Meet James Holzhauer: The Man Who Broke Jeopardy!

Everyone is still buzzing about the ‘Jeopardy!’ game changer James Holzhauer. The 34-year-old professional sports bettor from Las Vegas has played 33 non-stop games and earned close to $2.5 million on the game show. While ‘Jeopardy!’ has been on the air since 1964, James came out of nowhere and literally changed how to play the game. His method of playing the game is different from any player in the history of the show, and it looks like he’s going to change the future of how it’s played as well.

This is James Holzhauer – the man who basically broke ‘Jeopardy!’

James’ Winning Streak is Over!

On June 3, 2019, James Holzhauer had a winning streak of 32 games and earned a total of $2,462,216. But as of June 4, he lost the game to Emma Boettcher, who won a total of $46,801, marking the end of a long and impressive winning streak. And the sad part? He was just $60,000 away from beating record-holder Ken Jennings who earned over 2.5 million on the show. Now, James will forever be #2.

Source: YouTube

No streak lasts forever. Until Holzhauer’s last game, he was unbeatable. It was rare for anyone to even come close to winning the game against him. But in the end, he lost fair and square to Emma Boettcher, a librarian from the University of Chicago.

The Women Who Beat Jeopardy James

Emma Boettcher was a longtime ‘Jeopardy!’ fan who tried a number of times to get on the show, having done four in-person auditions. Emma even wrote her master’s thesis on predicting the difficulty of the show’s clues! So, really, if anyone should defeat James, it should be her! But what’s more interesting than her obvious intelligence and the fact that she won the game, is the look she gave Trebek when he compared her to James.

Emma Boettcher. Source: Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

Alex Trebek made a comparison between her Daily Double strategy to James’ method — by betting all the money she had, which is also known as “a true” Daily Double. Trebek said: “Oh, okay, influenced by James, are we?” Trebek said. Emma gave him a very GIF-like response in return.

Every Winning Streak Comes to an End

As for James? He said he never expected to even get that far in the game. He didn’t think he would get to game 6 or 7, let alone 33! And he said how he also didn’t expect to make that level of money, referring to it all as “mindblowing.” He also said how if he was going to got out, he wanted to be against a top player. And a top player Emma definitely was.

Source: YouTube

Boettcher walked away after that game with $46,801 compared to Holzhauer’s second-place $24,799. Emma casually ended one of the most historic streaks in the Jeopardy!’s history.

And James’ winning streak was due to his unique tactics…

The Legend of James Holzhauer

James Holzhauer had more than just a few amazing moments on the show and record-breaking wins. If you’re curious as to what was the most he won in a single game, it was $131,127 on April 17, 2019. Since James showed up and started competing on the game show in April, he has done nothing but shatter records and make money.

Source: YouTube

He passed the $1 million mark in the shortest time ever and broke the show’s record for single-day cash winnings. Before James came along, the one-day record was held by a man named Roger Craig, who on September 19, 2010, took home $77,000 in a single game. That’s nearly half of what James took home last month in his single-game record breaker.

Numerical Significance

James’ first record-breaking prize of $110,914 held a special numerical significance — his daughter’s birthday. She was born on November 9, 2014 (11/09/14). As for breaking Roger Craig’s record, James said, “I said all along that I wanted to break Roger Craig’s one-game record and I did it.”

Source: Hollywood Reporter

And it looks like he’s not done yet. His next goal is to beat the current world record holder for the most earned on Jeopardy! – Ken Jennings, who won 2.5 million in 74 consecutive games. So who is James Holzhauer and what exactly is he doing that’s changing the game as we know it? Well, he’s playing in an unprecedented way and if studied, can change the future of the game show…

Why James is Winning

James is currently on an extraordinary winning streak, and as people are obviously studying his moves and methods, they’ve come to realize a few things. Here are how James is basically cracking the code.

