While poker tournaments may be all the rage, blackjack players can also enjoy tournament play at many land-based casinos and several blackjack sites as well. Before playing, make sure you know fully how to play blackjack. Using basic strategy is your best option, since most tournaments use a single deck and the dealer shuffles after each hand.
If you are lucky enough to find a tournament where a six or eight-deck shoe is used, take full advantage by counting cards and varying your bets based on the count. Obviously you are playing against the dealer each hand, but you’ll also need to keep in mind that advancing to the final round involves beating the other players by winning more money than each of them.
The only way for you to make money is to get to the final table, and you can’t get there if you bust-out before the last hand. A standard blackjack tournament may consist of twenty hands with a maximum bet of about half the chips players start with, perhaps $500. At the start of play, make sure your bets are no larger than 5 or 10 percent of.
Blackjack Tournament Structure
In most cases, a blackjack tournament consists of three rounds of play. The first round may have several flights, meaning additional “first” rounds, and re-buys may be allowed. Traditionally the player with the most chips at each table when the first round ends will move on to the second or semi-final round. Sometimes, based on the number of players, two players from each table will move on to the semi-final round. Then, the player with the most chips at each semi-final table (usually seven) will go to the final table.
Make sure you read the tournament rules before playing, because you’ll need to know some very important things like how many players advance from each table, how many hands are played in each round, what the minimum and maximum bets are, and whether each wager needs to be made in a specific order. Many tournaments pay 2 to 1 on blackjack and allow doubling-down on any hand. This may be important in the final hands when your only way to advance is to double down on a hard hand like 16, or split tens to have a chance to win enough to qualify for the next round.
Although there are exceptions, chips used in tournament play usually have no cash value. The only way for you to make money is to get to the final table, and you can’t get there if you bust-out before the last hand. A standard blackjack tournament may consist of twenty hands with a maximum bet of about half the chips players start with, perhaps $500. At the start of play, make sure your bets are no larger than 5 or 10 percent of your starting bankroll, you need to get to the final hand!
Again, you are really playing against the other players, so you’ll need to start adjusting your bets to try and take the lead after about half the hands have been played. The most critical decisions come with five hands to play. At this point, assess your situation compared to the other players again. If you are comfortably ahead, don’t give back your lead by betting too much. If you are very close to the chip leader, bet approximately what they are wagering. If you are considerably behind, make your aggressive betting move. Try to avoid betting more than half of your stack, so you’ll have enough chips to split a pair at the appropriate time. This could be the ideal chance to split a non-traditional hand like two tens.
If you have wagered more than half of your stack, you might want to avoid a standard double-down wager against a dealer up-card of 7 to ace. This is because the dealer probably already has a pat hand and you might want the added option of hitting again if you draw a small card which you would not be able to do if you double down and you aren’t getting the real value of doubling with only a fraction of your original bet (there’s no sense betting $500 and doubling down with another $50 or $100, it is better to gain the advantage of being able to draw a third card instead).
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Ideally you will have the chip lead when the final hand arrives. If this is the case, wager just enough to keep you ahead of the competition by a single chip if the other players win their final bet. You can’t do anything if they are lucky enough to draw a winning double down, split, or get a blackjack, so don’t worry about it. If it happens, it happens.
If you aren’t the chip leader (assuming only one player advances) you’ll probably have to bet the maximum and hope for the best. This is when you may need to split those tens, or double down on any hand (yes, even up to a 20) because that is the only way for you to win enough chips to take the lead.
If it appears there is no way for you to catch up, you may want to bet the minimum and hope the dealer beats all the other players on the final hand and you’ll then have the chip lead. It does happen.
Final Table Play
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So you made it to the final table! Now what? The payoffs are heavily slanted to first, second, and third place. Usually first pays as much as second and third combined, so winning should be the goal, not just surviving and taking sixth place instead of seventh. Don’t risk your chances by betting too much on the first hand, but don’t be afraid to immediately bet 10 to 15% of your stack and see how it goes. The only exception is if the dealer is very hot and the other players seem to be at risk of busting out quickly, at which point you might want to sit back on some minimum bets and see how they do.
You’ll want to proceed as you did in earlier rounds, waiting until the 15th or even 17th hand to make your move. If you are the chip leader, keep the pressure on your opponents with a sizable bet, but back-off if you are ahead by more than a maximum wager. If you are now slightly behind, you’ll have to gauge what the other players are betting to stay with them. If you are considerably behind, bet one-third of your stack. If you win, keep this up until the final hand or you take the chip lead.
If you are still considerably behind by hand 18, bet half of your stack. On hand 19 you may have to wager your entire stack or the table maximum. The same holds true for the final hand. At this point, having chips available for a double-down or split is irrelevant; you’ve got to win more chips.
Experience will help you make the correct wagers with respect to the other players’ chip stacks at this stage of the tournament. Successful blackjack tournament players learn how to bet just the right amount to advance to the next round or win first place.
On the final hand, suppose there are just three players remaining and you are last to act (on your wager). You (Player “C”) have $1125 in chips. Player “A” has $950 in chips, and player “B” has $400 in chips. At this point player “A” bets $145 in a defensive move to land in at least second place, as player “B” can only double-up to $800 and “A” will have $805 if they lose and $1095 if they win. You should bet only $25, so you will still have $1100 even if you lose.
If player “A” should bet $200 of his $950, he will have $1150 if he wins. You could bet $30 to reach $1155, but now you should also think about player “C” who could catch a blackjack, get paid 2 to 1 on a $400 bet, and reach $1200. Now with that thinking you should bet $80 to make sure you can reach $1205. This type strategy will help you reach more final tables and cash more often.