'Hero-Villain' Jeopardy! Contestant Returns to Game Show Feb. 24

Arthur Chu said he played within the rules when utilizing game theory economics.

February 3, 2014, 2:53 PM

Feb. 3, 2014— -- A contestant on Jeopardy! has been called a villain and blamed for "ruining" the game by using "game theory" tactics to dominate his competition.

Arthur Chu, 30, who works in insurance compliance by day and is an aspiring actor by night, won $102,800 in four Jeopardy! appearances and was the source of game-show viewership stress, at least according to some Jeopardy! fans on Twitter.

Chu, who lives in Broadview Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, will return to the show on Feb. 24 after the "Battle of the Decades" tournament between former champions to celebrate the game show's 30th anniversary. The tournament includes the return of Richard Cordray, the first director of the government's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"I can understand it's less pleasant to watch," Chu told ABCNews.com of his tactics that utilize "game theory" economics, "but the producers weren't paying me to make the show pleasant to watch. If you were playing for fun, you could talk about poor sportsmanship, but within the rules, it's about winning. If you don't like it, change the rules."

"Who is this dude that ruins the organization of the #Jeopardy board by hunting down the Daily Doubles? You give me a headache," one Jeopardy fan tweeted about Chu on Thursday.

Another viewer tweeted, "This is the face of a Jeopardy villain. Can anyone stop #arthurchu [sic]".

Read More: How That 'Jeopardy!' Super Computer Could Make IBM Billions

An alternative, Chu said, is to have host Alex Trebek read all the questions in order, barring the ability of players to choose their answer.

Called "generous" and a "hero" by other fans, Chu chose high-stakes answers first, unlike most contestants, and forced an unusual tiebreak when he didn't have to, allowing one of his fellow contestants to also go home with $26,800, instead of leaving the show for good with $2,000.

In Final Jeopardy, contestant Carolyn Collins bet everything that La Paz, Bolivia, was one of the two world capitals ending with the letter "z." (The other is Vaduz, Liechtenstein.)

Chu, who had $18,200 at that point, bet $8,600, and also wrote the correct answer.

But rather than being altruistic, Chu's strategy was a matter of increasing his own odds of returning the next day.

By inducing his opponent to wager everything, he'll still advance regardless if he's right, but he adds another winning combination to his chances: If both he and Collins get it wrong.

"If we simplify Jeopardy! wagering into flipping coins, he's just increased his probability of winning to 75 percent from 50 percent, since a tie is as good as a win," said Keith Williams, 2003 Jeopardy! College Champion. "That's a huge incentive to ensure your opponent knows you'll go for the tie."

As Chu prepares for his return on Feb. 24, he said he hopes the exposure will bring attention to his acting work.

You may have already heard Chu's voice in some regional commercials, or seen him at the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival. He also narrates for an online series Erfworld.com.

Williams, whose online tips helped Chu, said game theory economics aren't a new trick to the game. The point of Jeopardy! is to come back the next day, either by winning or tying, he said.

"There's no potential upside to wagering more than you absolutely have to to guarantee a tie. Tacking on that extra dollar won't help you if you're right," said Williams, from Brooklyn.

Williams, a writer who runs the nonprofit Global Family Initiative in Ethiopia, previously studied economics and worked in finance. He won $60,000 and a Volvo S60 R (which he still has) while representing Middlebury College in 2003 on the game show.

When a contestant is leading going into Final Jeopardy!, many players will wager to have twice the second-place player's total plus one dollar, Williams said. Chu left off the extra dollar, offering a tie to someone willing to wager everything on the last question.

"Surprisingly, this is the correct approach to maximize his probability of returning the next day, which is the only goal of playing Jeopardy!" Williams said.

Chu does a number of other things that play to his advantage, Williams said.

"For one, he selects seemingly random clues around the board. This can be confusing to the other players, who are used to working the categories from top to bottom. It's tough to switch gears from Shakespeare to World Capitals to Botany in rapid fire, but Arthur does a good job handling that," Williams said.

Part of Chu's strategy is looking for the Daily Doubles -- clues on which a player can wager any or all of his total.

"When he finds them, he tends to wager a lot, if he's confident, or a nominal amount, if he's not," Williams said. "While wagering $5 on a Daily Double might seem like a waste, it has the benefit of taking it out of play for the other contestants, who might use it to their advantage."

Chu's style of play is "radically different" from that of most players, who go from top to bottom on the board, Williams said.

"Jumping around the board is confusing to the other players, but can be especially jarring for viewers at home, most of whom are just interested in the trivia aspect and not the strategy and game theory behind the game," Williams said. "From Arthur's perspective, he's got one shot to win a lot of money, and he's doing everything he can to give himself the best shot of doing so. This is why there's a disconnect between his near-flawless play and the negative reception many fans have given him."

As for his winnings thus far, Chu said he hopes to donate some of it to a research foundation to find a cure for fibromyalgia, a disease that his wife, a novelist, suffers from, but he is still trying to pin down the right organization. He said he also wants to save money to raise a family in the future.

Though Chu said he is not a "genius" and shouldn't be applauded for his Jeopardy! strategy, the "one thing" he may deserve credit for is "being willing to look up what the experts were saying, have an open mind about it, be willing to study it and appreciate it and then be willing to radically alter my own actions to match it."

"I'd say there's a life lesson in that -- a lot of 'genius' in games and in life doesn't really come from being innovative or having some amazing new idea," Chu said. "It comes from finding out who the existing experts are, taking the time to really understand what they're doing and being willing to put in the effort to actually do it. It's something that you'd think would be more common than it is."