Courtesy of Daniel Ma

Yale quizbowl won the Academic Competition Federation’s national championship in the undergraduate division for the second time in two years

The team was led by a trio of high-scoring seniors  Daniel Ma ’23, Michal Gerasimiuk ’23 and Daniel Sheinberg ’23 — and featured Arthur Delot-Vilain ’25, a self-described “lower level getter of questions.” The Yalies went 12-5 over two days of gameplay at MIT in which the Yale cohort pulled away from their opponents over a dominant 17 games. They placed fifth overall in the country and the highest of any team that was made up solely of undergraduates.

“It was great,” Sheinberg, who serves as one of the co-presidents of Yale Student Academic Competitions, said of the win. “Job’s finished. We can rest.”

Quizbowl is an academic quiz competition in which players compete head-to-head to answer questions on a variety of academic subjects, ranging from chemistry to mythology. 

Yale’s team boasted a wealth of experience. Three of the four players returned from winning the undergraduate title last year. Expectations among the quizbowl community were high.

“I think we were definitely the favorite coming in because we won last year — the undergraduate title — with a weaker team,” Sheinberg said.

The Bulldogs’ primary competition for the undergraduate title was Brown University, who they had beat out for the title on a dramatic final question the year before. For the team, especially the seniors, Brown was a familiar foe. For Ma and Delot-Vilain, some of the Bears were opponents from as far back as high school quizbowl.

The tournament started well for the Yalies. They breezed through the preliminary matches with a 6-1 record, far exceeding what was necessary to qualify for playoffs.

“We avoided being silly,” Delot-Vilain explained of the team’s early success.

The early games included a 440-90 blowout of Columbia University, a traditional powerhouse at the collegiate level. The round featured Ma answering a question about Montreal so quickly, an astonished moderator asked if he was from Quebec. Ma is from New York City.

Yale faced only one setback in the initial games when losing to a team from The Ohio State University. A competitor for the Buckeyes was a graduate student that had been playing collegiate level quizbowl for almost two decades.

The team also avenged their loss in the tournament last year to the University of Texas at Austin. They faced a comfortable match against the Longhorns team.

After clinching a playoff berth, the team broke for lunch — pizza for the seniors, a halloumi BLT for Delot-Vilain — and then returned for what would prove to be their most challenging set of games, starting off against what Gerasimiuk described as “the evil empire”: the University of Chicago.

Chicago, who wound up getting second in the tournament, featured a typically strong team that  included Matt Jackson ’14, who is pursuing a graduate degree at UChicago. Jackson, who attended Yale as an undergraduate, guided the Bulldogs to multiple national championships before finding success on “Jeopardy!”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Chicago held Yale to their worst game of the tournament. The Bulldogs only answered five questions correctly out of 20 asked.

Yale bounced back over their next four games, winning three of them and only losing to a Stanford team that tied them for fifth overall. The team capped the day with a shocking — and razor-thin — upset over the Georgia Institute of Technology, the team that ended up winning the overall national championship.  

“They beat themselves,” Ma explained of the victory. Georgia Tech floundered, missing five questions where they buzzed in first and Yale did just enough to capitalize.

After a night spent in Harvard dorms, the team returned Sunday morning feeling confident about their chances of securing the title over Brown with five games left to play.

Yale had a solid second day of competition, dispatching Duke University, Cornell University and the University of Florida without much difficulty. But the team did feel like they missed an opportunity to outperform expectations with losses to the University of Maryland and Brown.

“We probably dropped two games we shouldn’t have dropped,” co-president Gerasimiuk said. “Had we not done that we would have been playing in the final sequence.”

Unfortunately for Yale, they did lose those two face-offs, running into a Maryland team whose best player had his best round against them, and then incorrectly answering eight questions against Brown, a single-game record for the tournament.

Despite the missed opportunity, Yale did secure the title they came to win, clinching the undergraduate prize with a massive come-from-behind victory over Cornell in which the team rallied after getting only two of the first eight questions. 

Cornell had also won quizbowl’s other national championship tournament the week before, making the victory even more satisfying.

“I think in many ways for me, [the game] embodied how quizbowl should be,” Ma said. “No negs until the last question, great sportsmanship on either side.”

Despite securing the national title with two games to play, Yale did not realize they had won until much later, when they got lunch with their vanquished opponents — Brown.

Over still more halloumi BLTs, Brown filled Yale in on their record, and the team realized they did not have to play in a final because they were already national champions for the second year in a row.

“It took a really long time to find out,” Sheinberg said. “But it was worth it. It was really fun.”

Yale last won national championships in consecutive years in 2011 and 2012. 

Nathaniel Rosenberg is City Editor for the News. He previously served as Audience Editor, where he managed the News's newsletter content, covered cops and courts and housing and homelessness for the City Desk. Originally from Silver Spring, MD, he is a junior in Morse College majoring in history.