James Holzhauer Explains the Strategy Behind His Jeopardy Winning Streak
The Jeopardy contestant James Holzhauer has now won 18 consecutive games and earned more than $1.3 million—and he’s outperforming the 2004 Jeopardy legend Ken Jennings in providing correct responses. Last week, Joe Pinsker wrote that three things give the seemingly unstoppable contestant an advantage: a deep knowledge of trivia, the speed of his recall, and a mind for strategy.
As a former five-time Jeopardy champ in Season 1, I am very surprised that no one has adopted Holzhauer’s “maximize your winnings per show” strategy until now. I think a lot of future contestants will probably do so.
Two factors affect your winnings on Jeopardy: your winnings per show, and how many shows you win. If you try to maximize one, you will lower the other. This is because winnings per show is primarily dependent on a Daily Double strategy. If you are the best of the three players, betting big will increase your expected winnings for the episode, because you’ll generally get the answers right; however, it will decrease your chance of winning that game—and allowing you to play more games—because betting big and missing will work in favor of your opponents. If you bet small, you’ll increase your chance of winning the game, but decrease your expected winnings.