James Holzhauer | Srivideo
Born/Date of Birth: July 1984
Place of Birth: Naperville, Illinois, United States
Residence: Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
Alma mater: University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
Occupation: Sports gambler, Game show contestant
Known for: 32-time Jeopardy! championship
Spouse(s): Melissa Sassin (m. 2012)
Parents: Nachiko Ide Holzhauer, Juergen Holzhauer
For media requests: jeopardyjames(@)gmail.com
James Holzhauer (born July 1984) is an American game show contestant and professional sports gambler. He is the fourth-highest-earning American game show contestant of all time and is best known for his 32-game winning streak as champion on the quiz show Jeopardy! from April to June 2019, during which he set multiple single-game records for winnings.
Holzhauer won $2,464,216 in his 33 appearances, making him the third-highest overall winning Jeopardy! contestant behind Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings, and the second-highest winner in Jeopardy! regular-play (non-tournament) winnings and number of games won, behind only Jennings, who won $2,522,700 in 75 episodes in 2004. Based on his success on Jeopardy!, Holzhauer has been nicknamed "Jeopardy James".
Early life and education
Born in c. 1984/1985, Holzhauer was born and raised in Naperville, Illinois. His father was a German immigrant. His grandmother was Japanese and spoke very little English; he had promised her that he would appear on Jeopardy! before she died. As a child, he was known as Jamie. In 1989, when he was four, his teacher was astounded by his arithmetic abilities and developed advanced classwork just for him. At age seven, he was moved up to a fifth-grade math class, and at his mother's urging he skipped second grade. He consistently got As on math tests and competed on the Naperville North High School math team. Despite high marks on individual tests, he was a C student overall, as he often skipped class and homework on the grounds that he could use the time more productively, such as playing online poker. Holzhauer memorized obscure baseball and professional wrestling statistics, prompting his parents to reprimand him for "wasting his life" learning about sports.
Holzhauer was a member of the Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering Team that won the state competition at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign; he contributed by taking first place in physics and second in math. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics in 2005.
Game show appearances
Holzhauer appeared on the American version of the quiz show The Chase on September 2, 2014, internationally produced by ITV Studios. In his first round, a one-minute round called the Cash Builder, he correctly answered 12 questions out of 14 posed by host Brooke Burns; the last question was asked just before time expired and was quickly passed on by Holzhauer. His score set a record for the Cash Builder that was never surpassed during the show's run. In his second round, The Chase, he faced Mark Labbett to determine whether he would advance to the final round and add money to the team prize pool. Holzhauer had a choice of three amounts to play for: $60,000 based on his score in the Cash Builder, $30,000 to reduce the difficulty of the round; and $120,000, which would increase the difficulty. He chose to play for $60,000; after the show he said that the odds did not favor playing for the maximum amount and that it was not worth the gamble. The Chase was played head-to-head, with the players using hidden buttons to select multiple-choice answers. Holzhauer advanced to the finals and added to the prize pool with a score of five right and one wrong. Labbett scored a perfect five, with his final answer not revealed since Holzhauer had already achieved the necessary points to win the round. In the Final Chase round (as team leader with two other contestants also participating), he defeated Labbett by a score of 26 to 9, earning a $58,333.33 share of the $175,000 team prize pool. By answering 19 questions correctly for his team, he set a Final Chase record, which was also never surpassed.
Holzhauer appeared on the American quiz show 500 Questions on May 22, 2015. This show did not allow the challenger to replace the champion unless the champion answered three questions wrong in a row. The incumbent champion, Steve Bahnaman, prevailed over Holzhauer, who did not receive any winnings.
Holzhauer appeared on 33 episodes of Season 35 of the American quiz show Jeopardy!, from April 4 to June 3, 2019. During his run, Holzhauer's performance on the show was described as phenomenal. During his first game, he won $43,680, which was the largest single-game total to that point in Season 35. In his fourth game, which aired on April 9, he broke the previous single-game Jeopardy! winnings record ($77,000, set by Roger Craig in 2010) by winning $110,914, which corresponds to his daughter's date of birth, 11/09/14. During his 33 appearances, Holzhauer exceeded Craig's single-day total 16 times (see table below), including a new all-time record set on April 17, when he won $131,127. He is also the first and only player to win $100,000 or more in a single episode, a feat he accomplished six times. His $298,687 total winnings across his first five days surpassed the five-day record set by Frank Spangenberg. Holzhauer won a total of $2,464,216, averaging $75,362 per episode—a 33-day average that nearly equaled the previous all-time single-day record. Fellow Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings has likened this feat to "a basketball player notching 70-point games for an entire season or a baseball player hitting for the cycle in every game". Holzhauer's average winnings were more than the estimated $43,000 per episode that host Alex Trebek earns.
Holzhauer was defeated in his 33rd game, which aired on June 3, 2019, and was watched by 14.5 million people. The winner, Emma Boettcher, used many of the same strategies Holzhauer used during his run. In July 2019 Jeopardy! confirmed that Holzhauer would return for the Tournament of Champions in November.
Holzhauer took a two-pronged approach to play. He selected the highest-value clues first in an attempt to maximize the money he had available to wager when he hit a Daily Double. This strategy does not always work, as a Daily Double is more likely to be behind a high-value clue, and often he hit the Daily Double before he had accumulated a large sum to wager. On Daily Doubles and during Final Jeopardy! clues, Holzhauer bet aggressively; his average wager on Daily Doubles was $9,000. While aggressive betting is disadvantageous if a player responds incorrectly, Holzhauer was correct on 72 of the 76 (94.7 percent) Daily Doubles he hit. This strategy was not entirely new; Alex Jacob, also a professional gambler, used similar strategies in his six regular-play wins in April 2015 as well as the 2015 Tournament of Champions, which he won.
