(NEW YORK) — A contestant on Jeopardy! is both popularizing and demonizing “game theory” economics in a way that Russell Crowe’s 2001 film, A Beautiful Mind, couldn’t, while boggling the minds of faithful game show viewers.
Arthur Chu, 30, who works in insurance compliance by day and is an aspiring actor by night, won $82,800 on three Jeopardy! appearances last week and was the source of game-show viewership stress, at least according to some Jeopardy! fans on Twitter.
Chu, who lives in Broadview Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, will return to the show on Feb. 24 after the “Battle of the Decades” tournament between former champions to celebrate the game show’s 30th anniversary. The tournament includes the return of Richard Cordray, the first director of the government’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“I can understand it’s less pleasant to watch,” Chu told ABC News of his tactics, “but the producers weren’t paying me to make the show pleasant to watch. If you were playing for fun, you could talk about poor sportsmanship, but within the rules, it’s about winning. If you don’t like it, change the rules.”
“Who is this dude that ruins the organization of the #Jeopardy board by hunting down the Daily Doubles? You give me a headache,” one Jeopardy! fan tweeted about Chu on Thursday.
Another viewer tweeted, “This is the face of a Jeopardy villain. Can anyone stop #arthurchu [sic]”.
An alternative, Chu said, is to have host Alex Trebek read all the questions in order, barring the ability of players to choose their answer.
Called “generous” and a “hero” by other fans, Chu chose high-stakes answers first, unlike most contestants, and forced an unusual tiebreak when he didn’t have to, allowing one of his fellow contestants to also go home with $26,800, instead of leaving the show for good with $2,000.
In the movie A Beautiful Mind, actor Russell Crowe plays John Nash, the mathematician behind the “Nash equilibrium.” There’s a scene in the film where Nash realizes that he and his friends should avoid simultaneously trying to win the heart of the most attractive woman in the bar. He urges them, instead, to confer and woo her less attractive friends. Therefore, everyone leaves the bar happy. In some sense, Chu is John Nash allowing his fellow contestant to leave the bar happy, too.
In Final Jeopardy, contestant Carolyn Collins bet everything that La Paz, Bolivia, was one of the two world capitals ending with the letter “z.” (The other is Vaduz, Liechtenstein.)
Chu, who had $18,200 at that point, bet $8,600, and also wrote the correct answer.
But rather than being altruistic, Chu’s strategy was a matter of increasing his own odds of returning the next day.
By inducing his opponent to wager everything, he’ll still advance regardless if he’s right, but he adds another winning combination to his chances: If both he and Collins get it wrong.
“If we simplify Jeopardy! wagering into flipping coins, he’s just increased his probability of winning to 75 percent from 50 percent, since a tie is as good as a win,” said Keith Williams, 2003 Jeopardy! College Champion. “That’s a huge incentive to ensure your opponent knows you’ll go for the tie.”
As Chu prepares for his return on Feb. 24, he said he hopes the exposure will bring attention to his acting work.
You may have already heard Chu’s voice in some regional commercials, or seen him at the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival. He also narrates for an online series Erfworld.com.
Williams, whose online tips helped Chu, said game theory economics aren’t a new trick to the game. The point of Jeopardy! is to come back the next day, either by winning or tying, he said.
“There’s no potential upside to wagering more than you absolutely have to to guarantee a tie. Tacking on that extra dollar won’t help you if you’re right,” said Williams, from Brooklyn.
Williams, a writer who runs the nonprofit Global Family Initiative in Ethiopia, previously studied economics and worked in finance. He won $60,000 and a Volvo S60 R (which he still has) while representing Middlebury College in 2003 on the game show.
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