Anybody who watches the hit television game show “Jeopardy!” — and even many who don’t regularly watch it — should be aware now of one of the game’s most prolific winners, a “professional sports gambler from Las Vegas” named James Holzhauer.
Holzhauer has gone on an incredibly hot winning streak that has seen him set single-game records for winnings and accumulate more than $1.5 million total in a little more than three weeks.
And he did so with a rather unconventional strategy that has seemingly stood the game on its head.
He recently sat down for an interview with pop culture media outlet Vulture to discuss his amazing winning streak, and in the process revealed the out-of-the-ordinary manner in which he was able to amass winning totals so often, and so quickly as well.
Those who have watched the popular game show in the past know that virtually every other contestant over the decades has started at or near the top of each column of subject-specific clues, working their way down from the easier, smaller dollar amount clues to the more difficult, high dollar clues at the bottom, likely gaining confidence as they proceed.
Holzhauer, however, does almost the exact opposite and begins with the high dollar “answers” at the bottom of each column, then moves sideways across and up the board toward the easier clues, accumulating massive winnings along the way.
In this manner, upon reaching a “Daily Double” clue that allows for a wager, the professional gambler is able to bet significantly more of his winnings than the average contestant, which in turn brings in significantly higher winnings when he gets the “question” correct.
Asked to define his strategy, Holzhauer replied, “I guess I’d call it strategically aggressive. I didn’t model my strategy after anyone in particular. My basic thoughts going in were, ‘Okay, I want to have some money before Daily Doubles, and if this helps take my opponents off [their] game, that’s just a bonus.'”
“Some players in the past have said they bounced from category from category on purpose to throw everyone. I wasn’t trying to do that at all, it wasn’t my goal. I was just trying to get as much money (as) I could before the big bets came in to leverage that. I do feel maybe the opponents I faced tried to play ‘the James style’ — I guess you can call it that — of going for the high-value clues first, like what I was doing. But maybe since they didn’t go in with that game plan, they were less comfortable with that. That gave me a home-court advantage, so to speak,” he added.
Holzhauer was also asked why so few other players had ever adopted a similar strategy as his.
“I think what you’re describing is the best strategy for me, but the most important thing for every contestant is to be comfortable and don’t succumb to nerves. If you’re not playing a game you find comfortable, that’s going to be worse for you than just having a suboptimal game-theory strategy,” he said.
“If you’re the kind of player who needs to take the low-value clues first to become comfortable with the categories to move along, that’s what you should do. But if you’re like me, who goes in cold-blooded about it, then you play the cold-blooded strategy. Everyone is doing the best things for themselves,” he added.
Going along with his embrace of the unconventional and outside-the-box thinking in terms of his “Jeopardy!” strategy, Holzhauer actually credited former Japanese hotdog eating champion Takeru Kobayashi, who had bucked tradition and developed his own unique system that utterly destroyed the previous record for most hotdogs eaten in a ten minute period.
Another interesting takeaway from Holzhauer’s strategy for winning “Jeopardy!” — aside from hitting the high dollar clues first and betting big on Daily Doubles like a true gambler — was that he prepared in part by studying children’s books at the library as a means of broadening his base of basic knowledge on a wide variety of subjects.
The American Conservative noted that Holzhauer’s strategy and winning streak seem to stand out more than any other contestant because of how contrarian it is in our current society, where norms and conventional wisdom and the unwritten “rules” are expected to be followed by everyone.
Indeed, who hasn’t heard the mantra of “this is how it’s always been done, so this is how we’ll do it” countless times before?
The vast majority of people tend to buy into that kind of straight-forward thinking, either due to a lack of imagination and a fresh perspective or out of fear of being chastised and excoriated for going outside of the established lines.
But as Holzhauer has shown on “Jeopardy!” — and as President Donald Trump has shown in the realm of politics — the conventional wisdom isn’t always correct, nor is it always the best way to do things. Pursuing goals and ideals in an unconventional manner can sometimes pay off “bigly” in the end.
To be sure, most rules exist for a reason, and people, in general, should follow the standard rules that apply to everyone.
That being said, those who don’t follow the rules blindly, but instead look closely at those rules from a different perspective and find an acceptable — and legal — way around them, can find a level of achievement and prosperity not otherwise thought possible … such as a professional gambler becoming one of the winningest contestants on a game show, or a billionaire businessman gaining the presidency.
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