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Thursday, 26 August, 1999, 15:45 GMT
Can you supercharge your brain?
Opening of the Mind Sports Olympiad
Tony Burzan, the father of the modern Mind Olympics
By BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley

Geniuses are born, are they? Or could you possibly train yourself to be one?

The next millennium, according to the brains behind the "olympics of the mind", is going to be the time when brainpower matters like never before. It will, Tony Burzan says, be "the millennium of the mind".

The third Mind Sports Olympiad, running poetically enough at London's Olympia, puts competitors through their paces in a range of familiar and some rather exotic "mind sports".

Chess, bridge, Scrabble and backgammon all feature on the slate, with "athletes" battling for far more than just a podium place. A decent run of triple word scores will see a Scrabbler taking a cut of the very un-Olympic 6,000 prize fund.


Tony Burzan
Burzan takes his games seriously
Asian games Xiangqi, Go and Shogi are even more lucrative, despite being relatively unknown in this country.

Oware, an ancient African game in which players battle over stones in on a carved board, may offer more modest incentives, but is proving a hit with children.

Competitor Susie Street was staggered how quickly the Oware bug struck her young charges. "I ended up buying six boards for my daughter's friends at school and another two for a family we know in Spain."

Popularising obscure games is not the primary aim of the event though. "Mind sports aficionado" Tony Buzan points to the more serious mission of the games, to exercise the grey matter.

"How insane is it that you have world championships for the biceps, for kicking a ball, but not for the brain?"

"Mind sports are a mental gymnasium," says the writer and some time athletics coach. "When you play a game, any game. . . you are re-wiring your brain."


Competitor at Mind Sports Olympiad
Entry forms: the first hurdle
Brain power can be improved, he says. And games are just one way to help you "think faster, remember better and create better".

In the quest to improve their "bio-computers" Mind Olympiads are especially partial to feats of memory.

Dominic O'Brien, the Linford Christie of the brain world, is gunning to reclaim his world memory title this year. The 42-year-old, who failed his A-levels, developed a system which now allows him to remember the order of a deck of cards in a flash.

"They can't put them down fast enough," says Burzan. Not everyone is so impressed by O'Brien's skills - casinos no longer allow him through the door.

O'Brien reckons that his methods of visualising people and objects to help him memorise digits is improving his mental capacity by 20% every year - and he does not foresee a limit.



The five-times champ is no freak. "You can change your IQ from 100, which is normal, to 160, which is genius, in three months," assures Burzan.

Having a crack at the crossword is not enough to put you in the top flight of mind athletes though.

With championship chess players expending as much energy during a game as any footballer, Burzan recommends a healthy body as the route to a healthy mind.

Being kind to your heart is "like giving your brain top grade petrol rather than fifth-grade sludge".

Burzan promises that competitors, far from being the pale, bespectacled weaklings of folklore, are in fact a strapping lot.

Hearteningly, few of the those gathered at Olympia have followed the "fit in mind, fit in body" mantra. Pitched somewhere between a Countdown audience and Red Dwarf fan club, the crowd are much as one would expect.

From the middle England reserve of the bridge room to the hearty banter over the Oware boards, there is little to suggest the Olympiad is the birthplace for a new master race of burley brainiacs.

Despite a rather forlorn-looking "Bridge is fun" sign above the players, which in the dour surroundings seems wishful thinking, most people appear fairly jolly.


Competitor at Mind Sports Olympiad
A chess rookie
"We ask people why they're here, they say 'Because it's fun'," Burzan admits.

"Why am I here? To have fun," snaps back Olympian Francis McDonald, fast enough to make one wonder if telepathy is a hushed-up mind sport.

For those of you eager to put your mental metal to the ultimate test, more Olympiads are planned, including a virtual games to unite the players via the Internet.

There is even an Olympiad of Arab mind sports set for Bahrain. "I love Bahrain," confides the ever-thinking Burzan, anagramising on the hoof. "It's 'Ah!', 'Brain!'. A nice title."
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See also:

16 Mar 99 | Sport
Giving chess a sporting chance
02 Apr 99 | Health
Learning 'protects the brain'
09 Jul 99 | Health
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