Springtime has come to Paris, and the 2017 memory championship season has come to Europe! Our first European competition of the year, the French Open Memory Championship 2017, took place in the Espace Moncassin, just a short walk away from the Eiffel Tower, and nineteen brave memorisers came to town in the lovely sunny weather to take part in only the third memory championship ever held in France!

There was an open championship back in 2008, in Maisons-Laffitte, which attracted two French competitors and three international visitors, and an exclusively French competition in 2015 with eight entrants, but this year’s event definitely set a whole new benchmark for French memory, both in quantity and quality!

The thirteen French memorisers included reigning French champion Sébastien Martinez, a veteran of many competitions since 2014, and two others returning from the 2015 French championship, Bruno Martin and Timothée Behra. We also had Sylvain Estadieu, who competed in Sweden in 2016 and who had been posting regular updates on the internet of his dedicated training schedule for this event, hoping to break a lot of records. Joël Licciardi had competed in the Italian and World Championship in 2015, and the other eight were newcomers taking part in their first ever live competition – Pierre-Marie Baudry, Guillaume Petit-Jean, Romain Dudognon, Yves Blanchard, Charles Doussiau, Michel Ferry, Boris Quach and Jérôme Alberti. All through the weekend there was a wonderful sense of cameraderie and friendship among the competitors – I’m sure we’ll be seeing a strong French team at many championships to come!

The international contingent was made up of Simon Reinhard and Johannes Mallow, the hot favourites from Germany; their compatriot and the only junior competitor Tobias Achleitner; former great Ben Pridmore (your humble author of this article) of Britain, at his first pen-and-paper competition for a year and a half; from Morocco our only female representative Charifa Soussi; and Italian enthusiast Silvio Di Fabio.

Like the previous French memory championships, this event was the brainchild of Françoise Marie Thuillier, who organised the competition superbly. The venue was a perfect location – big enough to accommodate all the competitors in one room and the arbiters in the room next door. The arbiting team was led by Gaby Kappus and Nathalie Lecordier, with a lot of very helpful additional volunteers including arbiting veteran Nick Papadopoulos.

Day 1 of the French Open Memory Championship 2017

We started with five-minute names and faces on the Saturday morning. Simon set the pace with a score of 58, followed by Johannes with 45. These two were a class apart all weekend, taking the top two spots in nearly every discipline and fighting a close contest for the overall title all the way through. Sylvain was third overall and the best French score, with 38. He produced the top French result in seven of the ten disciplines, in fact, setting seven new national records!

Following that, we had the marathon 15-minute numbers, won by Simon again with a score of 891. Johannes came back in the next, 5-minute dates, with 100 and narrowed Simon’s overall lead to 66 championship points, but he widened the gap very slightly in 5-minute binary, scoring 752 to Johannes’s 738. After that came the first trial of 5-minute numbers, then a lunch break (plenty of good nearby places to buy a bite to eat, and the weather was warm and sunny!), then trial two, which Simon won with an excellent 387 to tighten his grip on the championship.

The competition was disrupted in the afternoon by a bit of unwanted musical accompaniment – two street musicians, with trumpets, were passing by outside, and the memorising had to be delayed while Françoise went out to persuade them to move a few streets away. Taking stock of the situation, we could see that the scores at the half-way point went like this:

Simon Reinhard 3414
Johannes Mallow 3138
Ben Pridmore 2202
Sylvain Estadieu 2109
Silvio Di Fabio 1433
Tobias Achleitner 1116
Guillaume Petit-Jean 1042
Sébastien Martinez 1009
Bruno Martin 911
Pierre-Marie Baudry 755
Yves Blanchard 482
Charles Dussiau 422
Boris Quach 466
Michel Ferry 393
Romain Dudognon 373
Timothée Behra 781
Joel Licciardi 341
Charifa Souissi 632
Jérôme Alberti 170

In the national championship, Sylvain had set national records in each of the first five disciplines – 38 names, 453 numbers in 15 minutes, 66 dates, 468 binary digits and 206 in 5-minute numbers. Behind him, there was a fierce struggle for second-placed-Frenchman between Guillaume, Sébastien, Bruno and Pierre-Marie.

