2015 Jeopardy Tournament of Champions: Semifinal Update

Couple of random thoughts before revealing my predictions for the ToC Semifinals:

– My system did pretty darn well this year, getting 4 of the 5 winners of the semifinals correct. Granted, it wasn’t much of a radical prediction to say that Matt Jackson and Alex Jacob would win their games. However, I’d argue that Kerry Greene, despite nominally being the top seed in her game, was not an obvious favorite, nor would Catherine Hardee be easy to pick out as a favorite to win from the third lectern. The system’s one miss was favoring Greg Seroka and Kristin Sausville over the eventual winner from Tuesday’s game, Brennan Bushee, though to be fair Bushee won the game from last place by being the only player to get Final Jeopardy correct.
– The Wild Card cutoff point was higher than average this year at $14,000. The average over the history of the tournament (after doubling the scores of the pre-double dollars era) stood at $10,464. Anecdotally, I’d think that may be the effect of almost all players going into their games with the goal of not necessarily winning, but playing to hit a self-determined goal score that would earn them a wild card. With much more data out there about things like historical wild card totals, I wonder if this is going to lead to a situation where the wild card cutoff will always be higher than historically expected. Then again, last year’s cutoff was $9,100, and most of the data was available then too, so it’s just as likely there’s no great reason for this year’s cutoff being so much higher.
– I would love to know how the Jeopardy team selects the semifinal matchups. I’ve tried to come up with some set of seeding rules, but nothing I can find explains the matchups perfectly. The only rules that I know for sure are that players will not face their opponents from their quarterfinal match, and two people with the same first name will not play each other. This is different from the quarterfinals, where the games are fairly obviously seeded so that in each match one of the top 5 players (ranked by games and money won) plays one of the second five and one of the bottom five.
– I need to thank Andy Saunders of The Jeopardy Fan for his guesses as to what the semifinal matchups would be, which turned out to be correct and give me a little more time to run the numbers. Jeopardy didn’t officially release the matchups until Monday morning (as far as I saw through the official channels), which is slightly annoying for those of us in the game-show-data-analysis business.

Our prediction of Jackson vs. Jacob vs. [Seroka/Sausville/Hardee] isn’t going to be happening, since neither Greg Seroka nor Kristin Sausville made the second week, and Catherine Hardee is playing Matt Jackson in Wednesday’s game. Instead, the favorite for that third slot becomes Dan Feitel, winner of the Semifinal Matchup sweepstakes. He had the biggest movement in our prediction engine thanks to staying out of the path of the two juggernauts, increasing his chances of winning the tournament from 4% to 14%.


Alex dominated his quarterfinal game, becoming the only player to have a lock game last week. We see no reason to expect a different result from his semifinal matchup against Brennan Bushee and Vaughn Winchell.


If anybody is going to keep us from a final of M Jackson v. A Jacob v. AN Other, Catherine Hardee has the best chance of doing it. She could actually outbuzz Jackson, possibly the first time he’s ever had to face somebody who could do that.  If she can keep her number of wrong answers down and take a few Daily Doubles, she could still certainly crash the finals.  However, the smart money still has to be on Jackson winning this matchup.


Thanks to a slightly easier Semifinal matchup, Alex Jacob takes the tag of favorite by a clear margin over Jackson. Both men are close to 1-in-4 odds of taking the title. As prevously stated, Dan Feitel moves from his quarterfinal position of “best of the rest” into a solid third place thanks to avoiding the two favorites. Good luck to all participants, and here’s hoping that the games to come are just as fun, interesting, and exciting as last week’s games.

Predicting the 2015 Jeopardy Tournament of Champions

Trivia Christmas is coming a bit early this year. Instead of the usual 18 month wait between events, we’re getting another installment of the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions a mere twelve months since the last incarnation. It’s always fun to try to predict how these things will go, so we’ll see if we can better our efforts from last year, where we had eventual winner Ben Ingram rated as the fifth most likely winner in a fairly wide-open field. This year, however, the field has broken down into three distinct groups.  The field is led by two co-favorites, each of whom have a one-in-five chance of victory.  There are three dark horse candidates for the title, with chances of victory ranging from 11% to 14%. Finally, we have the remaining ten contestants, none of whom have more than a 1-in-25 chance of taking home the title.

Before we reveal our predictions, let’s do a quick recap of our methodology. We analyse players’ ability using two metrics. The first is Buzzer Percentage, which attempts to measure how often a contestant will buzz in. Since we can’t measure this directly, we use a Monte Carlo simulation to estimate it based on how often a player has successfully rung in during their previous games. The second metric is Precision, which is the percentage of times that they are correct on clues where they buzzed in (ignoring Final Jeopardy & Daily Doubles). For reference’s sake, the average Jeopardy contestant has a buzzer percentage around 60% and a precision around 87%.  This system is based on the system that the designers of Watson used to simulate human opponents for Watson to practice against.

Once we have those numbers, we run a bunch of simulated games using each player’s Buzzer Percentage and Precision, and determine how likely they are to win their quarterfinal games. Using the results of these simulations, we track how likely a contestant is to win their quarterfinal or qualify for a wild card, and use that to weight a player’s potential matchups in the semifinals and finals.  Here’s what our simulation gives us for each of this week’s quarterfinal games:

Monday's Odds

Monday’s predictions.

If you want a dark horse candidate for your those office Jeopardy pools I know you’re all in, Catherine Hardee is a decent candidate. Despite winning one game fewer than Dan Feitel and Vaughn Winchell, her strong Buzzer Percentage and respectable precision gives her a slight edge in Monday’s matchup.

Tuesday's Game

Tuesday’s predictions.

Two of the three dark horse candidates face off on Tuesday’s show. Greg Seroka and Kristin Sausville both have a decent chance of taking down the whole tournament. Brennan Bushee is a bit unfortunate in his draw; despite his strong precision he could get squeezed out by two of the tournament’s strongest buzzers.

Wednesday's Odds

Wednseday’s Predictions.

96.8% precision. Ninety-six point eight percent precision. That is a crazy, insane, whacked-out number, and helps make Matt Jackson, unsurprisingly, one of the favorites for the tournament. Jackson draws a fairly easy group for his first game. John Schultz’s metrics are among the weakest in the field, and are actually comparable to an average contestant. Jennifer Giles could take an upset win, and in doing so become only the second Teacher’s Tournament winner to make the second week.  The first, of course, being Colby Burnett, who won the whole thing in 2013.

Thursday's Odds

Thursday’s predictions.

There’s no nice way to put this: the lineup for Thursday’s match is by far the weakest. All three contestants are very conservative buzzers; expect a higher than average number of clues going untried. Kerry Greene is at least precise when she buzzes in, which gives her quite an edge over the error-prone Andrew Haringer and Elliot Yates.  Any way you slice it, this game will give an automatic semifinal berth to a player who may have had a hard time qualifying in other games.

Friday's Odds

Friday’s predictions.

Alex Jacob has the busiest buzzer finger in the entire tournament. When paired with his excellent precision, it makes him the co-favorite to win the entire tournament. Scott Lord and Michael Bilow will have a hard time matching up.

Complete Picture
Alex Jacob and Matt Jackson are so close that it’s fair to call them co-favorites to win the tournament.  Assuming that they manage to avoid each other in the semifinals (which is what caused most of their eliminations in our simulations), they should get to lock horns in a great two-day final.  Chances are they’ll meet one of Greg Seroka, Kristin Sausville, or Catherine Hardee there.  At that point, the only winners I’d be willing to predict for certain would be the audience, who would get to watch an exhibition in excellent Jeopardy gameplay.