Jeopardy! – Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda!

https://people.com/tv/jeopardy-mattea-roach-winning-streak-ends/

Mattea Roach’s fantastic run on Jeopardy! trivia show came to an end in game aired yesterday (5/6/2022). I did not watch all the games Mattea played but I thoroughly enjoyed the games I watched. Reason being it was good to see a contestant show personality, be authentic, have fun and do extremely well. Rare it is to see vivacity on display on the show and Mattea brought loads of it while playing the game. Her playing style was conservative compared to more recent champions with long winning streaks in that the wager on Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy! were typically to not lose much ground if the response was wrong or pad the lead a bit more if right. The game she lost I would argue that the primary reason for the loss was Mattea was not her authentic self while wagering on Final Jeopardy! Going into Final Jeopardy! Mattea had $19,200 and the eventual deserving winner Danielle Maurer had $11,400. Danielle’s best chance to win was to go for broke, bet it all, get it right and hope Mattea got it wrong. In that scenario if the outcome went Danielle’s way her winning amount would have been $22,800. The next best chance was to be a bit more conservative while taking a risk. The assumption in that choice is that the person with the lead would bet just enough to edge out the challenger (if the response is right) and lose less money if wrong in the hope that the wagered amount increases the chance of not losing. With the target of $22,800 to beat in mind Mattea wagered $3,601 to the $19,200 she had going in to ensure the final amount $22,801 would be unbeatable. Danielle, probably guessing right which way the returning champion would go and/or choosing to be conservative, bet $4,200. Why that amount? A $3,601 wrong bet with $19,200 in hand would reduce the final tally to $15,599 and a winning wager of $4,200 with $11,400 in hand would bump the final tally to $15,600! Which is how it unfolded!

Why do I think Mattea’s defeat was due to her not being her authentic self? The two factors that determine the final wager have to be the category (which is announced prior to the round so that the contestants can decide how much to wager based on their confidence in the category) and a player’s risk tolerance. The category was USA. Given the scores going into Final Jeopardy! round and given her conservative betting nature I think there were two safer options available for Mattea.

1) Bet nothing and retain $19,200 at the end. This would work if the challenger got the final response wrong or got it right but did not wager more than $8,000 to bridge the gap between $19,200 and $11,200.

2) The second safer option for Mattea would have been to wager one $ lesser than her wager of $3,601. In case she got her response right the worst-case scenario would have resulted in both players finishing in a tie with final tally of $22,800 forcing a tie-breaker. In that scenario I would rate the possibility of a 23-day returning champ winning against a first time challenger higher due to greater experience, buzzing speed and the confidence of having being there and done it all 23 times before.

I realize ultimately these are woulda, coulda, shoudas amounting to Monday morning quarterbacking and doesn’t take into consideration the fatigue that creeps in after playing 20+ games. It’s fun to imagine the possibilities though 😊

Another Jeopardy! streak!

Comeback for the ages!

That could be the fitting description for this Jeopardy! season. For a season that started disastrously with hosting announcement fiasco what has unfolded has been amazing. In a season which has already featured astonishing 38-win streak by Matt Amodio, 40-game win streak by Amy Schneider and almost forgotten 11-game game winning streak by Jonathan Fisher the newest sensation is Mattea Roach πŸ‘ŒThe young lady has been lighting up the scoring board and racking up big wins. As of Friday, 4/29, Roach has a 19-game winning streak on. Like other big winners of the show the 23-year old native of Canada has been absolutely dominating and it will be interesting to see how many more games she wins. She has an interesting personality too. Waving hands while speaking, thinking loud at times and showing emotion she has multiple tattoos and piercings too. What I like most is the look of total delight and disbelief in her smile after every win. Looks like a person who has far exceeded her own expectation and having a lot of fun while winning big. 😊 Would a genial Canadian young lady on a trivia show cause controversy? Alas. yes. ☹️

