. The third level should simply be groups of memory athletes that get together with some arbiters to administer the memory disciplines of the main organizaton. Here cheating would be much more difficult. You would have a local winner on top of a new Group World Champion of Memory.
    If these events occurs all in the same day, you know that the 3 new world champions of memory will be different persons.

This may diminish the clout of the current winner of the single group competition that we now have but the overall benefit of having many times more people participating and being interested in the sport would make up for that, in my opinion.

I think it is time for memory sports to evolve to something like this. As it is right now, it does not provide much in terms of equal oportunities. As it is right now, we try to imitate the ways of other sports that are geared to creating a marketable stars or gurus of the sport. But since memory sports make most sense from the perspective of creating people that work on their own to empower themselves the other sport’s approach really does not serve us well in my opinion.

The goal of other sports is to create something awesome and visual that the camera can catch for a market. It isn’t self empowerment and we won’t ever have anything spectacular to offer the cameras as it is the mind’s camera that provides the “real” spectacle for us. So we do need to embrace a different approach from other sports if we are to start making some real gains in popularity, in my opinion.

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I think I get what you are saying but I’m not sure it requires diluting competition at something “called” a world championship level. I am not sure I have a dog in this race but I wonder if you are not struggling to solve a different problem.

I am not sure the quality and volume of folk who show up in Toronto. I can’t imagine flying from Winnipeg and that is “close”.

There is a need for broader exposure and a larger base of “players” for memory sports to be a sport. Some countries/cultures/socio-economic groups seem to have more emphasis in development of skills that provide academic advantage for many different reasons.

It seems to me that these are most often focused as early enrichment programs which I do not know the success rate of. At a youth level however it seems likely that the Home Educators, Montessori, Soroban, Mental Calculation folk and those that live in a world of competitive placement testing are the most likely to be motivated and aligned with developing a larger base for these skills. I am neither an academic nor an educator so I do not know how you attract pedagogs to researching and integrating these into education of youth.

Old guys like me that fumble on the edges and don’t get out of the basement much are not going to flip the tide. Josh might have some numbers on growth rate and make up of memory league online. The guys at Memocamp probably have ideas. Unless mnemonics are “discovered” I suspect it will remain extremely extremely fringe. “Mathletes” have a base of math teachers globally and they are extremely fringe.

Maybe, and it could be that it already is, the emphasis for world championships/public competitions, should be on promotion and education rather than competition. With a focus on delivering workshops to teachers and students. Mnemonics are an initially “easy” sell in my mind as participants can see unexpected results in their very first session BUT when they are used only as a parlour tricks or games the interest is limited to sleight of hand magicians.

My other dead hobby is Backgammon. This abandoned game takes a tremendous amount of skill and training in to become a world class player and in practice the number of new players at the World Class level in the last 20 years is essentially 0. All the old guys play each other and the result is fairly incestuous. I have never gotten much past the level of a strong intermediate player and I suspect this is a personality deficiency more than one of ability. Proper coaching might help but I am stubborn about doing things wrong and often unwilling to learn.

What I have seen that has grown the “backgammon community” (loose term as degenerate gamblers are not team players) is the development of platforms like Josh’s, The active promotion of skills and seminars on the youtube, vimeo, etc. These are few and far between in memory skills. We could use productive seminars focused specifically at teachers and students to raise the attention of people with influence.

I think players are a by-product of students and general accessibility. Like any “sport” you need a large pool of competitors at all levels to be successful. If there was a bunch of kids in every school that generally outperformed because they were in the memory club I suspect you would see an explosion in the use of mnemonics and improvements beyond the very small discussion on appropriateness of the peg. Similarly, in countries that have competitions for placement I think you would see a similar level of commitment.

I’m not sure where we fit in Canada. Growing up, the education I received in our public education system was incredibly un-directed and obviously focused on curriculum delivered to the lowest common denominator (with a couple of notable exceptions).
There seems to be little desire to develop exceptional people. Enough whining…

IF it were me…
I would appeal to greed, sloth and envy rather than hope to find leaders. Tell people, “If you come to my free seminar I will show you how to cheat tests, beat your peers, and be more attractive to members of the opposite sex”. If you take my on-line course and compete in my games I will tell you whatever lies you need to hear to develop enough skill to become self-sufficient and promote the revolution.

It would probably be nice to have peer reviewed papers and research to back up the results from a statistically significant pool and the support of accredited educational or teaching associations but at this point in time I think these skills are so far on the fringe that simply including the conspiracy theorists, UFO crazies and Preppers would grow the practice dramatically.

Just some empty thoughts. I do think there should be real world champions that represent the practice. I think we should use them as delegates and teachers. Make youtube videos with decent production values that show the skill, the process, provide and educational components, practical use, and competitive components. I don’t think a video of some kids in a room sitting not saying much and spewing pictures, numbers, names is going to sell popcorn but if structured nicely then it promotes interest and shows value… bleah bleah bleah… You have been running a championship for 8 years and I have been sitting in my basement playing with numbers. I suspect you know better than I.


