James Holzhauer, a professional gambler from Las Vegas, has been making headlines for his utter domination of “Jeopardy!” in recent weeks. He’s won 20 games in a row so far, tying him for the second-longest win streak in the show’s history.
But it’s not just the number of victories that’s drawn attention and criticism, it’s the sheer scale of them. The top 10 daily earnings totals in the show’s history now belong to him. He blasted past the $1 million mark in total winnings in just 14 days — twice as fast as legendary player Ken Jennings.
But nothing quite underscores Holzhauer’s domination like a chart or two. Here, for instance, is a plot of the cumulative earnings of every other player who’s won 10 or more games in a row — there are just seven of them.
These numbers come from j-archive.com, a fan-run website that maintains meticulous records of every “Jeopardy!” game going back to the 1980s. Jennings, of course, stands head and shoulders above everyone else — note that this chart is truncated at 20 games, since he’s the only player to make it beyond that point. But let’s see what the chart looks like when we add Holzhauer.
No other player is even close; 20 games into his streak, not one of them is even in the same quadrant of the chart. Holzhauer’s averaging about $76,400 per episode, a figure that’s nearly as high as the previous one-day record of $77,000, set in 2010. Holzhauer, in other words, is turning in something like a record performance every single night.
He’s doing this primarily by making huge bets on Daily Doubles, which are questions that allow players to bet as much or as little of their money as they’d like. In all but two of his matches, in fact, the game was over before the Final Jeopardy round because Holzhauer had racked up at least twice the amount of his closest opponent.
In “Jeopardy!” parlance this is known as a “runaway,” and his 90 percent runaway rate is higher than that of any other champion who’s won 10 or more games.
As a professional gambler, Holzhauer is aware that there’s an element of luck involved in all of this, and that his luck could run out at any moment. “A particular vulnerability is that I can wipe out my entire score with one missed Daily Double, but I could also lose by failing to uncover any of the Daily Doubles at all, or just running into the wrong opponent at the wrong time,” he recently told the Atlantic.
According to an analysis by Oliver Roeder of FiveThirtyEight, if Holzhauer keeps up his current earnings rate, he’ll surpass Jennings’s regular game earnings record of $2.5 million by roughly his 35th game. Whether his luck holds out that long is anyone’s guess, but even if his run ends tonight, Holzhauer has already secured his spot in the ‘Jeopardy!’ history books.
This piece has been updated.