“Jeopardy James” falls shy of record, other near-misses

June 04, 2019inPoker

It finally happened. James Holzhauer lost on Jeopardy! After 32 straight victories on the popular quiz show, “Jeopardy James” has finally been defeated.

All told, Holzhauer won an eye-popping $2,464,216 during his time on the show, coming oh-so-close to breaking the all-time record of $2,522,700 million won by Ken Jennings back in 2004. Indeed, if Holzhauer had won on Monday while earning something close to his average win, he would have broken the record last night.

Worth noting is the fact that Holzhauer raced to that total in less than half the appearances Jennings did. Jennings appeared on 75 episodes of the show, with his average win around $33K per show. Most of Holzhauer’s wins were runaways in which he earned significantly more than that.

On one show Holzhauer took away a record $131,127 (on the April 17 episode), a night when the player finishing second ended with just $10,700. Before Holzhauer began his streak, the single-game record had been $77,000 won by Roger Craig back in 2010. Holzhauer averaged winning nearly $77K per show, and his name now fills every line of the top 10 “single-game winnings” list on the Jeopardy! website.

Holzhauer’s streak captured worldwide attention, but also in particular drew the interest of poker players thanks to an unorthodox game strategy informed in part by his background as a professional sports bettor.

One of his tactics involved always starting with the high-dollar clues, with Holzhauer often getting those questions correct and to build a “big stack” early (as it were). Then whenever he hit a “Daily Double” — as Holzhauer often did, given that he usually had control of the board — Holzhauer typically bet big or went “all in” in order to maximize his profit.

Holzhauer’s near-miss of breaking Jennings’ record brings to mind other near-misses from poker’s history.

In 2014, Mike McDonald came as close as possible to becoming the first-ever two-time European Poker Tour champion without doing so.

After setting one record by winning the EPT Dortmund Main Event in 2008 at age 18 to become the youngest-ever EPT champ, McDonald almost set another at the PokerStars Carribean Adventure five years ago, though ultimately finished runner-up to Dominik Panka.

A memorable near-miss for Tîmex at the 2014 PCA

Just three months later, Victoria Coren Mitchell would be the first (and so far only) to capture the elusive EPT double, winning EPT Sanremo after having won EPT London back in 2006.

The World Series of Poker has provided a number of memorable near-misses as well. In 1989, Johnny Chan came within one opponent of capturing a third-straight WSOP Main Event title to set what would have almost certainly been an unbreakable standard.

But Phil Hellmuth denied Chan by defeating him heads-up, and thus Chan joined Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, and Stu Ungar as the only players ever to win two straight Main Event titles.

During the early 1970s when the WSOP Main Event was still a single-table affair, Walter “Puggy” Pearson finished second twice before winning one in 1973. Crandall Addington also notched two runner-ups in the Main during that first decade when the fields were still small.

More notably, T.J. Cloutier would finish second of 140 players in the Main in 1985, then took second again in 2000 when the field was 512. Dewey Tomko also finished second in the Main Event twice, first in 1982 (among 104 players) and again in 2001 (among 613).

More recently, in 2012 it appeared as though the chances were good a woman would make the WSOP Main Event final table for the first time since Barbara Enright finished fifth in 1995. With just 11 players left, Gaelle Baumann and Elisabeth Hille were still among the remaining players. But Hille went out in 11th and Baumann followed in 10th,

Those knockouts occurred during the “November Nine”-era of final table delays that added extra drama to players making the last table. So, too, did another final table near-miss in 2015, memorably captured by photographer Joe Giron below:

Negreanu falls (figuratively and literally) at the 2015 WSOP

After winning WSOP Player of the Year two times (in 2004 and 2013) and earlier finishing 11th in the Main Event in 2001, Daniel Negreanu once again went out in 11th, knocked out by that year’s eventual winner Joe McKeehen.

They say “second place is the first loser,” but for all of these near-misses coming close was nevertheless plenty rewarding.

A few weeks after his last appearance on Jeopardy! James Holzhauer visited the WSOP himself to participate in a couple of events, as shown below.

James Holzhauer at the 2019 WSOP

Jeopardy! game board (adapted) and logo via Wikimedia Commons; Mike McDonald photo by Neil Stoddart; Daniel Negreanu and James Holzhauer WSOP photos by Joe Giron/pokerphotoarchive.com.


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