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Jeopardy! GOAT Tournament Match 1 Recap: James Holzhauer Suffers Bad Daily-Double Luck


Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images. Pictured: Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter

  • Ken Jennings took down Match 1 of the Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time Tournament.
  • Learn how James Holzhauer's poor daily-double luck contributed to Jennings' victory.

Even if you aren’t an avid game-show fan, there’s a good chance you caught wind of James Holzhauer’s ride on Jeopardy! last season.

James took the Jeopardy! world by storm, winning 32 straight games, six of which totaled more than $100,000 in winnings. His highest single-game total was $131,127 on April 19, 2019.

He racked up the ridiculous payouts by employing an aggressive wagering strategy that had never really been seen, opting to go for “true daily doubles” (risking all of his money) at times that would typically have attracted a much more conservative approach.

But Holzhauer knew what he was doing. Over his 32-win run, he averaged a $9,000 daily-double wager and went 71 for 75, an impressive 94.7% response rate. And while it may go a bit more unnoticed, it’s also impressive that he even collected 75 daily-double opportunities.

In 33 games (32 wins plus one loss), there are 99 daily doubles, meaning he picked out 75.8% over the course of his run, as he was the one picking the clues a heavy majority of the time (the person who correctly responds to the previous clue gets the next choice).

In the Greatest of All Time Tournament, though, he’s not going up against the average Jeopardy! contestant. So even if he was planning once again to be aggressive on his daily-double opportunities, it was going to be much less likely for him to gain them since he’ll be sharing the board more evenly.

But in Match 1, that daily-double “regression” went a bit further than what should be expected.

Consisting of two cumulative games, Match 1 featured six daily doubles, and Holzhauer didn’t pick out a single one. And while his overall response rate went down, he still had 39 correct responses (there are 60 clues per game, so 120 per two-game match), meaning he held the board about one-third of the time. And the chance of that resulting in zero of six daily doubles is very low …

(1 – 0.33)6 = 0.09

… 9% low.

Surprisingly, Brad Rutter was the one who collected four daily doubles despite just 28 correct responses, meaning Ken Jennings also suffered a bit of poor luck, though not nearly as much as Holzhauer. Jennings’ 48 correct responses would suggest 2.4 daily doubles going his way, and he collected two.

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It’s also worth noting that Jennings and Rutter both went all-in at every daily-double opportunity, with Rutter going 1 for 4 and Jennings 2 for 2. Jennings responded correctly in both Final Jeopardy! rounds too, and could have collected another 6,000 in the second game had he gone all-in (he didn’t need to in order to top Holzhauer’s maximum amount).

Removing all wagering from the game (what’s known as the Coryat score) would have resulted in the following totals:

  1. Jennings 36,200
  2. Holzhauer: 31,600
  3. Rutter: 25,000

The verdict: Even Jennings technically had a bit of bad luck and came away with the win, so he was the deserving winner in Match 1.

Holzhauer, however, is not going to go daily double-less through the whole tournament, so as close as the final margin made the first match seem, it should have been even closer.

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