'Jeopardy!' record-breaker James Holzhauer says there were 2 keys to his success

This image made from video aired on "Jeopardy!" on Wednesday, April 17, 2019, and provided by Jeopardy Productions, Inc. shows James Holzhauer.
Jeopardy Productions, Inc. | AP

In the end, James Holzhauer, aka "Jeopardy James," came up just short of becoming the trivia game show's all-time earnings champ.

But while the 34-year-old professional sports gambler's record-breaking "Jeopardy!" run wrapped up sooner than many expected on Monday evening, Holzhauer is still walking away from the iconic game show with a whopping $2.46 million in total winnings from his 32-episode winning streak. And, now that the newly-minted trivia star's time on the show is over, he's revealed two of the biggest keys to his "Jeopardy!" success.

Holzhauer ended his run just $58,484 short of the all-time "Jeopardy!" regular season earnings record (set by former trivia champ Ken Jennings in 2004), but he did obliterate the show's single-game earnings record, topping the previous record of $77,000 an amazing 16 times during his run — including a high point of $131,127 on April 17.

In his first interview since ending his run on "Jeopardy!", Holzhauer tells Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV that he was strategic about his play.

One key to Holzhauer's "Jeopardy!" success actually stemmed from his background as a professional gambler. After debuting on "Jeopardy!" on April 4, Holzhauer quickly made a name for himself by putting up huge scores and making large bets on the show's "Daily Double" and "Final Jeopardy" questions (he holds the record for the largest successful final wager, betting over $60,000 on April 17).

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Now, he says that was all part of his gambling-influenced strategy of aggressively seeking out higher-value questions while scouring the question board for "Daily Double" questions and making large bets (he also holds the record for the largest successful "Daily Double" bet, of $25,000 on April 9). Holzhauer took that strategy from the game of poker, where he says his goal is usually to quickly get out ahead of his opponents by winning large amounts of money early in the game to allow for larger bets that can win even more money.

"In poker tournaments there's really a big advantage to accumulating a big stack of chips early on: you can make plays that no one else can," Holzhauer says in the interview, before adding: "Really, I thought accumulating the dollars quickly was a key part of the plan."

Of course, in order for that strategy to work, in "Jeopardy!" at least, a player also has to have the necessary trivia skills to keep coming up with correct responses when there's a lot of money on the line. And, that's a major reason for Holzhauer's success, as he reportedly gave correct responses to roughly 97% of the questions he answered on "Jeopardy!" during his impressive streak. That high success rate helped Holzhauer average well over $70,000 in earnings per game.

The other key to his success on the show simply had to do with how he held the buzzer contestants have to use to get a chance to answer each question.

Many a former "Jeopardy!" contestant has claimed that mastering the timing of when to buzz in on a question is one of the more complicated aspects of competing on the show. With that in mind, Holzahauer says in the interview, he always made sure to hold the buzzer in one hand while using his free hand to hold the buzzing hand's wrist in an effort "to try to keep everything steady."

Not surprisingly, Holzhauer's winning streak was stopped by another aggressive player, as the newest "Jeopardy!" champion, 27-year-old librarian Emma Boettcher, employed a similar strategy to Holzhauer's when she beat him by over $22,000 after making a much larger "Final Jeopardy" wager than him on Monday.

But, even though Holzhauer's time on "Jeopardy!" is over for now, it's highly likely that he'll be invited back for one of the show's various all-star competition specials, such as the "Tournament of Champions," though the show has yet to announce when the next one will take place.

Either way, Holzhauer describes his success on the show as "mind-blowing," adding that he never thought he'd win so much money over so many games. "I thought maybe I could win maybe six, seven episodes — certainly not 32 — and certainly not this level of money," he tells CBS.

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This quirky Jeopardy contestant is a new fan favorite
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