James Holzhauer Explains His Weird Final Wager So Even I Can Understand It

SourceHere’s how the final episode went down:

Holzhauer went into Final Jeopardy with $23,400, which was $3,200 behind leader Emma Boettcher. Holzhauer got the question right, at first glance, strangely wagering just $1,399. That would have taken him to $24,799, which was $1,801 behind Boettcher.

But Holzhauer explained to The Action Network that he first was concerned with the contestant in third place, who had $11,000 heading into a Final Jeopardy. Doubling down would have gotten that contestant to $22,000, which would have been $1 less than if James would have missed. If James doubled down, he would have been at $46,800, but Boettcher seemed to have done the math perfectly as well. She got the question right and wagered $20,201, which gave her $46,801, a dollar more than what Holzhauer would’ve earned with a double-down bet.

“I knew I could only win if Emma missed Final Jeopardy, as there was no way she wouldn’t bet to cover my all-in bet,” Holzhauer told The Action Network. “So my only concern was getting overtaken by third place, and I bet just enough to make sure of locking him out. Betting big would have looked good for the cameras, but now I turn my straight bet (Emma misses) into a parlay (Emma misses and I get it right).”

Me, reading this:


This is the ultimate example of why we are going to miss James Holzhauer and our lives will be poorer as we move into the grim reality of our post-Big Brain James existence. Schopenhauer (no relation to Holzhauer, I assume) once said that talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see. That is what we witnessed last night.

And this is why you have to embrace those rare times you are in the presence of a genius like Holzhauer. Even when it seems on the surface that what they’re doing is insane. To watch the greatest risk taker in the history of game show trivia wager a paltry $1,399 on Final seemed like insanity. Or worse. I had friends texting me and strangers on Twitter suggesting he was throwing the match. Which, while unfair, makes sense when you don’t have the professional gamblers brain that he has.

I certainly don’t. I’ve come to the conclusion that Bar Trivia is more than just my one true talent. It’s the reason I was put on this Earth. My purpose. But my brain just isn’t wired to figure out all the permutations of the wager on the final question. I leave that to the women on my team, who generally have all the angles covered. So while I find it deranged that in the game of his “Jeopardy!” life James’ strategy was to worry about the guy behind him, not Emma in front of him, I bow to his superior intellect on these matters, practiced over a lifetime of working the Vegas sports book.

The other lesson here (besides me being too cute to do math) is that when you witness true genius long enough, it’ll do – to steal a phrase – things that make you go “Hmm.” Sir Issac Newton figured out gravity but died eating mercury. Francis Ford Coppolla made “The Godfather” films but also the last 10 minutes of “Apocalypse Now.” John Lennon wrote “A Day in the Life,” but also “Revolution 9,” which could be used as a Rite of Passage you have to endure to enter adulthood in a tribe. Bill Belichick benched Malcolm Butler. And all the rest of us with sub-genius intellects can do is respect the whole body of work. The seemingly crazy decisions that don’t work as part of the total package.

The one saving grace in all this would appear to be Emma. Who seems to not only share James’ talents for doing the wager math, but his utter fearlessness. Yesterday I compared her to Buster Douglas, but I hope I’m wrong about that. Douglas punched his way out of oblivion but then immediately ate his way back there. I’m rooting for her to be more like a Rocky Balboa, who ended a reign of dominance and immediately began his own. Because I for one am not ready to go back to just garden variety smart people. America needs it’s next super genius. All Hail Queen Emma the Brilliant. Long may she reign.