Why James Holzhauer Wagered So Little Money in His Final ‘Final Jeopardy’

Game show wiz’s winning streak was snapped just tens of thousands of dollars shy of Ken Jennings’ all-time record

James Holzhauer on 'Jeopardy'

James Holzhauer finally lost on “Jeopardy!” and he went out in pretty unspectacular fashion on Monday, wagering just $1,399 in his final “Final Jeopardy” round.

As the fateful episode of the syndicated game show makes the rounds through the U.S. markets, many viewers are dumbfounded about why Holzhauer went so low. Darren Rovell of The Action Network is the one who got that answer.

First, this explanation requires some setup, and the explanation requires a little math. Holzhauer went into Monday’s “Final Jeopardy” with $23,400. That was $3,200 behind leader Emma Boettcher.

He got the question correct, bringing his total to $24,799 — but his uncharacteristically small wager even shocked host Alex Trebek. After all, that sum was still $1,801 behind Boettcher, who had yet to reveal her response.

“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,” Rovell wrote on Monday. “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.”

A professional gambler ’til the end, always playing the odds.

Or in Holzhauer’s words:

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. 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).

Not that we really had to do this, but the math checks out.

Holzhauer’s final “Jeopardy!” appearance was taped way back on March 12. His first episode aired on April 4, meaning he was actually done before he even got started — to America, at least.

Since he doesn’t get to keep Monday’s second-place winnings — a quick Google search indicates the runner-up gets $2,000 — Holzhauer fell $58,484 (or $56,484 if you count the two grand) shy of Ken Jennings’ all-time record earnings of $2,520,700 over 74 wins.

Holzhauer, who made $2,464,216 over 33 shows (32 wins), does have the record for most single-game earnings with $131,127.