Some of the hardcore Jeopardy! fans can be a picky and prickly bunch with strong opinions about how a champion should play (eg. starting with low value clue in a category, finishing the category and then repeating the same in other categories; gestures and display of emotions etc.). From the games I have seen Mattea play what I see is youthful exuberance and genuine display of emotions when getting response right or wrong. Also a bit of impatience that comes with youth. In the most recently aired show one clue was “Two States in the US on the east and west coasts have their most populous cities with the same name”. The city name is Portland and the States are Maine and Oregon. In a hurry Mattea responded “What are Maine and Portland?” and then reacted as if she wanted to kick herself for making a silly error even while knowing the correct response. To me that seems like a natural reaction. In short she is somewhat quirky and kinda cute in the way she plays the game and reacts.

Ken Jennings has been quite good too as guest host of the show. πŸ‘ When he first started as a guest host last season he was filling in big shoes of a legend, appeared stiff and stilted and probably was trying too hard to be like Alex Trebek. In recent times he has been doing it his way, using some humor, supporting and encouraging the contestants and keeping the game moving smoothly. I have always believed seriousness and levity can co-exist if they are not mixed inappropriately. Yeah, there is a risk that sometimes the humor may not land well and fall flat or may be misunderstood. All is good if the intentions are noble or benign though. It’s better to be true to oneself and fail once in a while if the lessons learned are used to adapt at getting better.

There is also some concern about these long win streaks. Returning champions have the advantage of prior experience with the buzzer (signaling device) and familiarity with the cadence of the person hosting the game. I have thought of a simple solution for leveling the odds but that’s material for a different piece. Now it’s time in the sun for a young champion πŸ‘πŸ™

Guilty Pleasures Series: #3 – Sports

With March Madness in full swing and down to the Elite Eight it’s a good time to write about another guilty pleasure: Sports!

Sports at the highest level can be very entertaining, intriguing and interesting. I like sports played hard and fair. Sport at its very best showcases the very best in skill, talent, temperament, team spirit (if it’s a team sport) and the desire to excel. In addition it can teach life lessons about hard work, discipline, team spirit/working towards common goal, overcoming adversities, perseverance, persistence, giving one’s best effort and accepting the end result at the end of a fair contest. Sport can bring together fans from different walks of life in a way few human endeavors can. πŸ‘

Back in the mid to late 1990s when I first came to the USA I started following professional sports. It started with watching NBA basketball. The reason was simple. The goal is to score baskets! Not hard to follow even for a newbie. When I initially watched NFL football my first thought was “What’s the point about big, strong guys banging their heads and hurting themselves for what is in essence a trivial pursuit?” πŸ˜„ After I learned a bit about the rules watching the games on TV I have now become a convert and enjoy football games and appreciate the skills involved in playing the game. I could watch entire games earlier even during the regular season. Nowadays I rarely watch full games. Now it’s more about fitting the game between snacking sessions and doing other chores. Watching games without snacking is a no go 🀣 Me being a Wisconsinite the Milwaukee Bucks are my favorite basketball team and the Green Bay Packers in football. I also like the fact that the Packers are unique in that the team is owned by the town of Green Bay and it’s one of the most well known professional sports franchises in possibly the smallest town!

What do I feel guilty about watching sports?

1) Making it to the highest level in professional sports is very tough. To play well enough to make a full career out of it is even tougher. To achieve the pinnacle of success and to be able to sustain high level of play for a long time is the toughest. The career span of a sportsperson is short and in contact sports the risk of a career ending injury is just too high. While I enjoy a well executed offense or a well played defense it’s always difficult to watch a sportsperson limping off the field or being carted away due to an injury during play. ☹️

2) With the “winner take all” culture that is there it’s sad to see some sportspersons try to gain an edge by any means, fair or foul. Could be by taking banned substances or with dirty play or simply by needling opponents into making a stupid mistake and getting penalized for that. The superstars of course push the envelope secure in the knowledge the refs would give them more leeway as they bring is more fans to the games

