M2M Day 2: Becoming a Grand Master of Memory in 30 days, sort of

This post is part of Month to Master, a 12-month accelerated learning project. For November, my goal is to memorize the order of a shuffled deck of cards in less than 2 minutes.

Day 2 of Month to Master, and so far I’m feeling pretty good. We’ll see if that changes in a few weeks.

This month’s challenge is to memorize the order of a shuffled deck of playing cards in less than two minutes, which means I have 2.3 seconds to memorize each of the 52 cards.

This seems aggressively fast. Perhaps, five minutes would have been a saner goal, especially since this is the first month of the project and I need to convince you that I’m not totally delusional.

However, two minutes is important. Two minutes is the threshold to become a Grand Master of Memory, which is a real thing and a title I would unapologetically be proud to earn.

In fact, there are only 149 GMs of memory in the world, while there are 1530 GMs of chess, which means, if I pull this off, I’ll be entering a very exclusive club (although, admittedly, not a heavily pursued club).

To qualify as a Grand Master of Memory, I technically must complete three memory feats at an official World Memory Championship (yes, that is a real thing too):

  1. Memorize 1o decks of cards in an hour
  2. Memorize 1000 random digits in an hour
  3. Memorize a deck of cards in less than two minutes

I didn’t think I could train for all of these in a month, nor do I plan to go to an official competition just yet. So, instead, from the comfort of my bedroom, I’m going to focus on Number 3, which, on the memory circuit, is called Speed Cards.

Speed Cards is the metric most often used to compare Memory Athletes, so it’s a good one to start with.

Plus, it makes for a better party trick. No one at a party is going to wait an hour for me to memorize 1000 random digits, but I might be able to keep their attention for two minutes. So, there’s that.

Assessing my current skill level

I already have some card memorization skills, which is why I thought I’d start with this challenge. Still, I have a long way to go.

In 11th grade, seven years ago, I completed an audio course by 2-time U.S. Memory Champion, Ron White, and as part of that training, I learned how to memorize cards. I barely practiced this skill, since I was using the techniques to memorize U.S. history and lists of Spanish words for school, but I definitely memorized a few decks of cards along the way as well. I’m not sure how fast I could do it, but it was definitely really slow.

Two years ago, during my senior year at Brown, I was curious to see if I could still successfully memorize a deck. During my first attempt, I was able to do it in about 45 minutes, where much of that time was spent trying to recall my system. After a few more attempts, I got it down to around 20 minutes, and I haven’t tried since.

So, 20 minutes is my starting time, and I’m hoping to end this month with a memorization time of 2 minutes or less. That’s an order of magnitude improvement, which feels like a lot.

To do this, I will need to rework my system, practice obsessively, and hope my brain will cope. It seems tough, but I’m oddly convinced that I will almost certainly succeed. My confidence level is at 90% right now.

I’m sure I’ll be less confident tomorrow, once I start really practicing.

Read the next post. Read the previous post.

Max Deutsch is an obsessive learner, product builder, guinea pig for Month to Master, and founder at Openmind.

If you want to follow along with Max’s year-long accelerated learning project, make sure to follow this Medium account.