In 2004, Ken Jennings hit a record-setting 74-game streak on the television game show Jeopardy! that earned him over $2.5 million in winnings. Since then, there hasn't been a player able to match Jennings, but there is one current champion who just might come close.
James Holzhauer is already looking like a permanent member of the Jeopardy! Hall of Fame. Although he is nowhere near Jennings's 74-game streak, he has so far won 20 games in a row, racking up total winnings to date of $1,528,012. Not only that, but he won a stunning $131,127 on April 17, which is the highest single-game payout for the show.
So, what's his secret?
Holzhauer enlists his strong command on trivia but also pulls from his experience betting on sports for a living. This experience affects how he plays Jeopardy!, forcing him to work for leads so he can make more comfortable bets.
"I did want to lock each game up before Final Jeopardy!, to avoid losing to a bad bounce in that round," he says. "I often see sports teams playing to force overtime instead of trying to win in regulation, and it makes me shake my head."
In short, he takes really smart risks.
Even further, he notes, he implements a strategy of non-attachment when it comes to betting: "The real advantage I draw from my job is that I don't have a mental block about betting $38,314 on one trivia question," Holzhauer says. "It's only money."
Benjamin Soltoff, a computational social science lecturer at the University of Chicago, explains, "Even if he answers wrong, he isn't at a significant deficit." Holzhauer "is certainly not risk-averse but given his knowledge base and skills using the clicker, it's a relatively safe strategy for him."
When it comes to playing Jeopardy!, the clues Holzhauer picks are not in the order you would expect. Rather than working from the easiest clues to the hardest in a singular category, Holzhauer targets the most difficult and high-priced clues around the board. He works to find Daily Doubles so he can bet make bets, further increasing the size of his winnings. Sometimes he even bets it all on a single Daily Double.
In his words, this Jeopardy! champion's "approach isn't complicated: Get some money, hit the Daily Doubles, bet big, and hope I run hot."
Ultimately, Holzhauer plays with strategy and ambition, which is an excellent lesson for anyone in business. Don't just wander through life or work. Know where you want to go, then do whatever it takes to get there.
Even if you don't make it to Jeopardy!, perhaps you can play the game of life--and business--in the same way. And create your own winning streak.