Naperville native James Holzhauer’s record-breaking “Jeopardy!” run ended Mondaywhen he was defeated by a librarian from Chicago.
Holzhauer’s quest to set the show record for regular-season winnings fell short when Emma Boettcher took down the 32-day champion by more than $22,000.
“I know I played my best and did everything I could, so I will hold my head up high,” Holzhauer told the Naperville Sun on Monday.
Holzhauer’s total “Jeopardy!” winnings are $2.46 million with 32 consecutive wins, both the second-best totals in show history, not counting tournament winnings. Ken Jennings is the record holder with $2.52 million over 74 consecutive victories.
During more than six weeks of shows, Holzhauer mostly crushed his opponents. He often tackled the hardest and highest-dollar clues first, building up his winnings and betting big on Daily Doubles. By the time the contestants reached Final Jeopardy, Holzhauer had usually already clinched victory. Still, he managed to add tens of thousands of dollars to his winning totals, correctly responding to the Final Jeopardy clue 32 out of 33 times. His aggressive strategy helped him tally the 15 highest dollar amounts in a single “Jeopardy!” show, including $131,127 on April 17, setting the new standard for an episode.
Boettcher, a 27-year-old University of Chicago librarian who lives on the North Side, is the new “Jeopardy!” champ. She got her undergraduate degree from Princeton and obtained her master’s in information science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2016. Her master’s paper was about predicting the difficulty of trivia questions using “Jeopardy!” clues.
“James is such a great player. And for me, it would have been an honor to have played him regardless of how the game had turned out,” she told the Chicago Tribune on Monday.
Holzhauer still has a shot at winning more money on “Jeopardy!” because he is guaranteed a spot in the show’s Tournament of Champions. The dates for the tournament have yet to be announced.
“I plan to take a long break before preparing for the Tournament of Champions, but I expect a tough competition,” Holzhauer said. “Winning a tournament of 15 super-champs is more difficult than people think.”
Monday’s episode, taped earlier this year, seemed to be the rare day where things didn’t go right for Holzhauer, said Andy Saunders, who runs TheJeopardyFan.com.
Boettcher ended the show with $46,801; Holzhauer had $24,799. The third contestant, Jay Sexton, a senior research engineer from Georgia, finished with $17,000.
Holzhauer was first on the buzzer just 42% percent of the time, Saunders said. The only time he did worse on signaling was 37% in his second game on April 5.
The professional sports bettor who lives in Las Vegas also was known for his ability to grow his wealth by finding the Daily Doubles and betting large quantities of money.
Over the course of his 33 games, Holzhauer found 73 of a possible 98 Daily Doubles, and he answered 95% (69 of 73) correctly.
Holzhauer wasn’t that lucky Monday.
Boettcher, who has been watching “Jeopardy!” for a long time and tracking her scores at home in a notebook for years, used a similar strategy to go for higher-value clues. She also found both Daily Doubles in the second round.
Because she was quick on the buzzer and hit the Daily Doubles, Holzhauer was on the ropes going into Final Jeopardy, collecting $23,400 and trailing Boettcher by $3,200.
Holzhauer’s small wager of $1,399 was smart, Saunders said.
“There was absolutely nothing wrong with James’ Final Jeopardy bet of $1,399. He knew that Emma was overwhelmingly likely to bet what she did and, thus, his only chance of winning was if Emma did not get Final Jeopardy correct. $1,399 ensures that his score stays above Jay’s and gives James the best chance of winning the game,” Saunders said.
Had Holzhauer gone all-in, he would have finished at $46,800 and lost by $1.
All of the contestants provided the correct response — Who is Christopher Marlowe? — to the Final Jeopardy clue: 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.
As it stands, Brad Rutter holds the all-time “Jeopardy!” record for winning $4.68 million, followed by Jennings with $3.37 million, when tournament winnings are included. Holzhauer is third on the list.
A watch party held Monday afternoon at Two Brothers in downtown Naperville was bittersweet for family and friends in attendance.
James Holzhauer’s older brother Ian Holzhauer, an attorney who lives and works in Naperville, said he’s proud of what his brother accomplished.
“It was no surprise,” Ian Holzhauer told the standing room only crowd after Monday’s show aired. He had read the results of the show on his Twitter feed before the show aired in Chicago.
“We look at this as a positive thing,” said Ian Holzhauer, noting that some of his brother’s winnings will be given to charity.
The Holzhauers’ father, Juergen Holzhauer, said he celebrated each of his son’s victories and, like many fans, didn’t see an end in sight. One fan website calculated James Holzhauer’s chances of winning Monday at 97%.
“You get lulled into thinking he will win,” the father said.
Holzhauer, 34, was born at Edward Hospital in Naperville and attended Naperville District 203 schools, graduating from Naperville North in 2001.
When he was 4, Jamie, as he was known then, attended preschool at Avery Coonley School in Downers Grove, where he shocked teachers by his ability to solve double-digit math equations.
Ian Holzhauer said he never needed a calculator because his little brother could perform complex equations in his head.
Even though he competed on the high school math team, James Holzhauer said he was a “C” student.
“I have a reputation for only pursuing things I enjoy but working very hard to be the best at those. Thus I could go to the national finals in Mathcounts in junior high while earning a C in my math class for refusing to do homework,” James Holzhauer said in an interview in April.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at the University of Illinois, but Holzhauer said his real major was gambling because that’s how he spent most of his time and went to Las Vegas to hone his skills.
Growing up, Holzhauer would watch “Jeopardy!” with his grandmother, who came to Naperville to care for her grandchildren. He promised her he would appear on the game show.
“My big secret for studying subjects I find uninteresting is to check out the children’s section of the library,” Holzhauer told the Naperville Sun. “The books there are filled with pictures and fun facts, and they’re a great way to learn the nuts and bolts of any subject.”