Definitive Greatest Players List

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The Definitive Greatest Players List was originally posted to the forums in May 2005 by an account identifying itself as Martin Faber. Martin Faber was composed of two individuals identifying themselves as "A." and "Z.", aliases of Andrew Yaphe and Zeke Berdichevsky.

Inspired by an effort from Chris Frankel to rank the current 20 best active players, Martin Faber ranked the top 45 players of all time in five tiers, along with "Other Notable Players and Future Stars", a sort of Honorable Mention category.

The authors wrote two sequels: one in 2011 titled the Definitive Greatest Players List: Revisited and one in 2016 titled 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players, which merely listed the Top 25 rather than attempting to rank them.

The text of the Definitive Greatest Players List

The “Definitive List” of the best quizbowl players ever. A dialogue.

For your enjoyment and edification, we present the following ranking of the greatest quizbowl players ever. These evaluations were made primarily on the basis of performance on academic questions (ACF, NAQT, and such notable invitational tournaments as Maryland’s TIT, Virginia’s Wahoo War. Michigan’s MLK, Penn Bowl, and so forth). However, we have also taken into account dominance or at least achievement in other areas, such as CBI, singles tournaments, and TRASH. Whenever possible, we took into consideration the full career of the players in question.

In determining the rankings on this list, our foremost consideration was whether the players won tournaments against quality opposition. Naturally, the best fields have been assembled at national-level tournaments, so they count highly in our estimation. We value strong performances over good teams much more than romping over weak fields and putting up mad individual numbers. Furthermore, we are aware of our bias towards people who excelled more recently (i.e., in the last decade). Obviously this is the era with which we are more familiar, but more importantly it seems to us that quizbowl has reached its zenith during this time, both in terms of the quality of players and the quality of the questions on which they compete.

Inspired by the skimpier but not negligible efforts of Mr. Frankel, we have sorted the players into tiers.

First Tier

Players in the first tier are the best ever, hands down. They have dominated national tournaments in the modern era, winning their titles against other players of comparable ability.

1. Andrew Yaphe

A. Solid. Won lots of tournaments.

Z. The best player I have ever competed against, bar none. Sick depth on all parts of the humanities canon. Nearly untouchable on literature, definitely untouchable on philosophy. One of the few greats whose game only improves with the difficulty of the questions, yet can still play fast or slow. Incredibly fast on stuff he knew and equally fast on things he had to figure out. My fondest memory of watching Andrew play actually came during a match in which he came up short: his attempts to pull out a victory against Subash and his Illinois squad at the 2000 ICT (buzzing on anything and powering questions from “synesthesia” to “Emily Post”) was like Quizbowl Rocky and illustrated his amazing will to win. Eight national titles, a Penn Bowl, and countless singles wins, top scorer awards, and invitational and masters tournament wins.

2. John Sheahan

A. Perhaps the winningest player of his era (c. 1993-96). A strong player on most humanities questions, and a killer instinct that resulted in a string of titles (two ACF and the inaugural NAQT foremost among them). Not clear that he could dominate at the same level on contemporary questions, but would still be a force.

Z. Although I was just beginning to play with any seriousness by 1998, essentially John’s last year of active participation, I had the opportunity to play Sheahan at a few masters tournaments, NAQT ICTs, and a couple of Wahoo Wars. He played the latter solo in 1997 and finished third beating a full Tech team, a full Illinois team, and playing the full Maryland team close. My own impression of him was that, outside of Andrew, he had the most desire to dominate his opponent and he could play as “the man” or as part of a team—witness his two ACF National titles with the vaunted Chicago teams that also featured Freeman and Boorstein. Incredibly strong on history, but just a very good all-around player. Clutch!

3. Jeff Johnson

A. In some ways, the most formidable player I’ve ever seen. Very deep knowledge on a wide variety of humanities subjects, and very fast. Also a great winner, but perhaps more lackadaisacal than the top two. The fact that he lost to Sheahan at the 1997 ICT and to Yaphe at 1998 ACF nationals (and, I suppose, 1997 CBI nationals) has to count against him, though those were all extremely close finals. With Yaphe, the most dominant ACF player of the past decade.

Z. The fact that A calls him the most impressive opponent he ever faced says a lot. Just taking a look at his numbers at ACF Nationals in 1995 when he essentially beat the squad that would become the unassailable Tech team next year, among others, is impressive enough. Unbelievably well read, could buzz on everything except science with knowledge and speed.

4. Subash Maddipoti

A. On easier questions (NAQT through ACF regionals) on par with the players above him. Somewhat weaker on top-shelf ACF nationals questions, which puts him a very slight notch beneath the other three, in my opinion. His 2000 and 2003 NAQT ICTs were two of the foremost individual performances of the past decade.

Z. The most mercurial of the top tier players. Won two ICTs after going on the most legendary studying binges ever, and was a solid second on the 2004 ACF Nationals champs. His desire to work extremely hard at the game (albeit more periodically than some of the other players) coupled with his amazing instincts would make me say that he definitely belongs up on this level. I also believe that the knock on him with regard to harder questions is a bit overstated—witness his individual and team performances at masters tourneys like Auspicious Incident, Artaud, Manu, and recent ACF Nationals. A very strong humanities player who could buzz on many other things when he needed to.

Second Tier

This tier consists of players who, for one reason or another, aren’t quite at the level of the Big Four. Maybe they didn’t win any national titles; or they didn’t win any big tournaments in the modern era; or they just aren’t individual powerhouses in the way the uppermost players definitely are. But these guys are all impressive in their own right, and not to be trifled with on a buzzer.

5. Tom Waters

A. Clearly a very strong player, though somewhat overrated by players of his era. His much-vaunted string of individual scoring titles means, alas, almost nothing (see: Robert Margolis). He mastered the very limited canon of the 1980s, which translates into about 14 ppg at a real tournament like the 2004 Chicago Open. A nice guy whose lack of tournament wins has to be counted against him in the final analysis.

