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Discussion in 'The Mainboard' started by Duke Buster, Apr 14, 2015.
They told us the story when I was there of how fresh new players from all over the country would show up and they would be like "Hi everyone, this is our current champion Ken. He's won 43 straight games." And every person in the group would just simultaneously deflate.
I'm sure that's going on again now. Jesus Christ at what this guy is doing.
At some point, people who played Ken had already seen him on TV
Yep. Same type of thing. Like "that guy is still here?"
Something special is happening on Jeopardy! right now.
James Holzhauer, a [Johnny Gilbert voice] professional sports gambler from Las Vegas, Nevada, is winning, and he is winning a lot. He’s made waves both because of his success (10 victories and counting as of Thursday morning) and, especially, his betting strategy: More often than not, he likes to go for a true Daily Double and often tacks on large sums with audacious Final Jeopardy! wagers. Combined with his habit of hunting for Daily Double opportunities—he tends to jump around between higher-dollar clues instead of working his way down full categories—this has made for some extremely high scores.
On Wednesday, James—in keeping with Jeopardy! house style, let’s assume we’re on a first-name basis—set a new record for one-day Jeopardy! winnings with a total of $131,127, surpassing a record that he set scarcely a week ago when he obliterated the previous high of $77,000 set by Roger Craig in 2010 with a total of $110,914. Since his streak began on April 4, James has amassed $697,787; he now has the first, second, third, and fourth spots on the one-day record list (after winning $89,158 and $106,181 in two other games), and is in second place in all-time regular-season Jeopardy! earnings behind Ken Jennings, who reached $2,520,700 over a still-unrivaled 74 games in 2004. James, 34, is winning more, faster, than any contestant ever has.
Still, though: He’s quick to stress that things could have gone sideways—and will eventually, as all Jeopardy! reigns someday come to an end. “As a gambler, I know you can do everything right and still have to wait a long time to see positive results if luck is not on your side,” James, a Naperville, Illinois, native,says via email.
Luck, of course, plays a significant role in Jeopardy! success. Host Alex Trebek is fond of saying that either you get lucky and a given game has plenty of categories you know—you’ve got California Gold Rush history on lock and you took a Virginia Woolf class in college, how swell!—or else you get dealt a handful of blind spots—the Dreaded Opera Category, or even football—and suddenly one-twelfth or one-sixth or more of the clues are off the table for you, likely an insurmountable gap.
It’s not all luck, of course—far from it; you still need the far-flung knowhow and the wagering gumption to make it count. But what sets apart the really, truly dominant players like James isn’t just luck, smarts, or betting strategy: It’s the buzzer, and James is very, very, very good at using it.
“He had a lot of questions about the subtlety of the buzzer right away,” says Jeopardy! producer Maggie Speak, who oversees contestant coordination and leads an hourlong group orientation for new players each taping day. “Before he ever hit the stage, it was: ‘Well, what if I do this?’ He had a lot of very specific questions about the timing of the buzzer.”
“And clearly my answers must have helped him,” she says, laughing.
The way the buzzer works on Jeopardy! today is seemingly designed to confound anxious bookworms. In Jeopardy!’s original run with Art Fleming as host as well as in the first year of the revival with Trebek in 1984, contestants could ring in as early as they liked. But this proved confusing to at-home viewers who wanted to play along, so the rules were changed. (Never forget that Jeopardy! has been built for the express purpose of your nightly shouting of answers—sorry, questions—at your TV.) Now, after each clue is selected, Trebek reads its text aloud. The moment he finishes, a dedicated Jeopardy! staffer sitting at the judges’ table just offstage—Michael Harris, who also serves as one of the show’s writers—manually activates a switch that illuminates blue lights alongside the outer edges of the Jeopardy! board. The moment the “enable light” switches on, the three onstage contestants are permitted to ring in, but if they press their buzzers (“signaling devices” in official Jeopardy! parlance) even a fraction of a beat too early, they will be locked out of the system for a quarter-second, which is generally enough time for a competitor to swoop in instead. It’s a mechanism that’s hidden from viewers—you can’t see the blue lights in the telecast.
Secrets of the Buzzer by Fritz Holznagel.
Holznagel first competed on Jeopardy! in 1994. At the time, he didn’t worry much about the buzzer and won four games, a stint that led to invitations to three subsequent Jeopardy! tournaments, most recently the 2014 Battle of the Decades. “When I got invited back for the Battle of the Decades, I was 52 years old. I knew that I was not really in the loop on pop culture, and just generally, there’s no way you’re going to be smarter than these other contestants,” Holznagel says. “It occurred to me that if I was going to have any hope of doing well in this tournament, I would have to find some other edge.”
