James Holzhauer is breaking Jeopardy. Here’s how he does it:


Stanley Kong

James Holzhauer is a 35-year-old sports gambler from Naperville Illinois. In high school, he was a C student, skipping class as much as possible to spend his time “more productively,” such as by playing online poker. James attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he again tried to avoid classes as much as possible. James is married to a school teacher, has a baby daughter and lives a normal suburban life. Oh, and he’s dominating Jeopardy.

Ok now, I wouldn’t skip classes or become a sports gambler just to be like James, but his tear through this game show is just remarkable. Since April 4th, James Holzhauer has been on a 27 game win streak, and holds the single episode earnings record with $131,127, beating himself, himself, himself… and himself. He surpassed the 2 million dollar earnings mark on Friday, becoming only the second person to ever do so, behind Ken Jennings. Ken is Jeopardy’s all-time leading regular game winner, who averaged $34,000 per episode over a 74-game streak. James Holzhauer is currently averaging $76,500. To better visualize this dominance, check out this graphic comparing James’s current progress to that of Ken Jennings:

If you weren’t convinced just how dominant James Holzhauer is, surely you are now. Ken Jennings, the aforementioned all-time earnings champion, won over 2.5 million dollars over a 74-day streak. It took Ken 57 days just to eclipse 2 million. James Holzhauer has done this in 30 fewer days. Thirty. If he keeps up his current pace, he will eclipse the all-time mark in six more games. If he can continue his streak to day 74, he will earn over 5.6 million dollars. James Holzhauer has been unstoppable, but how does he do it?

His most noticeable strategy comes with his first category pick. Most Jeopardy contestants usually pick a $200 question to start the game. It’s a relatively easy question and gives them a chance to get the gist of the category. James Holzhauer goes for a thousand. For one, most Jeopardy earnings come from daily doubles, and James knows that. Statistically, most daily doubles are found in the pricier questions, and James knows that. He studies all these statistics and probabilities; he’s a sports gambler, that’s what he does. Once James gets a daily double, he’ll bet big. An average Jeopardy contestant will bet $2450 on a daily double. James Holzhauer bets on average $9200. By the daily double, James has already amassed so much money that he can afford a loss like this. He rarely does. He knows everything. And he knows that he knows everything. Do we know how he knows everything? We don’t know. No one knows.

James’s next big strategy is buzzing. Some contestants try to analyze syllables to predict when host Alex Trebeck will finish his sentence. If they click before Trebeck finishes, they will have a 10-millisecond delay which is light-years in terms of Jeopardy. However, it is hard to predict how Alex Trebeck pronounces words or finishes sentences, so this method is not ideal. And James knows this. He clicks purely off reaction.

James Holzhauer is the first to buzz into a question 59% of the time, far greater than the 33% probability. His hand is super steady, allowing him to click the button milliseconds faster than his opponents. Most people swing their arms in excitement or rapidly tap the buzzer, but this actually slows down the click and builds more fatigue. James Holzhauer has mastered the click by practicing while watching reruns at home. You can see his cool and confident demeanor while he is on air. He doesn’t even break a sweat.

No one, arguably not even Ken Jennings, has been as dominant on Jeopardy as James Holzhauer. Throughout his 27-day winning streak (and counting), he has torched opponents, ripped through daily doubles, and averaged more money per episode than anyone in the show’s 40-year history. He knows all the probabilities, all the statistics, all the strategies, and all there is to know about everything. Someone is bound to beat James Holzhauer. Someone somewhere knows more and clicks faster than he does, or at least someone will learn. For now, sit back and tune into ABC weekdays at seven. No matter when or what, if James Holzhauer is on Jeopardy, you are bound to witness history.