Hi RobertFontaine,

I am not sure I was suggesting to dilute competition at world championship level. My recent experience running for IAM made me realize that lots of people like to have a variety of world champions of memory, like they have a variety of world champions of boxing… What I am suggesting may just add to the lot…

Hey, if you are from Winnipeg, you might be able to participate in Winnipeg in the Pan Provincial Memory Championship. The Manitoba Champion, David Russell will have an extra copy of the memory disciplines and is in Winnipeg. I could try and put you in touch if you’d like. Yes, every year, we have people from other provinces attending our competition. Other Canadians have more imagination than you do :slight_smile:

It is fun to see that people are willing to travel great distances to be part of this event and it help raise the profile of the event. But it is essentially unfair because others might like to participate but can’t afford it really. We have grown to having about a dozen participants per year; the quality of participants can vary.

To have a larger base of players, making it easier to participate as I suggest may help greatly. I sense that there would be an interest for this. I have people in Afganistan asking me if they can participate in the Canadian Memory Championships from Afganistan… If a world competition were open to them, I bet it would go a long way to helping getting more participants from that part of the world and others as well.

I generally would have little confidence in schools of any type to promote self-empowerment through memory development. The reason is that to achieve top results in memory, I think you have to become a different person. You have to be fast talking, quick responding, imaginative, eager to learn, goal-oriented, etc. These are character traits that can be developed but I don’t see schools as having a mandate to produce such kind of students.

Typically, you will be able to draw large crowd to a memory guru but when the registration for the memory competition comes next, they nearly all disappear. People want to see things in the real world, such as a speaker talking about memory but they are not that much interested in visualizing things in their own mind. This is understandable.

The limits of the use of memory techniques is definitely one reason why they aren’t more popular but I think more important are the prejudice people have about memory ie you are born with a good or bad memory.

I am sure that good coaching can go a long way to helping people advance. But if there are no memory competitions in your area, there is no real incentive to learn the skill…

If you think that players are a by-product of general accessibility, then I will consider you support my suggestion here because that is what it does and it is what it aims to do.

I do agree that if people were to see how students of memory do much better on average than others academically, it would draw more students to it. Last year, the Canadian Champion was a Junior in school and reported an increase in his marks in an interview. As a result, I have had one young coming to my memory tutorials and talking about him…

But then again, having a second language will also help you academically and not everyone who wants to go to school would think of learning a second language to improve themselves academically. As long as your marks are good enough to pass, why bother?

I totally agree that schools aren’t about developing exceptional people; you would need exceptional teachers to achieve that and teachers get their teaching certificates and permits from going to schools that do not develop exceptional people…

I think you are right about people needing to learn skills despite themselves, because they were attracted to something else associated with it. That’s good food for thought, thank you.

Yes, we are very much a fringe sport but having discussions like these ones may help change things.

Thanks for your input and once again, consider participating from your own town in the Pan-Provincial Memory Championship with David Russell. It will be an amazing experience for you!!.. I bet.


Some countries/cultures/socio-economic groups seem to have more emphasis in development of skills that provide academic advantage for many different reasons.

Apparently, in China and Hong Kong memory techniques are a big thing. However, from what I’ve heard they’re taught poorly and/or the teachers overcharge for lessons.

Unless mnemonics are “discovered” I suspect it will remain extremely extremely fringe.

I can’t speak for Canada, but mnemonics will not be “discovered” here in America until there is a fundamental change in its culture. America is far too anti-intellectual and self-defeatist for mnemonics to become widespread.

I know you’re joking and all, but I seriously hate when mnemonics are marketed like this. For example. lately I’ve been getting ads for Jim Kwik’s memory course. Everytime I see an ad for his wares, I sigh a little bit more. Jim is so obviously dripping with sleaze that it makes memory techniques look bad by association. I mean how can you charge hundreds of dollars just to teach someone memory techniques for 2 hours at most!

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In what ways exactly do you think that the World Championships of Memory are not open and accessible enough? My impression is the complete opposite. I think that the World Championship of Memory is one of the most accessible and open World Championships that you will be able to find. From the top of my head, I’m not able to think of a single other sport where all you’d have to do is to register on time and then show up to the competition. Most other sports require you to first qualify nationally first (there are a few countries within memory sports that try to follow this routine as well, but they are in a clear minority) and/or to fulfil special performance objectives in other competitions beforehand (eg a qualification tournament). After all, a World Championship in a traditional sense is supposed to be a gathering of the best of the best. It’s not something anyone can just participate in, unlike in memory sports. However, if we’re talking about getting people into the sports and making it more accessible, then we should focus on friendly online/local competitions instead, not World Championships. People who have already competed in a memory competition are generally very open to participate in more competitions, both nationally and internationally. The problem is rather getting people to participate and to compete in the first place (this is not just my opinion, but I share it with many others in the memory community).

As for your general idea of decentralising:
Have you ever heard of a decentralised World Championship, or any other Championship, in any other sport before? I haven’t, and I think there are many good reasons for why that is.

