Why 'Jeopardy!' champ James Holzhauer made a low wager on his losing night

‘Jeopardy’ champ draws media flak

When James Holzhauer made a relatively low wager in the Final Jeopardy round on Monday night's episode of "Jeopardy!," it left a lot of viewers scratching their heads — but "Jeopardy!" experts say that the professional gambler's bet was the best he could have made given the circumstances.

Holzhauer bet just $1,399 in Final Jeopardy, leading even Alex Trebek to remark at the unusually low number, but Brad Rutter, the all-time leader in "Jeopardy!" winnings, told the Washington Post that it was actually the absolute best way for Holzhauer to win during Monday's game.

Holzhauer had $23,400 leading into Final Jeopardy, with Emma Boettcher in first place with $26,600 and third place contestant Jay Sexton with $11,000. Rutter explained that Holzhauer's only chance at victory would be if Boettcher guessed the Final Jeopardy question incorrectly and Holzhauer guessed correctly.

If Boettcher, who wagered $20,201, guessed incorrectly, she would have $6,399 remaining. Holzhauer, if he guessed correctly in that scenario, would have won with $24,799. In the off chance that Sexton answered correctly while Boettcher and Holzhauer each guessed incorrectly, he could have won. As a result, Holzhauer made a bet that would have had him leave with $1 more than Sexton's maximum potential winnings of $22,000, Rutter noted.

If Holzhauer had bet everything and Boettcher guessed the Final Jeopardy question correctly, Boettcher would have still won.

Holzhauer explained to Action Network that Rutter's analysis was correct.

“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," he said. "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).”

Holzhauer wasn't too broken up about the loss. He told The Atlantic that he was resigned to his fate before it was sealed. “By the time Final Jeopardy rolled around, I knew my goose was cooked if Emma answered correctly. It’s a little like needing a team to miss a last-second field goal — nothing you can really do but watch," he said. "I made peace with my fate before the clue for Final was even revealed.”

Holzhauer, who won 32 consecutive games before his defeat, finished his reign with $2,464,216, which includes the $2,000 he earned in his final game. That total comes short of the record set by "Jeopardy!" legend Ken Jennings, who earned $2,520,700 within 74 victories in 2004.

Fox News' Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.

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