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Stateside: Who's The Jeopardy Record Holder? Not James

James Holzhauer

James Holzhauer

Stateside

With Charlie Harper

James Holzhauer lost on Monday, and his defeat was big news. Maybe you heard about it: After winning $2.255m on the popular TV game show Jeopardy, Holzhauer finally lost by a small margin to Chicago librarian and Princeton graduate Emma Boetcher.

Holzhauer came within a relative whisker ($58,484) of beating Ken Jennings for the honour of being the all-time winnings champ on Jeopardy. In doing so, Holzhauer led the TV quiz show to its best ratings in 15 years.

That, coincidentally, was when Jennings rang up 74 straight contest wins. Writing not long ago in The Washington Post, Jennings described Holzhauer as “a sports bettor who feels supremely confident betting aggressively”, using counter-intuitive tactics like starting with the highest value questions first. It has worked. Holzhauer now holds the top 16 highest daily winnings records, and was correct 97 percent of the time he buzzed in with his “question” which was really the answer.

Holzhauer has been honoured by the city of Las Vegas, where he resides. Pundits have described him as America’s favourite gambler. In fact, this University of Illinois math graduate has become the clean-shaven face of American sports betting. His significance rises when you consider that it was just one year ago that a US Supreme Court ruling legalised sports gambling outside the state of Nevada.

One industry expert described sports betting as “an area that for most people is shrouded in mystery. Holzhauer demystifies this area to some degree. Holzhauer is a living, breathing, relatively normal-seeming individual.”

He is also an individual who compares himself with an investment bank. “Handicapping a team is basically fundamental analysis of a firm,” he told the Post. “In-game wagering is day trading a volatile stock. The big difference is that the sports market has much higher transaction costs, so you need to be sharper to make a living in Vegas than on Wall Street.” Take that, you Manhattan moguls.

While no exact figures exist and the US census does not list sports bettor as an actual occupation, a good guess would be that there are only a few thousand souls in the US who are able to support themselves by betting on sports. Holzhauer is one of them. And his Jeopardy millions can protect him against a few misguided future bets.

High fives all round

It happened on Sunday, May 22, 2019, in Atlanta. There’s a YouTube video of it, but you have to listen to (or fast forward through) 34 minutes before you get to the really good stuff. Speaking eloquently and with understated passion on a sunny day to a crowd of around 400 young male graduates of distinguished Morehouse College, an American billionaire tech investor suddenly transformed their lives.

Robert F Smith promised to pay off the college debt for every one of them. The tab for such a commitment is estimated to be around $40m. At the moment Smith delivered his oral earthquake, you can see his solemn, distinguished fellow laureates gasp behind him on the raised podium. Then, as the camera pans through the crowd of graduates, it sinks in: They aren’t going to spend years, maybe decades, getting out of school debt jail. High fives and whoops abound. There’s no video of their proud parents, but it seems reasonable to imagine some dangerously elevated heart rates in the palpable excitement among them.

Smith just became the most popular commencement speaker of all time.

He’s estimated to be the either the wealthiest or second wealthiest African-American, and his gift benefits Morehouse’s 2019 class. The college is perhaps best known as the alma mater of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. But who is Robert F Smith?

Well, for someone so wealthy, he has successfully stayed out of the public eye, at least until recently. Growing up in Denver with parents who both earned PhD degrees, he earned an internship at prestigious Bell Labs as a high school junior and won degrees in chemical engineering from Cornell and business from Columbia. He worked at New York investment bank Goldman Sachs, and then founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000. The firm manages $46bn in assets, and Smith, still its CEO, is worth $5bn himself.

You might expect someone so accomplished to lead a quiet, dignified personal life. Not Smith: He married a Playboy model three years ago at a ceremony serenaded by John Legend and Seal. In fact, his sons are named after Legend and Jimi Hendrix. He owns one of Elton John’s old pianos.

So, apparently, you can do well by doing good.

Pressure piles on Pelosi

African-Americans comprise roughly 13 percent of the total US population. Black voters also represent about 25 percent of the Democratic Party’s strength on national election days. And there are now more than 50 black congressmen and women in Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives caucus. So black voters and their leaders count for a lot as Democrats calculate their election chances next year.

Many of those black voters seem to have one issue on their minds above all others. Philadelphia Democratic congressman Dwight Evans told The New York Times recently that when he goes home to his district, “The issue that I hear constantly is, ‘We sent you (to Washington) for one reason only: to get rid of the president, right? So why haven’t you gotten rid of him yet?”

While the Congressional Black Caucus remains divided on the question of whether and how hard to push Speaker Pelosi to get on with impeaching President Trump, some powerful black Democrats are already committed to impeachment. Among those are House Financial Services Committee chairwoman Maxine Waters of California and Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.

So far, Pelosi is holding firm. But the pressure is building.

Finals flickered but no flames

European soccer wrapped up its 2018-19 season with two games that did not match the quality of the games that preceded them.

In the Champions League tournament final, two English clubs met. Liverpool beat Tottenham in Madrid, 2-0 with a penalty goal in the first two minutes and another goal just before the finish.

It was Liverpool’s sixth European championship, and the team looked terrific.

With the charismatic German manager Jurgen Klopp leading the way, they seem poised for a long run of success.

Tottenham star forward Harry Kane returned from injury and played the whole game, but his team had played very well in earlier games without him, and might have done better without him in this match, too. There are reports that vital lynchpin Christian Eriksen will leave Tottenham in the off-season, and maybe manager Mauricio Pochettino will, too.

In the Europa League final, Chelsea whipped London rivals Arsenal, 4-1. The Blues were the far better team in Baku, Azerbaijan, a site chosen long before these two English neighbours reached the final. One Arsenal player, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, could not play because he is Armenian and his country is technically at war with Azerbaijan.

Chelsea concluded a strong first season under Italian coach Maurizio Sarri, but he may leave to coach Italian champion Juventus of Turin. Chelsea’s Belgian star player, Eden Hazard, will probably leave to join Spanish giant Real Madrid, so this might be Chelsea’s last major title for a while.

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