For one, the moment you add a title like “World Champion”, “National Champion” or some other type of bold claim that ought to give prestige or some type of reward to the winner, you must be able to ensure the competition’s fairness. That’s why competitions generally not only have rules, but also referees or judges who enforce them. 99% of people are gonna follow the rules, but even a single cheater will have a huge negative effect on the competition’s prestige, the prestige of the sport overall and the experience of other competitors. Your suggestions #1 and #2 make it impossible to ensure fairness, unless all attempts are live-streamed/video-recorded from multiple angles. Otherwise they are just an open invitation letter to cheaters and other immoral people that hope to make a gain for themselves from it. Thinking otherwise is incredibly naive. And even with video-proof, I think many memory athletes would be reluctant to have this sort of competition style implemented for anything as prestigious as a National or World Championship.

Your third idea is imo the only feasible one, but I also doubt that you would find many supporters for it because it would take away almost all of the charm of a competition where everyone gathers in one place. After all, in the memory community these competitions are not only to decide who is best, but for many it’s also a rare opportunity to meet other friends from the community in one place, doing something together which we all like - competing in memory.

However, with that said: There are some very simple tweaks that you can do if you want to make this type of decentralised, accessible competition, supported by the memory community… firstly, don’t give competitions misleading names like “World Championship” or give BS titles to the winners like “World Champion”, for events that are clearly not recognised as such by the memory community. Secondly, choose more appropriate competition names. For a newcomer it’s very daunting to compete in a National Championship, even more so a World Championship. @Zoomy for example is organising very beginner-friendly memory competition in the UK which he calls the Friendly (Cambridge) Memory Competition. Imo, just the name itself reduces the mental hurdle for a newcomer to sign up to the event. It’s seriously that simple.


Florian Minges, the system tells me you haven’t made a post in 4 months here, so let’s start with: Welcome back!

Thanks for your comments. I am sure that they hecho what some others here are thinking.

I am really not hoping to convince you of my approach here but I will take the occasion to expend on its merits as others may find the concept that I propose worthwhile.

Well, first you got to be kidding me about the outstanding accessibility that Canadians have to the World Championship of Memory, especially if you were to compare it to what I suggest.

Second, you compare a world championship in a traditional sense to the non-traditional world championship that I propose. But in my opening post, I have made the point that memory sports are not and will never be like a traditional sport and this was the explanation for why I am coming up with this non-traditional approach. You provide no argument to counter this. You just say that the current championship compares well to other traditional world championship. So, I do not consider this a rebutal of my point.

When you mention that the problem is to get people into the sport in the first place, I can concur with you about that.

But then you say that the way to get their attention is not to invite them to a non traditional world championship but instead to get a local competition going. I guess we will have to just agree to disagree here.

But I am definitely thinking of experimenting with this anyway, even if you disagree–because I think it is in the best interests of memory sports.

As far as your argument is concerned against the decentralization of the competition, I must admit that I view you point as counterproductive for your case. If I can’t pay the $1200 price of a return ticket to the world championship, then should the arbiter be forced to pay it for me? If I am being kept out of the competition this way, then that isn’t fair. So the claim of being a world champion really rings hollow; it is a lie, a stunt to draw attention. So, no, I am definitely not swayed by your argument here.

Then you go on to divide my suggestion, which suggests to me that you don’t understand what I am aiming to do with this non traditional championship. The 3 champions that my approach would create would represent the top of our sport. We have a right to decide how and who constitute the top of our sport. This is definitely non traditional and again there is a good reason why I think we need to go that way.

Let’s say you were to become the self-administered World Champion of Memory by reporting extraordinary results then it would be like a part of the head of our sport can entirely be dubious. We should not have a problem with that because we know that this is a possibility in a decentralized competition.

If what you want is recognition for having proven skills, then you just participate in the Group Championship. But such competitions have a pressure element to them and as a memory athlete, you may prefer to participate in a less tension filled competition and I don’t see why the risk of having someone cheating in it diminish your experience of the event and of the scores that are reported as I presume most people would try and report their scores honestly and accurately.

The welcoming of the top guy in competition #1 among the top of our sport would go a long way to attract more people to our sport and that is my objective here. Most people are afraid that a fake, a cheat, would take the place of another who has the real skills. I don’t think you need to be afraid of that here.

In my opinion, the prestige of a world memory championship very much depends on the number of its participants. If there are ways to grow the sport and you reject them out of prejudices or fear, then I think you work against the prestige of the sport.

As far as your argument is concerned against the Group World Champion, I think I already made a point above in reply and I would like to add that in my country, we have declared a climate emergency meaning that burning jet fuels should be limited for our environment and as people with perhaps better brains than other types of athletes, I think we should be first to show we use our brains and lead the way in a sustainable way because we use our brains. Let others remain in their traditional, conservative ways. Let them use the rote method if they wish. We need to move on and overtake the others using new methods never seen before.

