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The backstory

This project was born when my college friend Megan, slated to tape her appearance in a few weeks, called on me for advice. She recognized the importance of wagering in Final Jeopardy!, she said, but confided that the math scared her. Could I do something to help?

Google this topic and your head will spin. Dissertations on “break points” and their effects on strategy. Lists of formulas describing when the leader should aim for a tie. Specific scenarios named for players who screwed them up or got them right.

I love Jeopardy!. I love game theory. Often, these conversations are too much even for me. Imagine a math-illiterate player trying to recall them in what might be the highest-pressure situation of his life, with thousands of dollars (not to mention eternal glory) on the line.

And despite all of the high-level thinking, until now, a guide for calculating wagers did not exist. Wagering 101, if you will. So I set out to fill that void.

I added a second challenge: making it accessible to people who want to use no more than addition and subtraction. It took a lot of thinking and a lot of paper, but I finally got it. The result was a four-part written tutorial. Now, here, it’s a video series.

Each day, you’ll also find an analysis of how the actual contestants performed, and a practice scenario to keep your skills sharp.

Whether you’re a passionate fan, a future contestant, a game-theory buff, or just looking for a way to kill time, I hope you find it useful – and enjoyable.


P.S. For those of you wondering how Megan did, she made the correct wager (plus a dollar) – which Alex then derided as “interesting”.

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