James Holzhauer, a professional gambler from Las Vegas, just shattered the record for the most money made in a single game of Jeopardy!, winning $110,914 in a match that aired Tuesday night. The previous record, set by computer scientist Roger Craig in 2010, was $77,000. The show put up a brief video with highlights from Holzhauer and Craig’s respective winning games:
Both Holzhauer and Craig won $13,000 in their Jeopardy! rounds, but Holzhauer pulled ahead of Craig’s pace in Double Jeopardy! thanks to two aggressive bets on the Daily Double, first betting his entire $14,600 in winnings, and then, with $46,800 in the bank, wagering $25,000. Craig played more conservatively in 2010; he also got both of the rounds’ Daily Doubles, but bet only $7,000 and $5,000. That meant Holzhauer entered Final Jeopardy with $77,600 versus Craig’s take of $47,000. Neither contestant was in any danger of losing their matches, so Final Jeopardy was about nerves as much as anything. Craig bet $30,000, just a little less than the maximum amount ($36,199) he could have risked while still mathematically eliminating his opponents. Holzhauer was in a better position: He could have safely bet as much as $58,599, which would have given him a final score of $131,199. Instead, he chose the odd sum of $38,314, which brought him to $110,914.
Holzhauer didn’t arrive at that number arbitrarily. As he explained during the break between rounds, he’s been placing Daily Double and Final Jeopardy bets with hidden significance all along: a $3,268 bet for his nephew’s March 26, 2008 birthday, a $9,812 bet for his Sept. 8, 2012 anniversary, an $11,914 bet for his daughter’s Nov. 9, 2014 birthday, and a $730 bet for his dad’s birthday (July 30, presumably). His final bet Tuesday night means the record, $110,914, is now another reference to his daughter’s birthday, which explains why he wrote “Happy birthday booger!” below his answer. Holzhauer has now won $244,365 over four games and will play again Wednesday.
Theoretically, it is possible to win as much as $566,400 in a single game of Jeopardy!, but the odds against it are extraordinary, because it depends on Daily Double placement as much as skill, and no one has ever come close. Holzhauer’s record surpasses Craig’s by leaps and bounds, and Craig’s record stood for more than eight years, so with any luck Holzhauer’s mathematical shoutout to his daughter will stand through her 12th birthday. At 13, she’ll be eligible for the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament and can try to set a Jeopardy! record with a hidden numerological message of her own. Can a 4-year-old sign up for Quiz Bowl?