For the past several nights, I’ve been watching my friend Kristin Sausville absolutely tear up Jeopardy! After last night’s win, she’s now a five-time champion who has now earned a total of $94,201 over the last week. What’s even more amazing is that her brilliant husband Justin is also a six-time Jeopardy! champion who won over $134,000 during his reign. And yes, in case you’re wondering, they do have children and yes, I do expect them to take over the world some day.
At any rate: Last night’s show was an absolute nail-biter. Kristin entered the final round down by over $6,000. Her opponent Colin had a very comfortable lead and seemed headed for an easy win. We all thought her four-game win streak was over.
Then something remarkable happened: Colin not only got the final question of the night wrong but he wagered more than $6,000 of his total. He did this because he figured that Kristin would try to double her score of $12,800 in the final clue to give herself the best chance of victory. To prevent this from happening, he had to wager an amount that would give him more than $25,600 should Kristin succeed in her Hail Mary.
However, Kristin actually played it much smarter than this. She knew that the only way she could realistically win would be if Colin got his question wrong. She then decided to bet a very low amount of just under $400 because she figured Colin would make a big bet and she wanted to make sure she had just enough money to beat him should she get the question wrong.
As it happened, she got the final question right. But even if she hadn’t, she would have won the game by a razor-thin $2 margin so long as Colin got the wrong answer as well.
In a phone call with her afterward, she told me that she noticed throughout the whole competition that Colin was fond of taking big gambles — in the first round, he bet all $6,000 of his money on a Daily Double answer that he got right, while in the second round he bet $5,800 of his money on an answer he got wrong.
Colin’s first big gamble was understandable: He was trailing at the time to a four-time Jeopardy! champion and figured he might as well go big or go home. His second bet was foolhardy, however, because he had a huge lead at that point and there was really no need to let Kristin back within striking distance like he did.
What all this taught me is that there is so much more to winning at Jeopardy! than simply knowing a lot of information and being able to quickly recall it. There’s a definite game theory at play as well and the best players aren’t the ones who just know facts but the ones who know their opponents as well.