James Holzhauer Explains His Controversial Final Jeopardy Bet: Why He Didn’t Risk It All

Jun 03, 2019 7:25 PM EDT
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Pictured: James Holzhauer

  • Professional sports bettor James Holzhauer had his 32-game streak on Jeopardy come to an end in an episode that airs on Monday.
  • Darren Rovell caught up with Holzhauer, who said he's taken a break from sports betting since losing on March 12, but plans to "be back in action come football season."

Jeopardy champion and pro sports bettor James Holzhauer lost in his 33rd episode of the TV game show, which aired on Monday, finishing $58,484 short of the all-time winnings record.

In those 33 appearances, Holzhauer made $2,464,216, including the $2,000 prize he received for finishing second in his last show. Only one Jeopardy champion, Ken Jennings, has made more money ($2,520,700) and had more appearances (74).

Holzhauer told The Action Network that the final show was taped on March 12. It ran first on the CBS affiliate in Montgomery, Ala., on Monday. That means all the Holzhauer’s appearances were taped before they started airing on April 4.

Here’s how the final episode went down:

Holzhauer went into Final Jeopardy with $23,400, which was $3,200 behind leader Emma Boettcher. Holzhauer got the question right, at first glance, strangely wagering just $1,399. That would have taken him to $24,799, which was $1,801 behind Boettcher.

But Holzhauer explained to The Action Network that he first was concerned with the contestant in third place, who had $11,000 heading into a Final Jeopardy. Doubling down would have gotten that contestant to $22,000, which would have been $1 less than if James would have missed. If James doubled down, he would have been at $46,800, but Boettcher seemed to have done the math perfectly as well. She got the question right and wagered $20,201, which gave her $46,801, a dollar more than what Holzhauer would’ve earned with a double-down bet.

“I knew I could only win if Emma missed Final Jeopardy, as there was no way she wouldn’t bet to cover my all-in bet,” Holzhauer told The Action Network. “So my only concern was getting overtaken by third place, and I bet just enough to make sure of locking him out. Betting big would have looked good for the cameras, but now I turn my straight bet (Emma misses) into a parlay (Emma misses and I get it right).”

Jeopardy contestants normally have to wait four months after their last episode to get a lump sum payment, but Holzhauer said Jeopardy cut him that check this week so that they could take pictures of him with it.

Even though Holzhauer is a resident of Nevada, the game show took place in California, which means he is on the hook for taxes in the state, which has the highest rate in the nation at 13.3%. Holzhauer shared with The Action Network that the actual check he received had those taxes withheld.

Robert Raiola, director of the sports and entertainment practice at PFK O’Connor Davies, said that federal and California taxes will trim Holzhauer’s net winnings to $1.29 million, a 47.6% haircut.

Holzhauer played Jeopardy like no one had ever done before, going for the big-money questions on the board first, hunting for Daily Doubles and often betting his entire bankroll to make his lead insurmountable.

“I sketched out what I believed to be my optimal strategy for Jeopardy: Play fast, build a stack, bet big, and hope for the best,” he told The Atlantic in April.

It worked.

He holds the all-time record for the most money earned in a single episode — $131,127 — and the top 16 best shows.

Holzhauer got 97% of his answers correct, and including Monday’s Final Jeopardy question, he answered 32 of 33 those correctly.

So what’s next?