Who Is James Holzhauer?
James Holzhauer is an American professional sports bettor and game show contestant who shot to national fame as the second all-around champion of Jeopardy, thanks to his 32-game winning streak, which aired from April to June 2019.
Born July 1984 in Naperville, Illinois, Holzhauer is of German and Japanese descent. At an early age, he demonstrated advanced mathematical skills and began taking fifth grade-level math at age seven, skipping the second grade altogether.
Although he joined the math team in high school and got high marks in the subject, he produced mediocre grades overall since he got into the habit of missing classes to gamble online.
Still, he managed to garner impressive science and math accolades, helping his high school win a state championship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) as a member of the Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering Team. In 2005 he graduated from UIUC with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics.
Jeopardy Earnings & Place in Game Show History
On his 33rd and final appearance on Jeopardy, Holzhauer won a total of $2,464,216 — just $58,484 short of Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings, who is known for having the longest winning streak on the show’s history with 74 wins. (Brad Rutter is currently at the top spot for Jeopardy earnings, winning a total of $4,888,436 in prize money, although most it came from the tournament specials.)
With his impressive wins, Holzhauer, who is also known as “Jeopardy James,” helped the show’s ratings soar and became the second all-around champ (regular play). He boasts the largest single-game payout on the show — $131,127 — and currently ranks No. 4 in highest earnings in game show history.
As for how he’ll spend his winnings, Holzhauer has donated some to charities in Las Vegas, where he currently resides and plans on using a portion on his family.
“I’ve already begun giving to children’s nonprofits in the Las Vegas area. I’d also like to take a nice family vacation to Spain and Portugal to beat the Vegas summer heat,” he told ESPN.
Beat By Emily Boettcher
Holzhauer lost to 27-year-old University of Chicago librarian Emily Boettcher. Trailing $3,000 behind her, Holzhauer had hoped the Princeton English major would miss the Final Jeopardy question. However, she did not.
The final clue was the following: “The line ‘A great reckoning in a little room’ in ‘As You Like It’ is usually taken to refer to this author’s premature death.”
The answer: “Who is Marlowe?”
Holzhauer, Boettcher and the third contestant, Jay Sexton, all answered correctly.
Although known for his aggressive betting style throughout the competition, Holzhauer only bet $1,399 this time around (his final earnings totaled $24,799), while Boettcher bet $20,201 (her final earnings totaled $46,801).
“I lost to a really top-level competitor,” Holzhauer said. “She played a perfect game. And that was what it took to beat me.”
Reflecting on his fast track to fame, he added: “I did expect to do pretty well when I was on the show, but I thought maybe I could win maybe six, seven episodes; certainly not 32, and certainly not this level of money,” Holzhauer said. “I think the amount of attention it’s gotten has surprised me.”
High-Stakes Strategy on ‘Jeopardy’
To prepare as a contestant for the show, Holzhauer took a year off to study. He practiced his buzzer skills by clicking on a mechanical pencil and even immersed himself in the children’s section of the library to pick up random facts.
“I’ve found that in an adult reference book, if it’s not a subject I’m interested in, I just can’t get into it,” he told The New York Times. “I was thinking, what is the place in the library I can go to to get books tailored to make things interesting for uninterested readers? Boom. The children’s section.”
Once he became a contestant on the show, Holzhauer played an aggressive high-stakes game. He would immediately start out by taking on the high-value questions, searched for the Daily Doubles and then made huge bets. Using the “Forrest Bounce” method, Holzhauer continually jumped around to different categories and tiles to confuse his opponents.
As a professional gambler, Holzhauer had the advantage of not being afraid to make big wagers.
“The fact that I win and lose money all the time helps desensitize me, so I can write down $60,000 as the Final Jeopardy wager and not be trembling at the thought of losing that money,” he told USA Today.
Holzhauer was known to calculate his Final Jeopardy wagers so that his total earnings would add up to a number that was personal to him — such as his anniversary date or his daughter’s birthday.
Future Matchups with Ken Jennings
In good humor, Holzhauer and Jennings have exchanged competitive banter on Twitter, prompting fans to push the two record-breaking contestants to compete against each other.
Jennings has chimed in publicly, saying that it’s “almost certain” there will be a matchup between the two men. “It’s going to happen at some point,” Jennings told The Times.
In the meantime, Holzhauer is set to appear on Jeopardy’s “Tournament of Champions.”
In 2012 Holzhauer married tutor Melissa Sassin, who also participated in the game show circuit, winning $28,800 on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 2014. The couple live in Las Vegas and have a daughter who was born in 2014.
Other Game Show Appearances
Prior to Jeopardy, Holzhauer appeared on the quiz show The Chase in 2014, as well as 500 Questions in 2015.
A&E Television Networks