Jeopardy's Arthur Isn't Just a Game Theory Meme; He's One of the Best Ever

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Jeopardy's reigning champion Arthur Chu has become a major story over the past weeks with his aggressive wagering, game theory, and abrasive-to-viewers tactics. But after Thursday night's utter domination, it's time to give him credit as one of the game's Best Ever.

Don't say we didn't warn you. We proclaimed Chu "one to keep an eye on" last month after just three wins, and his return to screens this week (after a three-week break) has confirmed that. On Thursday, Chu located and correctly answered all three Daily Doubles, then nailed the Final Jeopardy question to finish with $58,200 for the day. That's the fourth-largest total one-day winnings ever. And his total winnings of $238,200 puts him as the third-winningest contestant ever, all in just eight days. Chu isn't just a fun-to-hate reality TV show villain; he belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Jeopardy.

No offense to his opponents Chris and Claire, but Thursday's match was as lopsided as they come. Here was the score before the Final Jeopardy round.

With that edge, he actually had a chance to wager for the highest one-day total ever: $77,000, which was achieved by Roger Craig in 2010. He wisely didn't, as a $33,000 bet could have put him at risk of losing if he were to answer incorrectly and Claire doubled up. But the fact that it was even possible is a testament to his thorough strength. Here was the question:

(All three answered correctly with "What is the Hoover Dam.")

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It's important to point out that the game theory aspect of his play has nothing to do with his recent dominance. The game theory ideas, pioneered by former college champion Keith Williams's The Final Wager blog, solely have to do with the Final Jeopardy strategy of wagering for the tie. But as was the case on Thursday, Chu has been so far ahead of his opponents before the final round as to make that aspect irrelevant. 

What has been relevant, though, is his strength in finding and betting everything on the Daily Doubles. Thursday night saw Chu finding all three Daily Doubles and betting big bucks on each: a "true daily double" (betting everything) on the first, $5,000 on the second, and $10,000 on the third, despite a huge lead. That he has found and capitalized on those is not a coincidence. Unlike most contestants, Chu utilizes the "Forrest Bounce" strategy of choosing higher-value questions first, "bouncing" from category to category with particular speed to keep the other contestants off-balance. The goal is to maintain control of the board and locate those chances at doubling up.

This aspect has been one of the most grating for some viewers, who would prefer a more casual, leisurely sequential stroll from easy to difficult questions. But the Bounce has been massively effective at helping Chu discover the Daily Doubles hidden in the more expensive questions on the board. And when he finds them, Chu doesn't exude caution. He either bets the minimum $5 for categories he knows little about, as he did early in his run, or he bets massive amounts. Go big or go home, as they say.

He's got a long, long way to go to reach Jeopardy G.O.A.T. Ken Jennings, who accumulated $2.5 million in his run. But even Jennings is starting to take Chu more seriously now. Jennings took to Slate a few weeks ago to defend Chu's Daily Double-searching strategies in an article that felt like a king reaching down to protect one of his loyal subjects. But in Jennings's latest post on Chu, out Friday morning, the two converse in an even give-and-take. The story is no longer one master reaching down; it's headlined as a talk about the "Life of a Jeopardy! Master." Arthur may still be a TV villain, but now it's clear he's gunning for the crown.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.