Lessons From A Betting Man On Jeopardy

From strategy to life, we can learn a thing or two from the brilliant minds who appear on Jeopardy. Particularly James Holzhauer.

When I was younger, my parents, brother and I used to gather around the television and watch a series of game shows. What was particularly nice about this ritual was that the game shows were back to back.

The first episode was Wheel of Fortune.

The second, Jeopardy.

While Wheel of Fortune is still thriving, it’s particularly the second show that I grew up with that stands out the most. Especially in more recent years.

At the time I was watching it, I don’t quite remember the details. I think I was more focused on being able to get one answer right amongst the slew of questions. But as I grew older and moved away from the show, one contestant name stood out.

Ken Jennings, a man who grossed $2.4 million dollars over 74 episodes of Jeopardy 15 years ago. Roughly around the time I was watching the show.

What Jennings has done is remarkable, but his success today is overshadowed by another individual. Someone who took Jennings practices to heart and cranked them up to 100.

This man is James Holzhauer.

A man who, at the time of writing this, has won $1.1 million dollars. nearly half of what Jennings has made. But what’s so surprising is the amount, but also how time Holzhauer has used to get to this point.

He’s spent 15 days — or 15 episodes — to get to this amount.

Now there’s certainly not a huge risk of the game show going bankrupt because of Holzhauer’s record-breaking achievements. Especially when you know the finances of game shows fluctuate based on how much money is being thrown around on average (and Alex Trebek’s salary is an estimated $10 million a year). However, it is worth looking at Holzhauer’s whole attitude.

Much like I’ve expressed in the past and what Micah McGuire expresses in her post on Tetris, video games — and by extension game shows — while are mostly geared towards entertainment, can provide tremendous value to life outside of those realities.

After all, Holzhauer is using a lot of skills and his abilities to break records at blinding speeds. Not to mention he has a clearly aggressive attitude towards the game which has served him well thus far.

Don’t Be Afraid To Be Bold

This aggressive demeanour isn’t unfounded. Looking at Holzhauer’s profile, he is a professional sports gambler. In other words, a game like Jeopardy is within his own element. And we definitely see it in the way that he plays.

He often goes for the high reward and harder questions first and works his way back.

This sort of attitude is definitely different from most other participants I’ve seen play in the past. I recall people habitually work from the lowest earnings and work their way down much like reading a book.

But to see it further you only have to look at his attitude when the Daily Double shows up.

If Holzhauer earns it, he often bets larger sums of cash. On the other hand, I recall others tending to be more conservative with their betting as opposed to dominating the board.

I’ll talk a little more about that in a bit, but Holzhauer’s whole attitude screams “be bold.”

Own the decisions that we make.

That’s not to say that our entire lives should be high adrenaline and constantly living on the edge, but rather to be bolder in our own ways. For Holzhauer, it’s betting aggressively and staying on top for as long as possible. For me, it’s not showing hesitation when someone needs help and putting in every effort I can into what I’m doing.

Being bold is allowing ourselves to be a little vulnerable. To accept the fact that there is a chance that we might get kicked down. And if that happens…


Get Back Up If You’re Kicked Down

Of course, people make mistakes. Sometimes our power plays backfire and we’re set back drastically.

For James Holzhauer, those backfires are betting it big and being aggressive and getting the wrong answer. And of course, the wrong answer has penalties. He’ll lose a significant amount of money and lose his board position. And in cases where he loses big on Daily Doubles, he’s often set back to little to no money.

But one thing that is racking in the views and provides a lot of entertainment is the fact that Holzhauer doesn’t take this laying down.

Often times he bets large on the Final Jeopardy and pulls out a win. Or in the second round, he claws back up to a significant amount despite just losing a lot of money.

His entire attitude from that is a clear message that sometimes we’re going to screw up and that we’ll have to pay for those decisions. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean that we’re stuck there for the rest of our lives.

He recognizes that this loss is temporary. And the only real downside that he’s faced with is the fact he won’t be able to win as much as money as he could have if he got the answer right.

But that’s not something to complain about. Especially since he has broken record after record every episode.

The point is to not accept our losses as is and to find the best way to redeem ourselves and climb back up. Yes, we’ll fail but never has anyone succeeded by whining, complaining, or being passive after one experiences a failure.

We buckle down, form a new plan and strategy.

But above all…

Keep A Level Head

The remarkable thing about James Holzhauer is the fact that this game show is within his element. As a professional sports gambler, he’s obviously used to gambling which Jeopardy does have elements to it.

But even the skill aspects of Jeopardy are similar to his occupation. In Jeopardy, you need to know information from a wide assortment of topics. In sports, you need to have an understanding of everything from individual players, stadiums, weather conditions, team manager, who is playing against who, and more.

In other words, Holzhauer is used to researching, studying, and being strategic. And that attitude has seeped into his play.

But the most important aspect is to keep a level head.

Holzhauer can do this with ease as he can often relate to what’s going on in the show to him right now to how he gambles on sports teams. If his team is behind, he doesn’t panic inside like other players and takes a more conservative route.


He doubles down and reformulates a plan to get back up. He starts to ask questions rather than doubt his abilities.

For sure there is little he could do to influence the flow of a game of sports where he is a bystander to it all. But in a game show where his earnings are entirely influenced by him and he can single-handedly control the flow of the game, he can easily strategize and bend the game to his will.

So long as he stays calm and keeps a level head.

What this means for us in real life is that we can control our own lives as well. Yes, there are some elements that are outside of our control. But that’s not a reason to despair.

Instead, Holzhauer is telling us indirectly to look at the things that we can control and push forward using those elements as a platform.

While Holzhauer’s methods seem rather robotic, at the end of the day he is incredibly relatable. In an interview with MONEY, Holzhauer has talked about his mindset, but also his dedication to his family. He’s looking to spend his money travelling and spending quality time with his family.

And who wouldn’t love to travel the world after winning it big on a game show?

Entrepreneur, positive-minded. I used to say a lot, now I do a lot. Documenting my growth. Support me on Patreon: http://bit.ly/2pIEPFR

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