Source: Cinema Blend

Seeking ‘Daily Doubles’: James found 26 of the 33 ‘Daily Doubles’ in the first two rounds, and he answered 24 of them correctly. His average wager on the ‘Daily Doubles’ is $9,993, which is almost four times the amount of Jennings’ average wager on his Daily Double bets.

A Method to His Madness

James also incorporates risk tolerance. Holzhauer is no stranger to betting. As a professional gambler, he has a higher tolerance for risk and knows when to take them. “I’m used to gambling,” James told Vulture.com. “To me, these are just points on the scoreboard and not actual dollars.

Source: New York Post

Buzzer beater: James also managed to perfect the art of the buzzer. James learned how to master his timing with the buzzer after reading an e-book called “Secrets of the Buzzer” by Fritz Holznagel, who was also a contestant on the show. His book emphasized the importance of focusing on the lights on the side of the board that light up when the buzzers are activated, instead of trying to anticipate when Alex Trebek will finish reading the question.

Perfecting the Game

James also used the age-old method of ‘practice makes perfect.’ James is really just a regular guy who simply understands that practice is going to increase his odds of winning. Holzhauer apparently trained by watching ‘Jeopardy!’ episodes in his dress shoes to prepare him for the real thing.

Source: The Wrap

Easing his nerves: James has a way of calming his nerves before and during the show. He said how any time he got overwhelmed on stage; he would snap his fingers three times and visualize going down an ice slide with his daughter in the snow.

So let’s take a moment and find out who James Holzhauer is…

A Trivia Dream Team

About ten years ago, a group of eight friends, most from the poker community, would gather together at one of the longest tables in an Irish pub in Henderson, Nevada. They would meet at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays for “Trivia Night.” Their wager? A $150 bar tab.

James Holzhauer second from the right. Source: Jameson Painter

The professional poker player Jameson Painter was a regular on the team, as was Leo Wolpert, a lawyer, and accomplished poker player as well as former “Jeopardy!” contestant. Wolpert was one of the “victims” of Ken Jennings’ 74-game winning streak back in 2004.

The Perfect Teammate

When he wasn’t out of town, James was the perfect teammate; not just for his amazing trivia skills, but also because he wasn’t a big drinker and could stay focused. There was typically a pregame drinking round at a friend’s place near the pub before the walk over to the Green Valley Ranch Resort.

Source: Robert Mulherrin

The drinking would then continue at Quinn’s. It was all part of the fun, but James was able to keep it to a limit and play the game. And the alcohol may have explained their group names, which changed every week. The group often chose the team names based on something related to current events or shows, like “The Simpsons.” But rarely was the team name chosen even appropriate for publication.

Two Plus Two

When online, members of the trivia group would meet on the popular online forum “Two Plus Two.” These friends knew each other well and really enjoyed their game nights. The level of competition on trivia night was high.

Source: Robert Mulherrin

There was another regular team at the pub which was made up of gamblers, and they knew exactly what force they were dealing with. Painter spoke of these nights, saying, “We’d have side wagers with them, but we’d [spot] them a few questions. [Our winning percentage] was, I don’t know, high 80s, low 90s.

Friends for Years

Painter and Holzhauer have been friends for a long time. In 8th grade in Illinois, they were the only two kids to qualify for the state geography and state math competitions. But they didn’t actually meet and become friends until their college years.

Source: Review Journal

The two met while playing cards at a card club at the University of Illinois. The club that met twice a week quickly became a five-day-a-week home poker game with a 10-cent ante and $2 maximum bets. Don’t forget – they were students.

These poker games were where Holzhauer started sharpening his gambling tools. But it was the 2006 World Baseball Classic that made the biggest impact…

His First Bet

Baseball has been James’ favorite sport since he was a little kid, and the Chicago Cubs are his favorite team. “He’s very good at fantasy football and fantasy baseball,” said Robert Mulherrin, who plays in fantasy leagues alongside Holzhauer since they were in high school. “Right now, I’d say on his full-keeper baseball team, of the top 100 prospects, he has eight or nine of them. His team got older, he’s rebuilding right now, and his team is completely stocked up.”

