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James Holzhauer ready to settle ‘Jeopardy!’ debate

Michael Jordan or LeBron James? Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus?

Most “Greatest of All Time” debates are unwinnable arguments that take place off the playing field. But the question of whether James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings or Brad Rutter is the best “Jeopardy!” player ever will be settled on the quiz show’s stage.

The show’s three all-time leading money-winners will square off in “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time,” a prime-time tournament starting at 8 p.m. Tuesday on KTNV-TV, Channel 13.

The first contestant to win three of the one-hour matches — also scheduled at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday (with additional nights, if necessary) — will earn $1 million and bragging rights as the “Jeopardy!” G.O.A.T. The two runners-up will each receive $250,000.

“As a sports fan, I like the one-and-done playoff setups of the NFL and NCAA, but a best-of-seven gives the favorite a much better chance of prevailing in the end,” Holzhauer, a Las Vegas-based professional sports bettor, said in an email. “I give the Jeopardy! team a lot of credit for coming up with a great format to settle the debate as best they can.”

Wagering on the event, which was taped in December, isn’t offered at Las Vegas sportsbooks. But South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro recently posted odds for entertainment purposes on Twitter, making Holzhauer the even-money favorite, followed by Jennings (+140) and Rutter (+180).

Rutter, 41, is the highest-earning game show contestant ever, winning $4.69 million on “Jeopardy!” Jennings, 45, owns the show’s record win streak of 74 games and has earned $3.37 million. Holzhauer, 35, owns the 16 highest single-game records and has won $2.7 million on the show.

“I think all three of us went in realizing we needed to set the bar high given the level of the competition,” Holzhauer said. “I’m only slightly younger than the other contestants, and they were the captains of the top two teams in last year’s Jeopardy All Stars, so I don’t think there is any ring rust.”

The format is a little different than regular “Jeopardy!” Each match will consist of two full games of “Jeopardy!” and the scores will be combined to determine the winner.

“With regard to in-game strategy, I feel I’m already playing the game board optimally and I don’t plan to switch anything,” Holzhauer said. “I studied some more esoteric facts with the expectation that the writers would ramp up the question difficulty. But the big thing I did to prepare was extra reps of buzzer practice, knowing that Brad and Ken are the two best in the history of the show on the signaling device.”

A pro wrestling fan, Holzhauer has poked fun at his opponents during the run-up to the event on Twitter, including the following posts:

— “Why I’m your pick for #JeopardyGOAT: best nickname” above images of the trio with the monikers “Jeopardy James” for Holzhauer, “Jeopardy Grandpa” for Jennings and “Who?” for Rutter.

— “What’s with all these Seattle guys being brought out of retirement because they were good a decade ago?” above side-by-side images of Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and Jennings (of Edmonds, Washington).

“It’s nice that we all respected each other enough to feel comfortable with friendly trash talk,” Holzhauer said. “All three of us had a lot of fun backstage; Brad and Ken are quick wits and great company.”

Holzhauer and his wife, Melissa, will host a watch party for Thursday’s match at The Space (thespacelv.com). All of the ticket proceeds will benefit Project 150, a charity for homeless high school students in Southern Nevada.

“I thought this would be a great way to interact with the local fans and earn some money for a great cause,” Holzhauer said.

Jeopardy James also has a friendly reminder for local viewers.

“I just hope that viewers understand it will be on at a different time and network, as regular-season Jeopardy! episodes are still airing on Channel 8 as normal,” he said. “People who watch on their DVR will also need to set a separate recording for this tournament, as it has a different title.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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