[Spoiler Alert] No, James Holzhauer Didn’t Throw Tonight’s Jeopardy Game…

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If you don’t want to read about what exactly will happen to James tonight, you should stop reading here…

I’m a big fan of game shows and trivia and loved watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire back in the Regis Philbin days. Documenteries about those who beat the games, like Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal and Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much are right up my alley as well.

Jeopardy is also a favorite of mine and Rafi (my 7 year-old) and I have have been avidly watching James Holzhauer do the incredible night after night. In 32 games he has won $2,462,216, averaging $76,944.25 per win. He holds all of the top-10 spots for winnings in a single game. With one more win at his average nightly winnings he would have won the most money on Jeopardy regular season play ever.

Before James there was Ken Jennings, who in 2004 won 74 games and $2,520,700, or $34,063.51 per win.

The difference is that James knows nearly all of the answers (they’re actually questions in Jeopardy speak) and is a professional sports gambler. That means he can risk huge sums and get away with it as he is only wrong 3% of the time.

Ken was far more conservative, but he was also wrong 9% of the time. That meant he couldn’t gamble as aggressively as James does.

But James’ betting is more sophisticated than just betting big. He factors in his opponents scores and their ability to challenge him in Final Jeopardy and nearly always succeeds in entering Final Jeopardy with a runaway score that can’t be caught. Then he just has to bet the most he can so that even if he’s wrong he won’t lose, though he often rounds to a lower number that is meaningful in his life.

Cheddar does a good job showing exactly how several strategies have worked for James, but the main thing is that he knows and can quickly recall nearly everything that is asked.

His breadth of knowledge is simply astounding.

Alas, all good things need to come to an end.

Here is the ending of tonight’s episode:

 

The NY Times has a post-mortem on the streak and the background on what went wrong for him on tonight’s show here.

The comments there surprised me greatly:

Several DDF members also speculated that James threw the game intentionally and just wanted to go home already.

That is certainly incorrect. James as usual made the perfect wager. The only difference is that James usually bets from a position of power and now he was betting from behind.

Going into final Jeopardy, Jim has $11,000, James has $23,400, and Emma has $26,600.

  • He knew that Emma would bet enough so that if she was right, she would beat him. James would have $46,800 if he bet everything and was right, so Emma had to bet $20,201 to ensure victory if she was correct. James’ only hope of winning is if Emma was wrong.
  • Since James could also be wrong, he had to bet little enough so that Emma would have less than him if they were both wrong. James needed to bet less than $17,001 to win in this scenario, as a $17,000 bet would leave him with $6,400 while Emma would fall to $6,399.
  • However, James knew he also had to watch out for Jay. So he had to bet just enough to make sure that that Jay couldn’t catch him even if he bet $11,000 and got it right. That meant James had to finish with at least $22,001, which is exactly why he only bet $1,399, so that he would wind up with no less than $22,001. That bet ensured that Jim was eliminated from winning.

James bet perfectly, but unfortunately for James, Emma did get it right and of course she bet enough to ensure that she could not be caught even if James bet everything. And thus ends a truly incredible run of Jeopardy.

So no, James didn’t throw the game and Ken is still the all-time Jeopardy leader for total wins and cash winnings, excluding tournaments.

Now, let’s see a game of Ken, James, and Watson!

 

I, for one, am still waiting for Watson or Google to make my credit card reconsideration phone calls too 😉

Have you been following James’ run on Jeopardy?

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49 Comments On "[Spoiler Alert] No, James Holzhauer Didn’t Throw Tonight’s Jeopardy Game…"

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Art

Too bad, I was rooting for him to break the record.

Z

Yes I was following and you ruined it! You gave away the ending in the title to the post.
But anyway great breakdown Dan. You figured this out yourself?

Z

But he also bet too little to beat her if she bet 0. She could’ve figured out that he would bet low and she could’ve bet 0 and guaranteed herself a win.
It’s all a game of prisoners dilemma

Ak

“…therefore I can CLEARLY not choose the wine, in front of me.”
;o)

tony c

BUT if he did a max bet, he would have beat her!!!!!!11

Scott

Right, he didn’t throw the game. Total coincidence that it was perfect timing in a dozen arenas.

