Arthur Chu is receiving a lot of publicity and a lot of criticism this winter. As of March 10, he holds a $261,000, nine-game stretch of Jeopardy wins, and it’s causing unrest with some members of his audience. But it isn’t about the fact that he’s winning, it’s about how he’s winning.
Chu employs a style of play that goes against the culture of the game. Whereas most players begin in the first round at the $200-level answers and move down the blue-and-yellow board until they reach the $1000-level answers, Chu skips around. He’ll pick, for instance, an $800 answer to begin his game. Then, if he states the correct question, he will pick another $800 or, eventually, a $1000.
While this behavior may appear odd to some, it is, in fact, a calculated maneuver. Chu is searching for the Daily Doubles, of which there is one in the first round and two in the second. He wants to get to them before the other players, and the fastest way to do that is to concentrate on the answers where the Doubles are located. They don’t appear in every price range. So, naturally, Chu leaves those ranges for last.
He is “playing the game right,” Glenn Fleishman notes in his May 10th Boing Boing article. Although the calculated picking may be what viewers notice most about Chu’s behavior and what may garner him the most negative feedback, Fleishman points out that the current champion’s streak exists in part because he is doing a lot of work behind the scenes. Chu prepares for upcoming games by developing a strategy that includes variations on how he bets and practicing which types of clues to pursue. He is gaming the game show, but he’s not doing anything that goes against the rules — only against convention. And he isn’t the first person to have done so. On Jeopardy, Chu notes in an interview, former champion Dave Madden had success with a similar strategy. He, too, received criticism for his method of play.
Stepping back to 2008, as explained in an Esquire feature by Chris Jones, Terry Kneiss used his knowledge of The Price is Right to play a perfect Showcase and bid the exact amount of $24,743 to win both his own and his competitor’s prizes. Kneiss and his wife studied the game and discovered that the show offered many prizes more than once. They memorized the cost of each item and secured the win.
Going back even farther, Chris Higgins provides a story at Mental Floss about Michael Larson, who set a record on the game show Press Your Luck. On that show, contestants would hit a buzzer to pause a flashing light that moved around a game board. Unfortunately for the game’s directors, the pattern was not random, and Larson memorized the movement of the light by watching recordings of the show. With that knowledge, he could pause it on the highest point value every time. In doing so, he took home a total of $110,237 in cash and prizes.
At first, The Price is Right directors thought Kneiss cheated. Similarly, Press Your Luck officials initially refused to give Larson his winnings. In the end, though, both men collected their money and prizes, and The Price is Right changed its prize lineup and Press Your Luck altered its game board to include a greater variety of patterns.
Unlike his predecessors, Chu likely isn’t doing anything that will cause show directors to consider changing the show’s format. Former Jeopardy champions have exhibited this style of play before, and Chu isn’t anywhere near Ken Jennings’ record of $2,520,700 across 74 wins. It’s not certain yet whether or not he will set any records, but as long as he keeps winning, he will surely keep irritating those who take offense to his play.
Image courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc. via Wikimedia Commons