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Filipino nurse, ‘kristo’ excel in UK memory tilt

By Gemma Luz Corotan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:01:00 08/31/2010

Filed Under: Personalities, Awards and Prizes, Human Interest, Sport, records

MANILA, Philippines?Memorizing a deck of cards in precise chronological order under one minute may seem like a superhuman feat because it has been accomplished by only less than 1 percent of the world?s population.

But it?s not because they are naturally gifted, according to memory experts. The feat simply has only been attempted by a few.

A Filipino, Johann Randall Abrina, has tried it in the international arena, with astonishing results. So has Roberto Racasa, a ?kristo? or bet-taker in a cockfighting arena in Marikina City.

Abrina, a registered nurse and sports psychology student from Marikina City, memorized a deck of 52 cards in sequence in 80 seconds at the United Kingdom Open Memory Championships on Aug. 26-27, beating Ben Pridmore, the current World Memory Champion, in one discipline and winning a silver medal.

Pridmore, a three-time World Memory champion, finished as the overall UK Memory champion.

To attain the rank of Grandmaster of Memory in the world, one requirement is to be able to memorize one shuffled deck of 52 cards in two minutes.

If Abrina succeeds in future performances to memorize 1,000 digits in under an hour and the precise order of 10 shuffled decks in the same amount of time, along with his incredible skill in speed cards, he will be joining an elite group composed of less than 40 grandmasters in the world.

Pridmore, whose memory feats have been the subject of many TV documentaries in England, has memorized 27 packs of cards, in order, in under 60 minutes.

Plucky Pinoys

Pridmore lost to Abrina in a discipline where he has a personal best of 24 seconds, according to memory enthusiasts, because he was going for another world record and made costly mistakes.

In a field of 14 memory experts from the UK, Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland, Poland and Slovenia who competed in Paddington, London, Abrina was beaten in the speed cards discipline only by the Austrian Corina Draschl, who memorized the whole deck in 78 seconds.

Abrina finished ninth place overall.

Racasa, the ?kristo,? finished 11th, beating competitors from the Netherlands, Italy, Slovenia and Lithuania.

The plucky Filipinos traveled more than 11,000 kilometers to participate in the event for the first time.

?The performance is impressive and unexpected,? said Klaus Kolb, president of the German Memory Council and founder of the German Memory Championships whose candidates often dominate the world rankings.

Pridmore, a 33-year-old accountant, sits on top of the world rankings but the rest of the top 10 are dominated by Germans who, among them, have produced three world champions. The Germans also hold seven world records in 10 memory disciplines.

But the performance of the unheralded Filipinos is nothing to be sneezed at, said Kolb, also a famous memory trainer in Germany and author of several memory books published in Europe.

?Their performance in their first international memory tournament is proof that with enough time and discipline, Filipinos can be a major threat to memory athletes, if not in the world, at least in Asia,? Kolb said. ?Certainly, they are coming into the World Memory Championships in December with a lot more respect than before.?

Racasa also placed a respectable sixth in the marathon 30-minute card discipline, memorizing 156 cards in sequence in 30 minutes while Abrina memorized 130 cards.

Abrina bolted into the top 10 of the UK championships with another respectable finish in the random words discipline, memorizing 77 words in 15 minutes.

624 cards in 30 minutes

Considering the world record in speed cards held by Simon Reinhard of Germany is 21.9 seconds and that Pridmore can memorize 624 cards in sequence in 30 minutes, the Filipinos may still have a long way to go.

?But compared to the United States, they can very well hold their own,? Kolb said, adding the Filipinos can probably handily beat the Americans at the US Memory Championships if they are allowed to compete.

The current record for speed cards in the US championships is one minute and 27 seconds. Abrina has already done it in under one minute.

Mental decathlon

The Memory Masters is a mental decathlon and sporting tournament with a following in 20 countries.

For the last 17 years, the World Memory Championships have been held in Europe, the Middle East and Asia where astonishing records are set by the world?s best memory athletes in 10 disciplines that include memorizing decks of playing cards, pages of random numbers and words, names and faces, poems and historical facts.

A record holder can recall over 180 names within 15 minutes or more than 300 numbers within five minutes.

Competitive memory has been an organized sport only since 1991 when Tony Buzan, a business consultant and author of 82 books on brain and memory, organized the first international competition in England.

Buzan calls it mental olympics, focusing on training the mind to develop its latent abilities in much the same way athletes train their bodies to perform to their fullest potential.

Mental, physical fitness

The training required for competitive memory sports is like training for the Olympics, stressing the need both for mental and physical fitness,

In the last 17 years, the sport has grown in popularity with national championships held in the United States, Germany, South Africa, Australia, Singapore, China, Japan, and Mexico.

The first Philippine Memory Championships will be held next year under Memo Masters Philippines in cooperation with the Center for Memory Training and Creativity based in Germany.

Those interested are encouraged to join and train for free under Kolb, who stresses that high IQs are not required to do well in the sport, simply remarkable amounts of focus and discipline.

Kolb underscored the importance of memory training in learning.

?Learning requires more than understanding. You only really learn what you remember and what you have forgotten you have not learned,? Kolb said.

?Students have to learn vast amounts of information in vocabulary, historical facts, scientific terms and learning can be made easy and fun if you know the best strategies. This is where memory training comes in.?

(Editor’s Note: Gemma Luz Corotan is a former Inquirer reporter)

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