How James Holzhauer Became a Sports Celebrity

James Holzhauer With Sparklers Going off in the Background

So, what do you think when I ask you to describe a professional sports gambler?

Hollywood likes to show the gambler as – a guy in raggedy clothes drinking from the bottle after losing everything – or perhaps someone in with close ties to black-market money – or even the big winner with giant gold rings and an incredibly attractive person by their side.

As with most things in life, the overemphasis of the highs and lows take us away from who people really are and how they live as a human being.

Now, I am going to look at a new sports betting celebrity from a human side and let you decide truth from fiction.

Early Life

James Holzhauer was born in the midwestern city of Naperville, Illinois (current population 134k). His heritage is a typical American style from a multi-decent of German and Japanese.

As a child, he adored his grandmother, and this is where his love for Jeopardy began to mature while watching the show with her.

His family was and remains close to this day.


In primary schools, he excelled in mathematics and science but was not really one of the outspoken types in class. In fact, he had to be encouraged to speak out when the class was asked to answer questions.

He went on to college at the University of Illinois at Urbana, where he was an average student. His main interests were in physics and mathematics, and he earned a BS in Mathematics. It is said that going to class was not always his top priority.

He claims much of his free time was spent playing real money online poker, and this was partially responsible for him not graduating with a high GPA.

I believe undergraduate classes that generate a significant percentage of your grade based on class attendance are primarily grooming students to think like everyone else. It sells the students short on free-thinking, but this is a post for another day.


Here are some of the common signs of high intelligence and how they are displayed by Holzhauer:

  • Adaptable – when seeing that continuing education (MS and Ph.D.) were not something right for him he began to use his skills learned from online poker to higher levels of gambling
  • Realize they don’t know everything – humility is not a quality expected by a gambler, but it is necessary to have when one loses big, and Holzhauer is no exception to losing
  • Tend to have great curiosity – the display of exceptional trivia knowledge at game shows is a clear indicator of this trait
  • Open to new opportunities – this is closely related to his adaptability to change direction in life
  • Have their own company – he has branded himself as his own company through game shows and making a living by being an independent professional gambler
  • Self-control – this area shows mixed results as one might argue that his lack of attendance in college showed low self-control, but his preparation in gambling and game shows that he maintained a clearly structured schedule
  • Humor – ok perhaps he is not the funniest guy in the world, but he does seem to be always smiling, so maybe he knows something we don’t here
  • Empathy – with his winnings he has donated significant resources to both charities and nonprofit organizations, but more importantly he has donated his time – anyone wealthy can give money but how many show up in person to offer a kind word

He claims to have an IQ around 158, which I do not fully understand but … that is probably because I am so far below that number.

However, this was only found out when directly asked, and not promoting it offers a unique characteristic of a person with high intelligence.


As a child, his father laid down strict rules about watching television.

Current data clearly indicates that eliminating television from children below age five greatly increases their cognitive thinking capabilities.

Are we doomed in the future?

Holzhauer’s grandma did, however, allow him to watch one show, which was Jeopardy, and he told his grandmother that one day he would be on the show.

After college, he moved to Vegas but maintained close ties with his brother and their family. His brother would visit him in Vegas to check on him, and eventually, James had to take a break from the enormous weight of sports gambling.

He then went on sabbatical and met his wife in Thailand, who has is also a winner at games shows. They are both proud parents of a daughter (2014). He shared affectionately about his wife and daughter during the rounds of Jeopardy.


He began his gambling with playing online casino games and poker with 10 cent ante $2 limit house poker games 5 days a week.

He collected a significant gambling stake when his mathematical mind saw the flaws in the little known 2006 World Baseball Classic.

The round-robin format had a significant flaw when selecting the team that moves on to the next round. In baseball, it is hard, given a 3-game series, to win all of the games at a high level.

Play From the 2006 World Baseball Classic

With the odds, heavily favoring the US and the Dominican Republic, he bet on all of the others. To advance, tied records then went to win margins against other teams.

With this structure, even if you beat a team head to head but lost to another but did not run up the score during each victory, you might not advance.

Let’s face it, most players believe running up the score in a game is not proper sports etiquette and would have a hard time punishing players on another team that is clearly beaten.

Japan, Cuba, and South Korea came in first second and third, which meant James got paid off big.

FYI, the US and the Dominican Republic have each only won it once in the four years it’s been played… hmmm… still sounds like a good strategy

With his new bankroll, he dove into sports betting, searching out the best odds on each team he wanted to back. This is one of his critical strategies for winning the most when you win.

It was the same strategy when he was playing Jeopardy. He searched the Daily Doubles to get the best payoff for knowing the right answers. It helps to be really smart when taking this strategy, but the reward far outweighed his risk in the game show.

In sports betting, the second critical factor James supports is to keep real-time information on injuries. This is the key to reacting before others when the odds change drastically.

Celebrity Status

To become a celebrity, a person needs to do something famous or infamous. James’ fame came by not only breaking the Jeopardy winning streak record of 20. He crushed it at 32.

He did this by employing his sports gambling strategy of big bets based on odds and hope you get lucky. I am sure his high intelligence significantly contributed to his luck, but the strategy works.

His generous donations increased his celebrity status he when daily faced with the fact that he would eventually lose, his perspective gave a personal touch.

He shared that his daughter was rooting for him to lose because he promised that she could have a party when it happened.

As with any celebrity status, he has the haters – the “Holzhauer Haters.” Can you really be famous without haters?

James Holzhauer Playing Jeopardy as a Contestant

The haters thought he was cheating made up numerous reasons why he shouldn’t still be winning:

“The odds were too great…”, “…he is way too confident,” “…faulty game equipment.”

These haters believe he is not truly an authentic Jeopardy champion. People never cease to amaze me.

To be a celebrity, you will need to be able to either behave appropriately to have the haters look ridiculous or fuel the flames with extreme childish behavior and denial.

Can you spot a few of each type throughout sports?

James has become a genuine celebrity through his actions and proven himself to be an overall good man by society’s standards.


To become a sports celebrity, you have to be active in the sports world and or play sports.

Secondly, you have to somehow become famous, and the relationship you have with sports needs to be noticeable.

Thirdly, you need to act according to the celebrity status given, or it can quickly be taken away.

James has succeeded in all of these from a direction never seen before by previous “Sports Celebrities.” Sports celebrities typically play sports and win a championship.

James played no sports; however, sports or specifically sports gambling is how he makes money.

He has also overcome a significant stereotype society gives “professional gamblers.”

He is not afraid to speak lovingly and kindly of his family, nor is he fearful of being judged by his haters.

I mentioned that he did not play sports, but in fact, his real ambition is to be a general manager in baseball. I realize that “Moneyball” is taken, but maybe we will have a new “Jeopardyball” starring Adam Driver.

It would be interesting to see if he gambles with player selections the same way he gambles by picking the big payoff players to sustain his wins. I am not sure this is too different the way most GM” S operate today.

I am sure we all wish him the best in this adventure.

Do you think he would be a good fit for your hometown team?