As a professional sports bettor, James Holzhauer has sweated out countless games that came down to the final play.
But none compared to his comeback win in the finale of “Jeopardy! Masters,” which the Las Vegas resident called “the biggest backdoor cover of my career.”
Holzhauer was crowned Masters champion Wednesday night after edging Mattea Roach in a two-game, total-point title match that was decided in Final Jeopardy.
The self-described game show villain claimed the $500,000 grand prize and Trebek Trophy, and he also won a $100,000 donation to Project 150 — a local charity that provides free support and services to homeless, displaced and disadvantaged high school students in Nevada.
“The charitable donation definitely means the most to me,” Holzhauer told the Review-Journal. “(My wife) Melissa and I pushed hard for this to be part of the prize. If I had lost, I’d have been fine missing out on 500K but would have felt like I failed Project 150.”
Holzhauer dominated the three-week tournament of high-ranked “Jeopardy!” champions, winning nine of 10 games, including all three in the semifinals, en route to the finale against Roach and Matt Amodio, who dealt him his lone loss.
But Holzhauer trailed Roach heading into the final clue of the event. The last category was “Latins in Literature,” and the clue was “A work by this 15th century English writer quotes the phrase ‘rex quondam rexque futurus.’”
Roach wagered 5,915 points, which would’ve ensured a one-point win over Holzhauer if he doubled up on Final Jeopardy and they both answered correctly.
But Roach, who uses they-them pronouns, gave the wrong answer when they wrote, “Who is Chaucer?”
Holzhauer also incorrectly guessed “Who is T.H. White?” (the answer was Thomas Malory). But he wagered only 119 points — which represented his daughter’s birthday of November 9 — to top Roach by 2,110 points.
His two-game total was 43,795 and theirs was 41,685.
“I knew Final was a game theory problem: if Mattea bets big I need to go small, and vice versa,” Holzhauer said. “I mentally flipped a coin — next time I might bet everything.”
Roach, whose father died suddenly of a brain aneurysm during the filming of the tournament, won $250,000 for second place.
“You played amazingly, your dad is so proud of you,” Holzhauer told Roach as they hugged after the finale. “Your mom, too.”
Amodio won $150,000 for third place, Andrew He $100,000 for fourth, Amy Schneider $75,000 for fifth and Sam Buttrey $50,000 for sixth.
“This was a tough field and I’m surprised I won as many matches as I did,” Holzhauer said. “Everyone is playing strategically and aggressively, and I love to see it.”
Holzhauer, who won $2.4 million on “Jeopardy!’ during a 32-game win streak in 2019, increased his all-time winnings on the quiz show (including tournaments) to $3.4 million, which is third behind Brad Rutter ($4.9 million) and host Ken Jennings ($4.3 million).
All three finalists in the Masters will have the chance to return to the competition for next year’s show. Holzhauer, who will return to the ABC quiz show “The Chase” in late June, joked about his “Jeopardy!” future on Twitter.
“Maybe I’ll enroll at USC for a year, play College Jeopardy,” he posted (@James_Holzhauer). “Never used up my eligibility.”
He hinted to the RJ that he won’t be back to defend his title.
“Will I be back next year?” he said. “Going out on top seems to have worked out OK for Ken.”
Holzhauer will help run the Game Show Boot Camp in Las Vegas on Aug. 5 to benefit Project 150. Those interested should visit gameshowbootcamp.org.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at [email protected] Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.