Who Is The James Holzhauer Of Chess?
The Jeopardy champion James Holzhauer. | Image from the April 30 episode of Jeopardy.

Who Is The James Holzhauer Of Chess?

| 98 | Fun & Trivia

James Holzhauer is rewriting the Jeopardy record books on a nightly basis. 

The professional sports gambler from Las Vegas is playing the trivia game show at the highest level in history, racking up huge winning scores and showcasing bold new playing strategies. His win streak currently stands at 19 games and $1.4 million won since his debut show on April 4. 

Holzhauer destroyed the previous all-time high-game score of $77,000 with a $110,914 payday on April 9, and now holds the top nine daily scores of all time, including the current record of $131,127 set on the show that aired April 17.

He is on pace to break Ken Jennings' money record in 34 games. Jennings earned $2.5 million over his streak of 74 games in 2004.

Holzhauer might even eclipse Brad Rutter, first on the all-time Jeopardy money list with $4.78 million, and who has never lost a game to a human (Rutter was bested by IBM's Watson artificial intelligence in an exhibition game).

Holzhauer is using an optimal playing strategy, a systematic approach to the game and his fearless and competitive nature to defeat all challengers on the game show. 

These attributes are also applicable to our favorite game of chess (and Holzhauer was reportedly a member of his high school chess club), so it's only natural to ask who is the James Holzhauer of chess?

Here are five candidates throughout chess history who could be Holzhauer's equivalent on the 64 squares. 

The Jeopardy set.
The Jeopardy set.

5. Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana. | Photo: Maria Emelianova /
Fabiano Caruana. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Caruana, who was a single endgame away from being the 2018 world chess champion, created a huge buzz in the chess world when he went on a Holzhauer-like streak of seven straight wins in the 2014 Sinquefield Cup against the top players in the world. 

In the modern game, where the chessboard is more level than ever and top grandmasters have access to super-computers and top engine preparation, it might be a long time until we see a streak like Caruana's.

4. Mikhail Botvinnik

Mikhail Botvinnik. | Photo via Wikipedia
Mikhail Botvinnik. | Photo via Wikipedia.

Botvinnik, the sixth world chess champion, was (like Holzhauer) a man of many interests and had a potent analytical mind. Botvinnik was a successful engineer aside from his chess career, which is impressive among world chess champions who tend to be single-mindedly obsessed with the game.

Botvinnik was also an early proponent of computer chess, and a forward-thinker when it came to chess education. Like Holzhauer, Botvinnik was interested in the process as much as the results.

3. Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen. | Photo: Maria Emelianova /
Magnus Carlsen. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The current world chess champion is a natural analogue to Holzhauer. Like the Jeopardy champion, Carlsen plays his game at arguably the highest level ever.

Carlsen reached the best rating in chess history at 2882 (and is now close to that record at 2875 as of May 1), and several computer studies have placed Carlsen at the top of playing strength lists.

Carlsen is also similar to Holzhauer in money-winning prowess. Most estimates have Carlsen winning about $10 million in chess prizes alone in his career, and that's without the appearance fees and endorsements that further bolster the income of likely the all-time-money-leader in chess history.

2. Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer. | Photo via Wikipedia.
Bobby Fischer. | Photo: Bert Verhoeff via Wikipedia.

No champion has ever been more competitive than Bobby Fischer, who won the world chess championship against the Soviet Union chess powerhouse with his victory over Boris Spassky in 1972.

Fischer shares some other similarities with Holzhauer. The most obvious is the famous 20-game winning streak in the 1970 Interzonal tournament and the 1971 candidates' matches on his way to the world title.

The American champion's success in chess brought about a renaissance of interest in the game in the United States, much like Jeopardy is benefitting from increased audience and attention during Holzhauer's current streak.

Fischer's legacy is still playing out today, as the world chess federation (FIDE) and have announced a new Fischer Random Chess world championship. 

1. Lc0

lc0 chess
The logo for Lc0, the champion machine-learning chess engine.

Even though Holzhauer has excellent trivia knowledge and is a beast on the buzzer, perhaps his biggest advantage in Jeopardy is his novel approach to strategy.

Holzhauer starts with the most expensive clues first, hoping to build a substantial wagering base for "daily doubles," which he always hunts for on the game board.  He also has perfected the strategy of bouncing around the categories and playing at a breakneck pace, overwhelming his opponents, whose games are often over before they've begun.

If there is a player that embodies a novel approach to chess, it must be the machine-learning engine Lc0, which taught itself the game from just the rules. Lc0 is a neural-network computer engine that learned chess by practicing against itself, and therefore its strategies and playing style are unique.

Lc0 recently conquered the traditional champion engine Stockfish in the last Computer Chess Championship, using its creative approach to win crucial points in the CCC finals.

You can see more of Lc0's beautiful and unique wins in the top 10 chess games by neural networks ever. 

Which chess player do you think comes closest to James Holzhauer's dominance at Jeopardy? Let us know in the comments.

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