Finally, I am kind of disappointed that you suggest I should use other titles for this competition. (Maybe the Tony Buzan World Open? Would that infringe on some copyrights?) Also, the memory community seems divided at the moment regarding which organization determines the world champion of memory. I have been told while running for the IAM that it is fine to have many such titles just as they have in boxing… As long as you do things a bit differently, why not? Isn’t immitation is the lowest form of praise?

Why do you fail to view my suggestion #1 and #2 as a great way to reduce the stress for a beginner but seem to think a change in name for the competition is the way to go? I guess, we can just agree to disagree here too.

Again thanks for your comments and if you can think of something else please share it.

Why do you think it’s necessary for a “beginner” to be at a “world championship” in the first place? Especially when you still need to “reduce the stress” for said beginner?

I think the point back then was that there could be two at any given time… not a “variety”.

…and I’d think that’s what people in this thread are pointing out.

Not just the number but also the quality of the competitors. Now, I haven’t been to either the WMSC or IAM “world championships” in two years, but the last few before that China had a cap on the number of competitors they could send. In China they actually hold qualification tournaments… so I doubt the number of competitors is the issue

Wouldn’t that be the same in any other sport though? What about people that can’t join a local sports club because they don’t have the money for it… how will they get to the Olympics? What about the cost of private schools compared to the cost of public school (in state and out of state).

Seems that looking into sponsorship would be a more practical approach instead of creating a “local world title” of your own.


I do think that when you title something “World Championship” it brings one to the thought that individuals who are competing are “World Champions” having competed locally, regionally, and nationally who represent the best in the world competing to be “World Champion”. It presumes that you cannot simply walk up and plunk down $35 and receive the title of World Champion if you happen to beat the other 6 guys that showed up and plunked down $35. As we (Canada) do not have local, regional and national associations that are affiliated within a single body it is hard/impossible to achieve this, although there are clearly countries that can field a qualified National Team. If I was competing at a World Championship as a National Champion/member of the National Team, I would almost certainly either a) pay b) acquire sponsorship as a World Class competitor seeking to be recognized as the best in the World at my sport.

If you want to call them world championships I certainly do not think it matters in the grand scheme of things. If you want to have 6 kinds of World Champions in your organization I’m not sure that it matters either. If you get more involvement in Toronto I suspect that is the best you can hope for.

I won’t get too pedantic. I can see where real memory competitor’s will find your use of the term “World Champion” degrading to the sport. But I suspect I never have to worry about the quality of my “World Champion” designation being tarnished by this. :slight_smile:

Hey bjoern.gumboldt, thanks for the comments and questions.

Indeed, I do think it is desirable for a beginning memory athlete to participate in a world memory championship. And I think it would be especially important for memory athletes in general to agree with this approach. That is because we are all about learning; our sport is to learn and to learn to learn even faster. In order to learn, we got to show that we know that participation in competitions is key to help you learn to learn better. I have a hard time imagining an expert on learning disagreeing with me here.

Take an another championship organization, Toastmasters International, for example. They have beginners take part in their world championship of public speaking (and public speaking is even more stressful). Their world Championship begins at the club level and yes, some people stress this and some others understand that it isn’t about winning but about participating and learning a thing or two along the way. So for us memory athletes who are all about learning, not wanting beginners to participate in our World Championship would come across to me as a very disappointing approach.

In boxing, if you look it up on google you will see that they have 5 different federations of boxing with their own crowns. That is variety and that was my point.

I am glad you agree that the prestige of the sport depends on the number of its participants. I personally think that the quality of the competitors has little to do with its prestige because if you can memorize half a deck of cards in 5 minutes, you are so much ahead of everyone else that any increase in quality beyond that really just gets lost and does little to impress the public really, other than to make them think you were born luckily gifted with memory. When journalists ask me # questions, it is more often about our size than about our records…

So, you are saying that in China the sport is vibrant and they have enough competitors to warrant qualifications tournaments. The prestige of the sport is way higher over there as well than it is elsewhere and so the connection between the number of participants and the prestige of the sport is reiterated through your argument, thanks.

My quote about the price of a return ticket to the world championships came as a reply to Florian who was claiming that the World Championship were very fair. Your suggestion that other sports are likewise has validity but perhaps not as much because countries usually support their best athletes in traditional sports and so it may be less difficult for such athletes.

I don’t really understand your last line. Having sponsors his always great but it should always be possible to get satisfaction from a sport without sponsors if they don’t show up. If you think my aim here is to create a local world title of my own, I do not know where or how you got that impression, sorry. My key point is in the header: Why the World Championship needs to be decentralized.


You are making the point that the first World Champion of Memory was perhaps not really a World Champion of Memory because the needed process you describe was certainly not followed back then. I guess you have a point there. But that was at a time when no one cared to be called a memory champion. Since which year does your requirement to have a World Champion of Memory is reasonably fulfilled in your opinion?

There is another way to view the title. If no one cares to call themselves World Champion of XXX than you just claim it after defeating a few opponents to give yourself credibility. Guess which politician could claim to be the world champion of lies right now? Now, will there be any eventual challenges to his title?

