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The worlds of sports and the world of Jeopardy! may not outwardly share that much in common, but they are two worlds that current game show millionaire James Holzhauer understands very well. However, Holzhauer doesn't necessarily think his background in sports betting has been his biggest advantage during his stunning win streak on Jeopardy! The champ says he's able to pull off his aggressive tactics more successfully than his opponents because he's more comfortable on the stage.
Here's how James Holzhauer put it when asked why other contestants aren't all following in his high-wager footsteps:
You have to be comfortable. Some of the opponents I’ve been playing, you can see they are visibly shaken by what’s going on onstage. Of course, you’re not going to play well if you’re up there trembling. And if you make yourself tremble by playing more aggressively than you are comfortable with, that’s so much the worse. No. 1 is making sure you’re in your comfort zone. My comfort zone is very different than the typical contestant. I think that’s a huge advantage for me.
When watching James Holzhauer, one sees many shades of various other Jeopardy! champions of recent years, such as Arthur Chu and Matt Jackson, who were known for their rapid pacing and for voyaging across the board in search of Daily Doubles. Holzhauer takes a slightly different route, in that he (arguably wisely) tries to initially build up his bank to give himself the highest wager possible when landing a Daily Double.
That kind of strategy, along with other tactics Holzhauer takes into account, requires abundant concentration, and it's doubtful that he would be able to successfully pull off a 15-game win streak without being extremely comfortable behind his podium. Logic would dictate that he's only getting more confident and secure in the winner's spot, which is definitely bad news for other contestants coming in to challenge Holzhauer.
Standing on stage in front of a live audience can be havoc on one's nerves, especially knowing that the episode will later be seen by millions of people in syndication. Naturally, being nervous can affect one's ability to think and remember things properly, which is a major setback when one needs to mimic James Holzhauer's aggressive play style just to stay alive in the game.
At this point, it's probably a mental hurdle in and of itself for contestants to realize that they'll be facing Holzhauer for a game, which isn't a great way to start. Plus, if the champion can visibly see that the challengers next to him are trembling with nervousness, that could very well provide a further confidence boost that propels Holzhauer to reach uncatchable scores.
When asked, James Holzhauer told The New York Times that he does think average Jeopardy! contestants play the game too conservatively and prudently. In his words:
I would definitely say it’s too risk-averse. The funny thing is, my strategy actually minimizes the risk of me losing a game. There’s times in a football game where a team goes for a big TD pass. If you don’t take a risk like that, you’re not going to win. Really, the big risk is never trying anything that looks like a big gamble.
Final Jeopardy is generally the time when contestants drop some of their on-stage inhibitions and go for grander wagers in an attempt to come out on top. Unfortunately for just about everyone who has faced James Holzhauer, it's almost always been a runaway game for the champ by the time those matches have reached the final round. So if anyone stands a chance at beating him any time soon, it'll be whoever can ape his tactics the most comfortably.
Currently, James Holzhauer has reached a 15-day streak, with his winnings totaling $1,135,180. He know has eight of the ten highest Jeopardy! single-game scores of all time, is the second-highest winning champ in regular play, and is four games away from tying Dave Madden's third place win streak of 19 games. Here's hoping Jeopardy! doesn't run out of money before someone has a chance to take him down.
Jeopardy! airs in syndication five days a week, so be sure to check your local listings to see when and where Alex Trebek can be found in your area. And send good thoughts to the still-recovering Trebek, who aims to return to Jeopardy! for Season 36 later this year, even though it's reported that his eventual replacement is currently being sought out.