The Definitive Greatest Players List

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The Definitive Greatest Players List

Post by Martin Faber » Tue May 17, 2005 12:25 am

The “Definitive Listâ€

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Post by Matt Weiner » Tue May 17, 2005 1:15 am

I object to the omission of other humorous John Kenney quotes from this list. Seeing him both get a question on "How The West Was Fun" and subsequently give that when he couldn't come up with a bonus answer was the highlight of ACF Nationals in 2002.

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Post by ValenciaQBowl » Tue May 17, 2005 8:54 am

Ah--I get it: this is the definitive list of the best players ever from the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions, with nods to the rest of the country. Or so it seems.

Though I'm certainly biased because he's my bosom buddy and lifelong pal, I can't believe that Raj Dhuwalia doesn't make someone's top 45! And considering some of the players ahead (though I wouldn't name names, there are some folks between 30 and 45 who seem a little too highly rated from my limited observations), I can only assume that this is due to lack of familiarity. A team of Kelly McKenzie (#11), Raj (not ranked), Seth Kendall (not ranked), and myself (perhaps deservedly not mentioned) beat a team with Yaphe (#1) and Zeke (#8) and Litvak and (I think) Ben Heller in Chicago a couple years ago--twice! And though Raj, Seth and I would agree that Kelly did much of the lifting, he didn't do it all by himself. And Raj led a team with me, Vik Vaz, and Raj Bhan to victory over a Yaphe/Hamilton et al. team at an earlier Chicago tournament, though I know one win doesn't necessarily mean too much.

I suppose the problem is that most of Raj's dominant play has occurred in the South, so maybe many of you haven't seen it, and true, it may not all have come against the type of comp. he could get in other regions, but we can't all go to Michigan.

One name amazingly left off the list is that of Mike Dupee, a superstar of the Old South (circa 89-93ish) who single-handedly sometimes beat the powerhouse Ga. Tech teams of that era. I don't blame the listmakers for their very powerful bias toward current players; though they rank Waters, Dendy, and Wyndham highly, they mostly disparage them. Still, it's not fair to try to consider how these guys would do today--it's barely even the same game. Current players prepare for the current game; those guys prepared for their game. Heck, I think my best Valencia team could have won the first ACF Nats, or certainly played well, just because they learned from Chicago Open packets and such, while those of us back then had a much narrower canon. In his time, Jim Dendy dominated like Yaphe has recently. I was on the wrong end of many Dendy-led beatings, and let me tell you, he knew a lot of stuff and was very driven. He'd do fine now if he was 20 years old, I would bet.

One final quibble: the "growing realness of the questions these days" is really overblown by you whippersnappers. There's nothing more "real" about a question on Euphuism than there is about a question on 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' Less, really. The latter is far more likely to be read in an undergrad or graduate lit. course. I'm glad that the QB canon has expanded, but I do think we're hitting the outer limits now. But I better stop before I change this thread.

Nonetheless, the list made interesting reading.
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Post by Matt Weiner » Tue May 17, 2005 9:05 am

ValenciaQBowl wrote:One final quibble: the "growing realness of the questions these days" is really overblown by you whippersnappers. There's nothing more "real" about a question on Euphuism than there is about a question on 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' Less, really. The latter is far more likely to be read in an undergrad or graduate lit. course.
But there is something more real about a 2005 question on To Kill a Mockingbird than a 1995 question on it, and that is that the structure, length, and clue quality of the 2005 question will, in fact, be much more likely to reward that person who has read it over someone who memorized prior clues about it or picked something up from watching the movie. Questions from more than a few years ago are full of stupid puzzle clues, trash where it doesn't belong, recycled leadins, and early-in-the-question giveaways.

I think the comments about players whose stock dropped as questions became not just harder but more academic are valid. If these players were so great at "preparing for the game" then why didn't they do it for the new, more knowledge-dependent game? Perhaps they were just good at buzzer races and fraudulent play.

