Month: July 2019

‘Jeopardy!’ Winner Used Analytics to ‘Beat the Game’ 

  Claire Hall

James Holzhauer
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JUNE 19: Professional sports gambler and “Jeopardy!” champion James Holzhauer presents the Frank J. Selke Trophy during the 2019 NHL Awards at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on June 19, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Game-show contestant James Holzhauer developed a strategy to quickly maximize the amount of money he won, says OPIM professor David Bergman.

An aggressive strategy, mathematical finesse, a sharp mind, and a willingness to take risks were some of the factors that spurred ‘Jeopardy!’ game-show contestant James Holzhauer to win 32 consecutive games and rake in more than $2.4 million, according to UConn business professor David Bergman.

While some may think it was brainpower and good luck that favored Holzhauer, Bergman says the ‘Jeopardy!’ champ used analytics and strategy to dramatically increase his chance of success.

We need to have more people who can think outside the box. Analytics provides a way to see things beyond conventional thinking.— David Bergman

“As a professor of operations and information management and an analytics expert, I think it is always interesting when people can find new ways to challenge conventional thinking,” he says. “We need to have more people who can think outside the box. Analytics provides a way to see things beyond conventional thinking, creating a new opportunity and a fresh look at traditional strategies.’’

Bergman, who drew media interest for a paper he wrote about how to increase the odds of winning a football pool, has a new paper pending on fantasy sports betting. Sports betting is an industry that is rapidly exploding due to a Supreme Court ruling lifting restrictions on gambling on sports. And, not coincidentally, Holzhauer – the ‘Jeopardy!’ champ – is a professional sports gambler.

Champ Wasn’t Afraid to Take Risks

Unlike other ‘Jeopardy!’ contestants, who worked their way up from the easiest to the most challenging and financially rewarding questions, Holzhauer developed a strategy to quickly maximize the amount of money he won, Bergman says.

He found his success in the higher-value questions, which are harder, but it allowed him to keep control of the board and increased his chances of claiming the Daily Double.

“I’m guessing that if he was confident in a category, he probably hit the buzzer before finalizing the answer in his mind,” Bergman says.

He notes that Holzhauer wasn’t reluctant to risk large sums in an effort to win the game.

“I think his willingness to go ‘all in’ was interesting. He wasn’t scared to gamble $40,000 on one bet, which led to profit maximizing. I think most new players are more timid,” said Bergman, noting that Holzhauer’s educational credentials include a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a background that likely influenced his decisions.

Holzhauer, who had taken a year off from work to prepare for the game show, had accrued more money than his competitors and was in an advantageous position when he hit a Daily Double. He bet aggressively, and it paid off because he answered 72 of the 76 Daily Doubles he played. Bergman says his technique was far more aggressive than that of Ken Jennings, the previous ‘Jeopardy!’ champion.

The fourth-highest American game-show winner of all time, Holzhauer’s winning streak on ‘Jeopardy!’ extended from April to June 2019 and allowed him to set multiple single-game records for winnings accrued. His winning record intrigued viewers, with one episode drawing more than 14 million people.

Sports Betting Now a $400 Billion Industry

One thing is clear: whether on betting the odds in a game show or in professional sports, there is money to be made, Bergman says.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that effectively banned commercial sports betting in most states, thereby allowing the legalization of an estimated $150 billion professional and amateur sports betting industry. Since that ruling, the industry has grown to $400 billion.

“People, like James, are taking advantage of it and placing bets at will,” Bergman says. “Even TV broadcasters are trying to get a piece of the pie. Today you can watch a game on TV and put in a bet before, or even during, the game.”

He says the daily fantasy world is a great business opportunity for betters and platforms, which take 10 percent of the wagers. “Betters with good analytical models can take advantage of this explosion in gaming,” Bergman notes. “A few years ago, I would have been surprised to think of sports and casinos as partners. Today it is having a tremendous impact on the business world.”

Will ‘Jeopardy!’ Ever Be the Same?

But for those seeking armchair entertainment, it is likely that the next big ‘Jeopardy!’ winner will need a new or more refined strategy.

“James destroyed a lot of records, and perhaps changed the game moving forward,’’ Bergman says. “I think it’s possible that in a Tournament of Champions, the people playing against him will need an adversarial strategy. Obviously they will have to take more risks and ‘beat him at his own game’.”

