Monday, May 06, 2019

Thoughts on the recent Jeopardy streak (SPOILERS)

James Holzhauer  has won 22 consecutive games of Jeopardy and has made around 1.6 million dollars. Nice work if you can get it. Here are some thoughts no this

1) Before James H the records for number of consecutive games was, and still is, Ken Jennings winning 74 in a row, and second place was 20. I was surprised that Ken was that much better than the competition.

2) Before James H the record for amount of money in normal play (not extra from, say, tournament of champions or losing to a computer) was around 400,000. I was surprised that Ken was that much better than the competition.

3) James is obliterating the records for most wins in a single game. He holds the top 12 records for this.  This is due to his betting A LOT on the daily doubles and the final jeop, as well as of course answering so many questions right.

4) One reason players in Jeopardy don't have long streaks is fatigue. The actually play
5 games a day, two days of the week.  James H is getting a break since he has two weeks off now since they will soon have the Teachers Tournament. This could work either way--- he gets a break or he loses being in-the-zone.

5) James strategy is:

a) Begin with the harder (and more lucrative) questions.

b) Bet A LOT on the daily doubles (which are more likely to be in the more lucrative questions) and almost always go into final jeop with more than twice your opponent (He failed to do this only once.)

c) Bet A LOT on Final Jeop- though not enough so that if you lose you lose the game. I think he's gotten every Final Jeop question right.

For more on his strategy see this article by Oliver Roeder in Nate Silvers Blog: here

6) I tend to think of this as being a high-risk, high-reward strategy and thus it is unlikely he will beat Ken Jennings, but every time he wins that thought seems sillier and sillier. While we are here, how likely is it that someone will beat Ken Jennings? In an article before all of this Ben Morrison in Nate Silvers Blog wrote that it was quite likely SOMEONE would break Ken J's record,  see here.

7) OKAY, how does James H compare to Ken J? According to Oliver Roeder in Nate Silvers Blog,
here, they are similar in terms of percent of questions answered right, but James H bets so much more (bets better?) which is why he is getting so much money. I'll be curious to see a head-to-head contest at some point. But to the issue at hand, they don't give James H that good a chance to break Ken J's record.

8) Jeop used to have a  5-game limit. Maybe that was a good idea- its not that interesting seeing the same person with the same strategy win 22 in a row. Also, the short-talk-with-Alex T-- James is running out of interesting things to say. I wonder what Alex did with Ken J after 50 games.
``So Ken, I hear you're good at Jeopardy''

9) Misc: Ken J was the inspiration for IBM to do Watson.

10) Will future players use James Strategy? Note that you have to be REALLY GOOD in the first place for it to help you. Maybe a modified version where you go for the lucrative questions and bet a lot on Daily Doubles (more than people have done in the past) when its an area you know really well (I'll take Ramsey Theory for $2000.)

11) I used to DVR and watch Jeop but didn't mind if I was a few behind. Now I have to stay on top of it so articles like those pointed to above don't give me a spoiler.

12) My prediction: He will beat Ken Jenning for money but not for number-of-games. I have no real confidence in these predictions.


  1. How sure can we be that this is not a favorable game ?
    a) rigged (like predecessors in the past)
    b) someone having access to an oracle somewhere, somehow ? (not rigged by the TV hosts, but someone having access somewhere, somehow), thus making this a favorable game

    1. Rigged- not likely since Jeop would have nothing to gain and EVERYTHING to lose if it was discovered.

      As for SOMEHOW James H having access to the questions or some way to cheat- I suspect they monitor these things very carefully, so I doubt it.