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Jeopardy!'s Greatest Champions Share Their Winning Strategy Secrets

There's a reason they buzz without knowing the answer

Lindsay MacDonald

If you've ever watchedJeopardy! and wondered why certain contestants pluck their clues from the middle of the board or buzz in when they clearly don't know the answer, you are definitely not alone. According to the series' most successful contestants of all time, though, there is a strategy at play there.

At ABC's Television Critics Association winter press tour presentation on Wednesday, Jeopardy! Greatest Of All Time Tournament's trio of now-celebrity champions, Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, and James Holzhauer, attempted to shed some light on the reasoning behind some of those frustrating contestant choices.

"The middle of the board is where the daily doubles are," Rutter explained, when asked why he and others start there when choosing their clues.

"We apologize to viewers with OCD," Jennings added. "We understand, but we're out there to win."

As for buzzing in when contestants don't actually know the answer, it sounds like there's a "just go for it" mentality at work there.

"You're not allowed to buzz in until the clue is finished reading, but there are times, especially with these difficult wordplay categories you might have seen on yesterday's match the triple rhyme, you don't have time to figure it all out," Holzhauer said. "You can get like one or two pieces and you figure, 'OK, I can get the rest of it maybe in the five seconds I have. Take your best shot.'"

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"There's certainly a weird thing the brain can do where you'll look at a mass of words as you hear Alex [Trebek]'s voice and you're like, 'Somewhere in me, I have this fact.' And then you press the button, and Alex looks at you with that look. And you're like, 'Oh, shoot! I've got five seconds to actually pull this out.' Sometimes you do, and as you saw last night, sometimes you don't," Holzhauer continued.

All three contestants on the panel later agreed that one of the most underrated skills of Jeopardy! winners is the ability to perfectly time their buzz in that millisecond that Trebek finishes revealing the clue and the moment your competition buzzes in first. We wonder if they have practice buzzers at home to help them train this coveted ability?

Jeopardy: The Greatest of All Time continues on Wednesday, Jan. 8 at 8/7c on ABC.

(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.)

Brad Rutter, James Holzhauser, and Ken Jennings, Jeopardy!

Brad Rutter, James Holzhauser, and Ken Jennings, Jeopardy!

Eric McCandless, ABC