That edge he went about sharpening? Buzzer reaction time. Jeopardy!, he says, is a unique beast in the trivia world. “If you’re playing a College Bowl or quiz bowl or that kind of thing, people can ring in anytime,” he says. “But Jeopardy!is really unusual and different and it has this one twist, which is it’s basically a reaction-time test tacked onto a trivia contest.” He wondered: Could he hack it?
With the help of some friends, he created a wired buzzer that timed his buzzing speed, and over the course of some 27,000 tests, he managed to lower his reaction time from .228 seconds to as low as .126 seconds. Holznagel’s trials led him to a series of general guidelines for buzzer mastery: Use your thumb, keep your arms in front of you, hold still, and—if you can—chug some coffee in the green room, which Holznagel credits with shaving five one-thousandths of a second off his reaction time. Oh: And keep your eyes locked on the about-to-be-illuminated enable light.
he has won the five-by-five competition there, which is a very similar game to Jeopardy!, but instead of three contestants, it’s five contestants. So you can imagine having to buzz in faster than twice as many competitors.”
“It’s like when a great hockey player is playing, or a great basketball player. There aren’t defenders. There’s nothing between them and the goal or them and the hoop. ... You know there are people standing there, but they just kind of move through them.” —Buzzy Cohen
Cohen’s best guess about the sometimes slow-seeming pacing of James’s episodes: James is so good that the Jeopardy! producers are having to leave in more dead time than they normally do in an episode. “Because he’s getting in first and not getting the questions wrong, less time is elapsing in the game,” he says. “So they’re stretching out that time a little bit between the question being read and someone buzzing in.”
Buzzing in isn’t the most important thing on Jeopardy!, of course. James could be the first to buzz in on every clue and make Daily Double wagers just as calculated as he has been, but if he didn’t know the answers, that would get him nowhere.
Still: “If you’re not in control of the board, if you’re not calling the clues, you don’t get to make those big bets on the Daily Double,” says Cohen. “So in order to make sure you’re in control you need to be answering questions correctly, and the best way to do that is by buzzing in first. And knowing stuff,” he adds with a laugh.
Even a few games into his run, James was already getting recognized on the street. “I haven’t placed a sports bet since March Madness ended,” he says, “but when I cashed some winning tickets after the tournament ended, the local sportsbook managers said they were rooting for me.” Elsewhere, he says, someone stopped him and exhorted him to play better that night. “OK, I’ll do my best!” he replied.
“The buzzer never stops being important,” he wrote after his seventh victory. “Of my seven games, I could have lost at least three if I had been beaten on the buzzer just one additional time in a critical spot.” Fellow competitors have asked him what he’s doing right, but he says he’s not sure if he’s been any help. “I don’t know that I can pinpoint the secret sauce of buzzer timing,” he concedes.
James will rely on his gambling savvy and buzzer speed for as long as they will carry him, with the hopes that he can surpass Jennings’s all-time mark. But his success has been a bittersweet experience. “I had dreamed of appearing on Jeopardy! since I was a kid watching with my beloved Granny,” says James. “I promised her she’d see me on that stage one day, but I didn’t quite make it in time. I hope wherever she is, they have TV reception.”
never knew that about the buzzer
Ole Gregory would probably do well, but James
Damn. Why did he go so light on the daily doubles today?
Another day, another 70+k
James has set the standard so high that now a $70,000 run from him is an off day.
the girl ended up being a really good player and better than ol' greg
That’s crazy that it is a manual switch, I knew that the buzzer was disabled until after the full question was read but I always assumed that was an automated thing with something like Alex’s mic
What does this look like to you, the Jeffersons?
How'd he miss that easy daily double
He’s sucking ass so far tonight.
Did he win? I missed it today
It’s not over yet.
It came on here at 7:00. Wheel of Fortune on now....
He’s up $40k heading into final jeopardy.
Finished with $85k
80k on what felt like an off day
Jeopardy Wasn’t Designed for a Contestant Like James Holzhauer
Rebecca is already out of it
She’s in 2nd
Come on James. Wager. $40k here.
90k for James today
This fucker needs to play Watson. Playing humans doesn’t seem fair.
The world deserves a brad ken James game.
Damn he’s killing them tonight
After the first round
Let’s fucking go
$118k. Not bad
Is he a millionaire yet?
Clipped that mark tonight
Just a cool extra 50k on the final Jeopardy. Nbd.
I wonder what place on single day winnings that 50k bet alone would place him
He’s must watch TV. Phew.
That one asshole stole the daily double from him. Looking around a $70k finish today
She's a cutie. Videos of past shows and today's.
Didn't crack $50k today
That Robin woman was a fuckin weirdo.
Robin can choke on lead
Good interview with SVP
Going to be close tonight