Blackjack Tournament Types and Strategies

Blackjack is rarely thought of as a competitive game although blackjack tournaments have been around for quite some time now at brick-and-mortar casinos. They are also becoming increasingly popular among online players in recent years. The main reason for this growing interest is that the tournament version of 21 gives the average player the opportunity to snag a sizable prize for a tolerably small entry fee.

There are different types of blackjack tournaments, with some competitions taking place within a single day while others last two to three days. Tournament play requires skill, discipline, and above all, sufficient knowledge of tournament strategy. Blackjack tournaments have a different structure than the standard casino-banked version of 21 and respectively, call for an entirely different strategic approach.

In the following article, we present the nuts and bolts of blackjack tournament play and introduce you to the main tournament types. Also featured are several common tournament strategies and tips on how to improve your chances of beating your opponents.

How Tournament Play Works in Blackjack

Hand SignalsIn their base form, blackjack tournaments are played in nearly the same way as the standard version of the game. Players still aim to beat the dealer to earn chips from each hand but with one major difference – they are competing against each other rather than against the house.

The principal objective of each participant is to collect more chips from the dealer than their opponents do. The house still derives benefit from the tournament because each player must pay a modest fee to enter the tournament. The casino pockets a small cut from each entry fee while the rest is used for building the prize pool. In some cases, the casino also contributes to the pool as a means of increasing its size and attracting more players.

Once everyone pays their way in, each contender receives the same starting stack of chips as the other participants, with the chips themselves being devoid of monetary value in most cases. They are merely used to keep track of how each player is progressing through the tournament.

A tournament can last one or several rounds, with each of them being played over a fixed number of hands (usually between 15 and 30) or a fixed period. When the starting hands are dealt, the opponents face the same playing decisions as those in standard blackjack, i.e. they can hit, stand, double down, split, take insurance, and so on.

Like in poker tournaments, the first player to act changes during each hand because being the first person to make a decision puts you at a significant disadvantage. Also, decisions are made based on how the other players are doing but more on this later when we discuss tournament play and basic strategy.

What happens once everyone has finished playing their hand depends on the rules of the respective tournament. In single-round blackjack tournaments, the chips of each participant are counted up individually. The positions of players are then determined depending on how many chips each person has at this stage.

The overall prize pool is then divided among the participants depending on how they have ranked chip-count-wise. Sometimes the person with the most chips collects the entire pool but in other cases, the pool may be split among the top finishers. It all depends on the specific rules of the tournament.

In competitions where multiple rounds are involved, the person with the smallest chip stack at the end of the round gets eliminated. Eliminations continue this way each round until a single person remains and they are declared the winner.

Differences between Standard Blackjack Games and Tournaments

These are the basic principles behind any blackjack tournament, regardless of whether it is played online or in a brick-and-mortar casino. Let’s now review the main differences that distinguish blackjack tournaments from the regular casino-banked game we all have grown accustomed to. The table below offers you a concise comparison between the two formats of blackjack play.

House-Banked Blackjack
Tournament Blackjack

All players compete against a house representative, i.e. the dealer.

All tournament participants try to beat the dealer but compete against each other.

The objective of the player is to beat the dealer and earn money in the process.
The objective is not so much to earn money rather than to end up with more chips than fellow participants. You can beat others even if you wind up with fewer chips than you initially started with.
Winning huge amounts of money in one sitting is a rarity, especially if you play with a small bankroll.
Winners can pocket a substantial prize in big tournaments, sometimes five-figure or even six-figure amounts.
All players at the table are rooting for the dealer to lose the round. It is bad manners to root for a fellow player to lose.
Tournament players are sometimes hoping that the dealer beats the table because this would decrease the chip stacks of some of their opponents.
If you lose your entire bankroll, you can always dig in your wallet (provided you have extra money) to purchase more chips.
The player’s losses are restricted to the amount of the tournament entry fee. In some tournaments, however, it is possible to rebuy after the first or second round by paying the entry fee again.
Players who are not card counters should base each playing decision on the basic strategy that corresponds to the blackjack variation they are playing.
The knowledge of basic strategy is important in tournament play but you should also know when to deviate from it. For example, doubling down for less is recommended in some cases.
Players can increase their advantage against the house by adopting techniques such as card counting and shuffle tracking.
Players gain an advantage by knowing how to outplay their opponents.

