James Holzhauer: 6 Things to Know About ‘Jeopardy!’ Star

James Holzhauer - Jeopardy Masters

Jamez Holzhauer is a bonafide Jeopardy! legend and is currently cementing his elite status on Jeopardy! Masters taking on some of the show’s strongest competitors.

Holzhauer first appeared on Jeopardy! in April 2019, where he went on an impressive 32-game winning streak (earning $2,464,216) before winning that year’s Tournament of Champions. He went on to compete in the Greatest of All Time tournament in 2020, where he lost out to the show’s now-host Ken Jennings.

Known for his risky wagers, contestant banter, and cocky attitude, Holzhauer has made quite an impression on viewers over the years. But who is the man behind the “game show supervillain” persona? Keep reading to find out more about the Jeopardy! icon.

His Wife Melissa Is Also a Game Show Vet

James and Melissa Holzhauer

KTNV YouTube

While his persona on TV might seem somewhat of a lone wolf, Holzhauer is happily married and has a daughter. According to Heavy.com, in 2012, Holzhauer married Melissa Sassin, a tutor originally from Seattle, Washington.

Melissa also has game show experience, appearing on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in 2014, where she won $28,800. Holzhauer himself made a cameo in the episode, telling then-host, Cedric the Entertainer, that his wife was hoping to win enough money to buy a puppy.

“I told her if she wins half a million, she can pick the dog out,” Holzhauer quipped.

He Watched ‘Jeopardy!’ with His Grandmother

James Holzhauer on Jeopardy!

Jeopardy! Inc

Holzhauer’s father, Juergen Holzhauer, was a German immigrant, and his mother, Nachiko Ide Holzhauer, is of Japanese descent, but it was through his Japanese grandmother that his love for Jeopardy! first started.

“When I watched Jeopardy! as a kid, I would primarily watch with my grandmother. She was the most beautiful person the world has ever seen,” he told Vulture in 2019. “Her first language wasn’t English, so she couldn’t follow along well, but she wanted to share this experience with me since she saw it was something I really liked. I promised her I’d one day be up on that stage for her. I don’t promise anything unless I intend to fulfill it.”

During his initial run on the show, Holzhauer dedicated a win to his late grandmother, writing, “This is for you, granny,” in his Final Jeopardy answer.

He Was a Math Whiz at School

Holzhauer was born and raised in Naperville, Illinois, and attended Naperville North High School. At just 4 years old, he was listed in the Chicago Tribute as a child prodigy for his math skills. And according to the New York Times, he was taking fifth-grade math at age seven and skipped the second grade entirely.

Despite his impressive mathematics ability, Holzhauer would often skip classes to play online poker instead. “There were times in school where I would say, ‘I should go to class,'” Holzhauer told the NY Times. “But I could make $100 playing online poker if I didn’t go.”

He is a Professional Sports Gambler

Holzhauer graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Illinois, but a regular day job was never in the cards. Instead, he moved to Las Vegas in 2008 to bet professionally on sports.

According to an ESPN profile, Holzhauer said he “retired” from sports betting in 2011 to start a family with his wife, Melissa, but they moved back to Vegas with their daughter in 2015, where Holzhauer resumed his gambling career.

“Even though I’m used to losing bets every day,” he told ESPN. “I am NOT calm when I sweat a game. My daughter learned to say, ‘They’re not even trying to cover!’ before her second birthday.”

He is the Third-Highest American Game Show Contestant Ever

James Holzhauer on The Chase

The Chase YouTube

Before Holzhauer appeared on Jeopardy!, he was a contestant on The Chase on September 2, 2014. He ended up winning a $58,333.33 share of the $175,000 team prize pot.

He then added to this $2,464,216 from his 33 games of Jeopardy, only slightly behind Jennings’ $2,522,700 in regular play. He went on to win the $250,000 grand prize in the 2019 TOC and the $250,000 runner-up prize in the GOAT tournament, bringing his overall total to $2,964,216 (placing just behind Jennings and Brad Rutter).

He Dedicates His Wagers to Family

While some viewers have questioned Holzhauer’s wager strategy, he actually puts a lot of thought into the numbers he chooses. Most of these are dedications to family members, many of them representing birthdays and other significant dates.

According to Slate.com, Holzhauer once explained this during one of his earlier episodes. For example, a $11,914 bet was for his daughter’s Nov. 9, 2014 birthday, a $730 bet for his dad’s birthday (July 30), and a $9,812 bet for his and Melissa’s Sept. 8, 2012 anniversary.