At this point, James Holzhauer's approach to Jeopardy! has been analyzed to death, and for good reason, considering how quickly he's surpassed the two-million-dollar winnings mark. Holzhauer is a professional sports gambler, and he's specifically applied that gambler mindset to something called the “Forrest Bounce.” As Wired noted, it's "named for Chuck Forrest, a storied contestant in the '80s who pioneered the technique" that basically entails jumping between big-money categories at the bottom of the board.
There are two advantages to the Forrest Bounce—one, it offers more immediate potential winnings (and Daily Doubles)—and two, it keeps opponents on their toes. Many Jeopardy! competitors view the categories on the board and their corresponding dollar amounts as real, tangible money to lose, which it very much is. Holzhauer crunches the numbers in a far more dissociative, analytical way, including during Final Jeopardy!—that may sound intuitive enough, but it's a remarkably difficult task when the Jeopardy! music is playing on a loop and/or you're being cross-examined by Alex Trebek.
In the last few weeks, Holzhauer has patiently answered a ton of burning questions from various media outlets. A quick primer: His Jeopardy! prep work included reading children's books to educate himself on lesser-known subjects; he constructed a handmade practice buzzer "by wrapping masking tape around a mechanical pencil"; and, yes, he previously played on a bar trivia team that was basically the Avengers of bar trivia teams.
Here, Holzhauer—who has racked up more than $2 million in just 27 games—was nice enough to respond to a few of our questions over email.
GQ: Much has been made of your buzzer-pressing abilities. Besides training specifically for Jeopardy!, are there any other hobbies of yours that might've helped you excel there?
James Holzhauer: I was always good at video games like Guitar Hero, which require the player to press buttons at precise times. Who knew it had a real-world application?
It takes a certain zen-like personality to go on a long Jeopardy! winning streak. Is there anything that consistently makes you nervous? Alternatively, have you just been maintaining a fantastic poker face on the show?
Parenting is much more nerve-wracking than Jeopardy! I wouldn't call it a poker face per se, but I definitely tried to take emotion and nerves out of the equation. In gambling, you usually start to go wrong when you deviate from your pregame strategy.
Other than getting the answer wrong, of course, were there any other strategic concerns when you were determining the cost-benefit ratio of starting with the more difficult questions on the board?
The idea was to start building a stack of chips early in the game by aiming for the higher dollar values. That the $1,000 questions are harder was incidental, but it may have given me an additional advantage since I'm more likely than the average player to ring in correctly on them.
What's the best bet you've ever placed, and why?
The best bet I've won was on the Tampa Bay Rays making the World Series in 2008 when they were picked to finish last. My best bet overall was a proposition against teams with Wildcats mascots making the Sweet 16 in 2018, but it lost because Kansas State got to play 16-seed UMBC instead of Virginia in the second round.
What wager do you most regret making in your career?
There have been a few times when I made a bet I instantly regretted because I didn't read the terms and conditions carefully. But some of those have won! I don't regret bets just because they lose—you bet the process, not the outcome.
How many outfits do you usually bring for filming?
I brought three outfits my first day (when I ended up taping two episodes) and five the other days. After my first episode I ditched the sport coat, because it was obstructing how I hold the buzzer. [Ed. note: Jeopardy! will typically shoot a week's worth of episodes in a single day.]
What does your diet look like on a "game day?"
My normal policy is to drink the largest Coke Zero I can find, but during taping weeks I limited myself to around one liter per day of it. The first day I ate at the Sony commissary, I looked around the entire cafeteria and determined pizza to be the best option, but the person before me got the last two slices. Each subsequent day I made a beeline for the pizza. I would also have a bag of chips and a candy bar, but my diet soda balanced the meal out.
Do you have any rituals or superstitions when you play?
Like Dave Mustaine, I ain't superstitious.
As you make it to game three, four, and five in a single day, how do you avoid mental fatigue?
Mental fatigue was never an issue; maybe it's just how I'm wired. But I was constantly stretching during taping breaks to avoid physical issues. I also slept terribly before game days.
I've read a bit about your poker background. Any chance you parlay some of these Jeopardy! winnings into a World Series of Poker appearance?
I doubt it; my poker skills have atrophied and the game has gotten a lot tougher. But never say never.
Who's the most interesting/surprising person to reach out since your run started?
I mentioned in an early interview that Chuck Klosterman would be my choice for a trivia teammate due to his breadth of pop culture knowledge. He later emailed me with the subject line "From Chuck Klosterman." I told him I can't wait until my emails can just read "From James Holzhauer."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Originally Appeared on GQ