Why is it that people smart enough to make it onto “Jeopardy” in the first place make foolish decisions for their final wagers?


Twice in the past week, the person in third place going into Final Jeopardy could’ve easily won by not betting a nickel. Instead they both risked it all, and both wound up with a year’s supply of Aleve. They’ll need that Aleve, because they’ll keep kicking themselves for making such a dumb decision.

Here’s the deal: if all three contestants scores are close enough going into Final Jeopardy that any of them could win, then your job as the third place contestant is to:

A. realize you’re not going to catch the leader and

B. bet nothing (or very little) and hope everybody gets Final Jeopardy wrong so you can back into a victory.


Last night, the scores and the end of Double Jeopardy were roughly this:

First place: $13,000

Second place: $11,000

Third place: $8000

The only person locked in to a specific wager amount is the person in first place. They have to assume that the second place person is going to bet it all in an effort to double their money, so they have to risk enough to beat them, usually by a buck. In this case, that would mean wagering $9001, which would give them $22,001 (a buck more than double the second-place’s money) if they get it right. But it leaves them with $3999 if they get it wrong.

The second place person typically does bet it all, which is not that smart either, but more on that later. So they wind up with either $22,000 or $0.

If you’re in third place, you can use the fact that the other two contestants are maneuvering against each other to your advantage. Just sit tight and risk nothing. Or if you’re feeling especially daring, risk $4000. That way even if you get it wrong you still have $4000, which is more than the first place person will have if they get it wrong…. and if they get it right you’re not gonna catch them anyway. You’re not trying to top the other two contestants’ highest potential scores, you’re trying to top their lowest potential scores.

OK, now let’s deal with Number Two… er, the contestant in second place. They usually risk it all, in a futile effort to catch the leader. Have you ever seen an episode where the leader doesn’t bet enough to outdistance #2 by a buck? Didn’t think so. So #2 could hedge their bet a bit by risking a lot less cash in Final Jeopardy. Instead of trying to beat #1, they should be focused on trying to top #3. The highest total #3 can get is $16,000. So #2 could risk $5,001. That gives them $16,001 if they get it right, and $5,999 if they get it wrong, which is usually enough to top #3. But being in second place is tricker than being in third, because #3 has the easy option of wagering nothing whereas #2 has to plan for a wider range of wagers on the part of #3 (anthing from $0 to $4000). Personally I’d risk the $5,001. If you and #3 both get it right and #1 doesn’t, you’ll wind up ahead. If all 3 contestants get it wrong and #3 risked nothing, you’ll lose, but them’s the breaks.  I’d rather lose that way then lose by getting topped by #3 if we both get it right and I didn’t risk enough.

Bottom line: if you’re smart enough to make it to Jeopardy, make a smarter wager…

jeopardy connery

That way Alex won’t be the only one with a smug look on his face.