He is the most promising newcomer of the season ’09. In only three championships in a row he climbed from zero to rank 22 in the world. He has prooven an extraordinary ability with memory sports in competition. His scores with the MemoryXL trainer and with the Online Memory Challenge are close and or even above most of the world records. The elite is already shaking with him in competition. It will only be a matter of time and experience before he aims for even higher positions. Memory-Sports.com was asking him about his techniques and his amazing synesthesia.
Everyone who is interested in memory sports should give it a try. It certainly isn’t that difficult how many might think. It rather is a lot fun.
Memory-Sports: What do you do for your living?
Dennis: I make an apprenticeship as a computer scientist and work on my A-Levels via distance study. Occasionally I teach math and computer science at the University of Cologne.
Memory-Sports: That keeps you quite busy, right?
Dennis: It’s ok. I still have more free time than others.
Memory-Sports: How did you come to memory sports?
Dennis: I watched Dorothea Seitz last year in November. Thereupon I bought the book by former Junior World Champion Christiane Stenger. I think it is called „Warum fällt das Schaf vom Baum?: Gedächtnistraining mit der Jugendweltmeisterin“
(English version: A Sheep Falls Out of the Tree: How Anyone Can Develop a Fantastic Memory)
Memory-Sports: What do you mean by „I think“, Mr. Memory Athlete? *both are laughing*
What has been your motivation to start to train your brain?
Dennis: I just thought it is super interesting and totally different to common sports like football or swimming.
Memory-Sports: What did you do after reading the book?
Dennis: I started training binary numbers and Speed Cards. They said in television that Dorothea was able to memorize a pack in two minutes. I wanted to do the same. At this point it took me ten minutes for a deck. The first six months I trained about 30 minutes up to an hour each day. Later I trained one of the seven basic disciplines once a day which resulted in doing each of them at least once a week. Today my effort decreased.
The first six months I trained about 30 minutes up to an hour each day.
Memory-Sports: What has been your first memory system?
Dennis: I started with the 2nd-level Major System (100 pegs) and a 52 peg system for cards. Soon I realized that this is not what I wanted and I worked on creating bigger systems. That’s been after about four to five weeks of training.
Memory-Sports: What exactly do you mean by “bigger systems”?
Dennis: The 3rd-level Major System (1.000 pegs) and the 2nd-level card system (2.652 pegs). But ever since I went back to a Person-Object System (PO) for the digits because I like it better.
Memory-Sports: Your effort is awesome! But what is your problem with the 3rd-level Major System?
Dennis: It is a similar problem with the words: I place several objects on each location and mix them up. Using a PO is more effective to save locations and make sure to keep the order at the same time. On the other hand it is quicker to use the 3rd-level Major System because you have fewer pictures to remember.
Memory-Sports: Only three memory athletes are using a 2nd-level card system: World Memory Champion Ben Pridmore, German Champion Simon Reinhard and you. How long did it take you to create all the 2.652 pegs?
Dennis: About a week. I spend about four nights to gather the pegs and three days to memorize them and be able to use the system in practice. For this purpose I took a week off from work. It was worth it because I finished it in that time. But there are still about 400 pegs which cost me more time to remember than all the others.
Memory-Sports: How did you create your 2nd-level card system?
Dennis: Just like with the digits I used PO for the cards. From each combination out of the persons and objects I associated a third peg. For example Britney Spears (person) and the axe (object) reminded me somehow of an executioner. Doing this it was quite fast to create and memorize all the 2.652 pegs.
Memory-Sports: That is very clever. It is indeed much quicker to memorize your new system by using natural associations from your previous pegs to create your new ones, instead of using a certain code like Simon and Ben did. On the other hand you have to remember your old associations first instead of just “reading” the cards. Regarding your own experience with that matter, what method would you suggest to others who are looking forward to create such a huge system?
Dennis: I think everybody should find out for himself how to do it. One may like Ben’s method better, another one mine and a third one a completely different technique. You cannot trivialize it.
Memory-Sports: Tell us a little about your first competition experience.
Dennis: My first championship has been the North German Championship in April 2009. Two weeks before that I was somehow discouraged and at the competition I was extremely nervous. Nevertheless I ended up second.
Memory-Sports: Your position has been great but even better has been your score: 3.190 points is amazingly good for a newcomer – especially since it was only Regional Standard (seven disciplines). You jumped from zero to somewhere in the sixties of the world rankings. What did you learn most from your first event?
Dennis: That the difference between training and competition results is much bigger than with other sports like football or chess. The memory sport is extremely unmerciful with mistakes.
Memory-Sports: Even before your first competition you have been treated like a secret favorite. Why the entire rumor about you?