Z. I’ve played Tom Waters maybe ten times over a period of about eight years, beginning with the Maryland Masters in 1997. I tended to lose to him early on, and have beaten him lately as my teams and I have gotten better, but I have to say I was never that impressed with him as a player. Let me elaborate what I mean by that: he gets lots of questions, he knows lots of stuff, yet it has never seemed to me that he buzzed early on well-constructed academic questions (which, as we all know, is the only way to beat good teams). Thus, he never won any titles of note. That seems weak to me, particularly if I’m supposed to be ranking him as the greatest of all time as so many pundits claim.

6. Jim Dendy

A. See: Tom Waters. I give Tom credit for at least showing up to play at modern tournaments, even though he no longer dominates. Jim doesn’t bother to make any appearances, so we can only presume that he would no longer be competitive at the top levels.

Z. Don’t know much about his playing days (only played him once at the 1996 Wahoo when I didn’t know what was happening). But I respect his promotion of some sort of “system,” in many ways the forerunner of the strategies adopted by the Maryland teams of the 90s and the recent Michigan teams. Purportedly an excellent all-around player who won a slew of tournaments, though he has been sorely missed at masters tournaments the last five years.

7. Don Windham

A. Never saw him at his alleged best. He won some tournaments back in the day. Also, a cool guy.

Z. He read me a round at my first tournament of note (ACF Nationals 1996) while sitting in two chairs and drawling out the questions. Unforgettable! Much like Dendy, he was supposed to be awesome back in the day. I’ll take other peoples’ word for it. Though I did hear a rumor that he and various other legends teamed up a few summers to play the Artaud and protested that the bonuses were too damn hard, not a good sign in light of the growing realness of questions these days.

8. Ezequiel Berdichevsky

A. I don’t know about the early days of a number of these players, but without knowing anything about the early career of someone like Jeff or Tom I’ll make the claim that Ezequiel is the greatest “self-made” player in the history of the game. That is, he’s the most successful player who started out at zero and transformed himself, through sheer effort, into a force on the buzzer. His numerous titles in multiple formats (three ACF, two NAQT, even a Penn Bowl) speak for themselves, especially when you think of the many times he finished behind teams led by the likes of Subash and Andrew. If any doubted his ability, beating Subash and Andrew to win NAQT and ACF in 2005 should seal his place as one of the all-time greats.

Z. Worked really hard at getting better. Won some tournaments. Played some basketball.

9. Adam Kemezis

A. Following one of the hardest-working men in the game comes Adam, another great player for whom it seems to come more easily. Another man with a slew of titles (including NAQTs with and without Ezequiel, and some CBIs).

Z. Usually keeps his cool and has no fear of the opponent, the questions, or the situations that arise during the game. Has an amazing, eclectic memory that serves him extremely well at NAQT, as do his instincts, which are on par with Subash and Andrew’s, though he certainly has a smaller base of knowledge. Excellent #2 on ACF. Unstoppable on Classics, very solid on all humanities, makes the surprise buzz (“how the fuck did he know that?”) almost routinely. A winner: seven national titles.

10. R. Hentzel

A. I would rate R. as the best of the “solid” players. Unlikely to go for double digit tossups in a game against any real team, but he can get some questions against almost anybody and puts up decent numbers over the course of real tournaments. Very legitimate, not very scary.

Z. Has impressed me at Chicago Opens the last few years. Consistently the top scorer on a team that nearly always finishes in the top three at Chicago Open, a team which also includes Tom Waters (perhaps another mark against the latter?) and Eric Hillemann. Writes questions for a living so you might expect him to be very good. Was a force at ISU and one of the original legitimate science players, but can buzz on a variety of things.

11. Kelly McKenzie

A. See: R. Better than R. at pure ACF, where he can buzz on most any hackneyed clue. Not as good on other stuff, perhaps. “Workmanlike” and “dogged” are adjectives that leap to mind.

Z. Perhaps the greatest “pure study” player the game has ever seen. Although my teams usually prevailed against his when he and I were both in our primes (mostly having to do with matchups on certain subjects), I really respected his relentless approach to the game. Could buzz on any subject, but was strongest on humanities (with titles of all kinds being a specialty) though he got more specialized at national tourneys. Won a Chicago Open and routinely beat other top players at singles tourneys. Just really, really good, but could not quite push his team over the top to win a nationals.

Third Tier

With the third tier, we’re still talking about great players whom you wouldn’t want to take lightly. These tend to be either very solid #1 players for strong all-around teams; or superb #2 players for great teams; or outstanding individuals who aren’t quite as outstanding as players in the first two tiers.

12. David Hamilton

A. See: R., Kelly. (But not R. Kelly.) At his best, a top player on ACF. Unfortunately, his “best” period was somewhat brief (1997-99) and his Maryland teams were notorious for racking up meaningless tournament wins before choking in the majors. Very nice guy, who I wish had managed to break through to a title.

Z. Speaking of frustrated national title hopes… A really nice guy and great mentor to young players, Dave was kind of like McKenzie—wrote a ton of questions, studied a lot, and was just a fine all around player (certainly the best player the vaunted Maryland program has ever produced), but his teams could never put it all together. He reached his prime before questions got markedly more substantive, though perhaps he would have been able to adjust to the increased difficulty of the modern game. But he never did, so I rank Kelly ahead of him. Nonetheless, a great player. Has two ACF Nationals runner-ups to his credit, tons of invitationals, and an inordinate number of third-place finishes at a variety of nationals.

13. Brian Rostron

A. A genuinely great, if mercurial and uninterested, player. Overlooked somewhat because he was the #2 on Andrew’s Virginia teams. But he played to win, when he could be persuaded to play at all.

Z. Seems a bit overrated to me here. I only played him a few times and was impressed by the numbers he put up next to Andrew, particularly at ACF Nationals in 1998, but I am not sure he was quite as good as some of the other players on this tier. Very fine humanities player who could play all academic formats well, though it never seemed to me that he could take over a game like the others mentioned here. Plus, he fell off a stage at CBI Nationals and caused lots of people associated with said organization grief … hmmm, he might belong up here after all.

