Saturday, March 17, 2007

Jeopardy! — like kissing your twin sisters

Since I always get inundated with queries after any major event occurs on Jeopardy!, I presume that some of you are wondering about my take on the show's unprecedented three-player tie game last night.

Wonder no more.

First, let's catch up the latecomers in the group. On the Jeopardy! episode that aired Friday, March 16, defending champion Scott Weiss (I'll wait a moment for the Rocky Horror fans to stop hissing) led going into the Final Jeopardy round with a score of $13,400. Each of Scott's opponents, Jamey Kirby and Anders Martinson, had exactly $8,000. Both Jamey and Anders risked their entire bankrolls on the Final Jeopardy clue, answered correctly, and doubled their scores to $16,000. After Scott's correct response was revealed, we discovered that he had wagered $2,600, upping his score to $16,000 and creating the first three-winner game in Jeopardy! history.

Now, suppose I had found myself in Scott's position. Would I have bet for the tie?

Simple answer: No. For three reasons:
  1. I always played Jeopardy! to win (even in the two games — in Super Jeopardy! and Round Two of the Ultimate Tournament of Champions — in which victory had become increasingly unlikely by the time Final Jeopardy arrived), and would again if I had another opportunity. To do otherwise makes a mockery of the game, in my opinion. (Try to imagine a Super Bowl coach playing for a tie.) Nothing frustrates me as a viewer more than seeing a front-running J! contestant lose a game or end up in a tie situation for no other reason than a failure to bet adequately — an embarrassment that occurs all too often on the show.

  2. As a defending champion, I would much rather play my next game against two first-time players than against two opponents with an entire game's worth of stage confidence and buzzer practice. That's the main reason why the Jeopardy! contestant staff always counsels players never to play for the tie. If you've earned the champion's advantage with a prior victory or two, why would you want to minimize that edge?

  3. Frankly, it would never have occurred to me. My statistical analysis skills suck. (For my money, today's players think way too much about wagering strategies. But that's just me.)
None of this is intended to be critical of Scott, who seems like a decent fellow who saw an opportunity to make a little game show history and seized it. (He explains this himself over on the Jeopardy! discussion forums.) It's just not the way I would have played it.

If either Jamey or Anders wins Monday's game, Scott may rethink his decision.

Or he may not.

(Point of order: Last night's show was not, as has been widely reported, the first three-way tie in modern Jeopardy! history. On September 11, 1984, during the first week of the Alex Trebek era, there was a game in which all three contestants finished with zero scores. Weiss-Kirby-Martinson I was the first game with a positive three-way tie, and thus three cochampions.)

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1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger MCF offered these pearls of wisdom...

Yeah, you would think he would bet $2,601. This is more interesting though, and something I've always wanted to see(I didn't actually, just heard my folks shouting from the living room). Thanks for posting that it was the first 3-way positive tie; I actually was wondering if it ever happened before.

4:00 PM  

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