The latest Jeopardy sensation has thus far amassed $102,800 dollars on a four-game winning streak -- but his playing style is making traditionalists shudder. Arthur Chu has rejected the unwritten rule that the guy (or gal) with the most facts wins, and replaced it with the idea that you can outwit your opponent with the wily application of game theory. Brooke talks with Arthur about his winning strategy and the media firestorm he's ignited.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The latest Jeopardy sensation has amassed $102,800 on a four-game winning streak, but his playing style is making traditionalists shudder. Arthur Chu has rejected the unwritten rule that the guy or gal with the most facts wins and replaced it with the appalling idea that you can outwit your opponent with the wily application of game theory.
CORRESPONDENT: A flurry of tweets and postings, like “This is the face of a Jeopardy villain” and “No respect for Jeopardy tradition.”
CORRESPONDENT: Jeopardy fans are labeling a new champion who game-winning tactic involves playing mind games on his opponents!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Arthur Chu says he just did what anyone would do, who learned they were going on Jeopardy.
ARTHUR CHU: Literally, I hung up the phone and I googled “Jeopardy strategy.”
There's a group of fans who maintain the Jeopardy Archive, the J Archive, which is all the transcripts of all the past games that have ever been played. There’s a blog called The Final Wager. where he takes apart the wagering strategy in Final Jeopardy every night of Jeopardy and talks about the game theoretical aspects of it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Among the things you encountered, I guess, when you were online, was the Forrest Bounce, coined by Chuck Forrest in 1985. The Forrest Bounce refers to bouncing around the categories. So let's listen to some tape of that.
ARTHUR CHU: Plants & Trees, 2,000.
ALEX TREBEK: When fully hydrated, this iconic cactus of the Sonoran Desert, Carnegiea gigantea may weigh more than 6 tons. Arthur?
ARTHUR CHU: What is the Saguaro? ALEX TREBEK: The Saguaro, yes.
ARTHUR CHU: A “Cy” of Relief, 2,000.
ALEX TREBEK: This term refers to all the material enclosed within a cell membrane, except for the nucleus. Arthur?
ARTHUR CHU: What is the cytoplasm?
ALEX TREBEK: Right.
ARTHUR CHU: - 31 Days of Oscar, 2,000.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: For each of your turns you chose a different category, and you would choose the highest value question each time, instead of starting from the cheap question, the way that people usually do.
ARTHUR CHU: If I stay in one category, it gives my opponents the chance to get used to the category and the change to figure out the pattern and maybe get an answer before me. So the only way to keep an advantage when you’ve got one in the game is you use that one edge that you have, the power to choose the next question, and you pick something your opponents aren’t expecting.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And another advantage to jumping to the bottom of a category I guess was revealed to you by the IBM Jeopardy-playing computer Watson, that the two bottom rows of the board are most likely to contain the Daily Doubles, and whoever gets the most Daily Doubles is most likely to win.
ARTHUR CHU: Daily Doubles are one of the few other points, points you have the power to change the outcome of the game. And it’s not just the power to get one that you know and double up your score. It’s the power to deny it from your opponents, to make sure they can’t double up their score. So if I don’t know one, then I’ll bet a very small amount, which is what got a lot of attention when I bet $5 on the sports question.
ARTHUR CHU: Sports, 1,000.
ALEX TREBEK: Answer, [SOUNDS] Daily Double.
You can see the score. Erik and Carolyn tied for the lead at 3800, you trailing them by 400 dollars only.
ARTHUR CHU: Five bucks.
ALEX TREBEK: [LAUGHS] Five bucks?
Oh, don’t feel confident in sports. All right, here is the clue.
Eddie Giacomin, Herb Brooks, Conn Smythe.
ARTHUR CHU: I don’t know.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: There was an article in Salon that took the measure of how different you were from say, Ken Jennings, who was the greatest Jeopardy champ, ever! Obviously, you’re not anywhere close to his 74-game winning streak. What bothers people is you don't win like he did. You’re not buzzing more quickly than your opponents. You don't know more answers to the Daily Doubles. That you have made this a game of timing and strategy rather than cramming your head with possible answers to questions makes them feel like you're disrespecting the game, in your words.
ARTHUR CHU: I would just say we are playing for really very high stakes. I can’t justify to myself or my wife leaving money like that on the table out of some aesthetic sense –
- to please Jeopardy viewers. The other thing is Jeopardy is interesting because it's not just a test. Merv Griffin, when he first created Jeopardy, there weren’t any Daily Doubles, there was no Final Jeopardy wagering. The game back then was called, What’s the Question?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm!
ARTHUR CHU: And when he was trying to pitch the game to a Hollywood producer, he said, this game needs more jeopardies.
And that’s why the game is called Jeopardy, because he injected these elements where the outcome of the game suddenly becomes unpredictable; there become strategy and decisions.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: As you went through some of those angry tweets, leaving aside the purely ad hominem racist ones, what was the greatest source of indignation, simply that you were, quote, you know, “undermining the integrity of the game”?
ARTHUR CHU: That was part of it. Because people had a sense that this was unsportsmanlike, people attributed other things to me, saying that I was rude because I was so intent on getting to the next question, I would accidentally talk over Alex or like I was disrespecting my fellow contestants by glaring at them when they were answering. Really, what it was, was I wanted to keep paying attention to what they were saying because a big part of Jeopardy is getting that rebound. If they get it wrong, you get a chance to get it right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
ARTHUR CHU: But it is true that the first thing in my mind was gameplay, and my self-presentation was much lower down on the list. Jeopardy is a very artificial environment in which to encounter someone, with very different incentives from day-to-day life. It's not like if I met you at a cocktail party or met you socially. So don't judge what someone's like as a person because of how they act –
- on a TV game show, competing for life-changing amounts of money.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s war out there!
ARTHUR CHU: Yeah, yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you’re back on Jeopardy in a couple of weeks. I hope we get to keep watching you, Arthur. I like some naked ambition up there.
ARTHUR CHU: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Arthur Chu, four-time Jeopardy champion, will be back later this month. We spoke to him from WCPN in Cleveland.
[JEOPARDY THEME/UP & UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: That’s it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman, Chris Neary, Laura Mayer, Meera Sharma and Alana Casanova-Burgess. We had more help from Kimmie Regler. And our show was edited - by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Andrew Dunne. We just have to take a moment here to recognize the outstanding Mr. Dunne. He’s been filling in for Jen while she was on maternity leave. And he did yeoman’s work. Andrew, thanks a million.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yes, indeed. You steered the ship through some mighty difficult weather. Thank you, Andrew. Katya Rogers is our executive producer. Jim Schachter is WNYC’s Vice President for News. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can follow us on Twitter and, really, you should. It’s a dynamite source of media news, from the vital to the bizarre, kind of like peeking into OTM’s id. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
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