Who Will Win ABC’s “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time”?

Brad Rutter, James Holzhauer, and Ken Jennings are returning to Jeopardy! in 2020.

Who will win the 2020 Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time tournament? It’s going to be very close.

The prediction model is similar to what was used in the All-Star Games and 28th Tournament of Champions; a player’s skill on high- and low-valued clues was taken, with Daily Double tendencies, Final Jeopardy tendencies, adjustments for regular vs. tournament play, opponent level (Tournament of Champions opponents are stronger than regular opponents, for example), and even the relative difficulties of each season (using data dating back to September 1996). The numbers from the model were then run 1,000,000 times to create these predictions.

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James Holzhauer:

James Holzhauer on Jeopardy!
1,307 correct, 45 incorrect
38/41 on rebound attempts (on 76 rebound opportunities)
56.91% in first on buzzer (1190/2091)
78/84 on Daily Doubles (Net Earned: $676,988)
35/37 in Final Jeopardy
Average Coryat: $30,000

Why he will win: If James can find and convert the Daily Doubles, it will be game over. While we don’t have to worry about the freshness of the three players, as all three have played Jeopardy! in 2019, James is slightly fresher. Clue length (I do think Emma Boettcher was onto something when it came to her thesis) may also play a role; on quick-fire categories (where the clue might be very few words), James will have a decided advantage (see why in the below section) as it’s more difficult to pick up a cadence on shorter clues. Working in James’ favor here is that tournament games often do have shorter clues, as it’s a writing strategy to make sure the games see all 61 clues.

Why he will lose: Will James’ gameplay translate well to the biggest stage? A pair of 1990s Tournament of Champions winners have opinions on this one: Ken and Brad have generally worked off the the Michael Dupée school of “use the cadence of Alex’s voice”, whereas James is a major proponent of the Fritz Holznagel school of “hone your reflexes and work off the lights”. Which one is better? In my opinion, the Holznagel method reduces variance but is vulnerable to being beaten in by a player anticipating the cue with the Dupée method (with the Dupée method carrying the risk of going too soon and being locked out).

Model predictions:
Wins in 3: 3.623% of the time.
Wins in 4: 7.234% of the time.
Wins in 5: 9.783% of the time.
Wins in 6: 8.099% of the time.
Wins in 7: 4.071% of the time.

Overall: 32.809% of the time.

Ken Jennings:

Ken Jennings on Jeopardy!
2933 correct, 294 incorrect
107/133 on rebound attempts
59.01% in first on buzzer (2838/4809)
143/173 on Daily Doubles (Net Earned: $454,399)
54/83 in Final Jeopardy
Average Coryat: $26,506

Why he will win: Ken’s skill on clues that require multiple steps (see INITIALS TO ROMAN NUMERALS TO NUMBERS) is better than anyone else who has ever played the game. If there’s a connection to be made, Ken will make it. Boards with those types of clues will play to Ken’s advantage. Additionally, when you adjust for the fact that Season 35 played about 10% easier than Season 20 did, Ken and James have very similar Coryat statistics. Ken also knows that you need to be aggressive to win these; expect to see aggressive Daily Double bets out of him when he gets to play them.

Why he will lose: Ken has historically been the weakest of the three players when it comes to Final Jeopardy; this tournament may hinge on a key Final Jeopardy! or two that Ken will need to get right; if he doesn’t, he’s not going to be the victor.

Model predictions:
Wins in 3: 3.330% of the time.
Wins in 4: 6.776% of the time.
Wins in 5: 9.166% of the time.
Wins in 6: 7.788% of the time.
Wins in 7: 4.012% of the time.

Overall: 31.073% of the time.

Brad Rutter:

Brad Rutter on Jeopardy!
693 correct, 76 incorrect
38/41 on rebound attempts
42.71% in first on buzzer (656/1536)
42/48 on Daily Doubles (Net Earned: $71,100)
15/25 in Final Jeopardy
Average Coryat: $19,379

Why he will win: Because he always finds a way. Brad’s raw stats aren’t quite as great as Ken’s or James’ are, but the vast majority of Brad’s games have come against much stronger opposition. Adding opposition strength into account makes Brad a very weak favorite in the prediction model. I’ve often said that Brad gives you one chance a tournament to beat him; nobody has been able to follow through on that in Brad’s nearly 20-year Jeopardy! career.

Why he will lose: Alex Jacob made Brad look very vulnerable in the All-Star Games; Brad needed the help of the Daily Doubles to pull out the win in the All-Star Games for his team. If he doesn’t find them this time around, Brad is going to be in big trouble.

Model predictions:
Wins in 3: 4.185% of the time.
Wins in 4: 8.171% of the time.
Wins in 5: 10.718% of the time.
Wins in 6: 8.745% of the time.
Wins in 7: 4.298% of the time.

Overall: 36.118% of the time.

How long will the tournament last?

As per the prediction model:
The chances for:
3 games: 11.138% of the time.
4 games: 22.181% of the time.
5 games: 29.667% of the time.
6 games: 24.632% of the time.
7 games: 12.381% of the time.

What will happen? Make sure to watch in January 2020 to find out! Moreover, once the tournament gets started, the prediction model will use the nightly match stats to update the predictions daily!

Finally, to the three players, if you don’t like what I’ve said: I would like nothing better for you to go out and completely prove me wrong.

Since Alex Trebek’s diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer, many community members have been raising money. The Jeopardy! Fan Online Store is as well! All proceeds from any “Keep The Faith And We’ll Win” shirt sold will be donated to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. To date, over $440 has been raised.)

Are you going on the show and looking for information about how to bet in Final Jeopardy? Check out my new Betting Strategy 101 page!

I recently updated my tournament wild card models with as much tournament data that I’ve been able to find! If you’re playing in a tournament, you’ll want to check this out!

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2 Comments on "Who Will Win ABC’s “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time”?"

  1. Andy, I have the sense that a book about this GOAT Jeopardy! tournament and the backgrounds and Jeopardy exploits of these three champs could do very well, very possibly be a best-seller. I envision it also including Jeopardy nostalgia, explore/explain its lasting appeal/cultural influence, and honor its history, past champs, producers/production personalities, but especially Alex. Something you might want to consider writing by yourself or co-write with others. If the latter, I’d love helping. Regardless, it’s something I’d read and something you seem quite qualified to pull off.

  2. This is going to be so exciting! Three Jeopardy! greats going against each other! I feel like Brad may see his first loss, but I could be completely wrong. I also Brad struggle with Alex Jacob who plays slightly similar to James. Either way I’m super excited and ready to see it unfold!

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