Chu first became known for the unusual style of play he adopted during his 11-game winning streak on Jeopardy!. When the shows aired, Chu attracted criticism from many for jumping from category to category rather than selecting clues in sequential order, a strategy known as the "Forrest Bounce", after former champion Chuck Forrest.
Chu was born in Albany, New York on January 30, 1984. His parents are of Taiwanese heritage, later immigrating to the United States. He moved several times growing up, due to his father's job in the chemical industry. During his childhood, Chu lived in Cranston, Rhode Island, spent a year in Boise, Idaho, then lived in Cerritos, California as a teenager.
As a child, Chu participated in the National Geographic Bee, and while attending Swarthmore College, he was a member of the college's quiz-bowl team. He received a B.A. in History at his graduation in 2008. Chu resides in Broadview Heights, Ohio. Chu has worked as a voiceover artist, for example, on the webcomic Erfworld, and as an insurance compliance analyst. He is also a contributor to The Daily Beast.
Chu married fellow Swarthmore College graduate Eliza Blair in 2012 and divorced in 2016.
Chu spent a great deal of time preparing in the month before his first appearance on Jeopardy! He studied tapes of former Jeopardy! contestants and created study guides based on the advice of Roger Craig. He also read about game theory and Jeopardy! strategy online. As a student at Swarthmore College, he also played quiz bowl, in which he has said he was an aggressive player despite having limited knowledge.
Chu made his debut as a contestant on the January 28, 2014, episode of Jeopardy!, winning $37,200 in his first game. On the January 29 episode, Chu made a Final Jeopardy! wager that caused him to tie fellow contestant Carolyn Collins. Chu claimed that he made the decision to wager for a tie not out of kindness but because of the advice of 2003 College champion Keith Williams, who claims that game theory favors wagering for a tie over the more common practice of wagering to win by a dollar. Chu defeated Collins on the January 30 episode.
After a three-week airtime break, he became eligible for the Tournament of Champions on February 24 when he won for the fifth time; his total winnings were $123,600. On February 26, he became the ninth biggest all-time Jeopardy! winner, with a total of $180,000. The next day, he jumped to third, with a total of $238,200.
Chu won his eleventh and final game on March 11, bringing his total to $297,200. His streak ended on March 12 when he was defeated by Diana Peloquin. He ended up in third place after losing his entire score in Final Jeopardy! His third-place earnings of $1,000 brought his ultimate winnings to $298,200, putting him at third place on the list of all-time highest-earning Jeopardy! champions, behind Ken Jennings and David Madden. He also held the third-longest winning streak in the series' history. Later in 2014, he was surpassed by Julia Collins, who won $429,100 during 20 days of play, pushing Chu back to fourth place. In 2015, he was surpassed by Matt Jackson, who won $413,612 during 14 games of play, which pushed Chu back to fifth place. During his run on the series, Chu engaged with viewers through Twitter and the Jeopardy-themed website JBoard.
After his initial appearance on the show, Chu competed in the 2014 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions, where he finished second to Ben Ingram, an IT consultant from South Carolina. Chu won $100,000 for his second-place finish, bringing his overall winnings to $398,200.
Throughout Chu's 11-game streak, his aggressive style of play attracted criticism among fans of the series, some of whom considered his conduct to be unsportsmanlike and against the spirit of Jeopardy! His strategy earned him the nickname the "Jeopardy! Villain", a nickname Chu fully embraced. One of the most common complaints about his playing style was that he jumped from category to category, a strategy known as the "Forrest Bounce", after former champion Chuck Forrest. The Forrest Bounce is a common strategy, however, employed by several successful past champions, including Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, who, like Chu, used it to increase their odds of finding Daily Doubles first. Inspired by Watson, a computer that was programmed to play Jeopardy!, Chu picked high-value clues first, because they are more likely to be Daily Doubles. In his second game, Chu wagered $5 on a Daily Double and responded "I don't know" immediately after the clue was given.
Chu also held the buzzer close to the microphone, resulting in audible clicks when signaling, and upon correctly answering a question, rushed quickly to the next clue. This gamesmanship, the resulting criticism and his engagement with critics on Twitter during airings of his shows led some to declare his run akin to a "Moneyball" moment, and Chu himself "ruthless" and "idol-killingly pragmatic".
In response, both Trebek and Jennings have defended Chu as a "good player" who makes the game "more exciting".
After his appearance on Jeopardy!, Chu contacted publicists and PR firms to ask for suggestions on how to monetize the recognition from his Jeopardy! run. However, he found the proposals unappealing, and did not follow suggestions that he use the 'successful game theorist' image. Instead, he started writing a column for The Daily Beast, and later for Salon. Chu has written on various aspects of nerd culture and on being Asian American. He is a vocal critic of racism and online bullying, and is known for his opposition to the Gamergate movement.