How Betting Strategy Led to $1M Jeopardy! Win
Game show fans are both impressed and annoyed by Jeopardy! savant James Holzhauer—impressed because the professional gambler has pocketed more than a million bucks in a month, and annoyed because the game is no longer a contest. Did betting play into Holzhauer’s win? And how can it work for you?
Are you one of the millions of TV viewers who wants James Holzhauer to just go home?
As the latest wise guy to win more than $1 million on the TV game show Jeopardy!—in less than a month—the 35-year-old professional sports bettor shows no signs of slowing down. At this point, Holzhauer is a serious contender for the crown of all-time Jeopardy! king Ken Jennings, who won $2.5 million in a 74-game streak in 2004.
But for some viewers, players like Jennings and Holzhauer don’t play the game as much as game the system, taking all the fun out what’s supposed to be a competition. (Here it is, 15 years later, and I can’t even think about Ken Jennings without getting irritated.)
Still, you can’t blame Holzhauer for riding his streak as long as it lasts. So iGamingPlayer decided to learn from this smartypants. We talked to another professional gambler who won big on a game show: Atlantic City poker queen and literary agent Sheree Bykofsky, author of The Kaizen of Poker. In 1988, Bykofsky won $34,000 and a two-week South American cruise on Wheel of Fortune (not in Holzhauer’s league, but it’s still a nice chunk of change).
To win at poker, in sports betting or on a game show, Bykofsky says, remember the Boy Scout oath: “Be prepared.”
iGP.com: Describe James Holzhauer’s game strategy.
Sheree Bykofsky: He has the mindset of a poker player, a chess player or any other serious game player at a high level—he doesn’t leave anything to chance. He has an understanding and a feel for game theory and an appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents. And he knows how to buzz in!
But this is Jeopardy!—the thinking man’s game show. You have to know the answers. Buzzing in sounds like the least of it.
Yes, you have to know the answers, but the algorithm of buzzing in on time is paramount. The person who studies that and gets that rhythm down is going to have an advantage. Holzhauer has a masterful control of the buzzer.
Back to preparation—when I found out I was going to be on Wheel of Fortune, I got a PhD in Wheel of Fortune. I learned that ETAOINSHRDLU is the order of frequency of letters in the English language. I learned how to play optimally and how to use a free spin. I learned not to wear jewelry because it can clink against the microphone. As much as possible, I didn’t leave anything to chance. Holzhauer doesn’t either. He’s learned to do 1,000 things at one time: listening to the question, preparing to answer, buzzing in at the exact right moment. He’s controlling the game and the pace of the game.
Here’s a quote Holzhauer gave to Wired: “My approach isn’t complicated: Get some money, hit the Daily Doubles, bet big and hope I run hot.” What do you think?
He knows his category strengths, which makes it less of a gamble than someone taking a guess. He’s betting big with the confidence that his knowledge will give him the maximum return on his investment. It’s a fabulous strategy and the proof is in the pudding—he’s winning.
Doesn’t it become a bit of a bore to watch the same guy win, day after day?
No! Don’t you want to be there when someone finally beats him?
You have a point there. Please, gods of TV, make it happen soon.