Main Tournament Types in Blackjack

Similarly to poker tournaments, competitive play in blackjack is not restricted to a single format. There are several notable types of blackjack tournaments, namely elimination, accumulation, mini, major, sit ’n’ go, and live-money tourneys. Let’s have a look at what each type is all about.

Elimination Tournaments
Accumulation Tournaments
Mini and Major Tournaments
Sit ’n’ Gos
Tournaments with Live-Money Chips

Blackjack Tournament Basics – Prepping Up for Your First Tourney

HunchesParticipating in a blackjack tournament calls for some preparation, even more so if you are a first-timer. It does not come down solely to paying the entry fee. The first thing you need to do is to sufficiently acquaint yourself with the rules because no two tourneys share exactly the same rules. This would prevent you from making unnecessary mistakes and disrupting the tournament’s flow.

Players are normally presented with copies of the rules after paying their entry fees. If the tournament takes place online, make sure you go through the respective terms and conditions the web-based casino has attached to the tourney.

This would give you valuable information about the betting limits, the prize pool, how many hands are played per round, whether surrendering a hand is permitted, and so forth. If you still have any questions, be sure to ask the support staff or the tournament director before you take your seat at the table.

Perhaps more importantly, remember that rules are there for players to follow. Breaking important rules can even lead to disqualification in certain cases. One of the main things to avoid is the so-called string betting where you grab several chips from your stack and drop them one after another in your betting circle.

This is considered a serious violation. Tournament etiquette requires you to post all the chips you intend to bet with one motion. It would be best if you prepare the stack you want to bet beforehand and then only slide it inside your betting circle.

Even if they do not kick you out for breaching the rules and table etiquette, string betting can still cost you. Tournament managers often punish string bettors for their misbehavior by counting only the first chip that fell on the felt while returning the rest to the violator.

Another mistake you must avoid is conversing with standersby while the last round of the tournament is in progress. This is strictly prohibited in some tournaments and can again lead to immediate disqualification.

The Skills of a Good Blackjack Tournament Player

Essential Skills

The Importance of Position in Tournament Blackjack

The Role of Basic Strategy in Blackjack Tournament Play

Since tournament blackjack differs in many aspects from the standard casino-banked version of 21, it makes sense it also requires a slightly different set of skills. A successful tournament player is not necessarily good at casino-banked 21 and vice versa. The latter is more of a grind and as such, requires patience along with a firm belief in the math of the game.

It is necessary to prepare yourself by purchasing a set of casino chips to practice with. Practice is important because a tournament player must be able to accurately keep track of their opponents’ chip count, which helps him or her determine how much to wager. This would be impossible if you have no idea how big your opponents’ stacks are.

Also important is to know when to wager enough chips so that you still end up a chip leader even if all opponents win their hands. The opposite is also true – you should know when to bet small so that if everybody at the table loses, you still end up leading them in chips. Respectively, you should also nourish the ability to quickly determine the potential outcomes of your opponents’ wagers, i.e. what their chip count will be if their hand wins, loses, or pushes.

This leads us to the last two essential skills of a good blackjack tournament player, understanding the importance of your betting position and the ability to identify when and how you should deviate from basic strategy.

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Tournament Tips and Common Strategies

1Adjust Your Bets

Make several larger bets rather than betting small or medium-size if you are trying to catch up to a significant chip leader. However, you should refrain from betting big if you are in the button position because this puts you at a disadvantage. Increase your bets significantly when the button has already moved past you. Make certain you have sufficient chips in case you need to split pairs or double down on a hand, though.

2Contrary Bets

Apart from betting large, you can catch up to the chip leader by betting contrary to them, i.e. you post a large wager when the leader bets small and decrease your wager when they bet large. However, if you fall behind significantly consider a further increase in your bets. This could enable you to catch up or at least decrease the difference in your chip stack and that of the leader.

3Final Hands

When the final few hands in the tournament approach, you should again bet large. Some tournament experts recommend betting half of your chip stack toward the very end of a tournament. Assuming you get dealt a pair, you will have enough money left to split.This would also enable you to double down if you receive a two-card total that justifies this move. Doubling down for less is sometimes a good move in tournament play. However, splitting for less is not possible hence the recommendation to bet half of your bankroll. This way, you will have enough chips left to double down or split a pair if necessary.

Provided that most of your opponents go all-in during the final hand of a round, you should do the same but keep one of your chips. This way, if the dealer ends up winning, you could advance while most of the opponents will lose their entire stacks.