|Born||July 1984 (age 34)|
Naperville, Illinois, U.S.
|Residence||Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.|
|Education||Naperville North High School|
|Alma mater||University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (B.S.)|
|Known for||Holding several records on the U.S. game show Jeopardy!|
|Home town||Naperville, Illinois|
Melissa Sassin (m. 2012)
James Holzhauer (born July 1984) is an American game show contestant and professional sports gambler. He is the sixth highest-earning American game show contestant of all time and best known for his record-setting 2019 run as champion on Jeopardy!. Holzhauer is the third-highest overall winning Jeopardy! contestant (behind Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings), and the second Jeopardy! millionaire in regular game (non-tournament) winnings, behind only Jennings ($2,522,700 in 75 episodes in 2004). He has been nicknamed "Jeopardy James".
Early life and education
Holzhauer was raised in Naperville, Illinois. As a child, he was known as Jamie. In 1989, when he was 4, his teacher was astounded by his arithmetic abilities and developed advanced classwork just for him. At age 7, he was moved up to a fifth-grade math class, and at his mother’s urging he skipped second grade. He consistently got A’s on math tests and competed on his high school math team. But he was a C student, even in math, because he often skipped his homework and class on the grounds that he could use the time more productively—for example, by playing online poker. Holzhauer memorized obscure baseball and professional wrestling statistics, prompting his parents to reprimand him for “wasting his life” learning about sports.
Holzhauer was a member of the Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering Team that won the state competition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC); he contributed by taking first place in physics and second in math. He has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from UIUC, from which he graduated in 2005.
Game show appearances
Holzhauer appeared on the American version of the quiz show The Chase on September 2, 2014, internationally-produced by ITV Studios. In his first round, a one-minute round called the Cash Builder, he correctly answered 12 questions out of 14 posed by host Brooke Burns; the last question was asked just before time expired and was quickly passed on by Holzhauer. His score set a record for the Cash Builder that was never surpassed during the show's run. In his second round, The Chase, he faced Mark Labbett to determine whether he would advance to the final round and add money to the team prize pool. Holzhauer had a choice of three amounts to play for: $60,000 based on his score in the Cash Builder, $30,000 to reduce the difficulty of the round; and $120,000, which would increase the difficulty. He chose to play for $60,000; after the show he said that the odds did not favor playing for the maximum amount and that it was not worth the gamble. The Chase was played head-to-head, with the players using hidden buttons to select multiple-choice answers. Holzhauer advanced to the finals and added to the prize pool with a score of five right and one wrong. Labbett scored a perfect five, with his final answer not revealed since Holzhauer had already achieved the necessary points to win the round. In the Final Chase round (as team leader with two other contestants also participating), he defeated Labbett by a score of 26 to 9, earning a $58,333.33 share of the $175,000 team prize pool. By answering 19 questions correctly for his team, he set a Final Chase record, which was also never surpassed.
Holzhauer appeared on the American quiz show 500 Questions on May 22, 2015. This show required that the challenger replace the champion only if the champion answered three questions wrong in a row. The incumbent champion, Steve Bahnaman, prevailed over Holzhauer, who did not receive any winnings.
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Holzhauer appeared on the American quiz show Jeopardy! beginning on April 4, 2019. His performance on the show has been described as phenomenal. During his fourth episode, which aired on April 9, 2019, he broke the previous single-game Jeopardy! winnings record ($77,000, set by Roger Craig in 2010) by winning $110,914, the dollar value of his daughter's date of birth, 11/09/14. As of May 3, 2019[update], Holzhauer has exceeded Craig's single-day total 12 times (see table below), including a new all-time record set on April 17, when he won $131,127. He is also the first and only player to win more than $100,000 in a single episode, a feat he has accomplished five times. His $298,687 total winnings across his first five days surpassed the five-day record set by Frank Spangenberg. As of May 20, 2019[update], he has appeared on 23 episodes and has won a total of $1,780,237.
|Game Number||Air Date||Winnings||Total Winnings||Notes|
|2||April 5||$38,926||$82,606||First of only two games that was not a runaway (his lead after the Double Jeopardy round could not guarantee a win)|
|4||April 9||$110,914||$244,365||First breaks single-day winnings record (previously $77,000)|
|6||April 11||$27,190||$325,877||Only game in which he failed to give a correct response in Final Jeopardy!|
|8||April 15||$45,444||$460,479||2nd place on all-time Jeopardy! regular play winnings list|
|10||April 17||$131,127||$697,787||Resets single-day winnings record (breaks own record)|
|14||April 23||$118,816||$1,061,554||2nd Jeopardy!-made millionaire from regular play winnings|
|15||April 24||$73,621||$1,135,175||Moves into #10 on All-games All-time winnings list, including $58,333 won in 2014 on The Chase|
|16||April 25||$90,812||$1,225,987||Moves up to #9 on All-games All-time winnings list|
|18||April 29||$54,017||$1,329,604||Second game that was not a runaway. Since challenger Adam Levin gave a correct response, this was the only game in which Holzhauer's championship was at risk in Final Jeopardy.[Note 1] Levin's final total of $53,999 is the highest 2nd place total in Jeopardy! history for regular play.|
|20||May 1||$101,682||$1,528,012||Moves up to #8 on All-games All-time winnings list|
|21||May 2||$80,615||$1,608,627||21st win passes Julia Collins, now holds second-longest winning streak in regular play.|
|23||May 20||$89,229||$1,780,237||Moves up to #6 on All-games All-time winnings list|
|Note: green background denotes an addition to Holzhauer's exclusive hold of the top ten positions on Jeopardy!'s single-day winnings list|
Holzhauer has taken a two-pronged approach to play. He goes for the highest values on the board first to maximize the money he has available to wager when he hits a Daily Double. On Daily Doubles and during Final Jeopardy! clues, Holzhauer bids aggressively. Without factoring in Daily Doubles or Final Jeopardy! wagers, Holzhauer's average score of nearly $30,000 (60% of the available money in each episode) is slightly higher than that of Ken Jennings, who was far more conservative in his wagering; estimating the risk of getting a question wrong to be low, Holzhauer considers it more logical to make large bets that will usually pay off. He credits reading fact books written for children, with their heavy use of infographics, for allowing him to learn vast amounts of information in an easily digestible manner. He took a year off from his job as a sports gambler to study for Jeopardy!.
