Professional sports gambler James Holzhauer had an impressive performance on Jeopardy! Thursday, winning $43,680 to secure his spot as the defending champion.

James Holzhauer Jeopardy!
Professional sports gambler James Holzhauer won more than $43,000 in his Jeopardy! debut. (Images: Jeopardy, nctv17.com)

Holzhauer had locked up victory heading into Final Jeopardy!, as his $40,412 was more than double the $18,000 held by second-place contestant and defending champion Alex Koral.

Holzhauer Threatens All-Time Debut Record

Holzhauer proceeded to add $3,268 – a happy birthday message to his nephew Jack, who was born on March 26, 2008 – to his total when he correctly wrote “What is Great Salt Lake?” for Final Jeopardy!.

That concluded one of the more impressive debuts in the history of the game show. According to TheJeopardyFan.com, the record for first-day winnings is an even $50,000, with Myron Meyer pulling off that accomplishment back in 2002.

Holzhauer now lives in Las Vegas, where he bets on sports for a living, but he is originally from Naperville, Illinois.

Throughout the game, Hozhauer employed the Forrest Bounce, a strategy in which contestants constantly switch between categories rather than running down a single list of questions from top to bottom. The technique earns its name from Chuck Forrest, who first used it in Season 2 of Jeopardy!, then later went on to win the 1986 Tournament of Champions.

That technique has become common among players who have seriously prepared for their Jeopardy appearances. But it’s not just bouncing around the board that gives Holzhauer the look of a champion who could stay on the show for a long time.

Stats Suggest Holzhauer Here to Stay

TheJeopardyFan.com also features a bevy of stats on players who appear on the show, and they make it clear that Holzhauer has staying power. Among his more impressive numbers, he went 32-for-33 in answering questions on the show, picked up nearly $15,000 with his two Daily Doubles, and went three-for-three on rebound attempts after other contestants missed questions.

According to statistical modeling done by the website, that puts him in elite company. Based on his first performance, TheJeopardyFan.com gives Holzhauer a 65 percent chance of becoming a five-time champion, and says that in simulations, his average winning streak extends to nearly 10 games. The site also predicts that he has a 70 percent chance of qualifying for the next Tournament of Champions.

Jeopardy! Has been on American television since 1964, with the current syndicated show having been running since 1984. Since that time, Alex Trebek has been the show’s only host, guiding contestants through nearly 8,000 episodes.

The 78-year-old Trebek stunned and saddened Jeopardy! fans last month when he announced that he was battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

“Now normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m going to fight this, and I’m going to keep working,” Trebek said in a video announcement. “Trust told, I have to! Because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years. So help me. Keep the faith and we’ll win. We’ll get it done.”

12 Responses so far.

  1. Crazy good. If only hed bet it all on that easy 2nd level question,he wouldve had over 90,000 going into final jep. Oh,well. Still shattered that other good guys 77k mark. Was yelling at tv for him to bet it all with the 72k because he wouldve beaten my OWN record of 144,000 on Jeopardy!-the Nintendo version,that is.

  2. Good grief! (and not just for Charlie Brown). Some of these commenters certainly are pathetically sad … no, they’re sadly pathetic … actually, they’re both. Who gives a rat’s patootie that James bets strange amounts and seems to have “attitude” (I find his approach rather whimsical and endearing). Many other J! contestants through the years have displayed some sort of “attitude”. If you don’t want to see attitude, then watch Mickey Mouse cartoons instead. That’s probably more your speed. And being a professional gambler, as some have already pointed out, is not a valid reason for disqualification. Why is that even being suggested? Are those who espouse this extremely weak theory really that unsure of themselves? Perhaps those with low self-esteem and threatened, fragile egos should grow up, move out of mommy’s basement, and get real lives. I can just see it now … they’d demand that Einstein shouldn’t be allowed to compete on Jeopardy! because of his prowess.

    P.S. to Duane Wetick: The best way to deal with your rare medical condition of hair standing on end is to shave it all off. Works every time without fail.

  3. The odd amounts he bets has to do with birthdays of friends and family. Same with the names he puts on the answer for Final Jepordy

  4. He is smart. Very smart and he isn’t cheating so what difference does it make if he gambles for a living. He could bet Large And lose and then noone would be complaining. So what if he has attitude, So dows Alex. So did my father and he was brilliant. I hope he keeps going, he is a pleasure to watch!

  5. I recognized James immediately from the Chase and remembered he was very smart not necessarily a smart alleck. How he bounces around categories is confusing but it’s a strategy which apparently is working. His wagers make no sense but it’s his money to bet as he pleases. As for pro gamblers not being allowed to play I don’t see why not. Either you smart or not not matter what you do.

  6. Just because he bets odd amounts is a reason to say he shouldn’t be on Jeopardy?? Really??? How ridiculous. Being a professional gambler gives no more of an advantage than a nuclear scientist or mathematician or some other brainiac. Yes, he has attitude. So does Alex Trebeck. He deserves to be on the show and I hope he keeps winning. He is brilliant.

  7. I also recognized James on his first show, remembered how he gave The Beast an old fashioned whooping. Interesting that he has not revealed his appearance on The Chase during Alex’s interview with the contestants. Potentially one of the all time greats on the program, he there partly because of Ratings.

  8. Saying professional gamblers shouldn’t be allowed on Jeopardy is irrational and stupid. What other legal ways of making a living would the posters who said that want to discriminate against in contestant selection?

  9. I just posted something, and it is not showing up. I said a thank you to Jan Wodehouse who commented that James Holzhauer was on the Chase. I was trying to rack my bring thinking what show he was on previously, and it was the Chase. Thank you again Jan Wodehouse. I agree also that professional gamblers should not be allowed on Jeopardy. That James bets very strange amounts. When he was on The Chase, he was a real smart alleck. I hate to say this, but I hope he does not make it to 5 games. I hope this comment shows up.

  10. I would like to thank Jan Wodenhouse for the comment that James Holzhauer was on the Chase. I have been racking my brain trying to figure out what show he was on (Jeopardy never mentions people being previously on other game shows. Also, he was a smart alleck on the Chase. Thank you again.

  11. Professional gamblers should not be allowed on Jeopardy. Watching the manner in which he bets makes my hair stand on end.

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