On April 4, a little-known sports gambler first appeared on Jeopardy! It’s currently late May, and James Holzhauer is still winning.
How does anyone know this much about everything? What makes a trivia master? Here’s how James Holzhauer became The James Holzhauer.
Growing up a Gambler
Growing up in Naperville, Illinois, James always excelled at math. He was even a member of a Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering team that one the state championship. But in high school he was regularly a C student because he would neglect his work and classes. James claimed he could fill his time with more productive things such as playing online poker, where he would win as much as a $100 an hour.
James would go on to continue both his education and his gambling ways at the University of Illinois. He would graduate in 2005 with a bachelors degree in mathematics. In 2007, James moved to Las Vegas to pursue sports gambling full-time.
Game Show Beginnings
While he would play in various trivia contests, James did not make a big-time game show appearance until his game on the American version of The Chase in 2014. He would win a share of the team’s total winnings of $175,000. His only other game show appearance before Jeopardy! was on the show 500 Questions, where he did well but did not replace the returning champion.
First appearing on Jeopardy! on April 4, James has won 22 games and counting. Before he arrived, the singe day winnings record on the show was $77,000 set by Roger Craig in 2010. When he took his two weeks off to make room for the Jeopardy! Teachers Tournament James had beaten that record twelve times, and won a total of $1,691,008.
James’ strategy is certainly unique. It takes his experience from gambling and combining it with an older strategy known as the ‘Forrest Bounce’ named after Chuck Forrest, a former contestant. Chuck would bounce around the board instead of staying in one category in order to confuse his opponents. James combines Chuck’s tactic with attacking the higher value clues and hunting for the Daily Doubles, where he draws on his gambling and mathematic experience and makes huge wagers.
It takes more than just a strategy to win at Jeopardy! though. James has always had an interest in sports, so those categories are no problem for him. But what about those categories that he isn’t as interested in, like ballet or opera? James has said that he took a full year off from regularly gambling to prepare for Jeopardy!
One of his more unique ways to study was to sit in the children’s section of the library and read children’s book after children’s book. James has said that the infographics in children’s books helped him gather huge amounts of information quickly.
A contestant like James Holzhauer on any show is one in a million. James has the perfect set of skills needed to excel on Jeopardy! and maybe his performance will go on to inspire the next great trivia champion.