Grad Students Help PCX Aero Go ‘Full Throttle’

MBA student Don Pendagast and MSBAPM student Chitra Reddy
MBA student Don Pendagast (left) and MSBAPM student Chitra Reddy (right), were on a six person team dedicated to helping PCX Aerospace improve their critical data-collection systems. (Nathan Oldham / UConn School of Business)


When it comes to the aerospace industry, PCX Aerostructures is in the big leagues.The company is a premier supplier of advanced mechanical systems, specializing in both commercial and military rotorcraft markets, providing highly engineered precision machining of complex parts where tight tolerances and quality are imperative. PCX supplies major customers such as Bell Helicopter, Boeing, Sikorsky and the U.S. Government. It produces flight-critical components to the industry’s highest standards.

When PCX executives reached out to UConn to ask for advice on improving some of their critical data-collection systems—with the goal of developing quicker and more efficient access to data, and reducing expenses—UConn School of Business faculty members were eager to assist.

Six graduate students spent the spring semester helping the aerospace manufacturer strategize improvements in supply-chain management, inventory assessment, and labor-management efficiency.

Aris Fotos, PCX’s general manager and COO, said the assistance has been invaluable.

“In this highly competitive manufacturing sector, we’re always striving for continuous improvement in every facet of our business,” he said. “It’s critical that we seek new opportunities to help position ourselves as an industry leader. This certainly gives us an edge.”

A Proud, Thriving Yankee Company

Few companies can boast of the deep Connecticut roots that PCX Aerostructures can. The company was founded in 1900 by Wilson Fenn as a machine shop specializing in plug and ring gages and ultimately made a brand name for itself through metal-forming machinery. In the 1940s, thanks to a relationship with Sikorsky, the company delved into aerospace.

A community fixture since 1954, the Newington company continues to thrive. PCX doubled its business in the last two years and increased its labor force by 30 percent in the past 18 months. The company’s Connecticut headquarters employs 177, while an additional 63 are based at its sister company in Mansfield, Texas.

PCX also offers integrated special processing services such as heat treating, painting and non-destructive testing. It also possesses large mill-turn capacity and multi-axis gear shaping, in addition to precision gear manufacturing using state-of-the-art machinery.

“PCX is unique in the type of specialized machining and assembly capabilities that we possess. We rely on a skilled workforce to fill the need for Critical Safety Items that are integral, ‘zero failure’ components installed on an aircraft,” said Fotos who earned his MBA at UConn in 2000.

“It’s vital to engage our next generation of manufacturing talent,” Fotos continued. “Reaching out to partners like UConn helps us to leverage the knowledge and ingenuity of students who may be interested in aerospace as a career path.”

The company has invested $16 of new capital equipment in the last five years—a strong selling point for some of the industry’s largest names in aviation, who rely on manufacturers like PCX to embrace the latest technology while minimizing down time and seeking lead-time reductions.

As an industry leader, PCX attracts a wide range of talent, including CNC machinists, manufacturing engineers, programmers and quality inspectors, to name a few. The company attributes its ongoing success to the combined expertise inherent in its workforce.

“This shop is the only one in the world that makes certain parts for certain aircraft,” said Trevor Hartman, vice president of sales and marketing. “We’re a national asset.”

Left to right, professor Anna Radziwillowicz, MSBAPM student Chitra Reddy, PCX general manager and COO Aris Fotos, MBA Student Don Pendagast, and professor Jennifer Eigos

Left to right, professor Anna Radziwillowicz, MSBAPM student Chitra Reddy, PCX general manager and COO Aris Fotos, MBA Student Don Pendagast, and professor Jennifer Eigos. (Nathan Oldham / UConn School of Business)

UConn’s Experts Love Data Challenges

For Professor Jennifer Eigo, who heads the Center for the Advancement of Business Analytics (CABA) at UConn’s School of Business, this project was a perfect opportunity to help a Connecticut company and give students a chance to apply their analytical and project management skills.

“Strategic use of analytics can give a business the information it needs to make data-driven decisions, directly impacting its success,” Eigo said. “UConn is eager to help Connecticut businesses leverage analytics to stay competitive. Manufacturing is a big and important focus in Connecticut.”

“In addition to showcasing their analytics knowledge, our students gain a hands-on experience working with executive leadership,” said Professor Anna Radziwillowicz, who mentored students on the PCX projects. “They also learned more about how the manufacturing industry works and how they can apply value to the business. They gained an understanding of the end-to-end operations of a company in the manufacturing industry, through the lens of executive leaders.”