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Post by ValenciaQBowl » Tue May 17, 2005 11:10 am

Maybe some of these old-timers finished college, got jobs and spouses and maybe kids, and haven't had time to worry about devoting innumerable hours to reading plot summaries of Restoration dramas. Jeez, Matt, I know you're not going to tell me that you've actually read even 1/3 of the works on which you answered toss-ups at last year's literature singles in Chicago. Kelly McKenzie loved to mock me for beating me to tosses on works I'd read but he'd only read summaries of--though questions can be written to limit this, it can't be completely eliminated. Besides, I usually am not sweating the memorization of QB details/clues from things I'm reading (though, like all of us, I often like to write a question or two on something as soon as I finish it).

Then Matt wrote: "If these players were so great at "preparing for the game" then why didn't they do it for the new, more knowledge-dependent game? Perhaps they were just good at buzzer races and fraudulent play."

Goddam, dude--why are you so hostile all the time? "Fraudulent play?" Fer cripes sakes . . . [/quote]

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Post by Scipio » Tue May 17, 2005 12:13 pm

If these players were so great at "preparing for the game" then why didn't they do it for the new, more knowledge-dependent game?
Yes; why did they stop after doing the work necessary to OWN the game? Why didn't they keep working to learn clues that never came up, instead of just OWNING the game? Why didn't they continue to work long after retirement to come back and play and impress people whose opinion is worth so much?

See, here is the point that so many who look back at the history of the game and sneer at past accomplishments because questions are so much "better" or "more real" now continually miss: to be the best, you first have to know all the answers, then know all the giveaways, then know all the second clues, then know all the leadins. Moreover, to stay the best, you have to keep adding to your knowledge base to incorporate new answers that come up and new leadins for older answers. These older players - Don, Tom, Jim, the 1996 Tech Team, the 1996 Maryland team - did that while they were playing. They didn't stop because the game got too hard, and thus they were overwhelmed; they stopped because they retired. I suspect that if the 1996 Tech team had not been dismantled because of graduation, but had stayed together, maintained the will to win, and continued practicing and writing, they'd be winning Nationals tournaments to this day. Likewise, if graduation hadn't carried away the 1996 Maryland team, they'd still be dominating, as well. But when players stop, the game passes them by; it did with Tom at Chicago, for example. Hell, even Andrew showed signs of weakness - relatively speaking - after a lengthy time off when he came back at Regionals 2002 (I think it was 2002) and was outscored by Subash. Being outscored by Subash is not hard to do, mind you, but this is Andrew, ranked #1 on that list above. It hasn't happened since, I observe, but Andrew hasn't been that out of practice since, either.

The best players, the dominating players, learn the answers and the clues, and those both change over time. It has, I argue, been happening more rapidly over the last four years than it has in the four preceeding it, but it was happening then, too (Albert Whited noted this fact in a mailing list post in 1998). To suggest that players then simply couldn't handle the game now is simply unfounded; they withdrew from the stream, and the game moved past them. Perhaps some of them would have finally been overmatched (like that Farside cartoon: "Sorry, guys but I need to stop playing; my brain is full"), but I bet that it would be the case for most that if they had stayed in the boat, they'd be as far along down the river as those players who are on the ship now.

Finally: woe to your memory, all of you who stop playing this season. No matter how good you are now, three years from now most quiz bowl players won't know who you are, and those who do will insist that you are overrated. Cherish your prestige now, while you have it.
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Post by salamanca » Tue May 17, 2005 1:18 pm

Just a few notes:

As Chris B. rightly points out there are certainly some inherent biases in this list (for example, I've never heard of Mr. Dupee (sp)) and there is a quite a bit of room for fudging who makes it on the list and who doesn't. That is why the other notable players are included.

Finally, although I agree with Seth K. that none of these rankings will or, in fact, should matter in about three years, I do think that the list could spark some real discussion right about now, so that folks can debate and learn about the history of the game from one another*-- a la Chris B's points about regional over-representation and over-valuing.

Anyways, have fun with it. And if folks feel the need to compose their own lists in response, cool.

