It’s been a while since James Holzhauer has actually had to fight for a win on Jeopardy! That’s partially because of the Teacher’s Tournament, which interrupted his run for two weeks. But Holzhauer is back on Jeopardy! these days, and on Thursday we actually had quite a game.
There’s really no secret to what will beat Holzhauer, as it nearly happened early on in his run when he was just $18 clear of a second place finisher. Holzhauer either has to lose on a big bet on a Daily Double, or the Daily Doubles need to be found by other players. Maybe a combination of both, as well as another contestant getting Final Jeopardy right when Holzhauer hasn’t already run away with the game.
On Thursday, we had one of those scenarios on hand. Holzhauer, entering the show a 25-game winner, could have cracked the $2 million mark with a big win. But Nate, a tech consultant from New York City, played about as well as you could against Holzhauer. He played like James — snagging $1,000 clues to build an early lead. But most importantly, he got to the Daily Doubles first.
Laura didn’t get much play on Thursday, but Nate and James basically dueled the entire night. Nate got the first Daily Double and doubled his $3,400 to take an early lead on Holzhauer heading into the first commercial break. In the Double Jeopardy round, he found the first Daily Double and had a chance to do what Holzhauer has done so often over the course of his dominant run.
The $2,000 clue in the science question came when Holzhauer had $6,600 and Nate had 13,400 — more than twice what Holzhauer currently had. And here is what makes Holzhauer so good, and what many champions — including Ken Jennings — don’t have the “stomach” for. Whereas Holzhauer would have almost certainly gone for the proverbial kill to put his opponents in a huge hole, Nate only bid $6,000. He got the question right, but there was still a ton of game to go and Holzhauer promptly came all the way back.
And it immediately backfired. When Holzhauer found the third Daily Double minutes later, he went all-in and doubled to $16,400 to get within Nate’s $19,400. By the time Final Jeopardy rolled around, Holzhauer had the lead $31,200 to $25,800 and only had to get Final Jeopardy right to win. He did, and bet big — wagering $20,908 on Final Jeopardy to win with $52,108, still shy of the $2 million mark only Jennings has reached in show history.
Meanwhile, Holzhauer is officially New Yorker Cartoon Famous.
Close calls like Thursday’s episode are a good reminder that, while dominant, Holzhauer isn’t unbeatable. But it’s going to take a hell of a game from someone to beat him. And even then, and it hasn’t happened just yet.