Jeopardy rules are easy to learn, though application of the rule book might be a little harder for those unfamiliar with Jeopardy!. If you're not a fan of television's #1 trivia game show, but you've seen a few episodes here or there, you might know how to play Jeopardy and still find it a little confusing. Since the question-and-answer structure is inverted, the show has a cadence all its own. I've seen people who were put off by the way clues are answered, though the Q&A style is one of the game elements that sets Jeopardy apart from all other trivia games.
The rules of Jeopardy were suggested by the wife of the game show's creator, Merv Griffin. She suggested that questions be framed as simple statements, while the answers should be phrased as questions. A standard trivia question might ask "Who fought Muhammad Ali in the Thrilla in Manilla?", while the answer would be stated simply as "Joe Frazier". In Jeopardy, the clue would be phrased something like "He fought Muhammed Ali in the Thrilla in Manilla", while the answer would be "Who is Joe Frazier?". Watching an entire show where this is the convention establishes a rhythm to an episode of Jeopardy!, a rhythm delivered in the calm, cerebral style of Alex Trebek.
When a round of Jeopardy begins, the game board lights up with 6 categories. Each category has 5 answers, so a round of Jeopardy includes up to 30 questions (though it could be less, due to time constraints). The categories might be something like "The Call of the Wild", "Ray Charles", "The Department of Homeland Security", "Rons, Dons, & Johns", "The Old Testament--Before the Deluge", and "Ends with 'U'". Each category title gives a clue as to what types of questions to expect, allowing players to play to their strengths and set a strategy.
The category questions increase in difficulty and dollar value as you go further down the board. So the category "The Call of the Wild" would have a $200, $400, $600, $800, and $1000 question. In the 1st round of Jeopardy, one "Daily Double" question is hidden somewhere on the board. This question has no set value, but lets the player answering the question to set a wager on the outcome of the answer. If a player has $5,000 in their prize pool, that player can wager any dollar value between $1 and $5000. If they get the answer correct, they add that amount to their total. If they fail, they lose that same amount. Also, if a player doesn't have at least $1000 in prize money, the player can wager up to $1,000. So if a player has $600 and wager $1000, the player will either get the answer correct and their money goes to $1600 or they get the answer incorrect and their money goes to -$400 in cash.
Answering a Jeopardy Question
During the game, the clue is revealed at the same time Alex Trebek (or the host) reads off the clue. The three contestants (if they know the answer) push their buzzer to buzz-in their answer. Whoever mashes the button first gets to answer the question. If contestant #1 gets the answer right, they get to select the next question--that is, category and dollar amount (as in "Ray Charles" for $600). If contestant #1 misses the question, they lose a corresponding amount of money and the two other contestants try to buzz in. Jeopardy often is a matter of who controls the buzzer, as many competitors know most of the answers, though confidence often is the difference.
Double Jeopardy Round
Once the opening round is finished, the board is reloaded with 6 all-new categories and 30 brand-new clues. Once this is done, it's time to play Double Jeopardy. In Double Jeopardy, the points values are doubled and scores can really change. The questions tend to be a little harder, while the board contains two Daily Doubles instead of just one.
Otherwise, the mode of play remains the same. Players continue to buzz in for the chance to answer questions and win points (cash). This phase of the game allows one player to push their lead out significantly, while it allows the 2nd and 3rd place competitors their best chance to catch up. As always, the selection of category can have a major affect on the outcome of the game. No matter who much trivia you study, you'll always be better at some subjects than others.
Final Jeopardy Round
The final round of Jeopardy! involves only one question. The three players are given the category of this question, but are asked to wager a dollar amount on the outcome of their answer. Like the Daily Double, the player bet as much as their total amount, or they can choose to wager $0, or they can choose any dollar amount in-between. Once wagers are written down, the clue is revealed. As the music plays, the players have 30 seconds to write down their answers. (In home games, get a recording of "Think Music" to play.)
When it's time to reveal their answers, the contestant in third place reveals their answer first. They either add or subtract their point total. The second place contestant is next to reveal their answer, while adding or subtracting their wager from their point total. Finally, the current first place competitor reveals their answer and has their score adjusted accordingly. Whoever has the highest cash total at the end wins.
It's common for the 1st place player to wager $1 more than the maximum amount the 2nd place player could accumulate by doubling their total, though scenarios and strategies apply under certain rare circumstances. If you want to play Jeopardy seriously or try out for the show, I suggest you read all books and advice on Final Jeopardy strategy.
How to Play Jeopardy
For the rest of us, the above instructions should be enough to teach you how to play Jeopardy. Once you start to watch the game time and again, you'll realize that the Jeopardy rules are pretty simple and straightforward. If you're going to compete at Jeopardy, what I've written here should be enough to help you and your friends (or family) to play a game without a hitch. Enjoy your games of home Jeopardy!.