How One Man Played 'Moneyball' With 'Jeopardy!' Roger Craig has wanted to be on Jeopardy! since he was 12 years old. When he finally got his shot, he knew he had to make it count. So he built a computer model to mine Jeopardy! for patterns. He says the most exciting part wasn't the money — it was that his system worked.
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How One Man Played 'Moneyball' With 'Jeopardy!'

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How One Man Played 'Moneyball' With 'Jeopardy!'

How One Man Played 'Moneyball' With 'Jeopardy!'

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LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:

One night last September, Roger Craig, a computer scientist from Newark, Delaware, was about to make history...

(SOUNDBITE OF GAME SHOW, "JEOPARDY!")

SULLIVAN: ...on "Jeopardy!".

ROGER CRAIG: First of all, the whole game was sort of like a flow-type experience.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAME SHOW, "JEOPARDY!")

CRAIG: I was in the zone.

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CRAIG: And it just flew by.

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CRAIG: And then...

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SULLIVAN: Near the end of the game...

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SULLIVAN: ...Roger had racked up $47,000.

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SULLIVAN: Way more than contestants usually have at this point.

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SULLIVAN: Until finally….

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SULLIVAN: ...it was "Final Jeopardy"...

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SULLIVAN: ...the last...

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SULLIVAN: ...and biggest question of the entire game.

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CRAIG: Tony Fan, who was next to me, turns to me and says, dude, I think you can break the record. And I look up at the scores, and I turned to him and said, I think you're right.

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CRAIG: And it wasn't even about the money. I felt that my system and my methods were sort of validated.

SULLIVAN: That's right. The reason Roger Craig was so dominant on "Jeopardy!" is arguably because of a system he built, a computer program unlike any other, to study "Jeopardy!" for patterns.

CRAIG: What I did was I actually downloaded at one point this site called the Jeopardy Archive, which is a fan-created site of all the questions and answers that are on the show.

CHRIS JONES: I believe something like 211,000 questions and answers that have appeared on "Jeopardy!"

SULLIVAN: We called up Chris Jones. He's a writer at Esquire magazine...

JONES: And I'm a game show nerd.

SULLIVAN: ...to help explain.

JONES: And he downloaded that...

CRAIG: Downloaded the Jeopardy Archive.

JONES: And the first thing he decided to do was try to determine which categories were most likely to come up.

SULLIVAN: So for example, 19th century artists might come up a lot, so Roger would study that. But if, say, according to the archives...

JONES: Something like fashion was a relatively unimportant category.

SULLIVAN: ...Roger would study that less.

JONES: So he was trying to decide what things did he need to know.

CRAIG: Some people that are in this quiz world want to be on "Jeopardy!" et cetera, they want to learn every capital of every country in the world. And you really don't need to. Instead, you need to know the 80 percent people have heard of. And so to sum this up, you don't have to outrun the bear. You just have to outrun the other guy.

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SULLIVAN: Roger won five games in a row last year using his computer system. And if he needed a second chance to prove his system worked, he got it last week during the "Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions," which pits this year's biggest winners against one another. Chris Jones of Esquire was watching.

JONES: And all the players were playing very well. It was a very close game at the start.

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ANNOUNCER: And then he hit the first one.

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SULLIVAN: Now, that, the Daily Double, that's when you can bet all your money on one question. There are only three in the entire game.

CRAIG: You can put the game away with a Daily Double or two if you're very aggressive.

SULLIVAN: Again, the category is novels.

CRAIG: I was probably, like, 80, 85 percent sure I'd get the right answer.

SULLIVAN: Now, you don't want to tell people for sure what your actual - I know you know what percentage you actually are in novels. I noticed you're suddenly smiling.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAME SHOW, "JEOPARDY!")

CRAIG: I'll bet it all.

SULLIVAN: You'd bet it all.

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SULLIVAN: So here we are. Roger has just doubled his money. He's far and away in control of the game. Most players are lucky to do this once. But Roger?

CRAIG: And then you see me looking at the board.

JONES: And, yeah, they call it hunting. You go hunting for the Double Jeopardy.

CRAIG: And I pick out...

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SULLIVAN: And it's the Daily Double. (Makes noise)

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CRAIG: And at this point, I have $18,000. If I bet $18,000, if I bet my whole stack, $18,000, and I get it right, I've essentially sealed the game.

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(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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CRAIG: And then I saw the clue pop up. I was very happy to see Dutch, South American country, because then I immediately knew it was...

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JONES: At that point, he could've put his buzzer down and not played again and probably won. And it just destroyed the game.

SULLIVAN: I mean, in some way, is this cheating?

CRAIG: No. I really take offense to that. Everybody that wants to succeed at a game is going to practice at the game. And you can practice haphazardly or you can practice efficiently. And that's what I did.

(SOUNDBITE OF "JEOPARDY!" THEME SONG)

SULLIVAN: Roger Craig. He won a quarter-million dollars in this past week's Tournament of Champions on "Jeopardy!" He's recently opened his own business specializing in what he calls data mining.

(SOUNDBITE OF "JEOPARDY!" THEME SONG)

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