The Next Jeopardy Super-Champion Has Emerged

Looking At Cris Panullo as He Reaches A Major Jeopardy Milestone

Nineteen. Twenty. How many more for the Jeopardy poker player? inquirer.com

Last October, before the Second Chance Tournament and this year’s Tournament of Champions took place, I devoted quite a bit of space to Jeopardy’s most recent super-champion, Cris Panullo. Cris had just won his tenth game and was winning cash at a pace that was superior to many of the greatest Jeopardy champions of all-time. The question I posed was, how far could Cris continue his streak after a month in cold storage?

Well, it’s been two weeks since Cris has come back to Jeopardy and we have an answer to that: pretty far. In fact, as of this writing, it’s still going on. Yesterday Cris won his nineteenth game, though by a narrower margin that many of the ones that have come before. And with his nineteenth victory, he had now won $666,744 officially placing him fifth on the all-time list behind Matt Amodio, Amy Schneider, James Holzhauer and of course, Ken Jennings. (I often wonder what’s going through Jennings mind as host as he’s seen so many players take swings at the record he’s held for almost twenty years.)

Since he’s made it to nineteen wins, I thought now would be a decent time to pause and consider Cris’ track record. This may be an awkward number, but it’s not an arbitrary one. After Jennings’ 74 wins in 2004, the second highest streak that would follow would be David Madden who won nineteen games in 2005. For the next nine years, no player ever came close to approaching that number of wins until Julia Collins got past in 2014, winning twenty.

Over the past three years, five players have won 19 or more games, three last season alone. Since Cris has now become the sixth player in that period to reach nineteen, I think it is worth measuring where Cris stands in comparison with the all-time greats, now that we have a fairly convincing sample size.

Right off, it’s easy for any Jeopardy fan to know that Cris is considerably ahead of the curve for several of four players who’ve won nineteen games or more. A comparative listing will show as much:

David Madden: $430,400

Julia Collins: $410,000

Jason Zuffranieri: $532, 496

Mattea Roach: $460, 184

Cris Panullo: $666,774.

That’s very impressive to say the least, especially considering that Mattea never got even closer in the next four games. To be sure Cris has taken a different approach, wagering bigger on Daily Doubles than all of the four players listed above and he has to date runaway with fourteen games. Let’s list a comparison that way:

Cris: 15 (so far)

David Madden: 11

Julia Collins: 12

Jason Zuffranieri: 14

Mattea Roach: 13 (2 after her nineteenth win)

Clearly he is as dominant as all of them, but because of his wagering on Daily Doubles, he has considerably more money in Final Jeopardy as a result. (Also some of them did not do as well on Final Jeopardy as he did, but that’s a comparison to be made later.)

So Cris is clearly superior to the four players he’s surpassed in terms of money won. How does he rank in comparison to the four players ahead of him at this point in their run? He clearly has a way to go to make it to a million dollars (assuming, of course, he doesn’t get beaten before that point) but let’s take a look at top four in money won at nineteen wins:

Cris Panullo: $666,774

Amy Schneider: $745,200

Matt Amodio: $642,601

James Holzhauer: $1,426,330

Ken Jennings: $622,760

In fairness to Ken, his low total was mainly due to his own betting in Final Jeopardy. Back then, the record for most money won in a single game was held by Brian Weikle at $52,00 and Ken had multiple games where he could have gone past it had he wagered enough but he chose not to. (Alex actually seemed a little irked by this.) It was not until the last game of the 2003–2004 season that he finally decided to go for it and set the record at $75,000. (Roger Craig beat that record in 2010 and Holzhauer shattered it — repeatedly — in 2019.)

To this point, Cris is running fairly even with three of the big four and of course, James Holzhauer makes everybody look like a piker. Then again, Cris is a professional poker player and James was a professional gambler. Their approaches are similar but Cris is far less inclined to go ‘all in’ on a Daily Double when he has a considerable lead. He has managed a few ‘Holzhauer’ like wins: on Thanksgiving day, he managed $71,821.

Looking in terms of runaway, how does Cris compare to the big four at this point in their runs. Let’s take a look at their records, stopping at game 19.

Ken Jennings: 15

James Holzhauer: 17

Matt Amodio: 15 (one was a lock-tie)

Amy Schneider: 17

Cris Panullo: 15 (so far)

So at this point in his Jeopardy career, Cris is clearly as dominant as two of the all-time greats, but not as dominant as Amy Schneider or James Holzhauer. Of course, when you win over $100,000 in five separate games, it’s safe to say nobody’s quite as dominant as James Holzhauer was.

At this point, Cris is running slightly ahead of the overall average of almost all of the players listed, but slightly behind Schneider and Holzhauer (naturally). But he’s not running as well as some players with fewer victories, like Roger Craig or Larissa Kelly who managed massive wins in just a handful of games. I could go further than this but it’s not worth it.

Today Cris won his twentieth game in his sixteenth runaway, an impressive feat by anyone’s standards. Now officially tied for fifth place in the number of consecutive wins, he still has a long way to go before he makes his first million, though he is comfortably ahead of the two women he’s either tied with or still to pass on the all-time win list. Mattea Roach finished with $532,000 plus and Julia Collins ended with $428,100. Cris today passed the $700,000 mark, ahead of Jennings and Amodio at this point in their careers. (Amodio needed 21 games, Jennings 22.)

Just two weeks after Amy Schneider won the Tournament of Champions, Cris Panullo continues his streak. Amy spent much of the Thanksgiving season, Christmas and well into 2022 in her level of Jeopardy domination. Will Cris Panullo end up blazing a similar path this holiday season? As the fourth player in little more than a calendar year to win 20 games, it is clear we are still at Peak Jeopardy. Like the rest of the world, I will watch to see just how far Cris can go.

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David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.