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May 12, 2014

Battle of the Decades: the semifinals

Battle of the Decades – knockout rounds
Quarterfinals Semifinals Finals
1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 1 2
preliminary round

We’re done with the wild cards. It’s time for classic Jeopardy!: win or go home.

Jeopardy Battle of the Decades semifinals

Click the photo to visit the official site.

Here are your match-ups for the semifinals. One – and only one – will survive from each match to play for $1 million. The links lead to my original analysis of each player’s “do-or-die” wagers.

Mon, May 12 Ken Jennings Russ Schumacher Chuck Forrest
Tue, May 13 Brad Rutter Tom Cubbage Leszek Pawlowicz
Wed, May 14 Roger Craig Pam Mueller Colby Burnett

On the match-ups

One of the great mysteries of Jeopardy! tournaments is how the producers select the semifinal match-ups. There’s very rarely any rhyme or reason; in my College Championship, the three highest-scoring winners from round one were pitted against one another in the semis.

As I point out in my overview of the format, the only rule is that you won’t play someone you faced in the quarterfinals.

That said, it appears the producers do try to space out competitors they might like to see square off for all the marbles. Ken and Brad in separate semifinals was a no-brainer. At this point, I think they said, “If Ken and Brad made the finals, which players would be the best draw at the third podium?” My top three are Roger, Colby, and Pam – and that’s exactly who we’ll see in the Wednesday semifinal.


Any of these nine players could take down the tournament – you don’t get to The Battle of the Decades, much less the third round, by being anything less than a top-flight competitor.

Here’s a video of the eliminated quarterfinalists and alternates sharing their thoughts:

The amateur bookies in the Jeopardy! universe are placing Ken and Brad as heavy favorites in their semifinals. Each, however, has a potential antidote in Chuck and Leszek, both of whom have been impressive thus far.

Of course, the third players – Russ and Tom – could take advantage of a gunfight between the other two, picking off enough clues to head into Final still in contention – or, with a well-timed, gutsy Daily Double, in the lead.

In fact, I’d say the lead will come down to two factors: (1) aggressive DD hunting/wagering and (2) depth of knowledge (to reduce the chance of getting burned by said wager). The vagaries of Final Jeopardy! make it hard to give a prediction beyond that, although I doubt we’ll see anyone locking up a game before Final.


Ken and Chuck will take the DDs out of play early in Double Jeopardy!, and are close heading into Final; Russ is still in it, but needs big wagers and incorrect answers from both to take the finalist spot.


Brad and Leszek reprise the roles of Ken and Chuck, because each knows the other is unafraid to lay out a huge wager. Tom, again, might play spoiler, but savvy wagering is more likely out of Leszek than out of Chuck.


This is the tough one. These players are evenly matched, and I’d be unsurprised by any outcome – a three-way tie heading into Final or one of the players sealing the game early with 40k. My gut says Roger will find at least 2 Daily Doubles and take advantage of them, taking a sizable – but not insurmountable – lead into Final.

What do you think?

Drop a note in the comments below!

  1. Kelly permalink

    As I’ve said before there also appears to be another “rule” when it comes to match-ups: They keep anyone with the same (or in some cases similar-sounding like Eric and Erika in this year’s College Championship) first names apart until the finals (for practical reasons). I also once mentioned on JBoard that those situations will probably happen less and less in the future, with the “youth” tournaments being affected first (if you haven’t already seen why can you guess?).

  2. Dennis O'Donnell permalink

    By having the one black and the one women semi-finalist in the same game, with all else equal the odds of a black or a woman reaching the final is doubled. JEOPARDY!, even though the organization denies it, makes an observable effort to have black and women winners, and that is one reason the producers (very wise, indeed) avoid the type of lawsuits that have ruined other game shows. Check the history of Price Is Right or Millionaire

What do you think?