|The battle of brains is waged every day among mental athletes. The fast-paced head to head challenges they’re forced to do to demonstrate their ability would have even the most relaxed spectator on the edge. Against the world’s best mental athletes, Mongolian mental athletes have been going strong, achieving incredible feats in mental tournaments. They’re now a fixture at international memory competitions.
19-year-old E.Enkhmunkh is one of the most talented mental athletes of Mongolia. He may be young but he is an international grandmaster of memory who won the World Junior Memory Championship and Junior Indian Open Champion in 2014. He was banned from casinos after becoming the ultimate winner of China’s popular television show “Super Brain”, also known as “The Brain”, last year. Now, he’s a freshman at the Business School of the National University of Mongolia. E.Enkhmunkh gave an extensive interview about mental sports and his motivation to become a mental athlete.
When did you become interested in mental sports?
I started training in mental sports in 2013. Before that, I attended a lecture by Kh.Khatanbaatar, an international master of memory, international second-rank judge and the president of the Intellectual Academy of Mongolia. He shared how he uses his memory skills in his daily life. We have to use our mental skills every day of our lives, starting from memorizing phone numbers and understanding lessons in a simple way. He showed that our brains can do so much more than that. Kh.Khatanbaatar inspired me to keep challenging my mental skills so I joined the Intellectual Academy.
There were tons of things I didn’t know and couldn’t do when I started training in mental sports. For example, I had to memorize 52 cards in a deck under five minutes, but I couldn’t. Even if I thought that I had memorized it, I couldn’t remember some of them. Because of that, I thought I was no good. Numerous times, I wanted to give up because I thought it was impossible to memorize so many digits. But thanks to encouragement from international masters of memory N.Baasandorj and Kh.Khatanbaatar, I didn’t give up.
…The human mind has no boundaries…
There are different types of mental sports. Which one did you start doing first?
The human mind has no boundaries. Because of that, there are many types of mental sports, including mental calculation, speed readings, and Rubik Cube deciphering. I challenged my memory skills first. The key method for memorizing things is to use your emotions. Memory is mostly based on imagination. The system in your brain that controls your emotions help you imagine and memorize things faster. For example, it’s hard to remember what you ate two weeks ago because you eat every day. It’s a part of everyday routine. However, you can remember eating a delicious meal made by your mother on your birthday five years ago. We never forget memorable things such as lucky coins found in Tsagaan Sar buuz or Naadam Festival’s khuushuur because they hold some kind of sentimental value. In other words, events and things will be engraved deeper in your memory if you imagine how sad or happy you were when it happened or imagine that abstract things were real. This will prevent you from forgetting it.
Can you tell us about your first mental tournament?
I participated in the State Championship three months after I started training in mental sports in 2013. I won silver and bronze medals in memorizing digits, cards, names, and faces. There are 10 main memory competitions. Each competition has a specific time limit and are relatively fast paced at the State Championship. But the time is extended for international memory tournaments and World Championships. State Championship challenges are usually five or 15 minutes long, but the same challenge continues for 30 minutes in international tournaments and up to an hour at World Championships. The longer time you’re given, the more digits you have to memorize.
You won China’s TV show “Super Brain” in 2016. How did you end up coming on the show?
I got the offer around the time I participated in the Hong Kong Open Memory Championship in October 2015. Our team won by a mile, taking 38 medals in total from the championship. Before we entered the championship, no one cared about Mongolian mental athletes. Hong Kong reporters, foreign athletes, judges, and spectators had no choice but to focus their attention on us since we won 38 out of 68 medals available at the championship. At the time, the production team of “Super Brain” was shooting some scenes for their show so they saw how good we were and asked one of us to join their show. Our team made me go on the show because I had won the most medals back then. That’s how I ended up participating in “Super Brain”.
I watched the show a lot of times before. It has the most viewers among Chinese TV shows, exceeding more than 300 million viewers. Entering the show was my dream since only the best mental athletes from all over the world participate in it. The show gives unimaginable challenges to see the ultimate ability of the brain. They invite world’s best athletes and have them go against Chinese athletes. In previous seasons, Chinese athletes beat German, American, and Japanese contestants. The rules slightly changed in the season I participated in. I was grouped with four other international athletes in X-Team to go up against five Chinese athletes.
Where were your teammates from?
X-Team consisted of the best athletes from each continent. I represented Asia and Mongolia in my team. We also had Australia’s Feliks Zemdegs, who broke the Rubik’s Cube world record, World Sudoku Champion Martin Lopez Norses, Peru’s speed-cuber Gianfranco Huanqui, and Sweden’s two-time World Memory Champion Jonas Von Essen.
There was a rumor that tasks were given much later than it was supposed to be during the show. What happened?
Athletes sign a contract with the production team when they accept to come on the show. The contract apparently states that tasks have to be handed 21 days in advance. However, the production team conducted the actual task a week earlier than the scheduled date for our team. A day before my flight to China, I was told that the task was changed so I had to do a completely new challenge. It was really hard back then. I practiced with coach Kh.Khatanbaatar on the plane without sparing time to eat or nap. Right before the show started, he told me that regardless of the result, I was demonstrating how brilliant Mongolians are to millions of Chinese viewer just by appearing on the show and encouraged me to do my best. I gave everything I had because I never take up a challenge to lose.
…I feel very proud when I think that 13 out of 17 World Junior Mental Championship records were set by Mongolian athletes. For that exact reason, the State Mental Championship can be very competitive…
What did you have to do on the show?
I was shown 15×15 table with 225 squares on a big screen, in which a different digit appeared on random squares for a couple of seconds before it disappeared and another random digit appeared in a different square. I was given five more minutes to organize my thoughts. After that, I had to stand in front of a lane which had a wall made up of cans in the middle. Some of the cans had numbers from one to nine written on them. Then, the squares lit up one by one until it stopped on one particular square. I had three seconds to remember the correct digit, grab the correct digit while smashing through the cans and place it on a table on the opposite side. I was very nervous and found the challenge quite difficult because I had never done something like that before. (In the show, E.Enkhmunkh immediately dashed and grabbed a can with the correct digit whereas his opponent failed to remember correctly.)
You gained the nickname “super brain” after the show, right?
Yes. A lot of people know me through Super Brain so they nicknamed me after it. Even now, my friends and teachers call me Super Brain.
What are the advantages of training your memory skills?
It wouldn’t hurt to try out this sport. Unlike other sports, you obviously will not injure yourself during training or a tournament. Personally, I believe that everyone trains their brain every day. Most importantly, mental sports help people become proper individuals. When I started doing this sport, my trainer told me the same thing – it impacts positively on your health and brain activities.
How do you train?
Mental athletes are required to train every day whether it’s for five minutes, 20 minutes or even three hours.
Based on what criteria are titles given to mental athletes?
Titles are presented only during World Championships. There are three titles: international master, grandmaster, and international grandmaster. Your total score for the 10 main mental challenges must be above 3,000 points to earn the international master title. If it’s higher than 5,000, you become eligible for the grandmaster title and if it’s higher than 6,000, you become eligible for the international grandmaster title. You can get points by winning a medal at an international tournament. Earning a title is not an easy job.
I was able to become the youngest international grandmaster thanks to my coaches, friends, and family. I’m always grateful for their support.
Are you planning to enter any competitions this year?
I’m preparing to enter the State Mental Championship next month. It might seem like a small event compared to the World Championships, but it can be very fierce. I feel very proud when I think that 13 out of 17 World Junior Mental Championship records were set by Mongolian athletes. For that exact reason, the State Mental Championship can be very competitive.