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James Holzhauer Is Breaking ‘Jeopardy’

May 10th, 2019 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Nearly every day over the past month, I wake up hoping the new day will be the one when I learn that James Holzhauer has lost on “Jeopardy”.

He usually crushes the opposition with monstrous cash totals. In 22 consecutive victories on the greatest quiz show ever invented the man who describes himself as a “professional gambler” has banked (brace yourself) $1,691,008.

Yes, nearly $1.7 million. In 22 games, or about $70,000, on average.

But it is not the money I worry about.

It is about his assault on the competitiveness of the game. Only once in his run of enormous scores has he been pressed by an opponent. And that is bad for “Jeopardy”.

Relatives of mine who made a practice of watching the show, have grown tired of Holzhauer’s rampage and have given up on “Jeopardy”. At least for now.

Holzhauer now has recorded the 12 top money-winning scores in the history of the game, led by No.1: $131,127.

Yes, in one game.

Until Holzhauer came along, cash winnings of $20,000 were unusual. And most games were competitive, often right down the last action on the show — revealing the money-leader’s response in Final Jeopardy.

I was on the show in 1988. I finished with $10,000, which was a pretty good score, given that all dollar values on the board were, back then, half of what they are now. Against Holzhauer? He might throw a shutout at me.

In recent years, a cottage industry of analysis has grown up around the game, as former winners reveal their “secrets” to success.

Holzhauer is using all of them. And more.

–Throughout the game he hunts for the highest-dollar clue left on the board. With the idea that building up cash quickly is important so that when he finds one of the “daily double” clues he can wager the whole of his money — doubling it again and again and again.

–He clearly has a knack for trivia, perhaps the greatest ever seen on a U.S. game show. But he made a point of polishing his information hoard by reading children’s books on topics he believes himself vulnerable, finding that the kids’ books reduce difficult or unfamiliar topics to basic themes he can add to his memory.

–He is aggressive, making huge wagers in all situations; as a gambler, he looked for and found an “inefficiency” in the game — the inherent caution nearly all contestants bring to the game, which leaves them making conservative wagers for fear of being wrong.

–And perhaps most crucial of all, Holzhauer has mastered the art of “ringing in” — the action that decides which of the three contestants will be allowed to answer one of the 60 potential clues on the board.

It is difficult, edging toward impossible, to beat Holzhauer on the buzzer. This is another instance of planning on his part. He practiced and practiced and practiced “ringing” while watching at home or while studying past games. (The buzzer was my downfall, in my appearance on the show.)

Thus, we have recent Jeopardy episodes where very smart people, who fought their way through the show’s notoriously difficult screening, end up as nearly mute spectators, watching Holzhauer dominate the board and pile up cash.

It is awful and unequal but completely within the rules.

Not everyone is tired of seeing him win with $100,000 while his opponents are lucky to break $5,000. Daily Variety reported that during Holzhauer’s run “Jeopardy” has, over the past two weeks, displaced “Judge Judy” as the most-watched syndicated television show in the United States The “Jeopardy” audience growing from about nine million to 12 million.

OK, some people like to see blowouts; some people like to step on ants, too.

We need Holzhauer gone, and before he breaks the career winnings record ($2.5 million-plus) piled up by the charming Ken Jennings in 2004, as well as Jennings’ record 74-game winning streak.

Clearly, Jeopardy’s producers never envisioned someone who can play the game the way Holzhauer has. That’s where the “breakage” comes in. We imagine they have seen enough of this, and would like to get back to a truly competitive game.

Holzhauer and “Jeopardy” are on a break; they return on May 20, and I will check the results the next day, praying that the professional gambler is gone, replaced by someone who is “only” a very clever person.



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