I certainly would not have more than one World Championship of Memory but I wouldn’t mind if the winner would be a group, just as you have in rowing, for instance. I think I should not limit my interest in developing the sport just in my home city, or even my home country. I think the title of World Champion of Memory is important and having ideas as to how best to use that title are also important to share and that’s what I’m doing here.

I don’t take it personally some of your less flattering remarks; when you bring fresh and good ideas to an established order, if you don’t get punched down with them, it means they are likely worthless.

Keep in mind that what I am suggesting is in-line with how Memory League has been key to developing the sport lately: everyone can participate from just about anywhere in the world…

At this point I suspect raising participation is so far ahead of naming of names that this part of the conversation isn’t all that relevant. I think the red herring is the discussion of hosting multiple world championships. It seems perfectly reasonable to hold as many styles or rule sets as you think will allow you to maximize participation and build community.

Online games have always been open to cheating and unless there is monetary reward this is generally seen as irrelevant. There are types of people who will always feel the need to game the system rather than build the skill. I don’t see this as important. Building community through increased interaction with others who share common interests is a positive achievement.

In my love hate relationship with Backgammon at a tournament; depending on my previous performance I may enter a beginner, intermediate, advanced or open category. Sometimes there will be an invitational championship as well. Categorization of players is fairly easy based on competition ratings. With memory games, I believe this should be the same. Improving players will move up through their rankings and continue to compete with their peers in this fashion. It can be demoralizing to play in an open or championship league when you haven’t yet developed the skill or talent. Pool leagues are generally set up in a similar fashion.

You might want to look at how other sports support various skill levels and commitment levels where both social and competitive players are involved; you can have fun leagues playing right beside championship leagues.


I think the difference between sports such as running and memory is the invisible technique involved. What we want to do is to teach it and to see people adopt it and practice it.

In running, there is no hidden trick that can make your speed increase by 5 times overnight. So, if you are into self improvement, memory offers much greater potential for reward. So, memory sport should be selected first as an activity in which every one should participate, in my opinion.

So, if you don’t have a decentralized world running championship, I have no problem with that. It won’t be missed. But even there, If I were a running enthusiast, the idea would appeal to me.

But as I mentioned in the opening post, our memory sport is special: It has nothing to offer as far as a show is concerned (other than turning pages and slidding cards.) For running, there is something sexy to see and so because spectators want to see the action the concept of making a run just for yourself isn’t really sport whereas in our sport, doing this does still make sense, if our sport makes sense.

Simon, it’s quite obvious that you’re writing several things here just to provoke. In any case, I’ll try to be extra clear this time:

The idea of decentralised competitions, which you refer to as “Self Administered”, is not a new one. That’s basically any type of online memory competition where you participate from your home. Memocamp has done it. Memory League has done it. Both formally, and informally (for example by just gathering interested people online on a specific day to compete). People support this. People participate in it, and it is a lot of fun. No one would complain if you start doing this type of competition as well. On the contrary, they would support and encourage you. The only major difference with this practice, and what you are suggesting, is that these competitions are not included in official memory sports rankings, and that they don’t give out titles that claim that someone is the best in the country or the world. One major reason for that is that you can’t prevent or detect cheating. That you are ignoring this clearly shows that you are not interested in keeping the integrity of the sport alive.

Though, what is really concerning here, is that you somehow feel entitled to represent the memory community and decide on who can be called a world memory champion. You are right that there are currently multiple world associations of memory (GAMA, IAM, WMSC), and thus multiple world memory champions. The reason we do is that there at some point has been a very clear divide on ethical standards, how to run things and where to take the sport. I can assure you that people in the memory community are not happy about it, but they have accepted that this is how it has to be, for now. The reason why these organisations can give out the title of “World Memory Champion”, or why other world organisations in other sports can do so, is that they have the support of their respective communities, globally. Sure, the support is divided to some extent, but it’s very obviously there. That’s something that you clearly don’t have. Consequently, when you state that you want to hand out another World Memory Champion title by yourself, you’re basically unjustifiably claiming that you have the right to do so. Which again, you clearly do not.

To re-iterate:

  • to have decentralised, aka online, competitions is awesome
  • falsely claiming that the winner is a world champion is not

I’m not sure that is me agreeing… anyhow, let’s look at the practicality of someone participating in the World Championships that comes in at 26 cards in 5 minutes. As mentioned, I haven’t been to the last two but let’s take the WMC 2015 in Chengdu, China:

We were ~300 competitors and for speed cards half leaves the room, so that there is enough space for everyone during recall. After two trials of memory (5 mins), recall (5 mins), checking and reshuffling (5 mins); the other half comes in for 2 trials.

People that are going for the world record got an individual arbiter in the first few rows. For the rest one arbiter would take care of two competitors. So do the math on just administrative efforts to facility this one discipline in the competition.

Here are the result: http://www.world-memory-statistics.com/competition.php?id=wmc2015&discipline=spdcards

  • 11 people faster than 30 seconds
  • 60 people faster than 1 minute
  • 194 people faster than 2 minutes

The remainder is 50% with a bad safety time and 50% just number of cards because they tried to make up for their first trial. Not unusual that people who try to break national or international records end up with number of cards in a competition because they go all in for the record. Point being, even the bottom 10% in this list don’t average only 26 cards in 5 minutes.

