Jeopardy’s James Holzhauer Explains His Strategy

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Jeopardy's James Holzhauer Explains His Strategy


The game-show experts I talked with stressed that the integrity of Jeopardy is unassailable, and that the existence of cheating or bad-faith manipulation is out of the question. Still, there are ways the producers could think about trying to oust Holzhauer, or at least reduce the amount he wins each episode. (A representative of Jeopardy told me that the show’s producers wouldn’t comment on Holzhauer’s performance while shows he’s on are airing.)

One strategy might be to figure out Holzhauer’s weakest categories, and load up the board—and, ideally, Daily Doubles and the Final Jeopardy clue—with them. But Hammett thinks this would be difficult to pull off. “Those [categories] seem so few and far between. You certainly can’t make an entire game out of those,” he says. “It would probably be (a) impossible and (b) it would just come off looking very awkward.”

What about making the questions harder? Hammett says it’s not unheard of for producers to start adjusting a show’s difficulty if it’s, say, running over budget. But harder clues would likely only play to Holzhauer’s advantage, given that his trivia expertise appears to be deeper and broader than many of his opponents’.

Mark Labbett, the Beast, proposed a twist on this idea. “Do you want to know the best way to stop a superstar quizzer?,” he said. “Make it easier.” A trivia show that asks, for example, about the capital of California or the president who issued the Emancipation Proclamation would erase some crucial advantages of a player like Holzhauer. “It just becomes what we call a cavalry charge,” Labbett said. “Everyone knows the answer—it’s just who hits the button first.” (Though, of course, Holzhauer is usually the first to do so.)

Labbett also discussed the possibility of bringing on another elite contestant, a sort of assassin, to take Holzhauer down. But this would have its problems too. “Then you’ve got a new apex predator. How do you get rid of him?” Labbett said.

Given that these options are not only unlikely to be put into practice but also ineffective, Holzhauer’s streak will probably last until he has a bad day (and someone else has a very good one). When that day comes—if that day comes—Holzhauer will be left with the question of what to do with his newfound fame. Jennings, since his own run on the show, has fashioned a career as an author and a podcaster, and hasn’t restricted himself to the subject of trivia. Holzhauer could go back to gambling on sports in Las Vegas, but Bob Boden, a TV executive who has worked on dozens of game shows, says that Holzhauer might be able to go on to write books, like Jennings, or perhaps pursue a career in television.

In fact, Boden was the producer of The Chase, the show on which Labbett had to contend with Holzhauer. Watching from the control room, “we were dumbfounded by how well he did,” Boden remembers. So dumbfounded, in fact, that he later had Holzhauer audition to join the show as a colleague of the Beast.

Which is to say, Holzhauer will probably have options. But first, he has to lose.

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