The sixth discipline was 5-minute words, in which Johannes set a new world record score of 140! Simon, who scored 110, retained the overall lead, but now by only 36 championship points. Sylvain set his sixth national record out of six, with a score of 69.

We finished the day with ten-minute cards, and Simon obviously wasn’t going to be outdone in the world-record stakes, setting his own new record with 8 packs and 4 cards memorised! It was Yves who broke Sylvain’s stranglehold on the national victories here, winning with 2 packs and 2 cards (two short of Jérôme Lacroix’s national record).

Day 2 of the French Open Memory Championship 2017

The competition was scheduled to take the full day on Saturday and just the morning on Sunday, but as we all know, memory championships have a habit of running late. With one thing and another, the three remaining disciplines took quite a long time to get through when the competitors came back to the Espace Moncassin on Sunday morning.

We started with spoken numbers – three trials altogether, the first two being 100 and 200 digits. Johannes got a perfect 200 in the second, while in the closely-fought French battle, Timothée set the pace with a new French record of 35 in the first trial, ahead of Sylvain with 31.

While those scores were being marked by the arbiters, we went on to the new five-minute images discipline – making its first appearance in a European competition and giving everybody except Simon and Johannes their first taste of the new colourful pictures! Johannes took the gold medal with 263, but only narrowly ahead of Sébastien, who recorded the first-ever French record in the discipline with a score of 253 (beating Simon’s 224 into third place overall).

Then we moved on to the final trial of spoken numbers, a very lengthy 550 digits played at one per second. Johannes improved his score to a whopping 255, beating the joint-second 126 of Simon and Ben (yes, me – I got a lot of third places this weekend, but this joint second place with Simon was the closest I got to beating either of the German legends!) In the national championship, it was very close! Guillaume edged ahead in the third trial to take home the French record with 36!

The two wins in the first two disciplines of the day had pushed Johannes up into the overall lead, but still not by far – 6672 compared to Simon’s 6488. Speed cards would be decisive.

An “act of God” caused a delay at this point – with the competition having by now overrun its scheduled finish time, nobody had realised that in the afternoon a church service, including loud singing of hymns, was happening in the room directly below the championship venue. After a lot of negotiation and confusion, we all moved into a quieter room at the back of the building for the final discipline of the championship!

Simon moved back into the overall lead at the first trial, with a time of 27.13, but in the second trial Johannes’s 29.33 seconds was enough to secure him a very hard-fought victory over his rival. Sylvain recorded French record number seven with a time of 78.19 to confirm his new position as French Memory Champion.

Results of the French Open Memory Championship 2017

The final results, which you also find on the IAM-Stats, looked like this:

Johannes Mallow 7417
Simon Reinhard 7277
Ben Pridmore 5073
Sylvain Estadieu 3791
Silvio Di Fabio 3184
Tobias Achleitner 2685
Sébastien Martinez 2598
Pierre-Marie Baudry 2182
Guillaume Petit-Jean 2176
Bruno Martin 2023
Timothée Behra 1418
Romain Dudognon 1259
Charifa Souissi 1194
Yves Blanchard 1133
Michel Ferry 1092
Boris Quach 1049
Joel Licciardi 1004
Charles Dussiau 972
Jérôme Alberti 738

Sébastien, the previous reigning champion, finished second (seventh overall), and the battle for national third place went right down to the wire – Pierre-Marie ending up just six championship points ahead of Guillaume!

After the competition, everybody went to L’Argument, a restaurant just down the road, but it’s fair to say there wasn’t a single argument to be found all weekend! The competition was a huge success, and we all look forward to the next French Championship!