Peace,
ezequiel

*btw, I think this might be a reason why certain programs/schools are so well represented here. The younger players hear the stories told by the older players who then tell the next generation (or tell others wherever they happen to go to grad school) and so on. This is an arrangement that rarely works out at places with sporadic circuit participation, but is much more likely at places with consistent success (a la GTech or Maryland).

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Post by quizbowllee » Tue May 17, 2005 1:29 pm

Is this the same Mike Dupee of Jeopardy! fame?

Also, I'd like to weigh in just a tad... As someone who played against many of the people on this list (and got completely killed by all of them), I can give some insight.

First, I feel that Raj and Kelly M. are being very underestimated. I played against a full Chicago team last year at ACF Nats. (Subash, Andrew Y., et al.) While they totally stomped us, I was able to answer a few tossups against them...

However, Raj once played against me at a tournament and won 525-15. That was the worst beating I ever took. Also, at 2004 ACF regionals, Kelly M. played us solo and I only answered one tossup to his 18.

This post certainly makes me look terrible, but I felt it was worth the public humiliation to point out that Raj and Kelly should both be in the second (if not first) tier. Granted, I played them many more times than I played against Andrew and Subash, but all-in-all, I was more impressed with Kelly and Raj.
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Post by Martin Faber » Tue May 17, 2005 4:49 pm

Scipio wrote: Finally: woe to your memory, all of you who stop playing this season. No matter how good you are now, three years from now most quiz bowl players won't know who you are, and those who do will insist that you are overrated. Cherish your prestige now, while you have it.
I don't really understand this portentous outburst. Please note that four of our top seven players (Sheahan, Johnson, Dendy, Windham) haven't played a tournament since 2000. Far from being forgotten, they are still firmly ensconced in the top ten.

By the way, you might consider the following to better appreciate what we mean by "dominance." According to my calculations our #1 player, Andrew Yaphe, has played in 43 tournaments in the last seven years. (Give or take a few: I'm not sure how accurate my sources -- thanks, University of Chicago team website -- really are.) Of those, he has 36 first-place finishes, 6 second-place finishes, and 1 third-place finish. Those numbers include 3 ACF nationals (3 wins), 4 NAQT nationals (2 wins, 2 second places) and 3 Chicago Opens (2 wins, 1 second place). Of course, Andrew also won 2 ACF nationals and a CBI nationals before going to Chicago.

Meanwhile, our #2 player, John Sheahan, won 35 tournaments in his seven years at Chicago. That span included 2 ACF titles and a second-place ACF finish, as well as 1 NAQT title and 1 NAQT second-place (out of two NAQT nationals John attended). He also won a number of summer tournaments, including at least one Philly Experiment and one Tennessee Masters -- I believe he and Andrew were teammates on both those winners.

It's not as if these players were riding other people's coattails to those wins. For most of those tournament victories, they were the clear #1 on the team (sometimes by a very large margin). I understand that older players didn't have equally frequent opportunities to play, but did any of them produce a similar history of domination? If someone can produce records from a seven year period in, say, Don Windham's prime that show him winning over 80% of the tournaments he competed in, we can talk again about his place in the game. Until then, being #7 all time isn't too shabby.

Also, the respect given these players relates to what I've called the "realification" of the game, which I feel is not well-understood. But that's a concept best saved for a later post.

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Post by grapesmoker » Tue May 17, 2005 5:30 pm

I thought this list was quite interesting for historical purposes, but I'm somewhat skeptical of its validity in ranking people on an all-time greats list (well, ok, I'm not just skeptical, I outright don't believe such a ranking can be done on a large scale in any objective sense). Some points to support this contention.

