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How James Holzhauer Dominates Jeopardy!™ with Economy of Words

Updated on November 21, 2019

As a mega-fan, nothing frustrates me more than the contestants leaving uncovered clues on the board at the end of the round. "Urrrgh...I KNOW I would have answered those last $200 clues correctly!"

There is only so much time allotted for each Jeopardy!™ round, and there are several infractions that many contestants commit. If they would just learn the James Holzhauer way, more players could easily compete.

We don't see a clock, but you better believe that time is a factor. Once Alex announces that there's a minute (or less than a minute) left, if the Daily Double hasn't yet been uncovered, serious adrenaline kicks in. You gotta get an answer right and be the one to find it. Time is running out!

Holzhauer's buzzer speed, extensive knowledge, and aggressive betting are all major factors that contribute to his success. But one possibly overlooked component that gives him the edge is his economy of words.

JH knows how to keep things moving. His timing is impeccable. He flows through clue and question in an almost musically rhythmic fashion. But it's about what he doesn't say that makes the difference.

Here's a literal transcription of a recent contestant's pick:

"Uhh...let's go with...Top 100 books for six hundred, please."

Okay, let's dissect this.

  • One thing that makes Holzhauer dominate is his decisiveness. He doesn't hesitate. He doesn't doubt or question himself. There is no "uhhh" or "ummm" ever.
  • "Let's go with" is just another verbal stalling technique. You might as well be saying "uhhh" again.
  • To this player's credit, the actual full title of the category was "The Great American Read's Top 100 Books," so he did cut out the unnecessary beginning. But he could do much better. Like James does.
  • Now let's just talk about the word "for." Completely pointless to verbalize. It only takes up a beat, but like JH, you want to stay in the groove, and every beat matters.
  • Next is the amount. In this case, six hundred (at least he didn't say "dollars," too). The numbers on the board are all easily conveyed with just the first digit (or digits). There's no need to say "hundred" or "thousand."
  • Finally, many players end with a polite request by including the word "please." Stop it. Stop saying "please." It takes up too much time. Alex doesn't care. He wants to read the clue. If you add up every "please" in a round you lose like, 15-20 seconds, and end up leaving stuff on the board. Not cool. That's two $200 clues that I could've gotten right!

To recap, here is the recent contestant's request:

"Uhh...let's go with...Top 100 books for six hundred, please."

And here is how Jeopardy James would handle the same clue:

"Books six."

Economy of words, ladies and gentleman!

Two syllables. Boom boom. Alex Trebek is smart and quick. He knows what you mean. James rocks it because he is decisive, doesn't add any bullshit, and inherently knows that timing is an important aspect of winning.

If you're lucky enough to be on the show, practice the buzzer and plan for the smartest wagering approach, but for goodness sake — learn how to say less to accomplish more. Please.

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