Scrabble-rouser

     I couldn’t resist checking the Jeopardy! site early this morning to see if this week’s contestants were posted. They were! I was on the treadmill but I leaped off to tell my mom and set up the site for her to watch my hometown howdy. Weird thing – I redid my hometown howdy on Day 2 of taping because I wanted to be introduced as from Lincoln, Nebraska…which is in Lancaster County. I thought it would be confusing, so I said something to contestant coordinator Robert at the end of Day 1. It had been eating at me. Luckily I’d have another chance, although I didn’t have a plan yet. The “wrong” howdy, but the one I like more, is on the site anyway! I wondered if that would happen. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but I sure am grateful. The one that’s posted was my mom’s idea, and I think it’s just brilliant. The only thing that would’ve made it better is if they’d let me say “come out tonight” (as in the song), but they wouldn’t in case the howdy wasn’t on TV the same day(s). I wonder whether they’re going to show my howdy on TV, and which one it’ll be, for that matter.
     You see Dennis Wright and Mithun Kamath on that page. When Dennis took the stage that day as returning champion, he was told he had to change something about his outfit. (It might have been his tie…?) Anyway I could be wrong but he didn’t seem happy about it, and it seemed like the issue didn’t die right away. As for Mithun, he and I were held over from Day 1 of taping, so we had maybe a teeny bit of a bond that second day. I think he’s a nice guy. I’m sorry he lost today, and Dennis too for that matter. By the way, did Dennis’s playing of the think music remind you of another contestant who did something similar in his interview? Dennis did that for us in the green room. The contestant coordinators asked him if he’d do it in his interview, and he was so blase about it. A cool dude, like I’ve said a few times!
     Tonight’s guest blog entry is brought to you by Andy Saunders (“ontarioquizzer” on the message boards and “@andythequizzer” on Twitter). He plays Scrabble competitively, hence the title of this post. Tomorrow, Patrick Antle is guest-blogging for me. Remember him? 😉
     Good evening, readers! I’m Andy Saunders, fellow diehard Jeopardy! fan, and I’m honoured that Jeanie has allowed me to guest-blog this week. I’ve been given the opportunity to speak about a topic very close to my heart, a topic that I consider to be the most underrated in show preparation: that being wagering strategy.
     The average winning score on the show the past 4.5 seasons is just over $21,000. Considering the fact that wagering strategy can often be the difference between winning and losing, it would make sense to pay some sort of attention to it, wouldn’t it? Sadly, many contestants fail to do even the most cursory preparation.
     Now, I could probably write a reasonably-sized book on this subject, but I don’t think Jeanie (or anyone else, for that matter) would have been happy if I’d done that. Thus, I’ll mention some basic things and point you in the direction of other items that may help you!
     My personal suggestion: As soon as you have your audition and are in the contestant pool, start thinking about “what should I bet in Final Jeopardy!?” when you’re watching the show. Watch what the contestants do. See if you can notice trends. Formulate your plan. And it’s better to get over the “OMGMATH?!?!” block earlier than “it’s Final Jeopardy! and the contestant coordinators are harassing me to lock a bet in”. Once you do get to the show, the contestant coordinators do provide writing instruments and paper to write on when attempting to figure wagers. My advice in preparation would be to practice writing with Sharpies on index cards, if you can find them.
     A couple of things that you might notice: Leading players tend to make a bet that allows them to win if they get Final Jeopardy! right (this is a good thing) and trailing players tend to bet all (or almost all) of their score in Final (generally not so much of a good thing). A poster at J!Board last week said that if your bet is a round number, or you’re betting to get to a round number, you’re generally making a poor bet. Excellent advice in general (though, of course, see a few paragraphs below for a couple of caveats).
     The one general principle used in the majority of wagering strategies for the show: When leading, it is significantly better to lose by getting Final Jeopardy! incorrect than it is to lose by getting Final Jeopardy! correct and be overtaken by a trailing player. Generally, this means to make a wager that will defeat the trailing player by at least $1 if both players get the question right and the trailing player bets everything (henceforth known as a cover bet). Under this principle, if a leader follows this strategy, a correct response to Final Jeopardy! renders everything else moot. Conversely, when trailing, one need only focus on circumstances for when the leading player misses Final Jeopardy!. Since the formation of the J! Archive in September 2004 (a full 6.5 seasons of complete data), the player in the lead has failed to make the cover bet only 11.9% of the time.
     Here is the general wagering strategy algorithm, using an example game of:
Leader $18,700
Second $12,400
Third $10,600.
1.         Determine the leader’s optimum cover bet over 2nd by doubling second place’s score, adding $1, and subtracting the leader’s current score. (12400 * 2 = 24800; 24801 – 18700 = 6101).
2.         Now, see what happens if the leader’s wrong (subtract the cover bet from their score). 18700 – 6101 = 12599. Second and third should take note of this and attempt to ensure their score gets (or stays) above this number. As you can see here, 3rd place is still in contention in this scenario.
3.         Repeat steps 1 and 2 for 2nd place’s optimum bet against 3rd. (10600 * 2 = 21200; 21201 – 12400 = 8801).
4.         3rd place should therefore make a bet based on the optimum bet for 1st and 2nd place, ensuring that they stay ahead as best they can. (Here, 2nd place falls to 3599 if he is wrong. Thus, 3rd should ensure his score is at least above 12600 on a correct answer, yet does not fall below 3600 if he is wrong. Any bet between 2001 and 7599 works equally well here).
     One thing to remember as well: If you feel that you can, figure out what your score will be if you’re wrong. Do the same for the other players; figure out what their optimum cover wagers are, and what will happen if they are right/wrong. If you find that your score on a wrong answer is $1 less than one of the current scores of your opponents, give serious thought to betting $1 less and risking the possibility of a tie game. There are even very specific situations where a bet of $0 from the lead is most defensible! Many contestants have noted that the contestant co-ordinators warn you not to bet for a tie, but remember that if the options are “tie” or “lose”, I think I’d rather tie!
     Remember: Practice, practice, practice! The more that you practice beforehand, the easier it will be for you once you get to the show itself! The J! Archive has a wagering calculator (http://www.j-archive.com/wageringcalculator.php) where you can type in scores for any 3 players and it will give you suggested wagers for each player. (While some of its suggestions do get debated by the experts, it is an excellent starting point.) It also has some more advanced strategies built into it, for once you’ve had a bit of practice!
     Hopefully you made it to the end of this, and best of luck if you do make it to the show!
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