The 34-year-old professional sports gambler is closing in on Ken Jennings Jeopardy! records, but Jennings himself says he's cheering Holzhauer on

By Matt McNulty
May 21, 2019 08:58 AM

James Holzhauer won his 23rd game of Jeopardy! in a row on Monday after a two-week hiatus from the show. Despite finishing with a total $1,780,237 in winnings after Monday’s victory, the 34-year-old Las Vegas native is far from the show’s biggest and longest reigning champion.

Ken Jennings won a total of $2,520,700 after 74 games back in 2004. He still holds every top 10 slot for the highest single-game winnings.

While Jennings entered the show as an erudite computer scientist, Holzhauer has a background in professional sports gambling, with many Jeopardy! purists undermining Hozhauer’s run as simply a cash-grab.

Jennings came to Holzhauer’s defense in a Sunday editorial for The Washington Post, where the 44-year-old Jennings announces Holzhauer is “getting within spitting distance of the $2.5 million all-time cash record. All right, fine, if you insist: my all-time cash record.”

Alex Trebek and Ken Jennings
| Credit: Sony/REX/Shutterstock

“Even casual fans of the show have probably heard by now how Holzhauer is doing it: He’s a sports bettor who feels supremely comfortable wagering aggressively, and he cannily plays the game board from the bottom up, starting with the highest dollar values and amassing cash before the Daily Doubles have been found and while his poor opponents are still finding their feet,” Jennings explained in the piece.

Credit: Jeopardy

“But I count my blessings that I own at least one Jeopardy! distinction that Holzhauer can’t touch: I appeared on the show before the dawn of social media. Holzhauer has been met every night by a barrage of hot takes about his streak: He’s ‘broken the game.’ He’s ‘ruined the show.’ He’s ‘unfair’ to his competitors, or ‘boring’ to watch,” Jennings wrote.

Holzhauer’s aggressive strategy in going for higher value clues over starting low throws off his more traditional opponents, who typically work their way down a particular category. The professional sports bettor also actively seeks out Daily Doubles, which often gives him an early lead.

Jennings applauded Holzhauer’s approach to the game, adding that the point of the show has always been about out-earning opponents.

“It’s not true, as some have implied, that Jeopardy! has long been a genteel scholar’s game of knowledge that this brash Vegas arriviste has soiled with his unseemly cash grab,” he wrote in the Post. “Winning on Jeopardy! has always been about out-earning your opponents, and the game pivots on four clues every game that allow players to risk their money: three Daily Doubles and one Final Jeopardy. That element of risk is called out in the name of the show, for crying out loud.”

Credit: Courtesy of Jeopardy!

“That’s what we should appreciate about Holzhauer: the insane confidence of even trying to play Jeopardy! according to an untested personal strategy,” said Jennings.

Holzhauer currently averages winning $76,864 per game with $131,127 being the most he’s won in a single game. He holds a 97 percent accuracy rate for his responses and a 93 percent Daily Double accuracy rate, according to the Jeopardy! website.