3) Corporate culture has pervaded sports too in that the squeaky wheel always gets the grease. Good players who play with whatever cards they are dealt with and not making a noise are not surrounded by a good supporting cast to improve the chance of winning. If they make a noise and threaten to leave more effort and much more money is spent to keep them in the team. Just like an employee in an organization threatening to leave and then getting a big raise (for fear they may jump ship to work for a competitor). The cost gets passed on to the paying fans, the advertisers and the team sponsors whereas the cost would be less if valid concerns are addressed before they turn into full blown threats to leave. In some ways everyone supporting a team/sportsperson has some responsibility for this as chase for sporting glory justifies any associated cost. Such is life, such is business, such is sports. πŸ™

Final Jeopardy! category is ‘Recent Phenoms’


https://www.nytimes.com/…/tel…/jeopardy-matt-amodio.html

After a brief hiatus The Raj is back! This time with a piece on Jeopardy! trivia show. More specifically about the amazing run of current champion Matt Amodio who has enjoyed a 33-game unbeaten streak so far. In a summer marked by turbulence Matt is exactly what the doctor ordered for the show. Amid a slew of different guest hosts and controversy about permanent host selection the champ has continued his serene run. With a 33rd win in yesterday’s televised game Matt surpassed James Holzhauer in # of wins in regular season. πŸ‘πŸ‘ Moving into sole 2nd place is guaranteed to bring comparisons with the runs enjoyed by #1 Ken Jennings (74-game win streak) and James and will inevitably lead to debates about who is the best. What interests me more is their journey, their style of play and characteristics and other X-factor/s!
1) Similarities between Matt, James and Ken: Encyclopedic knowledge, high intelligence, exceptional memory, interest in broad range of topics, great ability to zero in on correct response by fast elimination, ruthless efficiency, mastery of the buzzer, immense stamina and killer instinct πŸ‘Œ
2) Differences between Matt, James and Ken:One could say they have competed in different eras. When Ken had his incredible run it was before social media became omnipresent. In some ways his run could be compared to a sleeper hit with interest growing as he kept adding to his wins. Both and Alex Trebek were in their pomp at this time. Ken’s approach was traditional (typically starting with low value clues in a category) and cautious, minimizing risks for win. Wouldn’t be surprised if he had a checklist in his preparation, like an engineer 😊
James’ era was pre-COVID and when social media had become all pervasive. So, more visibility and probably more pressure. This was during the time Alex Trebek in his post-cancer diagnosis phase soldiered on admirably without letting the pain show. The James approach can be described as shock and awe effect. Go straight for the big $ clues, relentlessly hunt for the Daily Double and bet it all for maximum gain. The effect was very demoralizing on the other players as he steamrolled them and pretty much locked up the win very early in the game πŸ‘Œ
Matt’s approach is a combination of Ken+James. Similar to James in going for big $ clues early on, try to get the Daily Double and bet it all (in Jeopardy! round) while building up a huge lead. In Double Jeopardy! round, with a comfortable lead, the amount bet on Daily Double just enough to pad the lead (if got right) or not lose significantly (if got wrong). In that sense similar to Ken. He has also improved the process efficiency and cut down response time by starting his response with “What’s” whether referring to a place, person , movie or whatever. It will be interesting to see if in any of his games there have been any clues left on the board due to time limit getting reached. In one respect this run has been different to Ken and James’ in that there have been more than 5 hosts in Matt’s case while Ken and James only had Alex as host. Matt has been able to adjust to the different style and cadence of each host without any noticeable problem πŸ‘
3) The all important X-factor: The secret sauce!
Last but not the least is the X-factor, what Matt shares in common with The Raj πŸ˜‰ Interestingly both of us worked for the same employer at one time! Matt and Raj were residents of the same town when Matt attended Graduate school for his 2nd Masters degree! From all appearances it seems Matt may also like to laugh heartily like Raj. Alright, that was more of an observation, no points credited. Other than that nothing in common between Matt and Raj πŸ˜‚

