James Holzhauer Explains Why His Losing Final Jeopardy Wager Was So Low

james holzhauer jeopardy loss

Sunrises and sunsets are two of the biggest constants in our daily lives, and for a while, it seemed like "James Holzhauer crushing his Jeopardy! opponents" would be added to that list. Alas, the much-discussed and highly celebrated Jeopardy! champion met his match on Monday's episode, and his eye-popping streak came to a jaw-dropping end.

The loss itself was extremely shocking, of course, but equally unexpected was James Holzhauer's unusually small Final Jeopardy wager of $1,399. When comparing that to some of the high-end wagers that he's made – for example, the $60,013 bet that locked up his single-day winnings record – lots of fans out there were no doubt confused about what Holzhauer was thinking. It all comes down to Jeopardy! math, though. Here's the now-former champion explaining it in his own words:

I knew I could only win if Emma missed Final Jeopardy, as there was no way she wouldn’t bet to cover my all-in bet. So my only concern was getting overtaken by third place, and I bet just enough to make sure of locking him out. Betting big would have looked good for the cameras, but now I turn my straight bet (Emma misses) into a parlay (Emma misses and I get it right).

Basically what it comes down to is: this was the rarest of rarities in which James Holzhauer actually went into Final Jeopardy at a disadvantage, which viewers just weren't used to seeing. So under any assumption that contestant (and eventual new champion) Emma Boettcher would get Final Jeopardy right, it was virtually impossible for Holzhauer to come out ahead.

The exception there would have been if Boettcher had chosen to be criminally frugal in making her Final Jeopardy wager. Had she bet something on the low end, in fear of her chances of getting the answer incorrect, Holzhauer feasibly could have bet big and won out. Except that almost definitely wasn't going to happen, considering Boettcher was likely well aware of Holzhauer's dominance during his 32-game win streak. Thus, she knew she needed to go big or go home.

As such, James Holzhauer's explanation to Action Network makes perfect sense, even if it's not meant to give viewers the same exhilarating rush that his gigantic bets did. Sadly for Holzhauer and his fandom, the plan didn't work out in his favor, and Emma Boettcher both got her answer right and bet more than enough to come out on top.

Final Jeopardy was usually a time where James Holzhauer was so far ahead of his competition that he only needed math skills to make sure he didn't bet too much and ruin his consistent runaway victories. That all got flipped around in Monday's game, though, which Holzhauer confirmed was filmed on March 12. For those keeping score, that means the former champ had already been defeated by Boettcher by the time his episodes first started airing on April 4.

In the end, James Holzhauer's winnings came out to $2,464,216, which includes the $2,000 he won for coming in second place in his final episode. That total was just $58,484 short of topping Ken Jennings' grand total of $2,520,700 for regular season wins. Now, though, viewers can get excited to see Holzhauer returning to Jeopardy! for the Tournament of Champions to see if he could possibly vault himself even higher on the list of All-Time Winnings, where he sits in 3rd place behind Jennings and grand champ Brad Rutter.

While most Jeopardy! champs have to wait around four months after their episode airs to see their winnings, James Holzhauer said that the show cut him his check this week so that they could set up a photo opp for him. Everybody loves a big check picture!

For those who are wondering, though, James Holzhauer's winnings are getting taxed within California where the show is taped, and not in Nevada where he lives. So after that highest-in-the-U.S. tax rate of 13.3% is applied, Holzhauer will likely walk away with around $1.29 million, just over half of what he won. Not too shabby for a 33-day gig.

Without James Holzhauer in the winner's seat, it'll be interesting to see if Jeopardy! can keep its ratings wins going into the summer hiatus. And if Jennings and Holzhauer's Twitter "feud" will keep going now that the latter's run is done. For now, the show airs in syndication across the country, so be sure to check your local listings to see when and where it's playing in your area.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.