14. Jason King

A. The best player on the Tech ACF teams of the mid-90s, who at their best had a robotic command of standard clues. If those teams had done more than win a single ACF nationals edited to their strengths, I’d be more impressed. Still, a solid player.

Z. Best player on the best Tech team of the modern era. Solid, solid generalist. Played him when he came back as a law student at the University of Georgia, when he scored lots of points individually and acquitted himself well despite being rusty. Still, his team, if I remember correctly, did not finish in the top five at said tournament (the 1999 Tech MLK) and his lack of more substantive knowledge was exposed in a few rounds, particularly against Maryland, which made me think that his game would not translate well to the contemporary game if he’d kept at it.

15. Jeff Hoppes

A. Great NAQT player; less impressive on ACF. Partly, the disparity is caused by the insane excess of geography questions at NAQT tournaments, which caters to his strength. (If NAQT, for whatever reason, had chosen to put as much emphasis on social science as they put on geography, this spot might be occupied by Paul Litvak.) But as the leader of the very strong Berkeley team that dominated the 2004 ICT, he deserves credit.

Z. Possibly the most dominant single-category player ever to touch the buzzer, a master of geography. Given the over-abundance of such questions at NAQT, he gets very close to the top of the second tier on that format. I take him down a bit because of his more limited skills on ACF, but he is still a very fearsome player, especially on history. He and Seth led the powerful Berkeley team that defeated the Michigan squad at ACF Nationals in 2003, won NAQT a year later, and fought their way to the finals of ACF in 2004. I was less impressed with him at harder academic events like Chicago Open and Auspicious Incident, but he was still very solid. Has a great chance to move up on this list in the upcoming years, especially if he can branch out and lead Berkeley to another championship.

16. Seth Teitler

A. Another great “self-made” player (see: Ezequiel), and the highest-ranked player who has not yet, in my opinion, risen to his highest level. Which is to say that a “top 50” list compiled five years down the road might well feature Seth among the top ten, if he continues to improve.

Z. Was really impressed with him at 2003 ACF Nationals (a tough, but lead-in heavy tournament) where he willed his Berkeley team to an undefeated round robin that set up his team’s championship win. Is the most consistent science player in the modern game. Has expanded his base of knowledge in other categories with each year and once he branches out from myth (at which he is fantastic) he will certainly merit a move up into the second tier. Unflappable in tense game situations, and his extensive question writing lets him make the occasional early buzz outside his areas. I’m curious, now that Subash and Andrew have more or less retired, to see if he can be the “man” on a championship team.

17. Eric Bell

A. A solid player of the mid-90s. Those Oklahoma teams thought they were hot shit until they showed up at national tournaments. But even there they would finish in the top five, which should count for something.

Z. Only played him twice, but I was always impressed with his confidence and range of knowledge. That said, I think of him as a transitional figure between someone like Waters and Weiner in that he was a surface generalist during the era when that approach still got you lots of points on tossups but the bonuses started to demand a little bit more than that. Could buzz early and get questions against solid opposition, just not enough of them to win the big games.

18. Ramesh Kannappan

A. Didn’t see much of him. I assume he was overrated by fawning Marylanders, but I don’t know enough to say. Hey, where’s his brother Shorty on this list?

Z. Was supposed to be the proto-Hamilton: could buzz on everything and often led tournaments in scoring, with John Nam as a strong second, during that illustrious player’s first tenure at Maryland. His teams tended to finish as runner-ups to Dendy’s teams during his time, which is laudable. He was best known to me as a tireless worker and an inspiration to a whole generation of ACF fiends. Probably most famous for his run to the Penn Bowl finals in 1995, when he played with three freshmen and basically took the down three of the top four seeds single-handedly in the playoffs. Saw him a bit later at a summer practice and he was hopelessly overmatched, but for his time was very solid.

19. John Kenney

A. To me, this #19 is a little high. Granted he did a fine job at the 2001 and 2002 ACF nationals, but those fields weren’t exactly the top-heaviest ACF has ever boasted. Still, I’m told that he’s a superb history player, so I won’t dissent too strongly from this selection. If only for his immortal Tinbergen quote in the finals of the 2001 ACF nationals (“You means there’s TWO of them!?”) he deserves mention.

Z. Outstanding history player, great instincts, and a solid career record. One of the few players who would buzz early on modern ACF with regularity and one who always made an impact on the game he was playing. I think my colleague is being a bit harsh here, John certainly belongs this high and if he would’ve continued to play in grad school this ranking might have been even higher. He was part of the new breed of generalists: a player who mastered his one area and then spread out from there, an approach that works better when you have other solid players surrounding you. He had some support, enough to make two championship games (ACF 2001, NAQT 2002) but was not good enough to lead his Virginia squads to victory.

20. Matt Weiner

A. I’m not going to say “See: Tom,” because I don’t think Matt prides himself on his unimportant scoring titles. If you can score 100+ ppg at NAQT ICT as a one-man team, while not playing in the top playoff tier, you must be a competent player. Competent: not necessarily anything more. I don’t think he has enough depth (yet) to be a great number #1, but as he showed at the 2004 Chicago Open he can be a very good player as part of a real team.

Z. I have come around on Matt’s game quite a bit in the last couple of years. Initially I though he was just another numbers guy with no depth, but he has really transformed his game and is rarely shut out in a round, even against the best of teams. Seems to know a little bit about everything and really knows how the game works in terms of strategy. Fiercely competitive and genuinely enjoys learning new stuff, which (IMO) is one of the real keys in winning tournaments and moving up on this list. Agree a lot with A’s observation that if he ever gets to play with some competent players and be allowed to focus on a couple of areas that he can be an excellent leading player.

