How to Play Blackjack Tournaments(Caption: There will be no conferring in a blackjack tournament… the other players are your opponents.)
Blackjack is a popular casino game. It’s relatively easy to learn, but—with basic strategy—players can improve. With card counting, players can even find an edge over the casino, as was the case with the MIT blackjack team. Although it is a fairly complex game when taken seriously, blackjack plays out quite calmly and slowly, attracting casual players to the tables to enjoy the laid-back pace. This is not the case with blackjack tournaments. Blackjack tournaments have the same hand values and the same goal of beating the dealer and getting close to 21. Yet, in blackjack tournaments, your goal is to finish the game with more chips than the other players. This makes for interesting and exciting dynamics.
How It Works
When you enter a blackjack tournament, either live or online, you pay an entrance fee and are given a set amount of chips. All players start with the same number of chips. The number of hands played in the game is also pre-determined. The tournament rules and structure are set out beforehand, so make sure you read up on the rules for each game that you play. Typically, players with the most chips after a set number of hands advance to the next round until the final table is reached. At this point, the final table is played out with increasing payouts. First place takes the lion’s share. For example, at the PokerStars Festival London the blackjack tournament format was simple enough. The game involved 10 hands of blackjack, and the top three players were paid. First place finisher Matthew Walker went home with £850, whilst second and third got £350 and £200, respectively. In some cases, a blackjack tournament can involve multiple tables. For example, at the end of the 10 hands, the players with the most chips (or sometimes the top 2 players) advance to play other heat winners. On the final table you may once again play out a set number of hands (say 20), or the tournament may use an elimination format and continue until there is only one player left standing.
How to Win at Tournament Blackjack
To make the best moves possible you will need to be familiar with regular blackjack games; you will also need to become familiar with, and well-practised at, playing the tournament style. There is a lot of new strategy to implement, a chance to gain an edge over the other players, and an opportunity to win bigger prizes than would be available playing cash game blackjack. Remember, to win at tournament blackjack you will need to have more chips than other players. You are still playing against the dealer to win the hand and gain chips, but it’s all about watching your opponents’ stacks, getting ahead and staying ahead. This can create unusual situations that you wouldn’t usually see at the blackjack tables: You can win the game even if you end up with fewer chips than you started with, as long as other players have less. There are certain times when it always pays to take riskier bets, such as if you fall behind the other players. If you take the lead, you may need to play more conservatively, or match the bets of other competitors to ensure that they can never overtake you. There will be times when you are even rooting for the dealer to beat the table, such as if other players are highly-invested in the pot and you have placed minimum to get ahead if the dealer wins.(Caption: The same hand strengths apply, but tournament blackjack involves different strategy)
Tournament Blackjack Strategy
Tournament blackjack is actually quite a complex game, introducing a number of new strategical elements that even seasoned blackjack cash players will not be familiar with. As such, if you are serious about the game, you will need to read more detailed strategy guides and forums, train and study, and then practice for many hours. For now, here are some basic tips to get your mind thinking about the game in the right way:
- Always be aware of your opponents’ stacks, and make your bets appropriately. You don’t want to fall more than one maximum bet behind. If you’re leading, you want to get more than one maximum bet ahead before the last hand, or else other players can simply take a risk and grab the lead.
- Position is important in tournament blackjack. Whoever is on the ‘button’ acts first. If you act last, you get to see what your opponents are doing. This allows you to make the bets mentioned below when in position.
- As such, you should aim to stay within sight of the leader. To catch up, it is better to place one maximum bet on a favourable hand than lots of little bets. You can also try to swing the leader by betting in an opposite fashion. If the leader bets low, you bet high, so if he or she loses the bet, you switch positions. Betting low is like betting on the dealer to beat the leader, and the dealer wins more often in blackjack.
- If you are the leader, you can counter opponents who are trying to catch up by matching bets with the players whose chip stacks are closest to your own. This way you always win or lose the same amount as they do. Of course, position will influence whether you can effectively make a matched bet, as sometimes opponents will act after you. As such, the last couple of hands in a blackjack tournament are much more important than the first few. At the end stages, players will always be looking to push. The last hand is usually a flurry of betting with max bets or “all-ins” from most players. Chip leaders can only play it safe if they have enough of a lead, otherwise they may be forced to bet, too.
Tournament blackjack is an awesome variation that adds strategy and excitement to the classic casino game. Purists and traditionalists won’t like it, but it does allow for more opportunities to gain an edge.