Source: Heavy

Baseball was the first sport James learned to bet on, and his friend Jameson Painter explained to him how American odds worked. “His time as a square was very, very short,” Painter said. “2006 was the big year for him as it turns out.”

Going Against the Grain

In March 2006, the inaugural World Baseball Classic took place, which was right before the start of the season. Team USA and the Dominican Republic were the betting favorites, but James disagreed and chose to try a different method. He figured the round-robin format of the tournament and variance in baseball changed the odds.

Source: Uproxx

He bet heavily on every team other than the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to win the tournament. And it worked. The underdogs Japan and Cuba ended up reaching the championship game. “I think it worked out where he increased his bankroll by 50 percent,” Painter recalled.

He Went Pro

After having graduated with a degree in math from the University of Illinois, James moved to Las Vegas in 2008 to start a career in professional sports betting. He claims that he “retired” in 2011 to start a family with his wife, Melissa and moved out of Las Vegas.

Source: heavy.com

Melissa also has a knack for trivia, having won $28,000 during a 2014 appearance on the hit show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” The couple moved back to Las Vegas with their daughter in 2015, and James returned to his sports betting career.

In-Game Betting

While James said that he built predictive models for baseball, football and college basketball, he now focuses on in-game betting. And although he’s kept a rather poised demeanor on ‘Jeopardy!’ he’s been known to lose it when he makes a bad betting decision.

Source: The Inquisitr

Even though I’m used to losing bets every day,” he told ESPN, “I am NOT calm when I sweat a game. My daughter learned to say, ‘They’re not even trying to cover!’ before her second birthday.

James was not prepared to become something of a celebrity…

A Force to Be Reckoned With

James is now back home in Las Vegas, and ‘Jeopardy!’ is done taping until the Fall. The episodes are just now airing, and the media blitz is causing his fame to skyrocket. America is now seeing just what a force James is. People are starting to study him.

Source: Jeopardy

Just like in pro sports, winning by a large margin over the less experienced competition is much more predictive of intrinsic ability than squeaking by evenly matched competition,” said Craig, an artificial intelligence consultant. “And that’s what James has done so far.”

Rising to Fame

Just recently, an Illinois radio station was offering a reward for James’ contact information and requests were coming in non-stop. TV producers were calling his wife and even his parents, asking them to persuade James to come on a variety of shows.

Source: The Ringer

When asked how he’s taking it all in, James he’s taking it in stride and is looking forward to some family vacations ahead. While he’s managed to strike gold on a number of betting games in the past, his stint on ‘Jeopardy!’ has been ground-breaking.

And not just for him, but for the show as well…

Beating Ken Jennings

I think that James has managed to demonstrate how ‘Jeopardy!’ can be played as perfectly as it might be possible,” Andy Saunders, an enthusiast of the show who runs thejeopardyfan.com, told ESPN. And that meant out-playing the show’s previous winning champion and current record holder, Ken Jennings.

Source: YouTube

In 2004, the then 30-year-old software engineer from Salt Lake City, won 74 consecutive games, breaking the record with $2.52 million in winnings. Amazingly, number 2 on the career winnings list is James who won that spot after only 8 games. And he earned about $1 million more than Jennings during his first 22 games.

The Numbers Speak for Themselves

To me, it’s clear that he’s one of the top players of all time already,” said Roger Craig, the champion who held the single-day record of $77,000 before Holzhauer beat him. On James’ 10th show, he broke his very own single-game record when he won $131,127.

Source: YouTube

According to thejeopardyfan.com, the median winning score for all regular games since October 2004 is $20,001. But through 22 games, James was averaging $76,864. And through those 22 games, he had 803 correct responses and 27 incorrect. Through his 22 games, just two contestants were able to enter Final Jeopardy with a chance to catch him. James also found 49 of the 53 Daily Doubles in the first two rounds during those 22 games.

