Wednesday, April 17, 2019

They never knew what hit them

On Jeopardy!, that is.  A new champion has emerged who is shattering records and destroying all competition.  He now has exceeded 100K in daily winnings three times.  The other two contestants barely had 10K between them going into Final Jeopardy.  Watching them lose to this new juggernaut, I could think of nothing so much as this:

That's been the daily occurrence ever since James Holzhauer appeared in his first Jeopardy! match.  He seems unassuming, but not stuffy.  Quiet but not snobbish.  But as former champion Buzzy Cohen said, Holzhauer is the proverbial perfect storm.  He's fast with the signal, and fast on his feet.  He has a massive range of knowledge (except for movies/television), and is phenomenal with numbers.  One of the tricks he does is make bets so the winning amount matches one of his loved ones' birthdays, often calculating it in a matter of seconds with the cameras rolling.

Beyond that, however, as Cohen explained, he also has the whole Jeopardy! strategy down. Most contestants start with the smallest prize amounts for each category, and work their way down to the higher dollar values.  That is because the clues with the smaller amounts are naturally the easiest, getting harder as the dollar values increase.  While doing that, they hope to stumble on one of the Daily Double clues that allow you to bet up to your entire current dollar amount (though few seldom bet that much).

Not Holzhauer.  He plunges straight to the highest dollar amounts and sweeps those clues away, bouncing from category to category so the other contestants can't get settled into the respective subject matter.  In doing that, he also fishes for those Daily Double clues, often betting massive amounts - even his entire winnings - at one time.

In most cases, the daily champion does well to end up with 20K or so, 30K being a stellar day.  James bets that much on a single Daily Double.  By the Double Jeopardy round, he typically has left the other contestants in the dust.  It's nothing for him to have dollar amounts in the 20,000s before the first round of Jeopardy! is over.  He's had a bad day if he only has 50K when the game is finished.

Three times now he has shattered records by breaking 100K.  Today, he bet 60K on Final Jeopardy out of the 71K he had going into it.  He also has broken Austin Rogers' record for the fastest accumulation of prize winnings.  Compared to that, the second place contestant today had 5,400.00 total going into Final.  Some runners up who faced James have had respectable amounts, even breaking 20K with their own scores.  But to no avail.  If they have 20K, Holzhauer has quadruple that amount.

Beyond his knowledge, skill and tactics, he explained a very fundamental reason why he has won so much.  In the end, he said, it's only money.  He wants to win for his loved ones.  The whole reason he is here is for a promise he made to his late grandmother.  Being a professional sports gambler (apparently there is such a thing), he knows it's easy come, easy go.  He sees it as points, so he thinks nothing of betting 30K when most wouldn't dare bet 10% of that. 

Either he eventually will just bet everything because he's tired of winning, or Jeopardy! will pull an Austin Removal* on him.  Either way, I don't think it will be the normal way that another contestant will finally overtake him.

*Austin Rogers was a love/hate phenomenon with the show.  Unkempt, foul mouthed and middle finger raised, he became the Happy Gilmore of the show, with ratings soaring as fans enjoyed the way Alex Trebek clashed with him, all while he shattered his own records with massive wins and catch-me-if-you-can betting.  In the end, he was brought down by a woman from Tennessee in a game that strongly suggested the categories were picked to favor her, and not favor Austin.  Categories that focused on such things as motherhood and trivial knowledge from Tennessee.

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