21. Josh Boorstein

A. Never really saw him play, but he seems to have been a strong member of the excellent early-90s Chicago teams, and played well on some quality Georgia Tech teams prior to that. Does that mean he could do diddly-squat today? Beats me.

Z. Not really sure, but he did lead the Chicago team in scoring at one of the ACF’s that they won. Could buzz on many things (like most of the early greats), but because of question difficulty I am prepared to see his stock drop as other modern players move up.

Fourth Tier

Lots of other very strong players inhabit the fourth tier.

22. Dwight Kidder

A. Noted champion of such tournaments as the Kidder Cup. Also, I have it on good authority that Dwight “is widely regarded as the greatest active player in the country in Trash (popular culture and sports-only) tournaments.” Who am I to argue with that?

Z. Am always surprised to hear that Dwight was a good ACF player and would’ve been pretty sweet on NAQT as well. But seeing his singular prowess on TRASH definitely shows me he knows how to play the game. Even now, on the academic side, he seems to know many things at those singles tourneys, although I’m a bit dubious of his abilities at a difficulty level beyond Regionals. Good player, but I think too high here.

23. Eric Tentarelli

A. I guess he’s mostly forgotten today, but he was a surprisingly legitimate player on some solid Cornell teams of the mid- to late-90s. He could actually get some questions on ACF back in the day. Also, officially endorsed by CBI as a “Great ‘We’ Player.” (Though not a “Great ‘Wee’ Player,” as many mistakenly assumed in 1997.)

Z. Should definitely be ranked ahead of Dwight. One of the real gentlemen of the game. Really fast and he knew some legitimate stuff beyond the standard early 90s canon. Matt Colvin once told me that he never understood what it was like to play with a great player until he’d played with Eric, don’t know what that means exactly (I guess Dave H. had yet to come into his own), but I know they never made any real noise against championship caliber opponents. Still, a solid player who could rack up some points if he got on a roll.

24. Peter Freeman

A. The third and last member of those notable early Chicago teams on the list. Probably overrated, though I never really saw him play.

Z. Never saw him play, but I enjoyed looking at his impressive stats on early ACF. Was supposed to be the science dude (along with S. Revuluri) on those Chicago teams. I think, thereafter, he played solo and put up big numbers at a tournament or two in grad school, but a big contributor next to Boorstein and Sheahan deserves some love. So here you are: #24.

25. Mike Musgrove

A. Second to Jason King on those formidable if overrated Tech teams of the mid-90s. Again, I wonder: Did they really know anything? Maybe not, but they were impeccably groomed to clean up on easy ACF questions.

Z. Sometimes I think he was better than King, since I only played the two of them once each, and I was more impressed with Musgrove’s buzzes. Had a robot-like recall of Nobel Prize winners and stock academic clues. He and King split and ended up finishing 1-2 at the 1996 ACF Regionals, where playing solo just adding to their legend. Of course, as A points out, I’m not quite sure what all of this would mean in the contemporary game. I think Kelly M. took that sort of studying about as far as it could go and although it may sound a bit crass, I think his Kentucky teams would’ve demolished that Tech team by 2001.

26. Vik Vaz

A. I’m also thinking that Vik might be overrated somewhat. Playing with Subash, finished second at the Artaud, which is no doubt the finest performance ever by any all-Indian team. Also, Subash thought highly enough of Vik to have him flown in specially to the Artaud on a personal flight, which indicates the regard in which he is held by a top player.

Z. Outside of the top tier, and Adam Kemezis, may be the most naturally talented player I’ve ever competed against. Led his team at ACF Nationals (which also had Joon P. and David F. on it) in scoring as a freshman and subsequently captained Harvard to many tournament victories, though no real national titles. Could get “his” questions against everyone (though he had less breadth than Kenney), scary depth on world history, fantastic memory for clues, but never really applied himself to the game. Perhaps later in med school…?

27. Arthur Fleming

A. It’s possible that Peter and Vik are overrated. In my opinion, Arthur is clearly overrated at #27. In fact, he’s the first player mentioned who surprises me with his inclusion on this list. I would have said that he was the #3 on the solid Dave Hamilton-led Maryland teams of the 90s, for whom he scored around 30 ppg. Is that the stuff of which a top 30 all-time player is made? Doubtful. He knew music, maybe as well as Dave, and some random ACF stuff. And, as mentioned, his teams won no important titles.

Z. He may be overrated at this number, but Arthur clearly deserves to be here on this list. He was an exceptionally accurate player, who was often victimized by his teammates’ more reckless buzzing tendencies. When apart from Hamilton or Goodman at his height (1998-99) he routinely put up 50-60 ppg. and led his team to a couple of invitational victories. Great will to win, solid captain material. In fact, of his MD compatriots, I would claim that his knowledge base and depth (in music, some lit, myth, and history) would translate the best to the current game (witness his solid performances at the Chicago Open mirrors in recent years).

28. Mike Starsinic

A. To my mind, Mike is clearly superior to at least Arthur. He was #1 or #2 for the solid Maryland teams of the earlier 90s, which for their era were probably about as successful as the Maryland teams of the later 90s. Also, he had success in grad school, single-handedly if briefly making Ohio State a real team and doing well in his return to Maryland. I’d put him ahead of both Dwight and Eric, actually, despite the noted “trash” prowess of the former and the “we” mentality of the latter.

Z. Mike should be moved up from here for his staying power alone. He played in every incarnation of ACF and was always solid (hovering around 30ppg even in 2003). Combine this with the fact that he was an excellent NAQT player to boot and he should get some love. A really good generalist: very good at geography and some science. I was also impressed by his lack of ego—here was a player who went from being #1 to a supporting player in a short span of time and didn’t raise a fuss about it.

29. Marc Swisdak

A. Again, Marc may be underrated. I’d say he’s comparable to Mike Starsinic: they were the top two players on those aforementioned early 90s Maryland teams, and when he went to Colorado he did a credible job on his own (showing up as a one-man team at the 1995 ACF nationals, for example). I’d elevate him at least a few places.

