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How to wager in Final Jeopardy! (with ties)

Note: because Jeopardy! now resolves all ties with a tiebreaker question, much of this content is out of date. Use at your own risk!


If [A = B + C/2] and [B ≠ C], then A must wager for the tie.

Did your eyes just glaze over? Yeah, mine too – and I love talking about stuff like this.

It wasn’t easy – in fact, I had to write a 20-page “manifesto” as my first step – but I figured out how to explain wagering strategy without resorting to complicated formulas like the one above. If you know how to add and subtract, you’ll be good to go here!

Let’s start by dissecting some of the common misconceptions regarding Final Jeopardy! before digging into the basics of wagering.

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All right. Ready to begin? Let’s do it!

General strategy

My wagering tutorial is a five-part series. Parts One and Three cover the strategies that will help you in about 80% of wagering situations.

Part One looks at basic strategy for two players. You’ll learn the four basic rules for wagering in Final Jeopardy!.

In Part Two, we’ll discuss some special scenarios when two players are involved: namely, situations in which the leader must wager to tie.

Part Three expands to three players – which I hope at this point is no longer as scary! I break the strategy down into three situations: first vs. second; second vs. third; and first vs. third.

Part Four touches on “wager-to-tie” situations for three players. I’ll suggest you memorize two different scenarios in case you’re faced with a Penultimate Wager – a Daily Double on the final clue in Double Jeopardy!, which might be the most powerful situation in the game. (This is a two-part video.)

Finally, in Part Five, we’ll look at what I call “mind games” – when players might find it advantageous to violate the basic rules from Parts One and Three.

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Shore’s Conjecture

I’m putting together a guide to Shore’s Conjecture, a fascinating scenario home to some of the deepest mind-game analysis around.

Tournament strategy

The tournament format adds a few kinks to the wagering strategy: ties are not allowed, and in the first round, you don’t have to win to advance. I break down the tournament structure and show you how to approach it in my first installment.

I also put together analyses of the sixseven occasions in which tiebreakers have been used.

The finals of a tournament are a “two-day total-point affair”. I show you how to properly calculate the wagers – and how to figure out on the fly whether you’re beating someone else on the second day – in this episode.

Finally, it’s helpful to know whether you’re “locked out” of contention on the second day. Here, I show you a simple trick for calculating whether you’re still in the hunt at a given point in the second game.

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Wagering with pen and paper

I also provide you with suggestions on how to wager using paper and pen – the only instruments you’ll have on stage.

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Summary
Title
The Final Wager's wagering tutorial
Description
Final Jeopardy! wagering strategy is a key aspect of the game. Far too frequently, however, someone loses simply because he wagered too much. I give you simple, easy-to-follow instructions on how to wager using nothing beyond addition and subtraction.
Author
15 Comments
  1. If you’re wagering on Day 2 of a 2 day final, are you given the numbers from the previous day on the screens, or do you just have to memorize the previous day’s totals?

    • Keith Williams permalink

      You’ll know them – I can’t remember whether the CCs tell you them before Final or if they encourage you to write them down on the cards after Game 1. You’ll need to memorize the differences, though, if you want to calculate on the fly during the second game.

  2. Doug permalink

    I have always been curious about how much time you are given to calculate your FJ wager?

    • As much time as you need. I added my “Final Jeopardy! misconceptions” video to the top of this page – sorry I hadn’t done so previously!

  3. Doug permalink

    Thanks, Keith. Your site is great! Today was the first day I saw it–found it through reading about Arthur Chu.

    I have always wondered why more Jeopardy players don’t use these techniques!

  4. Dave permalink

    Unclear on rule #2. Rule #1 assumes the leader will try to cover the double-up. So why can’t the trailer follow the same assumption? Why does the trailer not double up in your examples? And if the trailer should not double up, why does the leader assume so?

    thanks!

    • Hi Dave,

      Rules 1-3 comprise the baseline assumptions for wagering. Here’s the rationale for each:

      #1. Most players in the lead will prefer to take their destiny into their own hands.

      #2. Most leaders who wager to win will tack on the extra dollar, so the trailer can’t win if the leader is right and makes the expected wager. Focus instead on what will happen if the leader is wrong.

      #3. If the trailer can cover a common “irrational” wager from the leader, the trailer should do so.

      Once you’ve performed these steps, you can then start to think about “mind games” and alternative wagers.

      • Dave permalink

        Thanks Keith. I guess it’s that extra dollar that does it.

        Any idea how often the leader does bet (trailer x 2) + 1? If it’s not much > 50%, seems like the trailer should either double or cover the leader’s wrong answer depending on comfort level with the category. I’m generally surprised during the show how rarely the trailer goes all in on FJ.

        Love the blog!

      • Almost always. Arthur was the first to voluntarily hold back the dollar this year, 87 regular games into the season.

  5. James L permalink

    How should you wager if you are in third place going into final jeopardy if you still have a chance of winning if the leader gets it wrong?

  6. Kelly permalink

    That line at the top of the page where you included the B =/= C condition, even if B=C the first part would be true (in that case both B and C would have exactly 2/3 of A, which is definitely a wager-to-tie case).

  7. John permalink

    Hey Keith,

    How can your strategies be optimal in a close HU game if:

    Player1 plays as if Player2 has the option to bet the max
    and
    P2 never bets the max

    ?

    I feel like your methodology won’t result in equilibria in close’ish games.

  8. RainMan5678 permalink

    The first person to regularly bet for tie was i believe Dave Abbott

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