Walk by my house at 7 p.m. on a weekday and for the next 30 minutes you’ll likely hear me yelling. There’s no need to call the police. I’m somehow expecting the contestants on the game show Jeopardy to hear me through my TV while I curse at them for all of the dumb moves they’re making.
I’m upset for many reasons: They don’t bet much money in a Double Jeopardy round. Some slowpoke doesn’t pick a category quick enough. Leaving money on the board when the game ends. Some contestants struggle with the buzzer. And, of course, simply giving stupid answers.
Those and other errors drive me crazy. Why? I like to watch a good game, and it’s a shame to see such smart people lose out on making a lot of money when there are some simple things they can do to put the odds in their favor.
And also because my wife has been trying for years to get on the show as a contestant. After getting through a group audition with about 30 others a few times, she’s still waiting for the call to get to L.A.
I admit I’m not smart enough to get on the show, but she is, and a vast knowledge of the world is needed to get on Jeopardy.
But once you get into a few levels of testing to be a contestant, and certainly to get picked to be on the show, everyone has a high level of knowledge. Everyone is competing at the same level. But there are some things contestants can do to increase their chances of winning that will put them a step or more above their competition. Here are five tactics:
Figure out the buzzer
Six-game Jeopardy champion Alex Jacob said on the show that practicing with an empty toilet paper roll holder — you know, the metal part with the spring inside — helped him practice to use the buzzer players use to get chosen for each answer/question in a game.
Mastering the buzzer is key, mega-Jeopardy winner Ken Jennings writes on his FAQ page. Here’s what he wrote:
“Here’s how it works: the buzzers don’t get activated until Alex is finished reading each question. If you buzz in too early, the system actually locks you out for a fifth of a second or so. But if you’re too late, the player next to you is going to get in first. Somewhere between too early and too late is a very narrow sweet spot, like swinging a tennis racket or a baseball bat. No, that’s not right. The Jeopardy! buzzer, she is like a woman. No, that’s not it either. All I know is, the more I thought about the timing, the less I could nail it. When I could somehow just Zen out and not think about what I was doing, I would do okay.”
If you don’t buzz in fast enough so you can answer some questions correctly, you might as well go home. Everything after that is just strategy to win as much money as possible.
Speed it up
There are 60 questions in a game of Jeopardy, each one worth $200 to $2,000. The faster players go, the more likely they are to win more money. Why leave money on the board with an unasked question if you don’t have to?
There are all kinds of holdups out of the contestants’ control: Host Alex Trebek talking too much, commercials and long video questions that take up too much time than they should.
But there are also dumb things contestants do to clog things up. The first thing they can do is shut up. Don’t say the entire category and stop saying “please” and “Let’s go with…” when it’s your chance to pick an answer.
No: “Um, ahh, I’d like to take ‘Bestsellers by Partial Title’ for two-hundred dollars please, Alex.”
Yes: “Bestsellers for 2.”
And if any of the clues are video clues, wait until that’s all that’s left on the board before picking those.
And if you have an annoying accent, make it a good one:
Bet like a boss on Daily Doubles
The Daily Doubles are exactly what their name implies — chances to double your money with a correct answer.
Anyone who doesn’t take advantage of these might as well stay home. If you’re not there to win big, why play? Sure, you want to win day after day after day, and small winning streaks are better than nothing.
Daily Doubles give you a chance to bury your opponents, even if you’re already ahead. In at least the first round of Jeopardy the Daily Doubles are often so laughably easy that betting only $1,000 is a waste of a chance to double your money.
Not only that, but if you’re racing through a category with correct responses, why wouldn’t you expect to be right on a Daily Double in that category? Too often I’ve seen people sweep a category, only to bet $1,000 on a Daily Double in the $1,000 spot in the first round. Why? Do they think they’re going to miss this one question when they knew every other one?
And speaking of picking category questions, skip the top question in each category and come back to it later. The questions get more difficult as you go down the grid and the dollar amounts increase, so there isn’t much point in starting with an easy answer up top — especially if it leads to leaving a $1,000 question on the board when time runs out.
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Use the Forrest Bounce on Jeopardy
Chuck Forrest, a 1986 Tournament of Champions winner on Jeopardy, developed a strategy called “The Forrest Bounce.” He stared toward the bottom of the board and changed categories after each clue.
It bewildered the opposition by causing them to switch their thinking from one category that they’ve been in for a few questions to jumping around the board. It also increases the odds of winning a Daily Double, since those are usually at the bottom of the board where the big money is.
Know your stuff
Certain subjects appear often on Jeopardy: Presidents, Shakespeare, the Bible, state capitols and world geography among them. Study all you want from other categories, but if you don’t know some trivia basics, you’re not going to do well.
An online Jeopardy archive of questions and answers is a big help. Knowing categories that pop up on show after show is a good move.
Lastly, I’ll mention wagering. I’m not the best expert when it comes to math, so you’re much better off checking out The Final Wager website where Jeopardy champion Keith Williams has a lot of great advice about money strategy that goes well beyond my advice on Daily Double betting.