Yale quizbowl team wins back to back national championships
Yale quizbowl wins second national title in two weeks, in a tight competition that came down to the final question.
Courtesy of Arthur Delot-Vilain
Yale’s quizbowl team clinched its second national championship in two weeks this past weekend, winning the Academic Competition Federation’s national championship in the undergraduate division over a marathon 19 games.
Yale had previously claimed the Division II National Championship at the Intercollegiate Championship Tournament, run by National Academic Quiz Tournaments, on April 2. At this weekend’s ACF Nationals, Yale was eligible for the undergraduate championship as no graduate students played on their team, a common practice in high level quizbowl.
Yale brought as much of their A-team as possible to the tournament, fielding a team made up of Daniel Sheinberg ’23, Arthur Delot-Vilain ’25, Michal Gerasimiuk ’23 and Matt Pecoraro ’22. Besides first-year Delot-Vilain, the entire team had placed third in the undergraduate division at ACF Nationals 2021. While Yale was missing arguably their best player in Daniel Ma ’23, they still went into the tournament hoping to contend for a title.
“I thought we had a very good shot at winning the undergrad title,” Gerasimiuk said. “Our main contender was Brown [University], against which we have had a very good record.”
Delot-Vilain opted to fly to Minneapolis on Saturday morning, staying behind in New Haven Friday night to attend a R.A.P Ferreira concert with his suitemate. It was a decision he would regret. Delot-Vilain’s flight got delayed from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M., eliminating any chance of him playing on Saturday, when the majority of the tournament occurred.
“I was like uh-oh,” Delot-Vilain said.
“I was always a little bit more doubtful that we would be able to do as well as we ended up doing. So I was just sort of laughing and saying, ‘this is hilarious,’” Sheinberg reflected.
Without their second leading scorer, Yale entered the tournament with much lower expectations. The team still managed to perform well, winning each of their first four games, including a tense upset of the University of Chicago.
The game, which ended up being decided by one question, hinged on Gerasimiuk’s answer to a question on the Chinese history text “Records of the Grand Historian.” Gerasimiuk answered “Record of the Grand Historian,” which was marked incorrect. But Yale won the tossup on appeal after it was decided that Gerasimiuk’s answer — even without the plural “Records” — counted as a direct translation of the works title.
Yale subsequently lost to a stronger team from the University of Texas, but bounced back to finish the preliminary rounds with a 6-1 record. The impressive performance by a team missing two of its top players spoke to the excellence of both Sheinberg and Gerasimiuk.
“It’s just that Michal and Daniel Sheinberg are ridiculously good at this game,” Pecoraro explained. “I’m always amazed at their breadth of knowledge.”
However, both the University of Chicago and Texas also finished 6-1, necessitating a series of playoffs to figure out which out of the three would advance to the top bracket for the playoffs. Yale lost their tiebreaker game to Texas handily, ensuring they could finish no better than 13th in the overall field.
“Obviously, it’s a little bit frustrating not to make it into the top bracket, but at the same time, the strength of the field in the top bracket was tremendous,” Sheinberg said. “Maybe it was worth it.”
Despite the setback, only one other team eligible for the undergraduate championship advanced to the top bracket for the playoffs — Brown University. If Yale finished within six places of Brown, they would be guaranteed a final to determine the undergraduate national champion.
Yale ended the day strong, winning their final three games to finish Saturday with a record of 9-1, as the tiebreaker was not counted in official standings. The team was greeted with even more good news when Delot-Vilain arrived that night.
“I think the whole dynamic kind of changed a little bit when Arthur got there,” Sheinberg told the News. “Like obviously he’s really good at quizbowl, but also he’s just a funny guy. There’s a little bit less pressure on the three of us.”
With the resumption of play on Sunday, it was clear that a Yale team featuring Delot-Vilain was much stronger than the one from the day before. The team won their first six games, and their points per bonus question, often a good measure of the true skill level of a team, increased from a Saturday average of 13.9 to 15.6 over their Sunday winning streak.
The Sunday morning run featured a dramatic moment, when Sheinberg won a game against Northwestern University by correctly answering a tossup about the Henrik Ibsen play “Rosmersholmon.”
Eventually, Yale did lose to Oxford — in a round they maintained had too much British content — but by that point they had earned the chance to play for the undergraduate title. Despite making the top bracket, Brown had struggled to a 2-8 record in the playoffs, guaranteeing a final matchup.
Since Brown had made the top bracket, Yale faced a disadvantaged final, where they would need to win two games to win the tournament, while Brown would only need to win one.
“We felt like we had a good chance to win at least one of the two games,” Delot-Vilain explained. “With the four of us there, we were favorites.”
Yale won the first game handily, defeating Brown 300-120.
“It was a good round for us, and it was a tough round for Brown,” Sheinberg said. “I mean, they had six negs, and seven gets.” A neg is the quizbowl term for an incorrect answer, as you receive negative points.
The win set up a final game between the Ivy League rivals to determine the undergraduate national championship. Brown jumped out to a massive lead early, winning by 90 after seven questions and by a still massive 70 point margin at halftime.
“That was really depressing to face in the first half,” Gerasimiuk lamented.
Yale did not quit, however, and stormed back to get the next three tossups and tie the game at 135 apiece. The teams alternated getting the next several questions, until Yale pulled into a narrow five point lead with one question to go.
Pecoraro heard the question and knew instantly who would answer. ”I thought, okay, this is Daniel Sheinberg’s moment,” Pecaro said. “He’s the literature player.”
Sheinberg remembers an intense experience.
“We were all listening really closely,” Sheinberg recounted. “The question got pretty late. They start to say a ‘factless autobiography’. And as soon as I hear the first syllable, I say, alright, it’s him.”
Sheinberg buzzed in, answered with Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, the correct answer, and won the national championship for Yale.
Although this championship was Yale’s second in two weeks, Delot-Vilain said that did not dampen the team’s excitement at their win.
“It was much more satisfying [than the other championship win], honestly, because we were not supposed to win,” Delot-Vilain said. “We had a harder road to get there. … I left feeling a lot happier, it was a lot more fun.”
This is the first time since 2014 that Yale has won two quizbowl national championships in the same year.