Nothing can beat the excitement of playing in a tournament. There's the competition, the pressure, and of course, the money! All of these factors can add up to a fun and highly rewarding experience. However, for those of you considering a jump into the blackjack tournament arena, there are some things you need to know. In this article, we will take a look at some inherent differences between tournament style and regular blackjack, as well as some playing strategies that will help guide you into the winner's circle.
The card game known as blackjack is quite simple. Be closer to 21 than the dealer without going over . If you can do this consistently, you will make money at this table game. Think of it as a martini on the rocks. Straight-forward and to the point. But to make money in a blackjack tournament, now that is an entirely different creation. Whereas a regular blackjack game is what it is, tournament play can be likened to an appletini or a chocolatini. A little bit different, and a lot more exciting. Think of tournament blackjack as 21….with a twist!
Blackjack Tournaments – Dare To Be Different
The first major difference between the two forms of blackjack is the play itself. In regular blackjack, you are playing against the dealer and the dealer alone, but in tournament play you are up against all of your fellow competitors. This makes all of your decisions crucial, and you have to take many things into consideration. In a tournament, all players “buy-in” for a set amount (this can range from anywhere between $25 and $1,000) and everyone is given the same amount of starting chips.
These chips will be used to place bets in the tournament round (the length of rounds can also vary, but they usually last 30 hands), at which point the field is cut down to a pre-determined number of players. The players who have accumulated the highest chip counts advance to the next round. Play continues like this until a winner is crowned. This is where strategy plays a huge role. Knowing how to correctly bet in a tournament, as well as gauging your opponent's chip stacks, can often times be the difference between going home and going to the final table.
Odds and Ends
Out Of The Gates Sloooooooow
A fundamental mistake many blackjack tournament players make is risking a large amount (or even all) of their chips on the first few hands. There is no need to be this aggressive. 30 hands, although not a huge amount, is still enough to pick your spots without going crazy right off the bat. In some situations, the other players and their chip stacks may force you into re-thinking your game plan, but for the most part you want to play your own game. This can be done by breaking the tournament up into 3 increments. In the first increment, which we will call the first 14 hands, you want to focus on steadily increasing your chip stack. This is done not by making bold and silly bets, but by making bets that represent 5% – 10% of your stack. If you like, you can make one strong bet (15% – 20%) somewhere in between the 7th and 11th hand.
In the second increment (hands 15 – 23), you want to make a slightly more aggressive push. The goal here is to put yourself in position to contend come the final seven hands. Hopefully, by being patient in hands 1-14, you are able to build a solid stack, and can then push a little harder in this second series of hands. Atleast two big bets should be made within these hands, and one bet should represent 25% – 30% of your stack. This may sound scary, but if you are patient, and win 9 or 10 of your first 14 hands, you should be in a solid position to take this hit, even if Lady Luck doesn't side with you.
Down The Stretch
In the third, and final increment of hands (24-30), you will have to play as much against your opponents stacks as you do your own. This is where it is critical to have practiced looking at chip stacks, and estimating approximately how many there are. This will make it easier for you to make a pressure filled decision (most tournaments give you only 30 seconds to bet). Most times, it is always correct to be aggressive in the last few hands, unless you have a comfortable chip advantage. If this is the case, bet small and let your opponents try to play catch up. Believe me, they will be gunning for you! One final note on betting situations as they arise. It is always more beneficial to make your biggest bets when you are last, or near last to act. Other players will be unable to counterpunch, and hopefully you can gain some ground (or add some distance) in these situations.
The Thrill Of Victory
By offering players a unique challenge, solid competition, and life changing prize pools, blackjack tournaments are sure to continue growing in the future. With mindful play, and just a little bit of luck, maybe you can one day lay claim to a title! Good luck at the tables!