Standing Out from the Crowd

To prepare for his ‘Jeopardy!’ appearances, Holzhauer said he took a similar approach to his sports betting strategy. He looked for little tricks and techniques that his competitors might not even be thinking about. He asked himself, “What can I do differently than the average contestant that will give me an edge?

Source: Vanity Fair

As we already mentioned, James would practice by watching episodes in dress shoes. Sometimes he would wear shorts and a T-shirt or even his Vegas Knights jersey with dress shoes, wondering, “Why do they make you wear them if no one can see behind the podium?” He told ESPN that those dress-shoe rehearsals were his most important of preparations, other than studying the subjects that he thought were likely to come up.

What it Means for the Other Contestants

James’ dominance on the show hasn’t been easy for the other contestants, to say the least. For many fans of the show, getting the opportunity to be a contestant is a bucket-list item, facing other players in some of the most difficult trivia ever.

Source: Time Magazine

Marshall Shelburne, a lifelong ‘Jeopardy!’ fan and computer programmer from Los Angeles, watched Holzhauer win $40,412 in his debut game. Shelburne was to be next to face James on the show’s next episode taping. “That’s an extraordinarily high total,” Shelburne later recalled to ESPN. “It was definitely intimidating to watch that.

How It Feels to Go Up Against James

Shelburne and the third competitor, Satish Chandrasekhar, did give James a run for his money though. Chandrasekhar went into Final Jeopardy but came up $16,000 short of his final total. It was one of the two victories in James’ 22 wins where Final Jeopardy decided the outcome.

Source: Twitter

What makes him such a tough competitor and how he’s essentially broken the game is that his reaction time is superhuman,” Shelburne said. “Most contestants on ‘Jeopardy!’ know, I would say, 80 to 85 percent of the correct responses. It really comes down to who is able to successfully coordinate their buzzer press with when they’re able to buzz in.” As for how she felt in the show, Shelburne said, “My main emotion during the game was frustration. There were many, many times where I felt … like I timed it just right, hit it right on the lights, and every single time, he was one step ahead of me.”

Amazingly, James has broken a record on another TV show…

A Real Record Breaker

It looks like ‘Jeopardy!’ isn’t the first game show that James Holzhauer has broken a record on. He previously appeared on the show ‘The Chase’ in 2014, where he answered 12 questions correctly and won $60,000, which was the most in the show’s history. Holzhauer’s win on ‘The Chase’ was never topped on the series, according to TMZ.com.

Source: YouTube

Are you wondering what James plans on doing with his winnings? Well, to further show how great this guy really is, he decided to donate a large part of it to charity!

He wanted to give back to the places that gave a lot to him…

Giving Back

Holzhauer has a plan for how he wants to spend his newfound financial freedom. And amazingly, a lot of it is going to charity. James has already donated tens of thousands of dollars to organizations in Las Vegas. So far, the recipients include the Las Vegas-Clark County Library, the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, and the Ronald McDonald House.

Source: CNBC

He also plans to treat his tennis-loving family to an event they’ll never forget by getting tickets to see the U.S. Open. He joked around saying that with every new game he wins on ‘Jeopardy!’, their view of the match is getting a little better. “I’d like to finally send my old man and his missus to the US Open this summer,” James told CNBC. “Their ticket requests get closer to center court with every episode I win.”

The Show is Winning, Too

Ever since James’ winning streak started, Jeopardy’s ratings have been improving. According to Nielsen data from the 56 biggest local markets in the US, the first week of James’ appearance on the show was a rating of 6.5. 6.5 means that 6.5% of all households with a TV in the home watched the show.

Source: AOL

As of Week 2, the rating went up to 6.7. Week 3 was 7.3; Week 4 was 8.5, and then Week 5 was at its highest at 9.2. So you can see that James is not only putting money in his pockets, but the show is winning too!