Juryduty

Video is down

Ike

Loved watching James. This has to have been the first time he came into final jeopardy without the lead. He is usually at around $50K by then, must have had a really sub par game to only reach FJ with $23,400.

Rob Glidden

He only uncovered one of the Double Jeopardy squares on the first pick of the whole show…max bet, $1000. he typically uses them to really escalate his score. She found both in the double jeopardy round, and cashed in similar to how he usually does…this was ultimately his undoing.

Jcity

I’m so disappointed in you, Dan. I happily get notifications of every single one of your Tweets. I’ve been closely watching all of James’ episodes. Your tweet’s headline WAS the spoiler, and I couldn’t help but see it.

Shlomo

You could have been more vague in the title.

rob

Holzhauer’s betting strategy is as impeccable as they come. He is the Jeopardy equivalent of Moneyball, but with flawless execution.

Rest assured to everyone out there, that if you can’t figure out why James bet what he did, it’s you, not him.

rob

Can we just point out for a second here, one thing that does not get discussed enough in all the hoopla around James records, is that he finished 32/33 (97%) on Final Jeopardys?

Eventually someone will beat James $131K single game score (especially now that James’ style will be the new normal going forward). Eventually someone will beat Jennings games and money records. Eventually someone will beat Rutter’s total winnings records.

But nobody is ever touching that record. It’s basically the equivalent Michael Jordan’s dunk at the end of Space Jam, only James did it in real life.

Dr Moose

Video no longer works.

Lesterk

Big deal

Mountain Man

I disagree. James is a professional gambler obviously knowledgeable bet sizing ala Kelley Criterion. He was also aware that he was playing a winners game and not a losers game. His bet was a sheepish bet per his standard because it was a bet on the other contestant losing and not him winning. He could easily surmised the librarian wouldn’t have bet it all so his best chance at winning would’ve been to double down imho and let fate be in his hands and not hers. I think he did this as a nod to Ken.

Z

He wouldnt have won anyway. If you want to say he threw the game he may have thrown it throughout the whole game with slow buzzer work or something. But the last bet was the right bet

GB

I am a huge fan of this blog and everything you and JJ do. For whatever my opinion is worth, (and since this is the internet my opinion is probably worth very little), I do wish you had waited until tomorrow to post this as the title alone told the tale and spoiled it for me. I understand other media may have also been showing this but I still don’t see why you couldn’t have waited 1 day to post your analysis as it’s not as though this was some time-sensitive deal or promotion. At the same time, if this is my biggest ever criticism in 8 years of reading this site, I guess that isn’t so bad :). Keep up the good work!

Nicolas Bertrand

There was maybe some betting going on in Vegas on whether or not he would be Jennings. Maybe he had a “friend” bet that he would not beat Jennings, even though it seemed very obvious he was going to going into tonight’s game. Maybe he threw the game to win a bigger prize somewhere else (indirectly)? He is, after all, a professional gambler/better

Shimi

Love your site and deals you post but I really wish you would have waited, the title really spoiled watching it for me tonight. Your the only service I have that texts me alerts, the title was not nearly vague enough. 🙁

HelpMe

For all those that think he made the wrong bet you are welcome anytime at my house for a poker game.

DifferentDan

“Spoiler Alert” – doesn’t work here, sorry Dan you should have waited. The only possible surprise was that he lost. Lucky for you we weren’t sure until the end what happened because even Jay could have snuck in there.

Lily Lively

I think he threw the game..sat back on easy questions & that final bet..really!! Come on!

Lily Lively

I really really really enjoyed James…he s the best…will really really really miss him. Thanks James..it was really really really exciting.

Ask Kaplan

James made the correct bet. He lost the game in the first and second rounds as he picked the daily double on his first pick and had nothing to wager. Emma was fortunate enough to pick both daily doubles in the second round. Therein lies the real key to a James’ loss, he couldn’t have had a runaway total going into final Jeopardy. His luck simply ran out.
I’ll miss his incredible performances!

Shmilfke

James would be posul eidus

HelpMe

How about we talk about the winner making the wrong?

HelpMe

*bet

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