Z. Was never all that impressed with Swisdak when I saw him (though I realize that he was out of shape), but from what I’ve heard he was a hard working player who took his Maryland teams to the same brink that they’ve returned to so often without him. Purportedly a very good ACF player along the lines of Mike S., but I’d confidently rank the latter ahead of him because of longevity and some more depth.

30. Matt Lafer

A. When purblind Doomsters aren’t harassing him, he seems competent. Clearly a great supporting player, but I’m not sure that he’s done enough outside the shadow of Adam and Ezequiel to merit this ranking. At the moment, I’d call him a somewhat inferior version of Dave Hamilton who was fortunate enough to have far superior teammates to any of Dave’s at Maryland.

Z. A player who came into the college game with an amazing base of QB knowledge, but who has only recently expanded it substantially. I think one of Matt’s problems early on in his career is that he was trying to score lots of points per game, though I am glad to see that has been replaced for a desire to win. Perhaps no one outside of the top 12 on this list has his command of giveaways and solid academic knowledge. Good on all subjects, he really took the next step this year and learned how to buzz early on questions against good teams, and as a result contributed substantially to two title runs. I agree whole-heartedly with the Hamilton comparison and think that the spite that fuels him will catapult him up this list in the near future when he returns to school.

31. Joon Pahk

A. I guess he’s OK. Seems to know some science, for whatever that’s worth.

Z. Best combo “science-other stuff” player I’ve competed against before Seth T. Obsessed with getting better, Joon studied a ton and it showed in some of the early buzzes (and negs) he made whenever I competed against him. Stopped playing right when he was on the edge of really becoming the type of player who could take over a game against good opponents. A shame. His numbers at a variety of venues in 2003 showed what kind of player he was turning into. Lacked the breadth to be a true number one but was getting there.

32. David Farris

A. His ferret-like tenacity has served him well. He’s played long enough to be able to get some questions.

Z. Never really struck me as a good academic player, but then he goes out and gets questions off many good teams at ACF Nationals and ICT (had a sublime tourney in at NAQT Nationals in 2004). Wields an opportunistic buzzer. Lacks depth but gets the job done on a variety of subjects, has two titles to his credit playing the cleanup man role next to Teitler and Hoppes. Never scared. Solid player.

33. Jason Hong

A. The third of the notable Georgia Tech players. Also, the only one to have significant success after leaving Tech, which should count for something. Actually, I’d probably move him up a few spaces.

Z. Probably the most legitimate knowledge on the Tech teams. Went to Berkeley and kind of got sucked up by their sea of grad students, but still posted some decent numbers in leading them to the 1999 ICT final (where they got dismantled). Knew lots of Tech canonical type things and real science.

34. Victor Rosenberg

A. SLAM! Need I say more?

Z. Kind of amusing to compete against. He’s sort of like Nathan Freeburg, with a little more QB skill but less knowledge. John Nam once told me that Victor and his Kent State team decimated him and Ramesh at the first tourney Maryland showed up for—I guess that’s impressive. His “Three Boys and a Goy” teams were strangely effective at masters tournaments during the early to mid-90s.

35. Steve Watchhorn

A. A very solid player. He put up large numbers playing basically by himself at midwestern tournaments, but he could get tossups against real teams. Competitive, legit.

Z. A generalist who could surprise once in a while when Michigan, Chicago, and Illinois sent weaker teams or didn’t play up to their potential. I agree with A that he had some moments where he put it together and went on a run in a very strong region. Very solid on questions up to ACF Regionals level in difficulty.

36. David Goodman

A. I’d say that he’s better than at least Arthur Fleming. Certainly better than Arthur on NAQT, maybe not as good on ACF. I’d praise him for his habit of showing up for big games, only he never did.

Z. One of the better NAQT players I’ve competed with and against. Very fast, which led to some legendary neg games, but was usually a plus for his team. A real history generalist—could buzz on all periods with confidence up to about NAQT Sectionals level. Would buzz on almost anything else with impunity. Tough to stop when he was feeling it, although his lack of preparation and general laziness eventually caught up with him, and by the end of his career was more of a niche player than a true #1 or #2, especially on ACF.

37. Adam Humphries

A. He seemed strong the few times I saw him. A somewhat inferior version of John Kenney?

Z. Adam, to my mind, was the real deal on those USC teams that made some noise between 1998-2001, and was a more consistent player than the more glamorous T.C. Ford. Sort of a player in the old school Tech mold, but with some real knowledge tossed in. It was clear that he wrote a lot of questions and worked hard. Reminded me of a less advanced version of Lafer, but without the latter’s aversion to negging. A very good academic team player.

Fifth Tier

If the tiers were realms in Norse myth, this might be Svartalheim. Actually, I have no idea what that means, but maybe it helps to give you a sense of the kind of player we’re talking about here. In any event, Ed Cohn is the best of the lot.

38. Ed Cohn

A. I say that Ed Cohn is underrated. The meanest man in the game, in more ways than one. He’s led a team to a CBI title, was a solid #2 for Chicago when they won the 2001 ICT, and played a minor role on Chicago’s 2004 ACF national champion. That’s certainly more than the five people ahead of him on this list have accomplished.

Z. In retrospect I agree with A about Ed’s ranking. Ed is probably better, and certainly more successful as a teammate, than many of the players mentioned above him. A good generalist on easier ACF, he really picks it up on NAQT, where he is one of the better politics, history, and current events players to have competed during the modern QB era. A winner who understands the game, his teams have played well at harder events (i.e. he was a solid #2 on the second place 2002 Chicago Open squad and a contributor to the 2004 ACF Nationals champions) and he has lots of bonus knowledge, but his lack of tossup power at these types of tourneys makes me wary about moving him up a ton.

39. Fred Bush

A. Had a long and undistinguished career until he burst like a comet onto the scene in 2005, beating Subash and Andrew to win MLK and managing to finish third at ICT. Does that spurt compensate for almost a decade of mediocrity? In the opinion of my esteemed colleague Z, the answer seems to be “I guess so.”

