The (alleged) JEOPARDY! sins of Arthur Chu

When I knew an answer, I clicked once, and I was immediately corrected: “No, you keep clicking until Alex calls on you.”

Arthur ChuSeriously, I had no idea. As a regular viewer of JEOPARDY!, there are contestants I like, ones that I don’t particularly care for, and most from whom I just want to see a good match.

Having viewed the four victories of one Arthur Chu, I did not realize that his reign, to be continued on February 24, was at all controversial until someone sent me an article and asked me to comment on it. Then a couple more people sent me other articles. This was a story on Yahoo!’s Finance page?

So what are his JEOPARDY! “sins”?

1. He jumps around the board. The first story I was sent was titled Jeopardy! Contestant Is Hated For Playing Like Nobody Else. This was untrue; several players over the years have utilized a strategy of “relentlessly hunt[ing] for the Daily Double clues in each round, clearing out the bottom three rows of the board so that he can get to them before anyone else.” It’s perfectly legal. Now it’s undoubtedly harder on Alex Trebek and the board operators, but that’s not Chu’s problem.

Moreover, his strategy doesn’t work if he gets in first but doesn’t know the answers. In looking at the pattern of topics picked in his first game, the other players would go to a more traditional pattern when they selected, so Chu would have been thwarted had the others beaten him on the buzzer.

2. He didn’t even try to answer a Daily Double, and said “I don’t know,” for which he only bet $5, which some considered unsporting. That was in his second game. The category was IN THE SPORT’S HALL OF FAME, the $1,000 question and the clues were Eddie Giacomin, Herb Brooks, Conn Smythe. Apparently, this was “easy” for most people, since Herb Brooks was the coach of the 1980 Olympics hockey team; doesn’t mean it was for Chu. He knows what he knows, and doesn’t.

3. He played for the tie, rather than the win, also in the second game; this was considered arrogant. Arthur Chu addressed this, correctly, in this interview:

Yeah, I mean, my decisions were motivated by the desire to win — I don’t think I need to apologize for that, that’s a lot of real money at stake with every game — but the other side of that is that the main thing I cared about was making my money and coming back to play again. There’s no reason to take money AWAY from other players unnecessarily, and that’s why I was puzzled that my bet for the tie somehow got everyone riled up, as though I’d somehow done something wrong.

It does make me feel good that Carolyn [Collins], who is a strong player whom I respect, went home with over $20k rather than with the $2k she would’ve ended up with had I bet the extra dollar. Or, for that matter, that Erik [Post], who was also a great player in our game, took home $2k for second instead of $1k for [third].

Former champion Keith Williams, who Chu studied, explains playing for the tie.

4. His very visible use of the buzzer is irritating. As this former player explains:

What, he shouldn’t buzz? Skill still plays a role: If you buzz in before Alex finishes reading a question, you are locked out for a crucial quarter-second or so; there is still timing to Chu’s thumbwork. His conspicuous digital athletics are merely bringing to light a facet of the game that not enough of its viewers appreciate: Buzzing well is part of winning, because most of the time more than one contestant knows the correct response.

I remember when I was at my JEOPARDY! tryout in Washington, DC in May 1998, and we played a mock game. When I knew an answer, I clicked once, and I was immediately corrected: “No, you keep clicking until Alex calls on you.” You might be temporarily locked out by clicking too early, but if no one else gets in, or if someone else responds incorrectly, repeated clicking is the way to go. In any case, I found it easier to do that than to watch the lights around the board go out before starting to click. Hey, it worked out, once.

Most people who click a lot do it at podium level, so it’s not as obvious to most.

Ken Jennings, who won 74 games in a row, defends Chu, and rightly so.

This is the 30th season of JEOPARDY! and they are bringing back former champions from the last three decades. Not only is this eliminating 30 or 40 players from participating during the season – far more than Chu’s tie game did – it weakens the field for the next Tournament of Champions. I believe the rule that allows for players to win six or more games does the latter as well.

Arthur Chu’s play does not bother me. If he wins a fifth game, I will actively root against him, but I ALWAYS root against five-plus day champions, for the reasons alluded to above.

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