It seems Matt is proud of the fact, and rightfully, that his fellow contestants who have bit the dust so far have all thought he is a genuinely nice guy and impressed by his soft touch even while putting them away. Killing them with kindness 😊 Hooray for Midwest politeness! πŸ‘
To me it’s fun to watch his reaction when he wins. After the game his first reaction is always “Wow, can’t believe I won this game” with a genuine smile and a look of disbelief. It’s a look of pure, unalloyed delight. Akin to a kid having fun and making incredible money in the process. Are there any apparent weakness in Matt’s game? Not really as he is done well in pretty much all categories. Couple of things I have noticed though. In going after big $ clues and hunting for Daily Double/s if another player buzzes in quick and answers right a slight look of anxiety creeps in. Likewise some anxiety when a player has won more than half of money won by Matt before Final Jeopardy! The closest match I remember was his first win when he was up against a 2-time returning champion, and going into Final Jeopardy! both of them had ~ 20K with Matt having a bit more money than the returning champ. Both bet big and got it right and the difference boiled down to Matt having slightly more money to bet and beat the returning champ. Amusing to think the streak could very well have been a non-starter πŸ˜†

How to beat the champ?
It’s actually simple. πŸ™‚ Against all bigtime champs you got to beat them at their own game. In other words take it to them. To do that will entail buzzing in quick, going for big $ clues, getting them right (to gain control of the board in terms of clue selection/game flow), hitting the Daily Doubles, betting big on those and getting them right. In short, a near perfect game! πŸ˜… Suddenly it doesn’t sound simple, eh? I am guessing Matt will eventually lose to a player who has more than half his money before Final Jeopardy!, bets it all, comes up with correct answer while Matt gets it wrong.

Now, for the Final Jeopardy! clue in the category ‘Recent Phenoms’:
This person has won phenomenal amount of money, more than million $ and counting, in recent times on a popular trivia game once hosted by the legendary Alex Trebek.
Correct response: What’s Amodio? πŸ™‚
Note: ‘Who is Matt Amodio?’ is also an acceptable response 😁

COVID-19 trends and NFL


The first wave/s of COVID-19 in the USA struck Seattle first, New York and California next, hit Southern states like Texas followed by Midwest states like Wisconsin.

This offseason in NFL appears to be following the same trend. First there were reports about tremors in Seattle with Seahawks QB Russell Wilson demanding a trade to a different team, then there were whispers about San Francisco 49ers planning to send QB Jimmy Garoppolo packing and in the past few weeks lot of talk about Packers QB Aaron Rodgers wanting a way out of Green Bay!

Did someone ask “But what about New York and Texas?”

Elementary my dear Watson!

In recent years whichever way the wind blows the NY teams (NY Giants, NY Jets) and Texas teams (Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans) always get hit hard πŸ˜‚

Sorry, NY and Texas football fans πŸ™

As Shelby Ford v Ferrari so shall be India v Australia!

The Indian cricket team recorded one of the most remarkable come-from-behind victories in sports by beating Australia in the recently concluded Test Match series. πŸ‘ Made all the more memorable by the fact Indian team was playing away, with Australian team having the advantage of home conditions and crowd support, and by the time the last match started the Indian cricket team had lost more than half their starting eleven to injuries sustained in games played during the tour or in training! With injuries mounting Team India was akin to an undersized Joe Frazier taking on much bigger and much more fancied Ali in “Thrilla in Manila” and fighting the last few rounds virtually blind due to his eyes closing from Ali punches in earlier rounds. Under the circumstances it would have been expected that the Indian management might throw in the towel to prevent more serious injuries like the Foreman team did then. Instead the Indian cricket team rose up after each knockdown and took the fight to the Australians till the end, emerging bruised and battered but not broken and eventually victorious πŸ‘Œ (Trivia: If Frazier corner had let him fight as he wanted to he would have won Thrilla in Manila as Ali was so drained out he could barely stand up and fell down in the ring after the 14th round when he was announced as the victor πŸ˜“)

