Photo: Steven Grade's only lead came early in the game.
Photo: Steven Grade's only lead came early in the game.

Was Atlanta’s Steven Grade able to take down James Holzhauer in ‘Jeopardy’ Tournament of Champions?

Originally posted Wednesday, November 12, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Atlanta sports consultant Steven Grade didn’t quite make the grade against powerhouse James Holzhauer, losing during the semifinals of the 2019 Tournament of Champions.

Holzhauer - who won 32 games in a row earlier this year and became  pop culture sensation - built a big lead early in Double Jeopardy and never looked back.  

Grade’s only lead came very early in round one, when he had $2,000 to Holzhauer’s $1,800 but by the first commercial break, Holzhauer had built a $3,400 lead over Grade. 

There was plenty of time to close the gap in Double Jeopardy. But Grade blew a $2,000 question early on, which dropped him down to $2,600 and third place. Holzhauer got it right and his total hit $14,200. Then the Vegas professional gambler found  the Daily Double and bet $9,066. Of  course, he got it right and exceeded $23,000. 

Just six questions into Double Jeopardy and the game was effectively over. 

From that point on, the closest Grade could get to Holzhauer was $15,466  19 questions into Double Jeopardy. 

In an interview, Grade said he hoped to find the Daily Doubles to help build some dollars. But he wasn’t able to. He knew his strategy was sound but the game involves some luck and he didn’t get lucky.

And yes, missing that $2,000 question was the game changer, he said. “I knew I couldn’t afford to make mistakes like that against tournament-level competition and I did.” 

Grade - who plans to take some of his winnings to visit “Lord of the Rings” sites in New Zealand next year - still played a respectable game, answering 17 questions correct but making three mistakes. (And yes, he identified Black Eyed Peas after host Alex Trebek read some lyrics to the band’ “My Humps.”)

Holzhauer had 27 right and only one wrong. 

Rachel Lindgren, an astronomy interpreter from Bend, Oreg., played conservatively, getting nine correct but making no mistakes. 

Shockingly, none of the players got the Final Jeopardy question correct - not even Holzhauer. But it didn’t matter by then. Holzhauer had already locked up the game. Grade said since that question didn’t matter, he didn’t really think about it and wrote a nice message expressing gratitude for the show. 

He said he had some medical issues last year and appearing on the show has helped him emotionally and mentally.

Comically, before the Double Jeopardy round, Trebek had to apologize for calling Holzhauer (possibly prematurely) “the champion” during the interview round. Habits die hard. 

Grade still gets to pocket another $10,000 as a semifinalist on top of the $115,501 he made earlier in the year. 

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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