Quiz Olympiad 2016
Six Irish quizzers made the trip to Athens in November 2016 for the inaugural Quiz Olympiad: Dave McBryan, Lorcan Duff, Mark Henry, Kevin Jones, Paddy Duffy & Jules Carney.
The lads did us proud and Ireland finished second overall in the medals table, thanks to three gold medals from Lorcan Duff!
Dave McBryan's extensive report follows below.
4 days, 200 quizzers, 26 nationalities, 1 great experience:
Ireland at the Quiz Olympiad 2016
by Dave McBryan
Proceedings kicked off on the Thursday with a trip to the Panathanaikos stadium before the competition began with the main event for national teams, the Nations Cup.
Thursday: The Nations Cup
At the European Championships in Rotterdam last year, Ireland achieved an exceptional 5th place in this event, but considering that our more typical placing in previous years has been around the 9th-12th bracket, and that the field was stronger this year due to the addition of non-European teams (20 teams in total), we knew that matching that 5th would be a very tall order. The team (consisting of myself, Lorcan, Mark & Kevin) set ourselves the target of making the top 8 (thinking that as last year, there would be playoff matches for 5th-8th place).
We got off to a poor start with 5/12 in the first round putting us in =14th place. After that, things improved only slightly, and for most of the way through we were just outside of the top 10. However, there were a lot of teams clustered around similar scores, so we were only ever 1 or 2 points off our target of 8th place. Going into the final round we sat in 11th place (tied on points with Finland & USA, but behind them on the tiebreak measure of highest-scoring-round), so we were pretty surprised when the final results were read out: a strong 12/20 in the final round meant we had left Finland & USA behind, overtaken Germany, and finished in a 3-way tie on 55/100 with both France and our perennial rivals Scotland! What’s more, that 12/20 meant that this time it was us who were ahead on the tiebreak, so we had somehow jumped from 11th to 6th place!
It turned out that the placings matches were a very informal affair for most teams. The bronze medal contest (between Wales & Norway) took place on a stage at the front of the room (the gold medal contest between England & Belgium being held over for the final day), in the same ‘chocolate box’ format that Irish quizzers will be familiar with from the Celtic Nations. Meanwhile, all the other teams played along on the same questions as a written quiz (the teams on stage had to pause 20 seconds before answering each question to allow us to confer and write down answers).
We were notionally playing against the team that finished just ahead of us in the qualifier (Croatia) to decide 5th and 6th place. We came out ahead with 77-74 (the fact that we also outscored both Scotland and France left us with a certain moral justification for having pipped them only via the slightly arbitrary tiebreak measure!). So, Rotterdam’s 5th place result had been matched after all, and we went to the gala opening dinner feeling extremely satisfied.
Thursday: Aspirational Cup
At the same time as the Nations Cup, the Aspirational Cup runs in parallel (on the same questions) for those not on national teams. For this, Paddy & Jules had teamed up with the only 2 Russian quizzers in attendance: Sergey Nikolaev & Denis Peskov. Paddy came up with the perfect name for an Irish-Russian alliance: O’Blast, and with 42/100 in the qualifier, they finished a creditable 13th of 27 teams. England B beat Belgian Anarchy in the final.
Dinner was followed by the first of several medal ceremonies and the first of several late nights in the pub next to the hotel.
Friday: Specialist Quizzes
Friday was a day full of new events in the schedule – most of the day would be taken up with the Specialist quizzes – 12 papers of 50 questions each on different subjects. At any one time, there was 1 highbrow and 1 populist paper taking place, so we had to choose which 6 we would sit. As well as medals for each of the 12 specialist subjects, there was an overall pentathlon title (best 5 subjects, marked as a percentage of the best score to account for varying difficulty), and highbrow and populist overall titles too (best 4 of 6 in each case, marked in the same way). The best score from each country on each paper also counted towards an overall national title – with that in mind we made sure we had at least one Irish quizzer sitting every paper.
