A player for the ages on display now - on ‘Jeopardy!’ of all places

James Holzhauer savors another big payday - a one-day record - on the game show "Jeopardy!"
James Holzhauer savors another big payday - a one-day record - on the game show "Jeopardy!"

Credit: Carol Kaelson

Credit: Carol Kaelson

This guy has more game than anyone else playing right now. Christian Yelich is a slap hitter compared with him. James Harden a relative non-factor. Next to him, Alex Ovechkin is as timid as a fawn.

Answer: Who is “Jeopardy!” whiz James Holzhauer?

If you have not caught Holzhauer’s act the past couple of weeks on the televised trivia game show, you are missing greatness at its peak. We like to imbue our leading sports figures with some form of genius, when in fact they many times are just doing what comes naturally. Holzhauer actually displays the tendency.

You think Giannis Antetokounmpo is having a good week?

Check out Holzhauer, the Geek Freak.

He has more answers than Wikipedia — and certainly gets it right more often.

He has it covered from pop culture to Mozart. From Homer Simpson to just plain Homer. He navigates the Periodic Table as easily as you do your kitchen table.

His winning streak stood at 13 as of Tuesday’s airing, and in that time, he has amassed nearly $943,000. On a show where the winner nets an average of $20,000, Holzhauer has gone for a couple of single-show records, pushing one-day totals into six figures. If he keeps winning (a long shot now that I’m writing about him), we’ll know he has broken the bank when show host Alex Trebek starts wearing clip-on ties.

A sports gambler from Las Vegas in his real (?) life, Holzhauer has become a sort of cross-over figure between the worlds of brain games and athletics. He brings to “Jeopardy!” a gambler’s nerve — betting big when he can on double jeopardy, and winning big. By the time they get to final jeopardy, Holzhauer is so far ahead that neither of the two other contestants is within the same area code of him. And still he bets big. This is how Michael Jordan would do this game, if he had the answer key.

“All good professional gamblers are selectively aggressive,” Holzhauer told NPR. More than that, he dominates, bludgeoning the competition, using his IQ like an MMA fighter does a whirlybird kick.

On a recent “SportsCenter” appearance — yes, Holzhauer is ESPN-worthy — he reached for a baseball metaphor when contrasting his style of play to that of Jeopardy legend Ken Jennings (who won 74 consecutive and earned $2.5 million on the show).

Jennings, he said, was more like Ichiro Suzuki, a master singles hitter. “I’m a Vegas guy like Bryce Harper, swinging for the fences,” he said.

He plays with half-smile, half-smirk, an expression that never changes. He doesn’t talk trash. He doesn’t come off as an effete intellectual, telling ESPN, “I’m a connoisseur of low culture.” Maybe a guy you’d even want to have a beer with — as long as he buys. But, still, not one you’d want in your fantasy league.

His strategy is to start with the high-value answers first, building up his advantage, and to jump around the board to disorient the competition and show off his versatility. He is a utility know-it-all.

And Holzhauer has the quickest buzzer thumb in the continental U.S., making him the ultimate buzzer-beater. He claims, like all good players, to have practiced hard before the game to hone his skill. Even studied an eBook written by a former “Jeopardy!” tournament of champions winner that promises to “show you the secrets of quiz buzzing and how to improve your reaction time for winning speed.”

Baseball players have Ted Williams’ “The Science of Hitting.”

Golfers have “Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book.”

And quiz show wannabes have Fritz Holznagel’s “Secrets of the Buzzer.”

Put it all together, and Holzhauer approaches perfection in this craft. When he gets one wrong, you look outside to make sure the moon has not turned blood red.

During this time of the NBA playoffs, know that there is only one King James in action now. That’s James Holzhauer, a trivia G.O.A.T. in the making. I’m a huge fan of his work.

About the Author


In Other News