Dennis: I think that was because I got a perfect score with the MemoryXL software. That probably scared several people in the first place because the highest level is extremely difficult. For example you have to memorize 400 digits in 5 minutes without a mistake.
Memory-Sports: A newcomer with the ability to memorize 400 digits in 5 minutes is indeed very scary. The gossip seems absolutely understandable under these circumstances. Didn’t those expectations put you under a lot of pressure?
Dennis: I might have thought about this too much and ended up with far worse results than in my training. My pretensions have been influenced by the expectations of the other athletes. In my next championship I only aimed for my own goals instead of listening to others.
Memory-Sports: And it obviously paid off. You have won your second competition shortly after that.
Dennis: Exactly. At the Cambridge Memory Championship in May I got closer to some of my training results. In Speed Binaries for example I memorized 630 digits. On the other hand I failed in other disciplines again. I hope this will stabilize soon.
Memory-Sports: Meanwhile you competed in two more championships: Out of competition at the South German Championship and at the German Memory Open. What is your experience after four memory events?
Dennis: I learned not to think about failure in the first place. You cannot change it before the discipline and you can’t do it after it as well.
Memory-Sports: What has been your most important success in memory sports so far?
Dennis: That would be the result in 30 Minute Binary at the German Memory Championship where I ended up with 2.421 digits. I wanted it to work out and it did.
I learned not to think about failure in the first place. You cannot change it before the discipline and you can’t do it after it as well.
Memory-Sports: Very impressive! Let us have a look at your personality. You told me once that you have synesthesia. Can you tell us something about it?
Dennis: Synesthesia is an entanglement of different senses. In my case I see numbers and letters in colors. The five for example is pink. That results in seeing a much more colorful world than a normal person without that ability. If you look at a book page the letters only appear in black. For people like me it is multicolored because every letter has a different color.
Memory-Sports: Do you think that your synesthesia is a benefit for your life?
Dennis: The advantage is that I see the world more open minded. The structure of each text reminds me of shapes. But that brings me to its disadvantage too: If I say that out loud people think I am crazy or on drugs. They just don’t know this ability and cannot understand it. There are only very few people I know with synesthesia. Junior World Memory Champion Dorothea Seitz is one of them.
Memory-Sports: Does your synesthesia benefit you in memory sports?
Dennis: Especially with binary digits it does. As soon as I translate a block of three binaries into a single decimal digit it will turn into a certain color. If I translate 111 for example it will turn red because the seven is red (read more about binary systems: How to become a Memory Champion – Part 5). It gives me a much better overview over the whole page. Meanwhile I am able to see the blocks of three digits nearly immediately in the right color.
Memory-Sports: Does your synesthesia influence you beside letters and digits?
Dennis: I can taste the voices of some people. That means I will literally have a certain taste in my mouth when they talk with me. But that only happens once in a while. Your voice for example is neutral. In all my life I met about 350 people whose voices tasted like something. It is still a mystery to me why some people taste like they do. The voice of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for example tastes like beer.
Memory-Sports: Really? That is a funny coincidence since we Germans are well known for our beer. Have you met people with – let me say – less delicate tastes than beer?
Dennis: Yes, it happened to me with my old German teacher in school. But what his voice tasted like is – ahem – negligibly. *laughs*
Memory-Sports: Ok, we better leave it at that. Did you suffer in your youth when you realized that you are not like the other kids?
Dennis: I wouldn’t call it suffering, but there certainly have been strange situations in school. For example in the first grade: My teacher wrote something on the blackboard with a colored chalk to improve the readability for us. But I couldn’t read it because it was flickering the whole time. When I told him that he should use white chalk instead because the red and green glint confuses me I earned very strange looks from him and the entire class. You have to know that synesthesia is additive. When you see a digit written in blue but your personal color for it is red it will result in an unsteady change of the two colors. That can be very confusing.
The voice of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for example tastes like beer
Memory-Sports: What will be your next step in Memory Sports?
Dennis: I will compete in Sweden in September and of course at the World Memory Championship in November. My goal for this year is to achieve 6.000 championship points and get my Grand Master of Memory.
Memory-Sports: World Memory Champion Ben Pridmore called you one of the candidates to succeed him in the future. Do you plan to get the memory crown?
Dennis: I certainly aim for it but I don’t think it will happen in the next two years because I lack experience. Ben is doing it for so many years now that his know-how is far more superior to mine. Directly attacking the crown will take at least two or three years of experience before it gets realistic. It just is very difficult to keep a top level over all the ten disciplines.
Memory-Sports: Do you have any last words for the readers?
Dennis: Everyone who is interested in memory sports should give it a try. It certainly isn’t that difficult how many might think. It rather is a lot fun.