Z. In defense of this ranking, I think Fred was slightly better than mediocre for a long time. Remember how he led those famed late 90s Swarthmore teams to some fine showings? He does become markedly weaker as the questions get harder. Still, he’s a good tossup player, especially on NAQT, and captained his team to a great run this year, beating some of the best players in the game to win MLK and finishing 3rd at ICT. Should probably be ranked lower than this, but his leadership and competence in big games do deserve some respect.

40. Eliot Brenner

A. I guess people thought he was good. Whatever.

Z. Hard working player for a Virginia Tech team that was really beginning to show signs (as Marv Albert likes to say) around 98-99. The only one among the four of Roger Craig, Jason Thweatt (“Push, Push”), and Dennis Loo, who could get real academic questions (sort of like Kelly M.–lite) against real teams. Made some great buzzes once in a while and could carry a team to victory over other second tier teams and occasionally, as at USC’s 99 tournament, upset good teams. Wished he would’ve played more at Yale. A very underrated player in my opinion.

41. Andrew Ullsperger

A. I respect his science knowledge, but it’s not clear that he knows anything else. Still, he does mow down his questions with icy efficiency. In the modern game, a player who can control science as he does probably deserves to be ranked at least this high, especially since he gets it done at real tournaments (e.g. the 2004 Chicago Open).

Z. Has always impressed me with his science buzzes, but then he gets other shit too, and early. I thought he was the best player on some very solid Illinois squads by the end of his career and what he did next to the Sudheer show at the 2004 ICT was pretty impressive. Very solid ACF player also, very underrated. I’d actually move him up a bit.

42. Wesley Mathews

A. It’s hard to know where to rank Wesley. He can put up significant numbers at real tournaments (ACF nationals and the like), but that’s always on one-man teams which finish very poorly in the standings. Still, he always gets a couple of tossups against the top teams, both because he knows some niche categories very well and because he’s written a slew of high-quality ACF questions. I would be fascinated to know what he might have done if he’d played at a place like Berkeley or Michigan. Either he would have lost some of his luster, or he could have become a really good player. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the latter had taken place.

Z. A weird player who is completely self-created. By weird, I mean he seems to know some esoteric answers/categories cold and then can’t get any points on basic shit. But I do think that if he were ever to play with a real teammate, he’d be oh so effective. Really solid, hard-working approach to the game. Writes a ton of questions and gets better as difficulty increases, but is, as of now, too specialized to do more than upset a good team once in a while, while losing to teams with less knowledge. Close, though, very close to making a jump.

43. Mike Sorice

A. If he’d played at either of the last two ACF nationals, I’d have a better sense of where to rank him. A solid NAQT player, and a very good ACF player even when the questions get super-hard (Manu, Chicago Open). I think he’s underrated at #43, since I’d say he’s a better all-around player than Ullsperger. If his Illinois teams win some tournaments next year my estimate of him could go up dramatically.

Z. Has really improved in the past two years. Writing and TD-ing will do that for you. Is starting to learn what it takes to beat really good teams consistently and I think he will only get better. Needs to expand his knowledge base out further from the science stuff he knows and become a more effective leader for a squad that has sometimes had a tendency to implode. Liked what I saw from him at Auspicious, Manu, and Chicago Opens, I really want to see him and his team perform at an ACF Nationals. That being said, he is very good at ACF and better than competent at NAQT right now. I’m confident his stock will rise.

44. Eric Hillemann

A. His contributions to the game are legion. One thinks, for instance, of the undergrad title, which has allowed Swarthmore and Carleton to feel like real teams, not to mention earning Matt Weiner some dubious looks from the security personnel at the New Orleans airport. And then there’s the frequency lists, which have fueled the rise to stardom of so many top players. Such innovations as the “Deep Bench” format are also deservedly legendary. As an individual player? Um, I guess he knows some lit. He did outscore Tom at the 2004 Chicago Open, which some would say makes him one of the all-time greats.

Z. Knows a lot of humanities stuff from being around the game so long and writing a lot of questions. Obviously I never saw him in his prime, but you can catch glimpses once in a while at a Masters tourney or two. Occasionally struggles to get his questions against better competition, but is a solid player.

45. Chris Frankel

A. I haven’t seen him play very often, but I respect his game. He seems to know stuff, and you don’t lead your team to a top 4 finish at ACF nationals through inebriate spite alone. A player who could rise substantially in the next few years.

Z. Turned himself from an okay freshman to a player that can lead his team to a top four finish at ACF Nationals. When he is not drunk or insulting people can be a downright impressive player on academic questions of all kinds. Despite his party-boy image he works really hard at getting better and has a great career ahead of him if he decides to continue his schoolwork. His game is hampered somewhat by difficulty and he may be too dependent on stock clues (although this may be a thing of the past judging by his Nationals performance, at least on tossups), but he has the motivation to study and get better so I expect him to move up on this list fairly shortly.

Other Notable Players and Future Stars

What follows below is an alphabetical list of other notable players we have competed against, heard about, and/or seen play. Many would argue that they belong on the list above in some capacity, and they may be right.

  • Please note that we believe those players with a star next to their name have the potential to crack the top 50, or even the top 45, as their careers continue. Needless to say, many of those players who are still active and are already established on the list could see their stock rise in the near future as well.

James Anderson

A. Knew some stuff, led Illinois to some decent ACF showings. May be insane.

Z. Generalist who led Illinois during the mid 90s to some wins.

Mike Angel

A. A fine knowledge of biology and dramatic literature, which made him a key contributor to a Chicago Open champion team.

Z. Key contributor to 2000 ICT Champs, very good role player. Knew some stuff.

Craig Barker

A. No comment.

Z. Excellent at CBI, good at NAQT. Ridiculous in his second playing career as a TRASH master.

A. Again, no comment.

Z. The player on the recent Yale teams who could get questions early. May hear a lot more from him at Georgetown if he can find some teammates.

