Software engineer is top U.S. "mental athlete"

NEW YORK Sat Mar 8, 2008 8:03pm EST

1 of 3. Chester Santos holds the trophy after winning the 11th annual USA Memory Championship in New York March 8, 2008. The competition tests people's ability to rapidly memorize names, faces, words, playing cards and numbers while being timed as they try to recite them.

Credit: Reuters/Chip East

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A 31-year-old software engineer recalled the correct order of an entire deck of playing cards in 2 minutes and 27 seconds on Saturday to take the title of having the best memory in the United States.

Chester Santos of San Francisco beat two other finalists to win the USA Memory Championships in New York that saw dozens of "mental athletes" over age 12 battle through seven rounds of competition in a Manhattan auditorium.

"I'm in a good mood," Santos told Reuters after his win, in which he correctly recalled the 10 of diamonds to qualify for the World Memory Championships scheduled to take place later this year in Bahrain.

He attributed his win to spending a few hours each night after work practicing his memory.

Championship challenges included memorizing a long and previously unpublished poem, recalling the names of 99 people whose photos had been shown 15 minutes earlier and retaining a list of numbers 20 digits wide and 25 rows long.

"These people are not freaks, they are not nerds, they are people that have trained their brain," said event founder Tony Dottino.

"People are deathly afraid of losing their memories, but if you practice and use the right techniques, you can develop your memory at any age," said Dottino, a management consultant.

Finalist Daniel Naftalovich, 18, a New York high school student, who like Santos had just five minutes to learn the order of the deck before reciting it onstage in front of an audience, said visualizing a card or word was key to memorization.

Santos, who won the contest for the first time after five tries, said he matched a person, action and object with each of the 52 cards to help jog his memory.

Using these kinds of techniques, memorizing phone numbers "are a piece of cake," he said.

(Editing by Xavier Briand)

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