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November 7, 2013

Jeopardy! tournaments – structure and wild cards

It’s tournament time! For the next two weeks, Alex will host the annual Teachers Tournament.

Let’s take a look at how these competitions work – and how they affect wagering strategy.The Final Wager - Jeopardy! tournament structure cover

The video has more detail; here are the salient points.


In the first week, each of the fifteen contestants plays one quarterfinal game. The winner of each game advances, as do the four highest scorers among non-winners – the “wild cards”. These complete the set of nine who will reach the semifinals.


The nine semifinalists meet in three games. The winner of each advances to the finals.


The finals are what’s known as a “two-day total-point affair”. The finalists play two separate games, and the scores from those two games will be added together. Whoever has the most total points will take the championship. We’ll get into the strategy in a separate installment.


One unique aspect of tournament play is: there has to be a winner in each game. If two or more players are tied for the lead after final, Alex will read tiebreaker clues until one buzzes in and responds correctly. You can’t win “by default” – there’s no penalty for an incorrect question.

This will affect your strategy. For example, wagering to tie is no longer a viable option unless you absolutely have to do so.

Wild cards

Wild cards will affect your wagering strategy – for example, a leader with a huge total might just stay put rather than make the traditional lockout bet.

And contrary to what some believe, there’s no advantage to playing in one of the later games. If you haven’t competed yet in the quarterfinals, you’re sequestered in the green room. Trust me – it’s pretty tense in there!

It’s impossible to predict where the cutoff in a given tournament will be, but we can make an educated guess based on past cutoffs. Here are some statistics that might help you.

Jeopardy! tournament wild card cutoffs ascending Jeopardy! tournament wild card statistics

  1. Kelly permalink

    I think there’s another rule on match-ups in both the quarters and semis: Contestants with the same first name will not be put together until necessary (i.e. the finals) to avoid confusion. In the first ToC there were two Pauls put together in the quarters because of the way they seeded the contestants in the first tournament (in order of when their original victories were), but since then it appears that they’ve never put any players who share a first name together since then.

    Some cases where two same-named players ended up against each other in the finals were two Rachels in the Feb. 2008 Teen Tournament (Rachel Cooke went by her school nickname of “Steve”), two Michaels in the 1996 ToC (Michael Dupee went by “Mike”), and two Davids in the 1988 Teen Tournament (David Javerbaum went by “D.J.”).

    Here’s a couple of trivia points on this subject:
    If there are two contestants who share a particular first name in the quarterfinals, the probability that they’d face each other in the finals are 1 in 25. (You can do the math to see why.)
    The probability of same-first-name contestants in a tournament to begin with is falling, with the youth tournaments being affected first. Can you guess why that is?

  2. Kelly permalink

    Keith – I tried making a comment a few days ago but it appears to be caught behind a spam filter (apparently because it has links, but they’re only to games in the J-Archive so I’m not trying to sell something!).

What do you think?