- Current “Jeopardy!” champion James Holzhauer is setting record after record on the show.
- Former champion Ken Jennings spoke with Brian Barrett at Wired to help explain Holzhauer’s success on the show, and what makes the two players different.
- Jennings says that the aggressive style of play Holzhauer employs wouldn’t have worked for him, as he would have been too stressed to perform his best.
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Ken Jennings in one of the greatest champions in the history of “Jeopardy!” but even he has been impressed with the run of current champion James Holzhauer.
Holzhauer is on a streak the likes of which the beloved trivia show has never seen before. Employing a brilliant, if stressful, style of play, Holzhauer has found himself risking massive amounts of money on Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy, resulting in the biggest paydays the show has ever awarded.
While Jennings has yet to go against Holzhauer head-to-head, the winningest player in “Jeopardy!” history has already recognized the biggest difference between himself and the current champion, and it’s one that may give Holzhauer the advantage should the two face off down the line.
Speaking to Brian Barrett at Wired, Jennings explained that Holzhauer’s bold strategy is one he never could have undertaken at the start of his run, as his concern was not with the amount of money he was making at the moment, but rather making sure he was comfortable enough to put himself in position to win.
“James is maximizing outcomes, he’s maximizing winnings. It’s weird, but in hindsight that could not have been further from my mind,” Jennings said. “The fact that there was going to be a check, that didn’t seem real to me. I was playing a gameshow like I had on my couch. My top priority wasn’t maximizing winnings, it was feel comfortable and have fun yelling answers at Alex, like I do at home.”
It makes sense that Holzhauer, a sports bettor by trade, might have a bit more focus on maximizing his earnings than your standard “Jeopardy!” fan-turned-contestant. Further, given the nature of how he makes his money when he’s not winning the most popular trivia contest on television, it’s no surprise that he’s able to risk large amounts on his Daily Doubles when given the opportunity and keep his wits about him while answering.
Conversely, Jennings says he would not have been able to handle such stress during his run on the show.
“I would never have had the stomach for those kinds of bets,” Jennings said. “You’re going to have to be comfortable with losing the average American income on a single trivia question a lot of the time and then having to come back five minutes later and play another game with that in the back of your mind. Psychologically, my peace of mind was built on just playing my game: a lot lower stakes, fun game, let’s pretend we’re all here to have fun. James is under no such illusion.”
Holzhauer still has a long way to go until he eclipses the $2,520,700 total that Jennings put together over his 74-episode run, but if he keeps up his aggressive style of play, and keeps winning, there’s a chance he could shatter it, and change the way the game is played in the process.
Read Jennings’ entire interview with Wired here.
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