As It Happens

How Jeopardy champ James Holzhauer is 'showing everyone how to play the game perfectly'

Future Jeopardy contestants will likely try to emulate current champ James Holzhauer's winning strategy, says superfan Andy Saunders — but they probably won't succeed. 

Guelph, Ont., Jeopardy blogger says future contestants will have a tough act to follow

James Holzhauer is a 34-year-old professional sports gambler from Las Vegas who passed the $1-million US mark on Tuesday. (Carol Kaelson/Jeopardy Productions/Associated Press)

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Future Jeopardy contestants will likely try to emulate current champ James Holzhauer's winning strategy, says superfan Andy Saunders — but they probably won't succeed. 

Holzhauer passed the $1-million US mark on Tuesday. 

He is a professional gambler from Las Vegas, and when it comes to answering in the form of a question, he looks unstoppable.

Across 14 games, he's averaging more than $75,000 of winnings. That means he's likely out-earning host Alex Trebek each episode. 

Holzhauer still hasn't broken Jeopardy legend Ken Jennings' record. But his unique style of play has fans wondering whether he's broken the game itself.

Saunders of Guelph, Ont., runs the blog The Jeopardy! Fan. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Andy, why do you think that this guy James Holzhauer is such a dominant force in Jeopardy

He's been the first person to kind of really put everything together, all of the strategy, all of the buzzer timing. He's got the knowledge to back it up. He's not afraid to make massive bets on Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy. And basically he's showing everyone how to play the game perfectly.

And what are the strategies that you've noticed that he plays?

He's realized that the Daily Double clues — those are the ones where players are allowed to bet any or all of their score — he's realized that they come up in certain areas of the board, most likely in the third or fourth row of clues, and in more academic categories. And so he has an idea based on past trends where those clues are going to be.

You'll be two minutes into the game [and] he'll have $12,000 and his opponents will be on like $1,000 apiece. And it's disheartening for his opponents to try to come back from.

A man in a Jeopardy hat poses for a photo.
Andy Saunders runs the website The Jeopardy! Fan. (Submitted by Andy Saunders)

Is it a psychological thing?

It ends up being psychological. I don't think that's the intent for him. But I think it's just how it happens to work out.

But he is a professional sports gambler, right? So he does have that sangfroid.

Exactly, because as a professional sports gambler, he's bet on massive amounts of money on sporting events — what's one trivia question?

And I think that's what separates him from anyone else who's really played the game before. He's able to not be afraid to bet $25,000 on one question. 

When you're watching Jeopardy, you can kind of identify with the people on the show — I mean, they're smarter than me, but they seem nervous, they seem excited. But he doesn't. There's something else about him that is unusual, isn't it? 

There are some people on the internet who have compared him to a cyborg, but I think he's just so used to ... the pressure situations of gambling that this feels like nothing to him.

But then what does this do the actual game show? Because if he sets a new standard, if he sets a new strategy, does it kind of sabotage the show as we know it?

I think he's certainly showing that the game can be played to this level. But I also think that there are very few people who might be able to play the game to this level. 

So you'll probably see other people try to emulate his strategy, but I think my worry for these people in the future is they're either not going to have figured out the signaling device ... or they're not going to have the requisite knowledge in order to pull it off.

Then on top of everything else — the strategy, his buzzer technique — the guy just seems to know everything.

I know, and I think that's what kind of has allowed him to basically put all of this together.

Moreover, not only does he know a lot, he knows he knows a lot. So he can go in confidently and think that ,'OK, I am 90 per cent to get this clue right. I'm a gambler. I'm being offered even money.'

What gambler isn't going to put in as much money as they can when they're being offered even money on something where they're 90 per cent?

OK, so now that viewers are comparing him to Ken Jennings, how close is he to beating or joining Ken? 

He's still just under $1.5 million away from doing so. But the thing is ... James is averaging $75,000 an episode whereas Ken, when he won his 74 games, he was only averaging $33,000 an episode.

So James is approaching Ken much faster. Both Ken and James [are] buzzing in at similar rates. They're getting about the same percentage of the questions correct.

The only difference is James has bets on Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy three to four times as large.

Written by Alison Broverman. Produced by Richard Raycraft. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.