If current Jeopardy! champion James Holzhauer was a sports team, he would already be a dynasty, having conquered the game in certain ways that no one was able to do before. Whether one loves or hates hot streaks like Holzhauer's, it's hard to deny how impressive they are, and it's also hard not to be curious about how he does it.
Thankfully for those more inquisitive-minded fans out there, James Holzhauer has no secrets to hide when it comes to the way he plays, and he's happy to talk about his Jeopardy! strategies. For instance, here's his basic, no-frills gameplan:
My approach isn't complicated: Get some money, hit the Daily Doubles, bet big, and hope I run hot.
That would seem like the obvious route to take for many contestants, but James Holzhauer puts far more emphasis on that "bet big" part than just about anyone else who has ever appeared on the show. Coming from a sports gambling background, Holzhauer has a brain for wagers that compares strongly to his vast knowledge in other areas.
I did want to lock each game up before Final Jeopardy, to avoid losing to a bad bounce in that round. I often see sports teams playing to force overtime instead of trying to win in regulation, and it makes me shake my head.
During his (at the time of this writing) 16-day win streak, James Holzhauer has locked up nearly every game well before even the Double Jeopardy round was completed, and some were basically wrapped up in the first round. So he hasn't really needed to struggle much when it comes to facing opponents in a meaningful way in Final Jeopardy.
Of course, Holzhauer's strategies don't only consist of generalized Big Picture tactics, since that would only take him so far. He's definitely got a more specified blueprint guiding him through the various elements of gameplay.
You can see as soon as I get control of the board in the first game I’m going for the $1,000 clues whenever I have the opportunity. I think the only time I ever deviated from it was a category about the U.S. Senate. I’m not a politics guy, so I avoided that, but other than that I’m going $1,000-1,000-1,000 whenever I can.
There's a gigantic difference between having $500 and $5,000 when hitting that first Daily Double. James Holzhauer is keenly aware of where the advantages lie, and he tries to capitalize from minute one. (And I'm using the term "tries" loosely there, since it's second nature to him at this point.)
Jeopardy! champions and contestants alike usually appear as if they're trying to accumulate the most amount of money at any given time, but James Holzhauer's style of place makes it more obvious just how cautious and reserved many people are when a Daily Double forces them to actively bet on their own intelligence. That's just not something that Holzhauer gets caught up on, which is presumably influenced by his experience with high-dollar gambling.
Here's how Holzhauer explains the way he looks at money on Jeopardy!:
The fact that I win and lose money all the time helps desensitize me, so I can write down $60,000 as the Final Jeopardy wager and not be trembling at the thought of losing that money. And thinking: 'This isn’t a trivia question. It’s a coin flip that’s going to land heads for me a lot more often than it’s going to land tails, so I’m going to bet as much as I can on heads.'
His answer hits upon something that many Jeopardy! fans aren't thinking about while watching at home. In order to get onto the show in the first place, the would-be contestants take part in tryouts where they have to display a working knowledge of an extensive array of subjects, from history to literature to pop culture. So just by being on Jeopardy!, contestants have already been primed for at least a vague familiarity with everything on the board. So why not bet bigger when the time comes?
To be fair, James Holzhauer doesn't display the same bouts of nervousness and trepidation that some players will have when standing on the Jeopardy! stage for the first time. His history with wagers also makes him a better fit for handling such challenges without overthinking his actions. However, such risky Daily Double and Final Jeopardy bets aren't exclusive to him, and anyone else is feasibly capable of doing the same thing.
That is, of course, assuming the "anyone else" in that situation is resoundingly smart and displays a near-effortless ability to recall information in rapid time. James Holzhauer has just such a talent, which he bolstered by learning as much as he could about how the Jeopardy! buzzers worked. But it all starts with how much info is in the old brain-space, right?
For anyone who things the Jeopardy! champion constantly keeps his nose plugged in gigantic almanacs and dusty tomes, Holzhauer has a pretty surprising way of keeping abreast of details and facts. In his words:
I have a strategy of reading children’s books to gain knowledge. I’ve found that in an adult reference book, if it’s not a subject I’m interested in, I just can’t get into it. I was thinking, what is the place in the library I can go to to get books tailored to make things interesting for uninterested readers? Boom. The children’s section.
That's a pretty genius move, all things considered. While there are certainly some Jeopardy! subjects that probably wouldn't get covered by a children's book, such as current Top 40 hits or certain areas of world politics, so many others definitely are. And considering Jeopardy! relies on names, dates and locations for historical and geographical clues, children's books can be a great way to pick up on those particulars without having to trudge through more dry and uninteresting text.
Maybe one day, James Holzhauer will write How To Win at Jeopardy! For Kids, possibly even self-publishing it with all the money he's already won on the show. His current winnings stand at $1,225,987, which is nearly half of the all-time winnings leader Ken Jennings, who still sits on top with $2,520,700.
Keep watching Jeopardy! to see if anyone can possibly take James Holzhauer down before he completely bankrupts the show. It airs in syndication every weekday, so check our local listings to see when it's playing in your area.