1) I don't believe players can be accurately compared across time periods. I think Matt is wrong to say that older players stopped preparing or were only good at fraudulent play. Part of being good at quizbowl is having some fraudulent knowledge, but the real reason why many of these players would not do well on today's questions is because they've been retired for 5 or 10 years. That's normal and happens all the time, but it is also the reason why I don't think that comparing today's Andrew Yaphe with yesterday's Jeff Johnson makes much sense. For all we know (and I have good reason for suspecting the following conjecture is true), were Jeff Johnson playing today, he might be even more dominant than Andrew. Instead of talking about all-time greats, I think it's more worthwhile to divide the quizbowl timeline up into timeslices and look at who was dominant when.

2) It seems to me that entirely too much emphasis has been placed on tournament wins. Superfluous scoring titles are rightly not taken into account, but many of the people on this list won what they did not because they dominated individually but because they did so as a team. The obvious example here is Michigan, perhaps the most balanced team I've ever played against. While neither Zeke nor Adam were dominating every single category individually, they combine so well that they're nigh unstoppable. That's different from saying that they are individually (as in, one-on-one) better than other players (though in fact I believe that they are better, one-on-one, than most other players today), and it shows the mistake of ranking players based on titles won, since those titles are won in tandem. For another example, consider the claim that Paul Litvak, as good a player as he is, "won" Manu. That's absurd on its face. Paul, Jeff, and I contributed roughly 50 points per game combined; for the most part, we rode Andrew's gigantic coattails to a victory we would not have achieved otherwise.

3) I get the feeling that the A. and Z. who compiled this list, whoever they may be, are somewhat out of touch with the circuit of today. I don't intend this to seem mean-spirited, but I believe a lot of these rankings are based on somewhat scanty evidence gathered hastily from select tournaments. For example, I fail to see how Zeke could not rank among the "top-tier." He led his team to both an ACF and an NAQT title this year, not for the first time. Michigan came back from a one-game deficit to win back-to-back games against Chicago at ACF, an incredibly impressive feat. Likewise, I question the high ranking of R. Hentzel, against whom I've played at multiple open tournaments (like Cardinal Classic). He's certainly a very good player, but it seems to me that much of his fame rests on performances that took place almost a decade ago. Joon Pahk should be ranked much higher than he is; he was a fantastic all-around player until he retired. To have Mike Usher in the basement of the rankings is also foolish. Mike was consistently one of the top scorers at Berkeley and could put up massive PPG against almost anyone. He suffered from a lack of equally great teammates at MIT, but he was certainly a very good player, probably every bit as good as, say, Kelly McKenzie or Adam Kemezis on an individual basis. Anyway, the list goes on.

Looking at the quotes next to my own name only reinforces my belief that much of this is based on hearsay. "An up-and-comer who loves astrophysics and Heinrich Böll" is a judgement that, as far as I can tell, is probably based on the science I edited for this year's BLaST/J'Accuse/Moon Pie extravaganza. My former teammate Seth Teitler was (and is) the astrophysicist, and I think I wrote all of one tossup on Heinrich Boll in the last 3 years. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I feel like leading one's team in scoring at ACF Nationals to a 3rd place finish is maybe worth a little more than a footnoted mention at the bottom of the list. It seems a consistent issue with this list that West Coast players, despite any achievements, are typically ranked much lower than people from any other region (perhaps excluding the Southeast). Jon Pennington, Nick Meyer, and David Farris were (with Jeff Hoppes) on the team that finished second to Subash at the 2003 ICT, meriting I think a higher ranking than they currently get. With Seth and Jeff, Jon and David were part of the championship ACF team in 2003. Past greats like Richard Mason of Caltech and current players like Eric Smith of Stanford (who, by the way, with only one teammate tied for fourth at ICT this year) are omitted entirely.

I think that in evaluating current player rankings, we ought to look at ACF Nationals, ACF Regionals, NAQT ICT, and possibly NAQT SCT, though I think the SCT is a far worse indicator of strength than any of the other three. I think it's a safe bet that the top scorers at those tournaments are the top players in the game today, and that's pretty much the only situation in which a semi-objective comparison of player quality can be made.

