Jeopardy!’s James Holzhauer has finally lost.
Jeopardy!’s James Holzhauer has finally lost.

Big gamble ends game show streak

A game show contestant's amazing winning streak that captivated viewers in the US has finally come to an end.

James Holzhauer's epic 32-game run on Jeopardy! came to a close today after he was beaten by a 27-year-old librarian from Chicago named Emma Boettcher.

Heading into the episode, Holzhauer, a 34-year-old professional sports gambler from Las Vegas, was just $83,000 away from beating the record for the most won on the game show.

 

James Holzhauer on the far left and Emma Boettcher on the far right.
James Holzhauer on the far left and Emma Boettcher on the far right.

 

That record belongs to Ken Jennings who won $3.61 million in 2004 after 74 games.

But the payout Holzhauer is taking home isn't too shabby: a before-tax total of $3.53 million which includes the $2800 he netted in his final episode for coming in second.

In the dramatic episode, Holzhauer held an early lead but Boettcher overtook him during the second half of the game after betting all of the $10,900 she'd earned so far on a Daily Double in a category about capitals that begin with "A".

After all three contestants answered Final Jeopardy correctly, she toppled Holzhauer with a score of $67,191 to $35,603.

Even host Alex Trebek himself was floored: "Oh gosh! What a payday," exclaimed the legendary host, who is battling pancreatic cancer, as Holzhauer gave Boettcher a high-five. "What a game! Oh my gosh!"

Some critics have laughed at Holzhauer's seemingly paltry Final Jeopardy wager Monday night: $2006. But it was the right move from a betting perspective. Holzhauer went into Final Jeopardy with $33,560 to Boettcher's $38,150. He had one option if he wanted to give himself the best chance of winning: Take the low, which is gambling parlance for essentially betting that your opponent will lose.

Since Boettcher had more money than him, he couldn't count on beating her if they both answered the question correctly - because double her total would still trump double his. Assuming that she would bet enough to beat him even he doubled his own winnings - which is, in fact, what she bet - Holzhauer put up a sum that would enable him to win even if they were both wrong. Had that come to pass, Boettcher, with her bet of $28,973, would have wound up with $9177; Holzhauer, meanwhile, with his wager of $2006, would have had a winning $31,554. (He'd also calculated what he needed to bet in order to cover - by $1 - the third-place contestant, Jay Sexton, who had $15,776 going into Final Jeopardy and could have had as much as $31,553 if he'd wagered it all.)

 

Boettcher, an English major at Princeton, seems to be a Jeopardy! savant cut from the same cloth as Holzhauer. While Holzhauer, a mathematics major at the University of Illinois, practised buzzer skills with a mechanical pencil, Boettcher fashioned her own out of a pen to prepare. She played along with the game show "religiously" for years.

 

There’s a new Jeopardy! champ.
There’s a new Jeopardy! champ.

 

"I lost to a really top-level competitor," Holzhauer told The New York Times in an exclusive interview. "She played a perfect game. And that was what it took to beat me."

Monday night's episode was taped on March 12 - Holzhauer made his Jeopardy! debut on April 4. Jeopardy! ratings have been the highest in 14 years.

"Nobody likes to lose," said Holzhauer. "But I'm very proud of how I did, and I really exceeded my own expectations for the show. So I don't feel bad about it."

After a break, Holzhauer plans to go back to his job as a professional sports gambler around the start of football season in September. He has expressed throughout his winning streak that he'd be interested in doing statistical analysis (aka sabermetrics) for a baseball team.

But Holzhauer did tell the Action Network that while "interest in sports remains strong … I love Vegas and I'm in no hurry to leave".

He will go down in the record books as an almost unbeatable player. Over his 32 straight games, he got 97 per cent of all answers correct; he answered 32 of 33 Final Jeopardy clues correctly.

 

Jeopardy! sensation James Holzhauer was presented with a key to the Las Vegas Strip.
Jeopardy! sensation James Holzhauer was presented with a key to the Las Vegas Strip.

 

A host of interesting facts about Holzhauer emerged during his run. His brother Ian told The Post the mental math prodigy hated having to wear uncomfortable formal shoes during the tapings and that his "last formal job was at Brown's Chicken serving fried chicken at 16".

Holzhauer moved to Las Vegas after college to live with four other gamblers; now he's married and with wife, Melissa, has a four-year-old daughter, Natasha.

Jeopardy! has aired on US television since 1984. Contestants earn varying amounts of money by answering questions with another question.

Contestants can up their money through two bonus rounds of the Daily Double and Final Jeopardy! where they can bet as much of their cash winning they want.

This article originally appeared on The New York Post and was reproduced with permission


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