James Holzhauer ran out of luck on Monday night.
That may sound odd to say about a man who won more than $2.4 million – about $58,000 less than “Jeopardy!” recordholder Ken Jennings – displaying his brilliance over 33 days on “Jeopardy!”
But in “Jeopardy!” you have to be smart and lucky.
And the odds of the cumulative unlucky things that brought down the Las Vegas professional sports gambler on Monday’s show might have been 100-1.
Let me count some of the ways.
Holzhauer maximized his earnings nightly by building up his earnings early by picking the higher monetary value of questions. The move backfired Monday night.
He only hit one Daily Double. It was on the first question in the first round on a $1,000 clue. It was a bit of bad luck. It meant he could bet only $1,000. If he had stockpiled money on lower level amounts and hit the Daily Double, he could have bet much more.
The challenger who finally defeated him, University of Chicago librarian Emma Boettcher, had better luck in the second round when she hit both Daily Doubles. She earned $10,600 of her total of $26,600 before Final Jeopardy on them. Holzhauer earned $23,400 before Final Jeopardy without one Daily Double. Without the Daily Doubles, he had the edge – $23,400-$16,000.
The Final Jeopardy category was Shakespeare’s Time, another good bit of luck for Boettcher. She was an English major at Princeton and reportedly wrote her undergraduate thesis on The Bard. She also reportedly wrote a 70-page paper involving “Jeopardy” clues to get her master’s degree in information science at the University of North Carolina.
Jay Sexton, the third person on Monday’s show, also was an unusually strong third contestant. He ended the first two rounds with $11,000, which led to Holzhauer’s surprisingly low bet of $1,399 on Final Jeopardy.
The bet still confused Savannah Guthrie and Craig Melvin on NBC’s “Today” this morning.
As I explained on Twitter Monday night, it was a brilliant bet illustrating Holzhauer’s quick math skills.
Holzhauer arrived at his bet figure after realizing that if he had the wrong answer and Sexton bet all his money and had it right, he would have still won by $1.
And Holzhauer quickly theorized that even if he bet all $23,400 in his earnings, had the correct Final Jeopardy answer and raised his figure to $46,800, Boettcher was smart enough to bet enough to beat him by $1 if she had the correct answer. She did just that, betting $20,201 to finish with $46,801.
They all had the correct answer.
Immediately after it was clear that Boettcher won, Holzhauer went over and congratulated her, a classy move.
Some “Jeopardy!” fans were upset that Holzhauer’s loss was revealed on multiple websites with spoiler alert warnings – including by me – before the program ran on WIVB-TV (Channel 4) Monday night.
Sorry, but it was news. The result was known for hours because “Jeopardy!” plays in the morning in some markets.
You could think of it like the Olympics, where people know who wins before NBC carries events in prime time. In many cases, knowing that something important is occurring raises viewership because people want to see how it happened.
That appeared to be the case Monday night. The episode of “Jeopardy!” had a 16.9 rating on Channel 4, which was 3.0 points higher than the show’s average last week and higher than every episode last week. It will be by far the highest-rated program this week and likely this month.
The “Jeopardy” question now is whether people will continue to tune in in large numbers to see if the “user experience librarian” who beat Holzhauer can have as long a reign or if she is just a one-night wonder.
Of course, we haven’t seen the last of Holzhauer.
As host Alex Trebek remarked at the end of the program, “We’ll be seeing him again.”
He was referring to next season’s Tournament of Champions.
In other words, all is well for Holzhauer even if it didn't end well Monday.