More and More Viewers

On the night that James scored the second-longest winning stretch, ‘Jeopardy!’ scored its highest-rated episode of the season. More and more Americans are tuning in every week to see how the story will unfold. And the fun part if that the story is still evolving.

Source: Fox News

Before April, ‘Jeopardy!’ was averaging 9.8 million viewers. In the first three weeks of the current winning streak, the show averaged about 10.1 million viewers. And not to mention that the game show also won a record of its own. In week three of Holzhauer’s run, ‘Jeopardy!’ became the number one syndicated show, which is the first time it had earned this distinction since the 2014-2015 season, according to CBS.

Fans of ‘Jeopardy’ may also be tuning in for reasons other than James Holzhauer…

Alex Trebek and his Battle with Cancer

Alex Trebek, the 78-year-old host of the long-running game show, announced live on an episode of ‘Jeopardy!’ that he has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. And that was at the beginning of his illness. Amazingly, Trebek didn’t miss a day of work, even while he was undergoing chemotherapy. ‘It wouldn’t be right for me to walk away from this if I can possibly do it and I managed to do it,” he said. “So what’s the big deal?”

Source: YouTube

He discovered the illness after feeling constant pain in his stomach, which led to finding a bulge in his stomach that was “the size of a small fist.” He said that he’s been wearing a hairpiece to deal with the hair loss that results from chemotherapy. “My mother passed away a couple of years ago at the age of 95,” Trebek said. “So, if I have a majority of her genes, I should be okay for a while.”

A Little Background on Alex Trebek

Here’s a little fun fact: the all American game show ‘Jeopardy!’ is hosted by a Canadian. That’s right, Alex Trebek is from Canada. He was born in Sudbury, Ontario on July 22, 1940, to be exact. But most fans of the show probably already know that.

Source: CBC.ca

But what not every fan knows is that Trebek has a history in game shows. Trebek’s game show history goes all the back to his high school days. He hosted a high school quiz called ‘Reach for the Top’ in Canada before he headed over the border into the United States to start his TV career.

Getting Onto the Show Is an Achievement

Winning an episode of Jeopardy! is a big challenge, to say the least. Even getting onto the show in the first place is an accomplishment. In fact, Jeopardy! has some of the strictest entry requirements for prospective contestants.

Source: Emily Yahr/TWP

To get on the show, you have to ace an exam with 50 questions on it. You only get 15 minutes to finish the test, so you have to answer each question very quickly. And that’s just the beginning. Because if you make it to the actual show, the questions will be even harder.

It Wouldn’t Be the Same Without Johnny

Two people make ‘Jeopardy!’ work as well as it does. Alex Trebek, the host, is obviously one of them. But the other big name that should never be forgotten from the show’s story is Johnny Gilbert.

Source: Fandom

Gilbert, who is in his nineties now, is the announcer for the show and has held that position since 1984. Gilbert actually has a significant history in game show announcing, working on shows like ‘Pyramid,’ ‘The Price is Right,’ and others.

Alex Trebek Only Missed One Episode

Alex Trebek has been hosting ‘Jeopardy!’ since 1984 and has been the face of the show. He films multiple episodes each day and has prided himself on never missing a single episode. Well, the truth is he did miss one. But for a good reason.

Source: bustle.com

Back in 1997 on April 1 (April Fool’s Day), Trebek decided to organize a little prank with Pat Sajak, the well-known host of ‘Wheel of Fortune.’ The two traded places and hosted each other’s shows to put some smiles on the faces of the audience members. And they sure loved it.

A Very Exclusive Club

You have to be a real genius to enter Jeopardy’s exclusive ‘300 Club’. How do you get in? Well, access to this club is reserved for people who managed to answer at least 300 questions correctly on the show.

Source: hollywoodreporter.com

So far, there are only 19 people who have managed to enter the 300 Club, which proves that the show doesn’t pull any punches when writing up some of its questions.