Response to gameplay
Holzhauer's record-breaking winning streak has attracted considerable reaction and media attention. Craig, who held the single-game winnings record before Holzhauer, said, "To me, it's clear that he's one of the top players of all time already." Jennings admitted to being "just gobsmacked by James," adding, "It's absolutely insane what he's doing." Of Holzhauer's strategies, Jennings said, "he's got these incredibly confident wagers. He's maximizing money. He can make two or three times what any other player ever has with that same level of play, which again is top-shelf. He's as good as anybody." Labbett, meanwhile, recalled Holzhauer's The Chase appearance as "the worst beating I've ever had", adding, "I've got to give Jeopardy! immense credit, and The Chase U.S.A. In Britain or Australia, James would not have made it onto television, because he's just too damn good. They would never have him on."
Nielsen Ratings for Jeopardy! rose 11% nationally during the first two weeks of Holzhauer's run and as much as 50% in select local markets, with a continuing upward trend over the course of his streak; by the fourth week of Holzhauer's run, those local markets' Jeopardy! ratings had doubled from their previous averages. Former Game Show Network executive Bob Boden said that the increased ratings would help compensate for any short-term financial losses Holzhauer's run caused, and that the show's profitability up to this point would allow them to absorb the increased payouts. On a per-game basis Holzhauer is making more money than the estimated $50,000 per episode that host Alex Trebek earns.
Donation of winnings
Holzhauer has said he intends to donate some of his Jeopardy! winnings to Las Vegas children's charities. On April 7, 2019, he donated $10,000 to a Las Vegas organization for displaced teens. On May 2, he was awarded a key to the Las Vegas Strip for his success on Jeopardy! and donations to children's charity organizations and other nonprofit organizations in the Las Vegas area.
While a student at UIUC, Holzhauer played hearts and spades at a card club. The twice-a-week club quickly turned into a five-day-a-week home poker game with a 10-cent ante and $2 maximum bets. The poker game is where Holzhauer began honing his gambling chops, but he grew his sports betting bankroll in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Believing the round-robin format of the tournament and variance in baseball had skewed the odds, he bet heavily on each team except the U.S. and Dominican Republic to win the tournament. After graduating from college, Holzhauer moved to Las Vegas in 2008 to bet professionally on sports. Holzhauer says he has built predictive models for baseball, NFL and college basketball, but now focuses largely on in-game betting.
On September 8, 2012, Holzhauer married Melissa Sassin, a tutor and linguistics expert from Seattle, Washington. Sassin has also been a game show contestant, appearing on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 2014 and winning $28,800. Their daughter was born on November 9, 2014.
Holzhauer has frequently made inside references to important dates in his life with his Jeopardy! wagers, including family members' birthdays, his anniversary, and the date of the 2017 Las Vegas shooting.
On the April 17 episode Holzhauer dedicated his win to his late grandmother, whom he described as Japanese with a very limited command of English and whom he said he had promised he would appear on Jeopardy! someday.
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- The fact that Holzhauer won game 18 by only $18 is actually insignificant. Many Jeopardy! champions have won by $1, with the strategy of risking as little as possible, while wagering just enough to win the game. The significant moment was when Levin took the lead in Final Jeopardy. If Holzhauer had given an incorrect response including failing to answer in the form of a question or had not wagered enough, he would had lost his winning streak. This was not the case in game 2, another game that was not a runaway after Double Jeopardy. Because the second place contestant going into Final Jeopardy did not give a correct response, game 2 turned into a runaway; Holzhauer was not at risk of losing the game.
Austin Rogers, 2017-2018
| Biggest Jeopardy! winners by season
Austin Rogers, 2017-2018
| Biggest single-game winners on Jeopardy! by season
Frank Spangenberg, 1990
$102,597 (1984-2001 values)
$205,194 (adjusted to 2001 rule change)
| Biggest Jeopardy! regular play winnings leader (5 days)
Roger Craig, 2010
| Biggest single-game winners on Jeopardy!
$110,914, then $131,127
Philip Tiu, 2016
| Largest successful Daily Double wager on Jeopardy!
Austin Rogers, 2017
| Largest successful Final Jeopardy wager on Jeopardy!
$38,314, then $60,013
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- Jeopardy!. Season 27. 14 September 2010. Syndication.
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