Game theory to win game shows

Feb 26, 2014

I like how a little bit of game theory has crept into Jeopardy! with contestant Arthur Chu. He bounces around the board in search of Daily Doubles and bets to tie in final Jepoardy. Chu doesn’t know much about game theory himself but applies rules promoted by a past contestant.

The ultimate champion, Ken Jennings, praises Chu on Slate.

But in fact, plenty of nice white boys on Jeopardy! have been pilloried by viewers for using Arthur Chu’s signature technique: bopping around the game board seemingly at whim, rather than choosing the clues from top to bottom, as most contestants do. This is Chu’s great crime, the kind of anarchy that hard-core Jeopardy! fans will not countenance. The technique was pioneered in 1985 by a five-time champ named Chuck Forrest, whose law school roommate suggested it. The “Forrest bounce,” as fans still call it, kept opponents off balance. He would know ahead of time where the next clue would pop up; they’d be a second slow.

I don’t watch Jeopardy! much, but it’s pretty fun to watch Chu dominate.

Then there’s the most recent RadioLab. The first part talks about a game show called Golden Balls and the prisoner’s dilemma, and how a guy — who plays and wins game shows for a living — won this one. The whole show is entertaining as usual, but this first part is of particular interest. After listening to that, watch the Golden Balls clip to see how it played out.

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