The Show Originally Had Another Name

Back in the pre-production stage, Jeopardy! was just an idea in the mind of Merv Griffin. He worked alongside his wife, Julann. In fact, it was allegedly Julann who thought up the main idea while taking a flight from New York.

Source: Game Shows Wiki

When Griffin then pitched the show to NBC, he called it ‘What’s the Question?’ but the executives decided to give it a new, shorter name to be more catchy and memorable. And it looks like they knew what they were talking about.

Alex Trebek Was Not the Original Host

Alex Trebek has become synonymous with Jeopardy! And it’s pretty much impossible to think of the show without him. But many of the younger viewers might not be aware that he wasn’t actually the original host of the show.

Source: imdb.com

In fact, the very first host of ‘Jeopardy!’ was Art Fleming, and Trebek only took the reins in 1984. Fleming did a good job, however, having earned two Emmy nominations during his time as host of the show.

There Have Been More Than 7,000 Episodes

‘Jeopardy!’ is one of the longest running shows of all time. The show’s 35th season started in September of 2018, meaning that there have been more than 7,000 episodes of Jeopardy! So far, at least.

Source: dailyhive.com

Behind the scenes, Alex Trebek and the crew can film up to five episodes in a single day and shoot for around 46 days each year, resulting in well over 200 episodes being shown each year.

Merv Griffin Wrote the Music

Merv Griffin has a rich history in music, having worked as a radio singer with an orchestra and written several songs of his own. So, when it came time to make ‘Jeopardy!’ he decided to write the theme song too.

Source: Groovy History

Griffin said he only spent a minute making up the show’s music, which was initially meant as a lullaby for children, but that single stroke of creativity earned him tens of millions of dollars in royalties.

Horrifically Horrendous Handwriting

Have you ever noticed that Jeopardy! contestants always seem to have absolutely awful handwriting? There are plenty of times when host Alex Trebek and the audience watching at home can’t even read what has been written.

Source: eternallifestyle.com

Well, this isn’t actually the fault of the contestants. They have to write on a little screen using an oversized stylus, so it’s very tricky to write as well as they usually would.

A Very Happy Ending

One of the most memorable contestants of all was undoubtedly Eddie Timanus. He was the show’s first blind player and had to use braille to read the categories and type his answers out on a keyboard.

Source: Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

He went on a five-game win streak and earned $90,000. But earning money wasn’t his only accomplishment that resulted from his appearance on the show. His future wife saw him on TV and tracked him down to go on their first date!

You Can’t Buzz When You Want

Like most game shows, contestants have their own buzzers on ‘Jeopardy!’ to signify that they’re ready to answer a question, but they can’t actually hit the buttons anytime they like.

Source: Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

The buzzers are fitted with ‘buzzer enablers’ that only turn on when Alex Trebek has finished reading the question. This was done to prevent people from continually buzzing and making loud noises before Trebek could even finish talking.

Jeopardy! Has a ‘Clue Crew’

As previously stated, there’s a big team of people working on the creation of each and every episode of Jeopardy! The questions have to be written and fact-checked; the set has to be prepared, etc.

Source: Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

There are also video clues to take into account. These are made by the show’s ‘Clue Crew,’ who have traveled over a million miles all around the world to make the video clues for the show.

The Short Straw

There’s something very strange about the ‘Jeopardy!’ Contestants that you probably never noticed before; they all seem to be precisely the same height! No, it’s not a particular part of the contestant selection process, it’s actually a production trick.

Source: Washington Post

Each contestant is actually standing on a platform that can raise or lowered to match up with the heights of the others. This is done to put each contestant on a ‘level playing field,’ so to speak.

There Isn’t Always a Winner

The whole point of a game show is to have a winner, right? Well, in the case of Jeopardy! It is actually possible for an episode to end without anyone actually winning, but this only happens very rarely.

Source: usmagazine.com

In thousands of episodes of the show, there have only been seven cases of a ‘no-win’ game, so it’s highly unlikely you’ve ever actually seen one unless you watch every episode religiously.

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