Arthur Chu finally loses on "Jeopardy!": What did his reign mean?

The game-theory nerd hacked "Jeopardy!" -- and it'll never be the same

By Daniel D'Addario
March 13, 2014 8:25PM (UTC)
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Arthur Chu on "Jeopardy"

Nothing gold can stay.

After 11 wins, Arthur Chu, the game theory nerd who briefly energized the staid nightly game of "Jeopardy!," took home a grand total of $298,200 following an unlucky evening. Chu's strategy, which he's said was gleaned from reading "Jeopardy!" fan sites, had consisted of jumping around the game board looking for Daily Doubles, which he'd use to maximize his possible take with daringly big wagers (when he didn't burn them off and ensure no one else got the advantage by placing a small wager, including a memorable $5 bet).

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Last night, he bet his entire winnings thus far on a Daily Double he missed (he ought to have said "What is cynicism?") and failed to nab the Final Jeopardy, too.

Chu differs from his antecedent among long-running "Jeopardy!" champs, Ken Jennings, meaningfully; Jennings played a very conventional game, running through categories from top to bottom and relying on a very fast buzzer finger. Chu was quick, too, but got a major boost from his hunting for opportunities to get the Daily Double, an element of the game that's well within the rules even as it was discomfiting to viewers who weren't easily able to keep up with what, exactly, was the subject from clue to clue. (This putting all non-Chu folks into a state of confusion undeniably helped, too.)

The champ will be returning for the Tournament of Champions later in the season; as for sustained Jennings-level success in pop culture, that seems a bit harder to forecast. Jennings became known for a mastery of trivia and so has been able to publish books on the subject. Chu became known for his subversion of the specific format of "Jeopardy!"

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The impact of Chu will likely be felt less in his own public profile (though he wants to be an actor -- look out, Hollywood!) than on the game itself. It's easy to imagine that, as Chu brought to "Jeopardy!" theories that had previously found their truest expression online, a broader audience is now aware of and accepting of Daily Double-hunting. The months ahead -- not immediately, but after enough time has passed that new contestants are aware of Chu's accomplishments -- could and should see contestants adopting some elements of his successful strategies. "Jeopardy!" is a game with trivia, but it's not a trivia game -- it's one of strategy, as Chu demonstrated to an audience whose alternate shock, dismay and delight showed just how revolutionary he was.


Daniel D'Addario

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