You are already looking at a 3 day event… high pressure on top performers to raise the bar as far as world records. Pressure on the organizer to have things run as smoothly as possible, somehow taking care of 300 participants and 100 arbiters at the same time… how do beginners fit into this picture and why would you think that any of these 300 would like to share their limited resources of 100 arbiters with absolute beginners.

That is not to say that anybody would have a problem given tips to newcomers, etc at national events during the rest of the year; but not the WMC… especially, if you take into consideration that certain titles like IMM or GMM can only be achieved there once a year because the 1,000 digits / 1 hour and the 10 decks / 1 hour are not part of national (10 mins) or international (30 mins) format, so if you can’t get it that time… it’s another 12 months until you can try again. Kind of like not getting a medal at the Olympics… another 4 years of waiting until you can try again.

Maybe… but that’s not the point of a “World Championship”. That’s like saying, running 42km is impressive enough… don’t matter the time as long as you finish the marathon. The world record is roughly 2 hours by the way… so what’s the point in that. Speed cubing’s 3x3 world record has been well below 5 seconds for a while now… just solving the cube puts you way ahead of the general population, but a cube in under a minute (similar to 52 cards in 5 mins) and averaging under 10 seconds is really not the same.

I wasn’t talking about sponsors for the event… I meant sponsors for yourself or Team Canada. For all I care let the country be your sponsor. But the solution to “I can’t afford the ticket” is to make the ticket affordable and not to come up with you own world title.

There aren’t any hidden tricks in memorization either… the problem is that people think there are. If you’re sitting on the couch all day long, you won’t run 100m in 10 seconds and you won’t run a marathon in 2 hours.

If you can’t solve a Rubik’s cube then watching someone do it in 5-10 seconds isn’t sexy either; neither is watching a sub 20 deck in speed cards nor a 2h marathon on tv… let alone having to run it yourself (trust me… it’s boring).

I had a look at webpage for the Canadian Memory Championships (http://www.canadianmemorychampionships.ca) and just like @FlorianMinges I now wonder how that experience only translates to the argument you’re making for the world.

No offense, but have you been to any World Championship… WMSC, IAM, or otherwise as competitor or arbiter? The administration of 10 events for 300 people over 3 days looks very different from your competition in Canada… less than 5% of Chengdu as far as participants, not all 10 disciplines, your own millennium standard… a speed bonus for incomplete decks in speed cards, etc.


Thanks again for your comments Florian. I know you aren’t doing this just to provoke.

As you may have noticed, I don’t particularly pay attention to people that complain; if I did, there would be nothing for me to do. I do welcome feedback though as it is often valuable-- but not always.

First, you start talking about people that would support and encourage me if I did this or that without naming them and so I find that part shallow but still interesting.

I certainly have not claimed that I represented the whole sport memory community. As you mention, this community is divided. I am whole. I am simply considering offering another type of competition to the memory community and anyone else for that matter.

Your reply seems to be that what I am suggesting is already being offered. I would disagree with you on that point. I do not see in the world today any world champion of self administered memory competitions. There is no one claiming that title as far as I know.

You seem to suggest that it can’t be done because it is already being done and then you state what you think is the proper way of going about to do this. But as so often happens in the world, other people have a different opinion of how things should be done and that is the starting point of new leagues. I guess that is where we are at now.

You claim that it can’t be done because of the possibility of cheating and you seem to consider the integrity of memory sport as dependant upon the presence of some kind of arbiters there to prevent inaccurate or plainly false scores from being accepted. Well, I really like to hear your opinion here because it is somewhat different from my own view and I do think we could benefit from discussing these things here.

In my opinion, the integrity of memory sports comes as a reflection of the integrity of the memory athletes that participate in the sport and not as a reflection of the presence or absence of arbiters. Last year, Alex Mullen claimed that his deck of cards during the 1 hr card event had been tempered with, which gave him a lower score. You know what? I believe him. If he were to self-administer his one hour card event, I would have no reason to think he would come up with a wrong score. But you side with the arbiters to ensure the integrity of the sport?

I am not arguing for scores of group competitions to be mixed with scores of self administered competitions; I am simply trying to raise the profile of self administered competitions. I want to do this honestly and because I believe such activity is worth while and is in fact at the heart of what being a memory athlete is all about. And I also argued earlier this was good for fairness, accessibility and growth of memory sports.

Lastly, I think you are wrong about the source of the authority that allows an organization or a person to give out a title of world champion. When Raymond Keene and the late Tony Buzan started the sport in 1991, there was no memory community. It is their idea and actions that gave birth to the memory community; you just don’t ask permission to start something new like that as you know you are not likely to have much support in the beginning and your vision may not catch on.

I have been innovating with self-administered competitions before in Canada. You may want to check out the Provincial Memory Championship at canadianmemorychampionships.ca That concept was certainly agreed upon by eminent members of the memory community in Canada.

