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Las Vegan James Holzhauer wins ‘Jeopardy!’ Tournament of Champions

James Holzhauer avenged his loss on “Jeopardy!” and cemented his status as one of the game’s all-time greats Friday when he won the quiz show’s prestigious Tournament of Champions.

Holzhauer, a Las Vegas-based professional sports bettor, held off Emma Boettcher, a Chicago librarian who ended his 32-game win streak on the show June 3, to win the $250,000 first prize.

Boettcher took second and won $100,000. Francois Barcomb, a New York high school physics teacher, finished third and won $50,000.

Holzhauer finished with $76,923 in the two-day final to beat Boettcher, who totaled $65,000, and Barcomb, who had $5,000. The two-week tournament was taped in September.

Holzhauer led Boettcher by almost $23,000 after Thursday’s first game. But Boettcher won Friday’s match and had a mathematical chance to pass Holzhauer in Final Jeopardy, which they each answered correctly.

“I’ve said all along that Emma is an all-time great player, and I’m proud it took that level of competitor to defeat me,” Holzhauer said. “Now the world sees that I wasn’t just making excuses. Francois certainly looked as dominant as either of us in his first two games, so I knew the finals would be a fight to the finish.

“But the whole point of the TOC is to play the best of the best, and Emma and Francois certainly proved that they belonged in the final three.”

The $250,000 prize pushed Holzhauer’s total regular-season and tournament winnings to $2,712,216. That figure trails only two other players in “Jeopardy!” history: Brad Rutter, whose $4,688,436 makes him the highest-winning game show contestant of all time; and Ken Jennings, who has earned $3,370,700, including a regular-season record $2.52 million during a 74-game win streak in 2004.

Entering Final Jeopardy, Boettcher had $21,600 and Holzhauer $17,785. That gave her a maximum possible total of $69,600, while Holzhauer had compiled $67,111 before Final Jeopardy.

Boettcher wagered $17,000 in Final Jeopardy, and Holzhauer bet $9,812.

“The Final Jeopardy bet was an easy decision,” Holzhauer said in an email. “I just had to bet more than about $2,500 to lock Emma out, and the only way I could have lost is if she got it correct while I missed.”

The Final Jeopardy clue was: “A dispute over Etorofu, Habomai, Kunashiri and Shikotan has kept these two countries from ever signing a World War II peace treaty.” The correct response was, “What are Japan and Russia?”

Boettcher doubled her bankroll on the second Daily Double, from $8,600 to $17,200. Holzhauer had $19,200 before losing an $8,615 wager on the third Daily Double.

“The real tough spot came on the last Daily Double,” he said. “I could have bet big to try and lock the tournament up right there, or punted and hoped to outplay Emma the rest of the way instead. I went big, but got it wrong. Had I bet small, I actually would have had a sure win without needing to solve Final correctly, but I still think I made the right call.”

So what’s next for Holzhauer?

Before the tournament aired, he said some TV producers had pitched the idea of having him star in another game show once his noncompete with “Jeopardy!” runs out. But on Friday, he said, “I may be able to again appear on TV sooner than you think. Stay tuned!”

Holzhauer and his wife, Melissa, have donated more than $325,000 to charities and other entities, including a $25,000 donation in October to Rancho High School, which needs to replace its football field for safety reasons.

“Even though we donated $25,000, Rancho and several other of our local schools still need a lot of help to level the playing field for our poorest students,” he said. “We are hoping to inspire other community members to donate as well.”

The couple’s daughter, Natasha, celebrated her fifth birthday Nov. 9. Holzhauer, who has the 16 highest single-game totals on the show, first set the single-game record with $110,914 — the date of his daughter’s birthday (11-09-14).

“The kid has learned to enjoy watching ‘Jeopardy!’ but only when I’m on,” he said. “However, she also tells me to stop going back on the show so strangers won’t say hi to us in public.”

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

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