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If you are an avid Jeopardy fan, you probably know that when it comes to final Jeopardy, the player in the lead often bets just enough to win by one dollar.

Recently, the scores were something like $18, 200 (1st place), $10,800 (2nd place) and whatever was the score for 3rd place. In this situation, 1st place bets $3401, so a correct answer results in a score of $21,601, winning by a margin of $1. Reasoning that 2nd place is betting it all, if that score is doubled, the result is $21,600. Considering what would have happened if 2nd place got the answer wrong, with the end result being a score of $0, a bet to lose the minimum it seems to make sense. This is without regard for the possibility that 3rd place may have enough money to double up and win, if both 1st and 2nd place cannot come up with the correct answer.

My contention is that it makes more sense to bet on yourself answering correctly. So, instead of betting on the outcome of a wrong answer, you would bet to simply maximize your gain, without losing enough money to allow 2nd place to win if he or she bet zero. In this case, a bet of $7400 makes sense. If you are wrong with your answer and 2nd place has bet anything at all and has also answered incorrectly, you will win. If 2nd place bets it all and gets the answer right, then any amount you bet will not win the game for you. Your score, with a correct answer, would be $25,600 – a nice bump up from the $21,601 total you get by hedging. 

  • Over time, you’ll also note how rarely the final betting strategy is the determines the winner.

  • Watch the show for any length of time and you’ll see it almost always makes sense for 2nd place to risk it all to double up.

  • There are times when third place can bet strategically to win the game if the other two players cannot provide the correct response.

  • Do the math at the end and see if you agree, the margin of the lead 1st place has is worth risking in Final Jeopardy! (A greater reward for winning the game.)

  • Note, also, that betting on yourself to have the correct answer (in the form of a question, of course, for Jeopardy!) is a winning strategy in any game.