# Math for Jeopardy! Players

articles
July 20 2000 3:00 AM

# Math for Jeopardy! Players

## How contestants regularly blow their final bet.

(Continued from Page 1)

Why? To answer that, we'll only deal with scenarios in which Melizza gets it wrong—because if she bets correctly and gets the answer right, the game's over no matter what.

Miles' bet of \$4,301 puts him out of Judy's striking range should he answer correctly, as he'd finish with \$11,601, or two times Judy's score plus a dollar.

Judy's correct bet, \$2,800, gives her that extra chance that Haley should have had in the first example. By betting \$2,800, she can win if all three players miss the last question. With correct bets and all players missing Final Jeopardy!, Melizza winds up with \$399, Miles finishes with \$2,999, and we'll see Judy again tomorrow as our returning champion, as she's just finished with \$3,000. (Naturally, if Judy gets it right and the others don't, she wins anyway.)

Sound too theoretical? Consider what actually happened: All three players missed the final question. Melizza wound up with \$399—which was good enough to win, as her opponents had wagered absurdly. Miles bet the insane sum of \$7,000, which left him with \$300. Judy bet the house and wound up with nothing. Had Miles bet correctly (or even close to correctly—six grand would still have won it for him), he would have been champ. Or, barring that, Judy could have won it herself.

You may be wondering: If the first person knows that the second-place person is going to have this back door, why doesn't he simply bet just enough to outstrip the second place player's more modest bet? Because there's always the possibility that the second-place person will bet it all. And in practice, the person in first place almost always bets \$1 or \$100 over what he needs to put himself out of reach. It's this tendency that the second- and third-place players should take advantage of.

There are also a few subtleties we're glossing over—for instance, Haley, Miles, or Judy would get a bigger payday if they bet everything and won. But the safer bet provides the extra chance of simply surviving and coming back the next day. And anyway, the basic premise is clear: If you're in second or third place going into Final Jeopardy!, don't just automatically bet it all. Your better chance may be backing into victory.

Foreigners

# More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself.

Politics

# The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

# Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

# Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.