Down Goes Holzhauer! Sports Bettor ‘Jeopardy! James’ Falls Short Of Ken Jennings’ Money Record
On Saturday, 20-1 underdog Andy Ruiz Jr. upset undefeated Anthony Joshua to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. On Monday, another heavyweight would fall, but this time it’s trivia fans who are left stunned.
James Holzhauer, the former poker player who grew up in Illinois and later moved to Vegas to pursue professional sports betting, had won 32 straight games heading into Monday. While still 42 games away from Ken Jennings’ 74-game win streak, Holzhauer was just $58,484 shy of breaking Jennings’ regular-season record of $2,520,700 set in 2004.
Holzhauer seemed unstoppable. He answered correctly 97 percent of the time and approached the trivia game with a successful gambling mindset. His aggressive-but-calculated bet sizes helped him earn the top 14 single-game performances in Jeopardy! history. Like former heavyweight champion Joshua, the majority of Holzhauer’s wins were decided by knockout before the final round.
His dominance landed him an invite to SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt, and he was featured on multiple podcasts, including US Bets’ Gamble On. At times, his dominance was frustrating, so much so that people took to blogs and TV news networks to complain that the professional sports bettor had broken the game. For others, like myself, Holzhauer was the only reason to tune in.
It wasn’t a matter of if Holzhauer would break Jennings’ money record, it was just a matter of when, or so it seemed. But Holzhauer would be the first to admit that he was on the right side of variance a couple of times during his streak.
“I noticed several times someone had hit a Daily Double that I wouldn’t have known. That’s really some run-good there,” Holzhauer told Rufus Peabody and Jeff Ma in a recent Bet The Process episode. “If I had to play this from scratch I doubt I would win 30 episodes, so I think I’m running above expectation for sure.”
Holzhauer’s reign ended at the hands of Emma Boettcher, a 27-year-old librarian from the University of Chicago. It came down to Final Jeopardy when Holzhauer made an uncharacteristically small bet. Boettcher wagered $22,201 — enough to cover Holzhauer had he moved “all-in” — just has he expected her to.
I’m not sure how big of a favorite Holzhauer would have been over his two competitors, Jay Sexton and Boettcher, if oddsmakers could set lines on the game show, but backing one of the highest Jeopardy winners of all time would have certainly been expensive. Though it was nowhere close to Holzhauer’s near-$77,000 per episode average, Boettcher now has one of the most historical wins of the show.
Much like you’d expect from a seasoned gambler, Holzhauer wasn’t shaken by the loss. Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek was stunned, but James wasn’t. Showing the same humility he spoke with in interviews, he was the first to congratulate the new champ and he did so with enthusiasm. He knew he played the right way, optimizing his EV from start to finish.
Far too often the wrong people get too much attention in the sports betting industry. That was not the case with Jeopardy! James.