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'Jeopardy!' whiz makes big bets to soar past US$1m in winnings

New York

FOR more than two weeks, a professional sports gambler from Las Vegas has been dominating the Jeopardy! game show in the US with a calculated strategy, an affinity for risk-taking and a deft buzzer hand.

The contestant, 34-year-old James Holzhauer, surpassed US$1 million in total earnings on Tuesday, becoming just the second contestant to do so in Jeopardy! history and continuing his record-breaking streak.

Mr Holzhauer won US$118,816 in the game that aired on Tuesday (Wednesday morning, Singapore time), having capped off his winnings by correctly answering this Final Jeopardy clue: "On May 1, 1869, these two men met at the White House, four years and three weeks after a more historic meeting between them." (Can you guess? The answer is at the end of this article.)

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On the show's hall of fame, which documents the highest single-game winnings, Mr Holzhauer now claims the top seven spots. His earnings of US$1.06 million so far amount to less than half of the US$2.52 million that the current record-holder, Ken Jennings, took home back in 2004.

But it's worth noting that Mr Jennings amassed that prize over 74 games, while Holzhauer took only 14 games to reach his total. Mr Holzhauer's strategy boils down to this: Go for the high-value clues first, hunt for the Daily Doubles and, when he finds them, bet everything he has.

"I'm going to get the Daily Double right a lot more often than I'm not going to," he said in an interview with ESPN on Monday. "I want to maximise that bet." He will be going for his 15th win on Wednesday night in the US. Episodes are recorded in advance, but players are told not to publicly discuss results of games that have not aired.

Of course, strategy alone is not enough to guarantee Jeopardy! domination. In practising his buzzer game, Mr Holzhauer told ESPN, he relied on the e-book Secrets of the Buzzer by Fritz Holznagel, a repeat Jeopardy! winner.

As for the sources of his knowledge, he has said that an underrated strategy is reading children's books because they cater to readers who might not be naturally interested in the subject matter.

(The answer to Tuesday's Final Jeopardy: "Who are Ulysses S Grant and Robert E Lee?") NYTIMES