Students Quickly Immersed Themselves in the Company

Don Pendagast, a UConn MBA student, said the experience will be useful in his career as a management consultant.

“Coming into an organization that I was not at all familiar with, I had to quickly learn about the company, its challenges, and come up with solutions,” he said. “You have to understand the business behind the data.”

Chitra Reddy, a UConn graduate student studying business analytics and project management, described her work on labor-management analysis as phenomenal and exhilarating.

Like Pendagast, she had no manufacturing background. It was particularly rewarding, she said, to know that she contributed to the well-being of the company. As a future business analyst, interacting with the executives, understanding their perspectives on nurturing the business, grasping the data needs and delivering the project “all provided me with a platform to prep myself for setting my foot out in a new professional journey post-graduation,” she said. “I am ever grateful for this amazing opportunity.”

“The students were a very mature group,” Fotos said. “We would receive emails, sent in the wee hours of the night. They truly did a great job. They were determined and able to create something useful for us.”

Two of UConn’s graduate students are currently working at PCX to implement the new plans, and future collaboration between the two organizations is likely.

Now PCX leaders spend a fraction of the time they did in the past gathering data, and can devote more energy to strategic planning and growth, Fotos said.

UConn Takes 3rd Place in Global Analytics Challenge

 – Claire Hall

Left to right, Prasanthi Lingamallu, Carl Johnson, and Barbara Lucas Johnson accept the 3rd place award in the International Big Data Analytics Education Conference (Contributed Photo)

Left to right, Prasanthi Lingamallu, Carl Johnson, and Barbara Lucas Johnson accept the 3rd place award in the International Big Data Analytics Education Conference (Contributed Photo)

A team of UConn students earned third place in the 2019 International Big Data & Analytics Education Conference with their passionate presentation on “The Catastrophic Effects of Global Warming—The Forces at Play.”

The team consisted of the graduate students Barbara Lucas Johnson and Prasanthi Lingamallu, and undergrad Carl Johnson. Their adviser was Marketing Professor Girish Punj.

The analytics event is a highly-regarded, worldwide competition aimed at generating innovative analytics solutions while also raising awareness around environmental issues and sustainability. The UConn team used sophisticated data mining tools to chart global warming from 1905 to 2015, identify top drivers of global warming, and recommend initiatives for a healthier planet.

“It is such an important topic that all else is meaningless. Once you start understanding the meaning of all the data, it takes your breath away,” said Lucas Johnson. “When I began this project, I thought I knew a lot about climate change. But after analyzing tons of data and reading hundreds of articles, I realized I knew very little. The climate crisis is really more of a grand challenge, like the fight against cancer. But unlike cancer research, we can all play a role in fighting climate change, each and every one of us.”

Punj said he thinks the students did an exceptional job under challenging circumstances. The project had to be completed in addition to their regular coursework and much of it had to be done over winter break. This is the first time that UConn had entered the competition.

“Much of what’s reported on climate change is factual or based on weather episodes, but the impact is momentary. People are getting ‘climate change fatigue’ and they begin to ignore the impact. Our students used an analytics approach to bring together the facts and connect them with a thread. They were able to relate things like rising sea levels and forest fires. They walked away with something valuable. This is a great example of how science and business can combine to help the world.”

Lingamallu said the team members were all passionate about global warming, climate change and sustainability, and their research fueled their interest.

“We each had very different backgrounds, education, experiences and perspectives on the problem statement, but it is this diversity in thought that helped us put together a very rich and well-rounded presentation,” she said.

Lucas Johnson is a graduate student pursing an advanced certificate in digital marketing strategy; Johnson, her son, is an undergraduate majoring in OPIM, and Lingamallu, a vice president at Bank of America, completed her MSBAPM graduate degree in May. She was also in the Digital Marketing Strategy certificate program.

The students started work in November 2018. They learned in March that they were among the Top 10 teams, and the third-place award was announced June 4 at the conference, sponsored by the University of Maryland in College Park.

“I could never have imagined how much effort it was to find the data, clean it and harmonize it, then try to analyze it,” Lucas Johnson said, adding that the competition and learning to develop important presentations will be instrumental in her career.

She credits OPIM Professor John Wilson for teaching storytelling and visualization and Punj for teaching students about big data, analytics and artificial intelligence.

“The insights and tools from these classes boost any student’s value in the marketplace,” Lucas Johnson said.