Roger Bhan

A. A solid player, but I guess he’s a notch below the likes of Joon Pahk or Andrew Ullsperger in my valued colleague’s opinion. It’s not clear that, say, Chris Frankel has accomplished more in his career than this prolific writer and editor, but who knows?

Z. Great guy. Played a lot of on some undermanned squads. Worked hard and performed really well at his only tournament win, Auspicious Incident. If he and Joon would’ve kept up with it at Stanford there might have been a plaque above his mantle.

Rex Chapman

A. Who can forget his high-arcing shot? A threat from any distance, especially 25-30 feet.

Z. Clutch three point shooter, who teamed with Seth Kendall during his early days at Kentucky.

Alice Chou

A. The only female Triple Crown winner. Also, devoted to perhaps the greatest cat in the game, the notorious Wallace. Who can forget the 1999 ICT, when she made the greatest “Jennie Gerhardt” buzz in the history of the game to defeat Michigan?

Z. She made good pastries and was a contributor to four national championship playing teams. Knew lots of French stuff.

Matt Colvin

A. A solid Maryland player, if not quite on Arthur Fleming’s exalted level. His knowledge of classics and all-around irascibility count for something.

Z. Wildly erratic, but very earnest and committed Maryland/Cornell player. Could do some damage on ACF.

Matt Cvijanovich

A. He had become a legitimate player, and was a valued contributor to the game.

Z. Very good ACF player by the end of his career. It really would’ve been interesting to watch him and the Illinois team gel. A very nice guy who will be missed.

Mike Davidson

A. I guess he’s a competent NAQT player, and allegedly a good CBI player. But if the latter is grounds for inclusion, I demand that Minnesota get some love.

Z. Ridiculously talented, though somewhat lazy and inconsistent at National tournaments. Fantastic at CBI, but should’ve been so much better at ACF and NAQT. Should probably still be on the above list.

Raj Dhuwalia

A. Competent, I guess.

Z. Scored lots of points solo and made Florida into a downright scary team when he joined them.

John Edwards

A. A solid NAQT-type player, though he could do nothing on ACF. His sunny demeanor is sorely missed.

Z. The original “strong” team during his tenure at Howard Law. Solid generalist and NAQT player.

A. He seems competent enough.

Z. Knows some stuff, makes some early buzzes, and with some work could be much better.

T.C. Ford

A. He was good, but overshadowed by Adam on those SC teams. I’m not sure how much he really knew – he might just have been a Christine Moritz kind of player (i.e. runs up big numbers at weak Southern circuit tournaments; does almost nothing on real teams or at real tournaments).

Z. A very good ACF player who always seemed to me like he wasn’t into it. As a result his teams always seemed to lose games they shouldn’t.

Ben Heller

A. Not a good tennis player. I also cannot speak highly of his basketball game. Never saw him play quizbowl when he was supposed to be at his best, so I reserve judgment.

Z. For a year and a half, was a really, really good academic player. One of the best history players I’ve ever seen, contributed to one national title (also won CBI), but got kind of burnt out and stopped working.

Guy Jordan

A. In 1994, he was a fine player. Nowadays, not so much. Not helped by the gradual realification of the game, but he can still score some spectacular buzzes on, e.g., “civet cats.” In some ways, the proto-Freeburg, though his implosions were more sporadic.

Z. Buzzed a lot on a lot of things, negged on a lot of things. Solid tossup knowledge. Kind of like Goodman, but not as good.

Seth Kendall

A. Can score some points at ACF tournaments, especially on easier questions. Many more scoring prizes than tournament titles.

Z. Very good ACF player up to Regionals level. Sometimes seems a little too caught up with stats rather than winning.

Roger Lee

A. Um, I guess he was OK.

Z. Knew current events and other shit. Leading scorer on Stanford squad that won NAQT ICT in 1998.

A. The man has won some of the harder tournaments ever held (Manu, the 2004 Chicago Open) and he helped to write many of the rest. I think it’s time for us to recognize his place among the game’s greats. Oh wait, I guess we just did.

Z. One of the better niche players of all time. When he is on, few buzz earlier on their question strengths. His breadth is lacking, but if he works on it he could become a nice foundational player.

Robert Margolis

A. One of my favorite memories of Tom Waters: At some tournament, he was lamenting that he had never played against Margolis. Why? Because Tom had been the leading scorer at every tournament he’d ever attended; so had Margolis. Alas, that Clash of the Titans never came about, so we’ll forever remain in doubt as to who the greater of the two was. Oh, wait: Actually, Tom would have waxed the floor with the big man – it would have been like watching Tim Duncan go one-on-one against Peter John Ramos.

Z. A big man who put up big numbers against soft teams.

Jacob Mikanowski

A. No comment.

Z. Scored a lot of points on NAQT questions. Was kind of good till Hoppes thoroughly eclipsed him.

A. Her science buzzes were legitimate this year, against top teams at quality tournaments (Manu, ACF nationals).

Z. Really impressed with her development. Excellent science player that occasionally gets other stuff.

Nick Meyer

A. Been around forever, but still scruffy.

Z. Played a long time. Knows lots of random shit. This combination made him effective at NAQT for a time. Then Berkeley got better players, who studied and won.

John Nam

A. The original “Drunken Master” of quizbowl, whose skill with a bottle of Johnny Walker puts later drunkards to shame.

Z. Could buzz on many things. Good speed, not much depth, but he did claim that he was one of the top 10 of all time as recently as 2001. Hmmm…

Long Nguyen

A. Underrated Tech player. I think he’s borderline top 45, only his period in the sun was too brief for him to flaunt his prowess. Or maybe I’m just dreaming.

Z. One generation after the Tech team that took the world by storm had passed on, Long wreaked terror on unsuspecting mediocre teams in the mid-Atlantic. Solid ACF player.

Robert Osborne

A. What’s he doing here?

Z. The putative third on the recent very good Kentucky teams. Knew some science, some military history, and could put up big numbers when not playing with Kelly.