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Post by Scipio » Tue May 17, 2005 5:35 pm

I don't really understand this portentous outburst. Please note that four of our top seven players (Sheahan, Johnson, Dendy, Windham) haven't played a tournament since 2000. Far from being forgotten, they are still firmly ensconced in the top ten.
Actually, I wasn't really responding to your (by the way, is this Andrew? Zeke? Andrew and Zeke? Someone posting the dialogue between Andrew and Zeke who is neither of them?) post as much as to Weiner's. Because I used "real" I can see why it would be assumed that this latter was directed at you, but it wasn't. Nor was I arguing against the place you assigned to Sheahan and Andrew/yourself; my own memories of playing Sheahan come from when he was in his decline - he himself once suggested that players reach a plateau, and he seems to have reached his when I encountered him; he was still very good even then, but not as dominant as perhaps he might have been - so I might have placed him a little lower, but not by much. I also said nothing about Don's placement on your list (I disagree with it, but that is my opinion), but was instead offering a commentary on the suggestion that his triumphs were in some way gained fraudulently.

I will, however, say this: people who look at the past of this game often tend to make one of two errors. One is assuming that the heroes of the past were better than, perhaps, they were. I have been charged of this in other posts, and know myself well enough to realise it is probably the truth. The other is that players look back on the game and, with the packets played in hand, snort and assume that these titans of yesteryear could not possibly have been any good because questions are so different now. I think this is just as much of a disservice to the game as over-idloising them, for reasons I described in my last post. It seems that this has become far more common lately, hence the ominous pronouncement to which you comment. Perhaps, however, my vision is clouded, and I am in error.

Finally: thank you very much for your kind words about me on your list. However, it would be an injustice to my teammates if I didn't offer this following addendum: as it turns out, if one counts summer tournaments and NAQT events (as you seemed to in the List), I actually have fifteen tournament titles, one more than the number of individual scoring titles to my credit. Fortunately for me, up until this year Robert and Kelly have made it such that I was frequently able to take the former rather than settle for the latter. The fact that I know that, however, means that I am one hundred percent as guilty of minding statistics as was indicated.
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Post by Ethnic history of the Vilnius region » Tue May 17, 2005 6:02 pm

Matt Weiner wrote: If these players were so great at "preparing for the game" then why didn't they do it for the new, more knowledge-dependent game? Perhaps they were just good at buzzer races and fraudulent play.
What players are you referring to? Specific names could bolster/wreck your argument. Clearly you can't be saying that anyone who dominated the game circa 1995 or so was exclusively good at fraud and buzzerraces and had no real knowledge. One only has to look at performances of some of those old school players at recent masters tournaments to see the problem with that argument. Not that they have anything to prove to us whippersnappers anyway.

That said, I thought the list was pretty good. We can all quibble about who should've been in what tier and what not, but overall it named a lot of really great players and brought back some names that are often overlooked. It would be cool to see some more polls just for shits and giggles.

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Post by mattreece » Tue May 17, 2005 6:07 pm

I get the feeling that the A. and Z. who compiled this list, whoever they may be, are somewhat out of touch with the circuit of today. I don't intend this to seem mean-spirited, but I believe a lot of these rankings are based on somewhat scanty evidence gathered hastily from select tournaments. For example, I fail to see how Zeke could not rank among the "top-tier."
Yeah, I'll bet that mysterious Z guy is totally out of touch with Zeke.

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Post by grapesmoker » Tue May 17, 2005 6:21 pm

mattreece wrote: Yeah, I'll bet that mysterious Z guy is totally out of touch with Zeke.
Actually, when I first saw the A. and Z. initials I was under the impression that this was meant to be a sort of play on the notion of "A through Z" rankings. Looking back on it, if I understand Zeke's post correctly (I accidentally scrolled past it the first time) he was at least partially involved. However, even if Zeke rates himself as a second-tier player, I still disagree with that rating; I feel he's a top-tier player, no question about it.

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Post by BobGHHS » Tue May 17, 2005 9:06 pm

I would agree Barker and Kidder are sick at trash... after playing Kidder last year at ABD and getting our faces smashed in....