The series victory would be akin to a Porsche getting lapped in NΓΌrburgring, no less, by a car barely put together with whatever spare parts were available! Or, the real life equivalent of Shelby Ford emerging victorious over much more fancied Ferrari in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. As in that race the underdog team, the Indian cricket team, started the tour disastrously and still found enough strength and resolve to defeat the Aussies confidently and convincingly. It was as if God ordained “As Shelby Ford v Ferrari in 1966 so shall be India v Australia in 2021”! πŸ™‚

The quality of cricket itself was far from perfect, yet the battles to gain supremacy were riveting and thrilling throughout. So much so that the series went full distance with the final battle still being fought till the last fifteen minutes of a four-month long tour. The ebbs and flows add to the beauty of 5-day cricket Test matches when the two sides keep trading blows and battle fair and hard to force a result. The Aussies are great front runners and play aggressive cricket. They deserve credit for playing fast cricket and taking risks in pursuit of victory. The times when 5 days of cricket were producing dull draws are pretty much gone, save for a few when weather curtails play. The cricketing world can thank the trash-talking (they call it sledging Down Under), sports-crazy Aussies for possibly saving the longer form of cricket. The way the Aussies play their cricket their Plan A-Z all involve aggression. This is also their Achilles’ heel as they find it hard to adapt and change to a more defensive play during the course of a game when things don’t go their way. This trend has become more noticeable in recent times. I have maintained, past few years, the Australian cricket team are very much beatable at home. What it requires is a mix of caution (to frustrate) and aggression (to prevent them from getting on top). The way they play their cricket and the Indian team does too plus the dry conditions which swings the cricket ball less gives India a chance to stay competitive if they combine caution and aggression and maintain discipline. Not easy but doable if maintained consistently at a very high level even though results are not guaranteed. That’s what the Indian cricket team managed to do in this tour and fortune favors the brave. πŸ‘

Ultimately it’s just a sport, albeit being a glorious sport, and sporting achievement is about teams and individuals getting sporting glory which is theirs primarily. πŸ‘ Doesn’t solve any major problems or save lives but what it does is expand our understanding of possibilities for individuals and teams in terms of what is achievable. During these turbulent times that’s priceless πŸ™

Memorable chess game!

The game of 64 squares is about as bloody any non-contact game can get. But it’s much more than that. Involves knowledge, strategy, patience, stamina, calculating ahead, waiting for the right opportunity, knowing when to attack and when to defend and most importantly knowing how to put available resources to good effect. At the highest level it’s a game of lyrical beauty and balance with top players having almost same and similar pieces on the board for most part of a game. It’s in how the pieces are positioned that makes a difference. Controlling the 4 central squares is crucial to gaining upper hand. For interested and casual observers like me most top-level games appear balanced (and at times it can be boring when a player appears to take forever to make a move). When you replay the game on the computer move by move, and especially if there is expert comment along with it, that’s when the almost imperceptible shift in advantage of one player becomes somewhat clear. Growing up when I used to read about a player being a pawn up I used to wonder what is the big deal, a pawn is just a loyal foot soldier. Later I realized why that could translate into a decisive advantage. When the players start exchanging pieces rapidly (generally it’s like for like or pieces considered of equal power) the board starts clearing up and the game could reach a stage where a player with extra pawn could have a king and pawn while the other player could just have a king. In such a scenario the player with extra pawn could advance the pawn (under protection of their king) to the other end of the board and promote the pawn to a powerful piece, for example a queen! All married men know how powerful queen of the home can be πŸ˜€ Jokes apart the queen is the most powerful and therefore coveted piece on the board that can move straight up or down and diagonally across end to end and capture other pieces coming in the way.

One memorable chess game that comes to mind is the final game of World Chess Championship in 2016. After the regular games ended with both Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin tied with the same # of points they had to play set of tie-breaker games to determine the winner. Tie-breaker games tend to be with stricter time control. Meaning each player should make at least N moves within a time limit. Just for the sake of example let’s say 30 moves in 30 minutes. That could translate into a player under time trouble making a serious blunder that could lead to a disastrous result and the player resigning if the position is hopeless. In serious competitive play the game does not continue till a player makes a final move and announces “Check and mate!”. The # of games in a championship are a even number to give both players potentially the same # of games with white and black pieces.