Personally, as a generalist rather than a specialist, I knew these quizzes were unlikely to suit me, and so it proved. The first two I sat (History & Literature) were tough, but the difficulty peaked with an absolutely brutal Science paper where only 5 people managed more than 20/50!
The afternoon’s papers of TV, Geography and Pop Music went considerably better, but I still wasn’t threatening the top of the leaderboard on any of them. Lorcan however, was on fire, and produced the best score in both the TV and Pop Music genres. Winning two subjects of course gave him a great start in the overall Populist competition, and backing that up with =7th place in Film, 10th in Business and =14th in Sport meant he emerged at the end with a third gold medal! The rest of us were struggling in his wake: the only other Irish top 20 results were Jules’ =11th in Business, my =11th in TV and 14th in Pop Music and Paddy’s =12th in Pop, =15th in TV and 13th in overall Populist
Full Irish results from specialist quizzes are as follows.
History: Kevin 22, Paddy 21, Dave 20, Jules 14 (won by England’s Kevin Ashman with 41)
Literature: Dave 19 (won by England’s Kevin Ashman with 38)
Science: Lorcan, Kevin & Dave 14, Jules 7 (won by England’s Pat Gibson with 26)
Visual Arts: Mark 25 (won by England’s Kevin Ashman with 37)
Geography: Mark 25, Dave 23 (won by Belgium’s Paul Arts with 42)
Performing Arts: Kevin 27, Mark 21 (won by England’s Kevin Ashman with 42)
Sport: Lorcan 29, Mark 24 (won by Estonia’s Igor Habal with 41)
Business: Lorcan 19, Jules 18, Mark 16, Paddy 15, Kevin 12 (won by Netherlands’ Ujjwal Deb with 28)
Digital: Paddy 14, Mark 13 (won by Michael-Dennis Biemans of Netherlands with 33)
TV: Lorcan 32, Dave 27, Paddy 25, Kevin & Jules both 22 (won by Lorcan 2pts ahead of both Brage Nordgard of Norway and Jenny Ryan of England)
Film: Lorcan 26, Jules 18, Kevin 17, Paddy 10 (won by England’s Olav Bjortomt with 36)
Pop Music: Lorcan 38, Paddy 30, Dave 29, Jules 15 (won by Lorcan, 1 point ahead of England’s David Stainer)
Overall Highbrow: Dave 207.4, Mark 177.1, Kevin 171.8, Jules 61.1, Lorcan 53.8, Paddy 51.2 (winner Kevin Ashman with a maximum possible 400)
Overall Populist: Lorcan 343, Paddy 253.1, Jules 222.5, Dave 160.7, Kevin 158.8, Mark 155.1 (won by Lorcan with a comfortable margin over Michael-Dennis Biemans of Netherlands)
Having won 4 genres, it was no surprise that Kevin Ashman was also the overall pentathlon champion, with 488.5 out of a possible 500 points.
Irish scores (and placings out of 191 competitors) were:
Lorcan 9th with 410.8
Dave 45th with 319.3
Paddy 65th with 304.3
Mark 71st with 292.8
Kevin 75th with 287.8
Jules 105th with 256.7
In the overall National competition, Ireland finished 10th of 26 countries. England were first by a long way, while Norway just edged out Belgium for silver.
There then followed 2 new formats that were both a bit different and a lot of fun: the Speed quiz and the knockout quiz.
Friday: Speed Quiz
The Speed quiz consisted of 3 heats and a final. For each heat we were given a paper with 80 multiple choice questions, but only 2 minutes (!) to complete it. Obviously, nobody could hope to get through all the questions in that time, so it was a question of who could get the furthest.
The first heat was won by David Stainer with an impressive 44/80. (I had struggled with 30). In the next heat, I got the hang of it a bit more and managed 45, only to find everyone else had improved too. Lorcan won this heat with 51/80, which turned out to be the best score of the evening. There were 2 more places in the final for the winner of the 3rd heat and the best runner-up, both of which were taken by young Americans: Brandon Saunders and Tanay Kothari.