These competitions were not self-adninistered but rather self-organized and and that is very close to what I now think needs to be done. But quite frankly, I don’t think it should be just me organizing this or providing the memory disciplines for such event. A rotation would most certainly be desirable. I certainly would not fuss if you or someone else here decided to do it for some strategical reason. I just would like to see this happen. It is a dream, a vision.

Except, there’s a huge difference between starting a sport/community, and starting a new competition format within that sport/community. When Buzan and the others started the World Memory Championships, they were the community so they could obviously do whatever they wanted. But you are not, and neither do you represent the memory community. At the very most, you and your organisation would represent the memory sports in Canada. As such, the most you could give out is the “Canadian Memory Champion” title. But you do not have the authority to hand out a World Memory Champion title. To draw a parallel: if a local basketball club today suddenly wants to organise a basketball tournament where you play with 7 players on the field instead of 5, they can obviously do that. But that’s not a new sport. That’s a new competition format within the sport of basketball. And as a local club, they do not have the authority to give out the title “Basketball World Champion” to the winner of that tournament. That’s something only FIBA (the International Basketball Federation), as the representative of the basketball community, has the authority to do.

But you do, implicitly. The moment you claim that you want to give out a “World Memory Champion” title of any sorts, eg “Self Administered”, you claim that you have the authority to do so, and thus are able to represent the memory sport community.

Again, I’m not disagreeing on this part. Organise the competition. Let’s hope others do it in their countries too. Just don’t fraudulently give the winner of your local/national competition the title of “World Memory Champion”. And no, it doesn’t matter if your competition is also open to people from other countries. You still can’t call it a “World Champion”.


Thanks again bjoern.gumboldt for your comments and the interest you show in my ideas.

You start off by assessing the practicality of having a 26 cards in 5 minutes competitor in a traditional World Championship of memory.

Well, give yourself a tap on the back here for me. You make a good point. I can use your point though to suggest that these large traditional competitions are likely not the best way to promote memory sports. If you have to weed out beginners from any competition, you are in my opinion not concerned for the sport but rather for the accommodation of a minority of the participants. This sounds like favourtism to me. I understand that such favouritism is everywhere in every sport but as I mentioned a number of times our sport is different from the others and because of that, I feel that we need a different approach geared specifically toward the promotion of our sports. Now if the world championship took place solely according to my #1 suggestion, there could be a whole lot more contestants participating everywhere as the competition would not be limited to a single centralized location inside the world. Each location where part of the competition would take place would not be jammed packed with the best in the world so it would be easier to find volunteers if needed, if the contestants want it, to help ensure the fairness of the event.

You also mention about the traditional event being a 3 days event. I am thinking, "Yikes, this would not fit too well for a decentralized world championship because you simply won’t find enough memory athletes in most regions of the world that have the needed level of dedication to the sport to really want to participate in a 3 days event.

But then again, I feel that part of the reason why tradional world memory championship is a 3 days event has to do with discouraging beginners from attending. So, in my opinion, we would be much better off with a shorter competition for the world champion title.

I do recognize the value of 3 day weekend competitions but I think using that format for the world championship is a misguided idea. Sure, the elite memory athletes do like to meet up for longer challenges and I do agree with such competitions taking place but to determine the world champion of memory at such long and draining competitions is the wrong way to go, in my opinion.

Maybe another World Title should be offered for such long competitions such as the World Champion of endurence memorisation. I feel certain it is making a mistake to select such an endurance champion as our top athlete because it is bad Public Relation reasons: When you see all that a memory athlete has to go through to earn the World Champion title, an average person would be immediately turned off the sport.

A number of top memory athletes are friendly to the idea that quick memory disciplines are the way to go and so having a shorter world memory championship is not that terrible an idea and it would go a long way to make our sport more attractive to the public in general.

When you talk about the prestigious memory titles that are handed out at memory competition, it reminds me that the IAM offers as a scale but no such titles as far as I can remember.

In my opinion, these special titles should not be part of the world memory championships as the norm needed to make them really seems to be meant for the prestige of the elite that serves a one location only competition.
Deciding who and at what level a person need to be considered a grandmaster of memory is something that makes less and less sense as the norm to achieving this seems to change all the time. Maybe it is time we acknowledge this? I have some ideas I’d like to share on the topic but let’s not digress here.

What is the point of a World Championship of Memory? I think the point should be to showcase the sport for the world to see and to notice. I understand others have other views about this but I think there is nothing wrong with my stated perspective here.

Yes, there are hidden tricks. People don’t know how to best use their visual memory to memorize things. People don’t know this is what’s happening when top memory athletes perform.

A Rubik’s cube is a toy and toys are fun object. The only fun object we use is the cards but we can’t be seen playing any card game with them…

Marathons are definitely found to have sex appeal; whenever muscles move in competition, it somewhat sexy in my opinion, even our cards event but even there, the quality of the movement is not the point of our sport.

