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What's Behind 'Jeopardy!' Contestant James Holzhauer's Winning Strategy11:17
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This file image made from video and provided by Jeopardy Productions, Inc. shows "Jeopardy!" contestant James Holzhauer on an episode that aired on April 17, 2019. (Jeopardy Productions, Inc. via AP)
This file image made from video and provided by Jeopardy Productions, Inc. shows "Jeopardy!" contestant James Holzhauer on an episode that aired on April 17, 2019. (Jeopardy Productions, Inc. via AP)

James Holzhauer is the Las Vegas professional sports gambler on "Jeopardy!" who is not afraid to bet big. And, in a close game Monday night against a Brandeis University employee, he won by just $18.

That brought his winning streak to 18 games and means his total winnings are now over $1,329,000. He's also won eight of the 10 richest games in the show’s history. So, what exactly is Holzhauer doing differently?

Guests

Benjamin Soltoff, a lecturer in computational social science at the University of Chicago.

Dan Pawson, a former "Jeopardy!" winner with a nine-day winning streak who represented Boston while on the show. He's also one of the highest earners on the show ever. He tweets @daniel_pawson.

Interview Highlights

On what's different about Holzhauer's winning streak

Benjamin Soltoff: "What's really been interesting, I think, with [Holzhauer] is just the sheer size of his victories every game. He's had pretty much — almost every competition was a lock. He's going into Final Jeopardy and he's winning very large money. ... He just has such very large earnings on a daily average."

On how much tactical skill is required to win vs. knowledge

BS: "Most competitors on "Jeopardy!," they go through the process of getting tested to go on the show. They're all very intelligent individuals. And so for most questions on the board, I would bet most competitors are going to know the answers. Having those quick reaction times, being able to ring in before other individuals on the stage, that's going to be really crucial and it's something James has been able to achieve a good deal of success with so far."

"Certainly, the knowledge still matters — having that information. Another player, in trying to adopt James's strategy right now, would not be as successful if they can't back that up with knowing the answers for the clues."

Benjamin Soltoff, a lecturer in computational social science at the University of Chicago

On Holhauzer's unique way of playing

BS: "What James and some previous champions have done before him is — instead of following this kind of top-down format — is bouncing around the board, so kind of randomly selecting between categories, going for some of the higher dollar clues immediately to try and have the chance to ring in and get that money right away."

Dan Pawson: "A lot of the best champions, especially when they're against other really, really good players, is to try to get those Daily Doubles to try to get them off the board. I definitely did in my tournament of champions. And avoid picking sort of the top row clues that never have those Daily Doubles in them. What James does that I think is kind of different is always go for the high value clues right in the beginning of each of them, so he's got more money in his pocket when he hits the Daily Doubles."

On whether winning the game is simply a matter of strategizing

BS: "Certainly, the knowledge still matters — having that information. Another player, in trying to adopt James's strategy right now, would not be as successful if they can't back that up with knowing the answers for the clues. It's really that combination of knowledge and strategy that's really led to James's success, I think."

This segment aired on April 30, 2019.

Zoë Mitchell Twitter Producer and Studio Director
Zoë Mitchell is a Radio Boston producer and studio director.

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Kimberly Atkins Twitter Senior News Correspondent
Kimberly Atkins is a senior news correspondent for WBUR, covering national political news from Washington, D.C., with a New England focus.

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