Ken Jennings officially became the Jeopardy! GOAT on Tuesday night after winning the fourth match of the Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time tournament. It was a first-to-three format, and Jennings won the first and third matches in the episodes that aired last week, while James Holzhauer won only the second and Brad Rutter comfortably finished in third place each match.
But the way in which Jennings — who holds the record for most consecutive regular-season wins with 74 games — won might seem a little puzzling. He wagered nothing in Final Jeopardy, which was his best available option, and won.
While on Good Morning America on Wednesday after the last Jeopardy! GOAT episode aired, Jennings was asked about that strategy, which surprised a lot of people, including George Stephanopoulos.
So the GOAT explained:
“There’s a little bit of math that goes into wagering on Jeopardy! Generally what happens is the person in second should often make a very small wager. You’re counting on the person in first to make a big wager, so it doesn’t matter at that point.
If they get it wrong, they’re out. So it doesn’t matter what you wager. You want to risk as little as possible for that eventuality.”
If that still doesn’t totally make sense, let us break it down further.
Each match is divided into two regular Jeopardy! games, and the point totals from both games are combined to determine the winner of the match. So after Game 1 of the fourth match Tuesday, their scores were…
Ken Jennings: 65,600
James Holzhauer: 34,181
Brad Rutter: 0
(Poor Brad. No, Rich Brad.)
After winning Game 1, Jennings entered Game 2’s Final Jeopardy round trailing Holzhauer, who bet big on a Daily Double and got it. Here were their scores going into that Final Jeopardy…
Ken Jennings: 23,000
James Holzhauer: 44,000
Brad Rutter: 1,400
Jennings said because he was in second place, he needed to assume Holzhauer in first would make a large wager. If Holzhauer went all in and got the question right, his Game 2 total would be 88,000 points. Combine that with his 34,181 from Game 1, and he’d finish with 122,181 points and would win the match.
With 23,000 in second, even if Jennings also went all in and had the correct answer, his 46,000 points combined with his 65,600 from Game 1 would give him 111,600, which wouldn’t be enough to beat Holzhauer (still assuming he went all in).
So, as he told GMA, Jennings doubling his total in Final Jeopardy wouldn’t matter if Holzhauer got the question right. And that meant his best option was to bet as few points as possible, banking on Holzhauer betting big, being wrong and losing enough to fall behind to second place.
And as it turned out, that’s exactly what happened.
The Final Jeopardy category was Shakespeare’s Tragedies, and the clue was:
He has 272 speeches, the most of any non-title character in a Shakespeare tragedy.
The correct response is: …read more