I am glad you went to the Canadian Memory Championship and found some interesting stuff there. Yes, I think that someone who memorize 43 cards in 40 seconds is a better memory athlete than some who memorize a full deck in 300 seconds. That is something I would think you agree with and so why can’t the rating for the performance reflect the skill a bit more accurately? By not giving bonus rating points to a speedy performance, you encourage playing it safe which is not the best way to improve.
Yes, we have our own millennium system. Why should we use the one of another organization? What is the critique here if any? Our participation level is awesome if you compare the ratio of our country’s population size to the size of our attendance. I bet it is way above the ratio for the Earth population (world) size with the Chengdu attendance for that world championship.

No idea what you are talking about… Speed Cards is still 5 minutes, Speed Numbers is still 5 minutes; NF and Words get bumped from 5 to 15 minutes, and Cards and Number go up to 1 hour instead of the national 10 and 15 minutes standard, respectively – where do you get endurance from that?

Funny again… most national events are in fact two days long, so what’s the problem with the one additional day? Little island of Macau just had some 50 competitors last week… where do you get your statistics?

You need to read more carefully… nobody said from “any competition”. The reason for that I clearly stated previously.

There is nothing wrong with the fact that you state your opinion; however, that doesn’t mean you are right. The point of a World Championship is to decide the World Champion… simple as that. You are somehow confusing the World Series and the All-Star Game / Home Run Derby weekend.

They don’t… but there was no IAM in 2015

I have idea why you’d think I’d agree with that nonsense. The objective is to memorize a deck of cards and whoever does it fastest wins. So it’s very simple, you didn’t memorize the deck, you didn’t achieve the objective, absolutely no need to now check how long it took you to fail.

Frankly, I’d be open to a Rubik’s cube competition format where it’s simply DNF (did not finish) and ZERO points, so it’s already a bonus to get points for however many cards you got.

I completely agree here… all the competitions I’ve been to in Asia and Europe followed the same rules and standard as far as scoring. Is the whole world now supposed to follow your standard or does everyone get to have their own standard for scoring themselves? What championships other than your own have you been to that you feel you can speak for the world?

…ad absurdum is the term I’m looking for. My point was that it is a nightmare to organize an event of this size. Obviously, there was a cutoff at 300, so what kind of comparison is that?!?!?

Since clearly you can’t have a normal conversation because everything is simply:

Saw your back and forth with Simon too when you discussed the IAM election and quite frankly there is a pattern in your conversation style (if you can even call it that). Maybe @FlorianMinges will keep playing with you, but as far as I’m concerned… I’m done.


Sort of following the subject of this thread, what would be everyone’s thoughts about decentralizing the World Championships (bear with me!) and split it into two or three continental hubs, each with enough arbiters, helps, etc? The pros of this approach would be:

  • to make it easier and cheaper for people to attend
  • make it more likely that most of the world’s top athletes can make it to the competition,
  • potentially reduce the carbon footprint of the event/participants (yeah, I know, a drop in the ocean, but still)

The cons/challenges:

  • since the Words/Dates/Names events really should be ran simultaneously in the different hubs, careful planning should ensure that this is the case. Competitions tend to run late, so it’s probably tricky to synchronize between the hubs.
  • no way to know in advance where the actual champion will be crowned, might be an issue for the local organizer/sponsors (allthough one might decide that the championship also crowns different continental champions?)

I think I remember Ben and/or Simon mentioning that this had been discussed at some stage, but that the idea was abandonned in the end.

Any thougths?


Hi Florian,

Thanks for the feedback and for continuing to pay attention to my posts.

First you say there is a huge difference between starting a sport and starting a new competition format from within that sport/community. Well, I have to agree with that initial statement however, my question is, is that my objective which you are stating here?

Do I want to start a new competition format from within that sport/community? Apparently, my vision does not fit your imagination. Your analogy, as far as the changes that I wish to see happen, is unfair to my argument. That’s because the changes I am looking for are essentially not a simple edit of the sport; they are about a major overhaul of the sport, its culture, which would transform the leadership positions within the sport or the position of those you refer to as “representing the memory community.”

Your claim that I imply that I represent the memory community by claiming that I would like to give away a World Memory Champion title hardly makes any sense to me. As far as I know, there are right now 2 organizations that hand out a world champion of memory title. The leaders of those respective organizations represent their organizations and certainly not the memory community because you would then have to block out a whole chunk of people from your sight that do believe in being part of the memory community.

You end with what is perhaps a mixed encouragement. Thank you so much.
If my suggested competition takes place all over the world on a specific day, then it would be much more legitimate to call it a world championship than to call any world championship that occurs in a single city of the world a world championship. So maybe this title would work best: True World Champion of Memory? I still prefer the Decentralized World Champion of Memory for now.

Hi bjoern.gumboldt

If you won’t play with me anymore then I guess I can take it that I have won here but that really wasn’t my objective. All I wanted to do here is to make the point that the World Memory Championship needs to be decentralized. Thanks for helping me make some points clearer and for repeating my main points. There is definitely no hard feelings from me here. I do appreciate the energy you put in your replies, your enthusiasm and your wits although I do feel there could be even more.