Coming back to that game Magnus Carlsen playing white in final game of tie-breaker retained his World Chess Champion title with a move that was stunning. He offered to sacrifice his queen with a check and won immediately which is considered ultimate winning move and a beauty in chess. That move had both chess experts and non-experts gushing πŸ™‚ Not a bad return at all for a 26th birthday gift πŸ˜€ If you look at the attached image it shows where the white queen was moved. Player with black pieces (Karjakin) has 2 options for next move
1) Capture white queen which is moved to H6 with pawn which is on H7. This would result in player with white next moving rook from F5 to F7 and giving check to black king that cannot move to open squares on row 8 as that would be check from white rook placed on C8. Black king cannot move to G6 either as that would result in check from white pawn on H5. Black checkmate would be the end result
2) The other possible move is capturing white queen on H6 with black king on H7. If that move is made, white rook on C8 will be moved to H8 resulting in instant black checkmate as black king cannot evade check by staying in column H with white rook at H8 nor can the black king move to G6 as that would be result in check with pawn on H5!

Needless to say Karjakin resigned immediately as soon as white queen was moved to H6. Of course The Raj had to work out all possible moves by black to figure out why it was a certain loss for black πŸ˜€

Ironically for Karjakin without a check Carlsen would have lost to opponent Karjakin’s next move either by giving check moving black queen from F2 to G2 or moving black rook from A2 to A1 😦

As in life it helps to stay ahead one move in chess too!

The Last Dance: Life lessons

It has been more than a week since the last 2 episodes of the 10-part series ‘The Last Dance’ aired, chronicling the Chicago Bulls multiple championships won in the 1990s with primary focus on Michael Jordan’s journey to greatness. Now that the dust has settled down a bit here are some thoughts. I had watched the last 2 championships won by the Bulls against worthy opponents, the Utah Jazz, which were very well fought and absolutely riveting to watch. After watching those triumphs it appeared that Mr Jordan was capable of rising from deathbed to win against the strongest teams, so strong was his will to win. Watching ‘The Last Dance’ just reinforced that feeling. While I love sports I don’t look at sporting greats as anything more than human beings with highly developed skill in their trade/profession. Beyond that if there is anything positive it’s a bonus. Fascinating as it was to watch how it started and unfolded, for me the most significant part were life lessons learned watching the episodes. Below are some of them, a mix of positive and negative, not in any specific order of importance

1) Being blessed with transcendent talent means nothing if it’s not allied with burning desire to excel and work hard
2) Succeeding in team sport requires understanding role and importance of teammates and reposing trust in them
3) Many of us are Scottie Pippens in a way: underappreciated, undervalued and have to be prepared for the possibility of employers letting us go
4) Caring parents willing to offer sincere and sensible counsel helps in keeping one grounded and focused on the task at hand. MJ’s parents came across as decent, cultured, classy folks with a big role in his success. His mom forced a reluctant MJ to listen to Nike’s pitch which has resulted in MJ laughing all his way to bank ever since and Jordan Sr was a regular presence at Bulls’ practice sessions staying back afterwards to offer kind words of encouragement and support to the team after practice
5) One can get away with bad behavior if it’s perceived as coming from a winner with ultimate intent to improve and win
6) Success in one area of life is no guarantee for success everywhere else
7) Success extracts its own price like broken relationships, personal tragedies
8) If having a chip on the shoulder helps provide motivation to succeed in some aspect of life carrying it forever makes one come across as a small person
9) Living in the moment, unaffected by past failures and worries about future, is key to success
10) Some exceptional talents need to be given more freedom and do things their own way for them to give their best and succeed
11) Persons considered winners get to write/rewrite history from their own perspective which may not reflect full reality. Unvarnished truth is not always attractive and more difficult to sell πŸ™