Jon Pennington

A. Are you serious?

Z. Won some titles as a contributing fourth on Berkeley. Very good social science player at ACF. Deodorant optional.

Steve Perry

A. Surly but competent, like so many who have played the game. I hope he invested his Regis-begotten riches wisely.

Z. Formed a nice 1-2 punch with John Kenney. Could get lots of tossups at NAQT and was effective at ACF, not much depth.

A. It’s not clear to me what he knows at tournaments for which he can’t prepare by reading old questions on exactly the same topics. Still, he’s a likable fellow – I hope he develops into a more legitimate player.

Z. The closest to a Subash performance anyone has seen at the past two ICTs, yet he still couldn’t lead his team to a top three finish. Odd? Good buzzer instincts and if he keeps working hard, who knows?

Dom Ricci

A. Decent NAQT player. His platypus is sorely missed by few.

Z. Won a title with Subash in 2000 as the second scorer on that team. A very high-scoring player in UG who had to adjust to playing with good teammates in grad school. Much better at NAQT, though he was a competent ACF player as well.

Chris Romero

A. He’s become surprisingly solid. I think he could be a strong #2 on a real team, but I don’t know that he has it in him to be a first-class #1, as he has been forced to be on so many A&M teams.

Z. Has really improved recently. Studies hard and knows some humanities (art among other things), but his knowledge is very manufactured. It is hard to win like that at nationals.

Jon Saluta

A. I guess he was supposed to be good. I dimly remember some allegedly powerful UNC grad teams that never impressed me at all. He was on them.

Z. The best player on the UNC all-grad teams that played in the mid to late 90s. Very old-school Southern approach to the game.

Bobby Shepard

A. Cool guy, but as a player perhaps in the Moritz/Ford mode. Who can forget the Maryland Masters he sort of edited?

Z. Solid player from NC State back in the day.

Julie Singer

A. Talented, also unbalanced. Watching her cruelly flirt with helpless, pathetic quizbowl males was a predictably dreary sight at tournaments of the late-90s.

Z. A player with immense natural gifts. Had mad depth on her subjects (art, Italian and French literature) as an undergrad and would occasionally lead the well-balanced Maryland teams in scoring, but had the propensity to melt down in some big games and was erratic. May still merit inclusion on the above list.

David Thorsley

A. Seemed a solid NAQT player. His sardonic brevity is missed.

Z. Excellent as part of a good team on NAQT and solid generalist on easier ACF.

Robert Trent

A. Used to be good, I guess, then not so much.

Z. Still playing, I think. Part of the first ACF Nationals champs. Could get some lit sometimes. Racked up points against some not so good teams.

Mike Usher

A. A good player for Berkeley back in the day, who might have also done some stuff at MIT.

Z. Very solid Berkeley player, who tried his best to make MIT legit in the Northeast recently.

Chris Vicich

A. Probably the fourth-best player on Subash’s 2000 NAQT ICT team. Good for him.

Z. Really knew the occasional lit question. Was a gifted NAQT player who should have been better on ACF.

A. An up-and-comer who loves astrophysics and Heinrich Böll. Well, who doesn’t?

Z. Still learning. Good instincts. Has a great base for both ACF and NAQT and should make great strides with his work ethic.

Mike Wehrman

A. Solid generalist, weak on real questions. His teams are capable of being surprisingly dismal.

Z. Really good speed player. Has improved on more academic questions in the past two years, but can be shut down on ACF.

Al Whited

A. Perhaps the finest collection of Icelandic literature in the game. Who can forget his mighty beard and stentorian voice?

Z. He told good stories and I guess he was good in the 80s. Saw him play Khon Hoc and get mad at the Playboy questions. Good times, good times.

Tim Young

A. I guess a competent NAQT-type player.

Z. Kind of like Thorsley. May have been a better generalist, but his GW teams made some noise once in a while during his tenure.

Mike Zarren

A. Certainly no ACF player, but very good on NAQT. A strong #2 for Andrew at the 1999 NAQT ICT (when he was #2 in the tournament in powers, I believe). One of the great playas in the history of the game, if not in the league of a Litvak or Potru.

Z. Great CBI player, outstanding second as an NAQT player on crap. No academic knowledge required, so he didn’t seem to acquire any.


According to a question at the 2005 Chicago Open Trash Tournament tournament, R. Hentzel found it "ludicrous" that John Sheahan was ranked second.

It has been suggested that the original thread responding to this list featured Lee Henry and Chris Borglum demanding that more players from the Southeast be ranked in the top tiers by virtue of their dominating performances on Charlie Steinhice questions. Even a cursory glance at what has been preserved of this thread suffices to show that that nothing of the kind occurred in those remnants, however. Instead, in what still exists of the thread both Borglum and Henry suggested that Kelly McKenzie was underrated, due to his victory at the Chicago Open and 2004 ACF Regionals, neither of which were edited by Steinhice. Perhaps Henry and Borglum did in fact make such calls in posts which, for some reason, have not been preserved.

Matt Weiner posited that results from before the turn of the 21st century were essentially meaningless due to drastic changes in the topics and style of questions, and that the knowledge of 1980s superstars was by definition "fake". In his view, players from the 1980s should have continued to work at the game long after ending their active involvement in it for the purpose of impressing the current quizbowl community; in addition, he hinted that the retirement of thise players was not due to graduation and careers, but to fear of and incompetence at modern "real" questions. This suggestion prompted commentary from Borglum and, more vehemently, from Seth Kendall.

The 2011 sequel was criticized for its overemphasis on national titles and its glaring and inexplicable omission of Jonathan Magin, who had been the lead scorer at the past two Chicago Opens and was widely regarded as that era's second-best literature player.

External Links

Greg Peterson noted in 2008 that the original list had somehow been deleted. Fred Morlan re-posted the list for all to see, and it has now been preserved on the QBWiki.

The Definitive Greatest Players List
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