The show's host, Alex Trebek, put it simply during a recent show: "If you control the board and constantly come up with correct responses, you're likely to hit most of the Daily Doubles, which is what you do," he remarked to Holzhauer. He asked the other contestants: "How does it feel to come into a buzz saw?"
Holzhauer, who has a degree in math from the University of Illinois, says that sports betting comes naturally to him. "There's nothing better for my interests and talents than combining math and sports for profit."
He says he initially focused on baseball "because it is the easiest sport to break down mathematically, but as betting markets have adjusted, I'm spending more time on football and hockey now."
His grandmother, who is now deceased, inspired him to try out for the show.
"She moved from Japan to help raise me and my brother, spoke barely any English, if anything at all," he told Trebek in a recent episode. "But Jeopardy! was on in the afternoon at our house. ... She would watch the program with me even though she didn't understand a lick of it. And I promised her someday, she'd see me on the stage up here."
"So, I hope wherever she is right now, she's looking down," Holzhauer added. He has written a short message in her honor on the final question's write-in space. On other days, he has given shout-outs to his young child and other family and friends.
Holzhauer dominates across topics—with answers such as "Who is Aquaman?" "What is the Reformation?" "What is Quantum Leap?"
He says some categories come more easily to him than others. "I spent almost no time studying categories like geography and sports, even though they came up frequently on Jeopardy!, because I'm already strong in those subjects," he tells NPR. Categories he says he did spend time reviewing: animals, classical music and literature.
In 2004, Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings eventually went on to win 74 straight games and more than $2.5 million.
"I'm just gobsmacked by James," Jennings told Wired. "It's absolutely insane what he's doing. Like, I thought I had seen everything on Jeopardy! And this is something I would have thought was just impossible, these numbers."
He says he played the game very differently. "I was playing a game show like I had on my couch. My top priority wasn't maximizing winnings," he said. "I would never have had the stomach for those kinds of bets."
Jennings told the magazine that he is surprised his record has stood for some 15 years. "As a fan of the show, I'm actually rooting for James or anybody who can take a swing at that record," he added.