Larissa Kelly and Alex Trebek on Jeopardy!
Larissa Kelly and Alex Trebek on Jeopardy!

Larissa Kelly, the diminutive UC Berkeley graduate student in history who swept to game show triumph last spring, has returned to compete again. And so far she’s up to her previous standard, winning decisively in her first round of the quiz show “Jeopardy!”’s tournament of champions.

In the tournament’s quarterfinals Thursday night, March 12, Kelly marshaled her wide-ranging knowledge to vanquish two other former winners, Matt Kohlstedt of La Grange, Illinois, and Tom Morris, of Irvine, California, both of whom also happen to be grad students. (And Morris is a substitute teacher, too.) Kelly walked away from that single show a semifinalist with a game total of $26,400 (to Kohlstedt’s $10,600 and Morris’s $9,600).1

Quarterfinal rounds continue through Tuesday, March 17. Kelly and the other winners of those shows will mentally/verbally duke it out in the semifinals, and the unbeaten of those contests will be the finalists. The first-place winner will emerge Tuesday, March 24, with a quarter-million-dollar prize.

The tournament is taking place in a glitzy, futuristic set on the floor of the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In shows televised back in May of 2008, Kelly became the woman who won the most “Jeopardy!” games in regular play (six) and the second-most-winning woman in dollars2, and by the time she left had accumulated the third-largest regular play winnings total — $222,597— in the quarter-century the program has been continuously on the air.

1 Under tournament rules, victors in the quarters and semis don’t keep their show-dollars. All 15 contestants get $5,000 each for quarterfinal participation. Semifinalists get an additional $5,000 each. The large payday comes at the end: finalists are guaranteed, by place, $50,000, $100,000 and $250,000 for third, second, and first, respectively.

2 Behind Celeste DiNucci of Oregon, another grad student (English, Northwestern M.A., U of Penn Ph.D. on the way), who won $83,601 in regular play and an additional $250,000 for topping the 2007 tournament of champions.