Game Theory Jeopardy Card Counting

Gaming Jeopardy!

posted in: Game Theory | 1


In winning his first four games on Jeopardy, Arthur Chu has caused a stir among fans of the television show. Chu has employed a number of game strategies that have annoyed and even enraged some of the show’s followers.

1)      Hunting for Daily Doubles – Instead of moving progressively down a category of questions from top to bottom, Chu jumps around all over the board.  He selects the hardest questions first because most of the Daily Doubles are in the bottom 2 rows. If the two hardest questions do not reveal a Daily Double, Chu immediately jumps to another category, regardless of whether that category of questions has not been completed.

2)      Frenetic Paced Play – Chu has also drawn criticism for  aggressively buzzing in as well as cutting off Alex Trebek in mid-sentence on a regular basis.  It’s the opinion of some that Chu  violates the unwritten rules of etiquette when he does not allow Trebek to complete his witty commentary.

3)     Playing for the Tie in Final Jeopardy – In one of his games, Chu had the lead going into Final Jeopardy, and wagered an amount such that if he and the second place contestant both answered correctly, they would tie, and that’s exactly what happened. Many viewers were confused as to why he did not play for the outright victory.

My personal take on Chu’s play – I’m a big fan.  In the game of Jeopardy, Chu personifies an Advantage Player. Hunting and finding Daily Doubles has tremendous value – not just in the potential to double your winnings with one correct answer, but also in preventing opponents from landing them. Chu’s motivation for playing the game at breakneck speed is to answer as many questions as possibile in order to win more money. Accomplished card counters apply the same approach, as well as high powered offenses in the NBA and NFL.  If you have the advantage, then you increase your probabillity of winning by maximizing the number of playing opportunties; whether it’s Jeopardy questions, hands per hour at the blackjack tables, or possessions per game in sports.

As for Chu’s tie in Final Jeopardy, he played it perfectly.  If his competitor had answered incorrectly, Chu would have advanced regardless of whether his answer was right or wrong.  Chu wagered an amount such that the worst case scenario was a tie.  When two contestants tie in Jeopardy, both win and advance. Chu’s Final Jeopardy wager guaranteed that he would move on.  If he had wagered a dollar more, like most Jeopardy contestants would have, Chu could have potentially lost.

Most of the ire directed at Chu has to do with the perceived impact on viewers’ entertainment experience. But should the subjective opinion of some take priority over Chu or any other contestant’s right to play the game strategically within the rules of game to give them the best chance to win?  Chu is not the first player on Jeopardy to use strategy and game theory to his advantage.  There have been a number of others, such as former Jeopardy winner, Keith Williams. You can find detailed analysis on the optimal strategy for Final Jeopardy on his site The Final Wager. Fortunately Chu also has a considerable number of supporters who are rooting for him. Both his fans and critics  will have to wait until Jeopardy airs again on February 24 to see if Chu’s advantage player strategies continue to pay off.

  1. Sammy

    It’s crazy how some people think that Chu doesn’t play the game right way and has poor sportsmanship. Like coach Herman Edwards said, “You Play to Win the Game!”

Leave a Reply

nine − eight =