Brandon, David, Lorcan & Tanay then assembled at the front of the room to contest the final: another multiple choice paper, this time with just 60 questions, but only 1 minute to do it in! Brandon ran out the winner with 30, David Stainer 2nd with 26 and Tanay 3rd with 22. With 20, Lorcan had finished an unlucky 4th and just missed out on his 4th medal of the day.
Friday: Knockout Quiz
For the knockout quiz, everyone was assigned an opponent at random (some getting a bye in the first round). Each round consisted of 5 questions and a tiebreak, at the end of which the winner advanced to the next round and a new random opponent while the loser was eliminated.
After 4 rounds of this, we were down to a final 16, and impressively 3 Irish quizzers were still in: myself, Paddy and Lorcan. Unfortunately all 3 of us were eliminated at that stage.
A close fought final 4 saw Tore Heliks van Dahl of Norway (my conqueror) edge out Igor Habal of Estonia, Shane Whitlock of USA and Kevin Ashman of England.
Friday: Hot 100
Friday’s proceedings concluded with the Hot 100. Full results for this haven’t been published yet, so we’re not sure how our scores compare, but I got 72, Lorcan 69, and Mark & Kevin both 67.
By the time that finished, it was gone midnight – it had been a pretty gruelling day during which we had tackled 740 questions all in individual written formats, so Kevin, Mark and I managed just one quiet beer in the hotel bar before calling it a night to be up for the individual quiz in the morning.
Saturday: Individual Quiz
As usual at the EQC, the individual consists of a 100-question qualifier, with the top 10 players then going on to face a further 20 questions on stage in the final. Ireland have never had a quizzer reach that top 10, and I’m afraid that wasn’t to change this year.
With 61/100, Lorcan came closest, finishing 15th, just 4 points off the top 10. Mark was next best with 52/100 for 36th place, then myself with 46/100 for 60th, Kevin with 45/100 for 70th, Paddy with 43/100 for 81st and Jules with 33/100 and 139th (out of 180 players).
After this qualifier, we had lunch followed by a trip to the Acropolis. After 2 days of solid competition at the hotel, the fresh air and sunshine was a welcome break, and we returned refreshed for the evening’s quizzes: the final of the individuals, and then the Club Team Quiz.
In the individual final, the defending champion Olaf Bjortomt started out with a 1 point advantage over multiple previous winners Pat Gibson and Kevin Ashman. He went on to extend that lead and eventually won by a very impressive 7-point margin. Although Ronny Swiggers of Belgium and Raj Dhuwalia of USA both threatened the podium at times during the final, it ended up in a clean sweep for England with Kevin in 2nd and Pat in 3rd.
Saturday: Club Team Quiz
The Club team event allows people to form teams with anyone, unrestricted by nationality.
I was playing with a multinational squad consisting of Sebastian Klussman (Germany), Andy Tucker (Scotland) and Raj Dhuwalia (USA), under the name ‘Three Beards and a Supersub’. We got off to a great start with 10/12 in the first round putting us jointly in the lead, but things went downhill from there. As each successive round’s results were read out, we dropped further down – 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th… and ultimately 12th place.
On the plus side, one of the teams that replaced us in the top 10 towards the end also had Irish interest: ‘The Continents Strike Back’ saw Mark reuniting with his 2014 Aspirational Cup-winning teammates of Leslie Shannon (Finland/USA), Todor Milak (Serbia) and Gerard Mackay (England) – they finished 9th.
Meanwhile, Lorcan & Paddy had teamed up with Lee-Ann Whitlock (USA) and Mukke Pedersen (Denmark) and came 19th (with their team name ‘Athena Baby: Shaking That Ass’ having been inspired by the afternoon’s trip to the Acropolis) while Kevin joined the Scots Neil MacAskill and Galen Chung in ‘Keltic Nations’ and finished 23rd.