Without factoring in Daily Doubles or Final Jeopardy! wagers, Holzhauer's average score of $30,800 during his 32-episode winning streak (57 percent of the $54,000 available in each episode) is higher than the $28,786 averaged by Jennings, who was far more conservative in his wagering; Holzhauer considered it more logical to make large bets that will usually pay off, since, during the first 25 episodes of his winning streak, he averaged 35.5 correct responses per game and only 1.04 wrong responses per episode. On the episode he lost, he did not respond to any clues incorrectly. He credited reading fact books written for children, with their heavy use of infographics, for allowing him to learn vast amounts of information in an easily digestible manner. He took a year off from his occupation as a sports gambler to study for Jeopardy!.
Response to gameplay
Holzhauer's record-breaking winning streak attracted considerable reaction and media attention. Craig, who held the single-game winnings record before Holzhauer, marked Holzhauer reaching $1,000,000 by stating, "To me, it's clear that he's one of the top players of all time already." Jennings admitted to being "just gobsmacked by James", adding, "It's absolutely insane what he's doing." Of Holzhauer's strategies, Jennings said, "he's got these incredibly confident wagers. He's maximizing money. He can make two or three times what any other player ever has with that same level of play, which again is top-shelf. He's as good as anybody." Labbett, meanwhile, recalled Holzhauer's The Chase appearance as "the worst beating I've ever had", adding, "I've got to give Jeopardy! immense credit, and The Chase U.S.A. In Britain or Australia, James would not have made it onto television, because he's just too damn good. They would never have him on."
Nielsen ratings for Jeopardy! rose 11 percent nationally during the first two weeks of Holzhauer's run and as much as 50 percent in select local markets, with a continuing upward trend over the course of his streak; by the fourth week of Holzhauer's run, ratings were up 30 percent nationwide and had doubled in select markets. Former Game Show Network executive Bob Boden said that the increased ratings would help compensate for any short-term financial losses Holzhauer's run caused, and that the show's profitability up to this point (both Jeopardy! and sister program Wheel of Fortune combine to generate approximately $125 million in revenue against $100 million in expenses) would allow them to absorb the increased payouts. It was also noted that the increased ratings would not immediately allow the show to increase advertising rates, since those are set on a season-by-season basis as part of long-term ad buys.
The highest-rated episode during Holzhauer's run was his final episode, which at 14.5 million same-day viewers was the highest-rated episode of the show since Jennings's last episode in 2004, the highest rated episode of a syndicated show that season, and the third-most-watched episode of a running series in the 2018–19 season (behind only the series-ending "The Stockholm Syndrome" episode of The Big Bang Theory and an episode of 60 Minutes that had led out of an NFL on CBS contest) not counting DVR or streaming views, the latter of which Jeopardy! does not legally offer. The episode had been spoiled several hours before it aired on most affiliate stations; Sports Illustrated credited the spoilers with creating buzz for the episode, counteracting the conventional wisdom that people would not tune in without the element of surprise. Even if the result had not been spoiled, Holzhauer was on pace to break Jennings's regular-play record that day had he won, which might also have had a part in the increased ratings.
While a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Holzhauer played hearts and spades at a card club. The twice-a-week club quickly turned into a five-day-a-week home poker game with a 10-cent ante and $2 maximum bets. The poker game is where Holzhauer began gambling but he grew his sports betting bankroll in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Believing the round-robin format of the tournament and variance in baseball had skewed the odds, he bet heavily on each team except the US and Dominican Republic to win the tournament. After graduating from college, Holzhauer moved to Las Vegas in 2008 to bet professionally on sports. Holzhauer says he has built predictive models for baseball, NFL, and college basketball, but now focuses largely on in-game betting.
Holzhauer debuted at the World Series of Poker in 2019. In his first event, he finished 454th out of approximately 1,800 contestants and did not win any prize money (he would have needed to finish at 281st or higher to win any prize money). His second event was a tag-team match in which he partnered with Mike Sexton. He ultimately was knocked out as a solo contestant in round 17 of the tournament, with his most notable prize win being a $600 profit for finishing 92nd out of 1,867 on a No-Limit Hold'em Super Turbo Bounty game.
On September 8, 2012, Holzhauer married Melissa Sassin, a tutor from Seattle, Washington. Sassin has also been a game show contestant, appearing on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 2014 and winning $28,800. Their daughter, Natasha, was born on November 9, 2014.
Holzhauer frequently made inside references to important dates in his life with his Jeopardy! wagers, including family members' birthdays, his anniversary, and the date of the 2017 Las Vegas shooting.
Holzhauer is a lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs; he has said his dream job is a front-office position with the team and has actively sought employment in Major League Baseball.
Holzhauer said he intended to donate some of his Jeopardy! winnings to Las Vegas children's charities. On April 7, 2019, he donated $10,000 to a Las Vegas organization for displaced teens. On May 2, 2019, he was awarded a key to the Las Vegas Strip for his success on Jeopardy! and for his donations to children's charity organizations and other nonprofit organizations in the Las Vegas area. In mid-2019, Holzhauer donated $1,109.14 (representing his daughter's birthday) to the 2019 Naperville Pancreatic Cancer Reach Walk in Illinois, in Alex Trebek's name. On June 24, 2019, Holzhauer began participating in World Series of Poker events in Las Vegas. He plans to donate half his winnings to the Las Vegas nonprofit Project 150, which helps homeless, displaced and disadvantaged high school students.
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