Ask Noah about the Barker-esque NAQT bonus about Generic Varieties of Dr. Pepper and how that was a Barker-question... Craig is just sick sometimes... lol...

I remember playing against Heller and Mikanowski in high school, forget where Heller went (Plymouth Canton, MI maybe) and Mikanowski I believe was from State College... and they thoroughly smashed us... although we did give State College a game that year....

Some of the people on this list are just amazing, and I wish I had the time to commit to the college circuit to get to play against some of them.
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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Tue May 17, 2005 10:46 pm

In defense of Jerry, I had the same "A through Z" thought initially. Granted, I figured it out shortly afterward.

Also, my one completely unqualified comment sort of echoes Jerry. I think that there is too much emphasis on winning tournaments, for the reasons already mentioned...people win because they have teams that can win. I, for one, am more impressed by the "base of knowledge" that a player has - and I think the only way to discover what that base consists of is to watch the player play on a few occasions. I also tend to be impressed by a broad base of knowledge, which is why I would rank someone like Lafer who can go from hardcore science to history to video games a little higher. I have no real reason for that; I just find it more impressive on the surface.

Oh yeah, where is Kevin Roth?

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Post by Captain Sinico » Tue May 17, 2005 11:54 pm

Ryan Westbrook wrote:...where is Kevin Roth?
Eastern Europe!

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Re: The Definitive Greatest Players List

Post by ProsperoSMS » Wed May 18, 2005 7:25 pm

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.


I was a member of UNC's team during this time. I was an undergrad and I enjoyed the circuit then and like following it now, but I was never any kind of power player (only had one top ten scoring finish ever). We were an ok team, but I do think I should correct the idea that UNC had either "allegedly powerful...grad teams" or "all-grad teams." The most grad players we ever had in one year was three, when Jon, Larry Sorrells, and Martin Poteralski were the Big 3, but they only actually competed together in two tournaments that year (which did include winning an ACF Regional). Otherwise, the most we ever fielded were two grads, and that was mostly Jon and Martin.

That said, I think Martin is missing from the list and should be there, perhaps in the last tier you list. Martin was an old GT player, but his base of knowledge always impressed me as being a little less robotic, as you call it, and he was stronger, IMHO, than Mike Musgrove, and he was certainly even with Patrick King, his two old sparring buddies in Atlanta.

I would also rank Jon higher. I know in both cases I'm biased since I played alongside these two, but Jon Saluta was both a single-handed threat and a great team player, and I saw him take down some of the 1990s ACFers you listed above him through good solid play.

A normal lurker's two cents,
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Post by Martin Faber » Wed May 18, 2005 9:39 pm

Ryan Westbrook wrote: I think that there is too much emphasis on winning tournaments, for the reasons already mentioned...people win because they have teams that can win.
To a certain extent, this is true. To be more precise: Players who aren't themselves great can win tournaments because they happen to be on teams that can win (which is arguably, as Jerry suggests, the case with Paul Litvak's biggest triumphs). Also, players who are very good can win tournaments because they are paired with other players who are also very good and who happen to complement them nicely (which is perhaps what Jerry is saying about Adam and Ezequiel at Michigan). But when you're judging the so-called "first tier" players, winning tournaments is the best criterion. It's hard to distinguish between the top ten players of all time on the basis of "who knows the most," since they all know a huge amount of stuff. (Though all of these players have their weaknesses -- a Yaphe-Johnson showdown on Science Masters questions might be painful to watch.) The very best players are the very best players precisely because they don't need "teams that can win" in order to win -- they can win more or less on their own, by force of will and knowledge. Look at Jeff's 1995 ACF nationals performance, or Andrew's 1999 ACF nationals, or Subash's 2003 NAQT ICT. They just went in and won those tournaments, in effect single-handedly.

In summary: Quantity of tournaments won isn't the best criterion for separating the 30th best player from the 31st. But it is the best criterion for sorting out the top 10-15 players.

Martin F.

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