There were 47 teams in this competition, so all the Irish entrants made the top half (Jules had decided to take a break from the hardcore quizzing, and instead went to a pub quiz run by the Athens Irish club!). At the top end of the table, Belgian squad Café den Hemel just edged out the English teams of Broken Hearts and Milhous Warriors.
After that, the evening concluded with a fun quiz presented by some of the American quizzers. Unfortunately, this didn’t count as an official medal event, because the winning team contained 2 Irishmen! Lorcan and Kevin were joined by Galen Chung (Scotland) and Ed Toutaint (USA).
Sunday: Pairs Quiz
The last event for us was the Pairs on Sunday morning. In the only all-Irish pairing, Kevin and Mark finished 34th (of 75 pairs) with 51/100. The rest of us went for the tactic of finding partners from other countries, in the hope of diversifying the knowledge base, and had some success: Jules was 65th playing with Celine Marlot of France (39/100), Paddy joined Nick Mills of England and came 21st with 57/100 (the same score as the all-Chaser powerhouse of Paul Sinha & Anne Hegerty!). Playing with Dirk Vielhuber of Germany, Lorcan did even better with 62/100 and 12th place.
But I was lucky enough to get the best Irish result with 64/100 and 9th place. I say lucky, because most of that was due to having an exceedingly strong partner: 3-time Celtic Nations champion Mark Grant of Wales. We were annoyed at ourselves for a few silly mistakes early on (always read the bloody question!), but in retrospect there was a 5-point gap between 7th and 8th place that we would never have bridged, so our final placing was about as good as it could have been.
The competition was won by Kevin Ashman & Pat Gibson with a very impressive 76/100.
Sunday: Nations Cup Final
That just left the final of the Nations Cup, the traditional event closer, which usually features the toughest set of questions of the whole weekend. Playing along in the audience, we were relieved not to be facing these on stage – personally I was pleased to manage a mere 22/90! England once again ran out fairly comfortable winners over Belgium.
Sunday: Medal Ceremony
Official proceedings then concluded with the final medal ceremony. The venue for next year’s EQC was also announced: Turku, in Finland. No definite decision on the next Olympiad yet, which will presumably be in 2020, but New York City have already put in the first bid. Informal quizzing continued in the bar that night until at least 2am, with Mark, myself and Chaser Jenny Ryan all throwing out questions for everyone to answer.
All-in-all, it was a good set of results for Ireland. We might have hoped for more in the individuals, but the Nations Cup and other events (most of all Lorcan’s stunning performances in the specialist quizzes) made up for that. The eventual medal table flatters us a bit, but we’ll take it: Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, USA & Estonia all came away with more medals than us, but because it’s ranked on number of golds first, Lorcan’s hat trick put Ireland in second place, behind only England!
While I’ve tried to round up all the Irish results here, what’s much harder to do is to get across the atmosphere of the event. For anyone who’s never done it, I can only recommend it wholeheartedly. It’s utterly immersive – for 3 or 4 days you live and breathe quiz and are surrounded by some of the best in the world. They’re also an extremely friendly bunch, and you come away with new friends of all nationalities. As well as the official events, the social side is excellent and frequently involves informal quizzing into the early hours. The standard is of course phenomenally high, and the questions sometimes phenomenally tough, but nobody should let that put them off: there is also some lighter material, and more importantly, nobody is worrying about how badly you’re doing – they’re all more concerned with how they did themselves and who’s ahead of them.
Here’s hoping we have a bigger Irish squad, and even better results at the European Quizzing Championships 2017 in Turku, Finland!
Dave McBryan, November 2016
Team Ireland (L-R): Lorcan Duff, Mark Henry, Paddy Duffy, Kevin Jones, Dave McBryan
(Jules Carney not pictured)