Record-smashing Jeopardy! champion James Holzhauer has the lead after winning the first day of the final round in the show’s 2019 Tournament of Champions.
Holzhauer, a professional sports gambler from Las Vegas, Nevada, finished the episode with $49,326, about $23,000 more than his closest rival Emma Boettcher, who ended on $26,400. Francois Barcomb landed in a distant third place with $1,800.
Boettcher was the player that ended Holzhauer’s record-breaking run on his 33rd consecutive appearance in June. Fans of the show have been anticipating a possible rematch between the rivals since it was announced they would both be participating in the tournament, and their wish came true Thursday night.
Although Holzhauer appears to have a firm lead, his victory is anything but certain as the winner of the tournament is determined by combining the total of two games, the second of which is set for Friday.
The winner of the Tournament of Champions will be earning more than just bragging rights, with $250,000 at stake. The second-place contestant will receive $100,000, while the person left in third place will take home $50,000.
Holzhauer was able to rack up outrageously large game totals during his Jeopardy! run earlier in the year, by employing an aggressive strategy which often saw him finding Daily Double clues earlier than usual and wagering large amounts. By the time his games reached the Final Jeopardy! round, Holzhauer’s victory was usually already secured, but he would increase his total winnings by risking substantial portions of his winnings in the final round.
At the end of his 32-game winning streak, the second-longest in the show’s history, Holzhauer had claimed the entire list of the top 15 highest single-game winnings ever. His top single-game win was on April 17, with an eye-watering total of $131,127.
Before being defeated by Boettcher, Holzhauer was on the verge of catching up to Ken Jennings, who tops the Jeopardy! leader board with regular season winnings of $2.52 million, and a 74-game winning streak that is, by far, the show’s longest. When tournament play is factored in, Jennings is in second place with $3.37 million to Brad Rutter’s total of $4.68 million.
Holzhauer currently has the third-highest winnings total of all time with $2.46 million, but depending on the final results of this tournament, he could inch closer to moving up on the list. Both Jennings and Rutter have appeared in multiple tournaments, and the current tournament seems unlikely to constitute Holzhauer’s final appearance on the show.
Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek continues to helm the show, despite announcing earlier this year that he is battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer. During an earlier round of the tournament on Monday, Trebek apparently told contestants that he was re-entering treatment for the disease. The host appeared to nearly come to tears when contestant Dhruv Gaur used his answer during Final Jeopardy! to write “We Love You Alex.”