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Blackjack mini-tournament playing tips31 December 2016
The objective of blackjack mini-tournaments is simple. You want to end up with a larger bankroll than your fellow table players after a specified number of hands are dealt. Your primary adversary is not the casino, it's the other tournament players. Whether you win or lose your bets against the casino is not important. What matters is whether you win more (or lose less) than your opponents.
Here are some tips based on my experiences in playing in mini-tournaments in Las Vegas. They might help you get the edge should you decide to play in one.
1. In order to gain the advantage over your fellow table players, you have to know how to play your hands and, more importantly, when to increase your bets and by how much. At the minimum, you must know the basic playing strategy for blackjack so you know how to play the cards dealt to you. But in tournament play, it's also important to know when to deviate from the basic playing strategy, especially on the last few hands in a round, if that is what it will take to win. It's quite common to see players split picture cards, or double down on a breaking hand if that's what it takes to overtake a leader or maintain the lead. For example, I was bumped to a second-place finish in one tournament by a smart player who doubled down for less on a 10-8 (he bet all of his remaining chips) and drew an ace for 19. The dealer broke and his double down bet was enough to end up $100 more in bankroll than me.
2. Only play in mini-tournaments where all the entry fees are returned as prizes.
3. Make sure you read the tournament rules before you start play. You will be given them after you sign up, so take the time and read them!
4. Some mini-tournaments pay 2 to 1 for a blackjack. That can be a killer if your opponents bet big, get a blackjack, and win double the payoff. You need to factor this possibility occurring on those crucial last hands in a round.
5. Bet in even increments in tournaments that pay 3 to 2 on blackjacks. If you bet an odd amount of chips you won't get a 3 to 2 payout on the full amount wagered.
6. Don't "tuck" a blackjack in a single-deck game, otherwise you will only get paid even money. Just remember to always turn over your blackjack hand.
7. Be on time for the start of your round or bad things will happen (you'll either be docked a specific amount of chips per hand that you don't play or you'll be disqualified from the tournament).
8. The first qualifying round usually consists of 3 or 4 sessions. Even though you can select which session you want to play, my advice is to play in the first session. The reason is that there are usually fewer players competing in the early session compared to the later sessions, which tend to fill up with rebuys. For example, in one early session, I was playing against only three other table players. That gave me a 50% shot at advancing.
9. Some mini-tournaments have three rounds of play (including the final round), while others have four. Your chance of getting into the final money round improve if you only have to win two rounds rather than three (remember, once you win the semi-final round and you advance to the final round, you'll win some money even if you place last in the finals).
10. If several opponents in a qualifying round bet it all on the last hand (or you believe they will if they bet after you) and you plan to do the same, hold back one chip. If the dealer beats the table you might possibly end up in second place and advance because you held back one chip while they busted.
11. If you fall behind a leader, it's best to make one or two large bets to try to catch up rather than a series of medium-sized bets.
12. Another way to catch up to a leader is to bet opposite. If he bets bet big, you bet small or vice versa.
13. If you happen to be the leader, it's best to either bet small (let your opponents try to catch you and let the casino's edge work against them in the process) or match the amount wagered by your nearest competitors, thus making it more difficult for them to catch you.
14. You should practice "chip counting" so you can estimate your opponent's bankroll going into those last few crucial hands. Purchase some inexpensive clay casino chips of different denomination, stack them at home, and estimate the amount of money in each stack. Players who learn how to count chips accurately have a big edge in blackjack mini- tournaments. In fact one local tournament player gave me this tip: the mini-tournament at Boulder Station doesn't have a count down of player's chips before the last hand like most tournaments do, so experienced players who can accurately estimate a player's bankroll have a big advantage over novice players.
15. You should try to get the lead prior to the last hand. If that means you have to bet big a few hands prior to the last hand then do so even if it means busting.
16. Pay attention to the maximum betting limit. You don't want to be more than one max bet behind the leaders going into the last couple of crucial hands. Otherwise, you won't be able to bet enough to catch them (unless you have enough chips to double down or pair split).
17. I found (the hard way) that most rounds are won or lost on the last hand. You must know how much to bet to either maintain the lead or end up the leader. Your betting position is also very important. A contender who bets last on the last hand has a big edge over one who has to bet first. You must also be ready to pair split or double down on the last hand if necessary to win more money. I lost several rounds to smart players who either split picture cards or in one case doubled down on a blackjack hand in order to wind up with more chips than me. Also, since you are only betting with "funny money," smart players will double down on any hand if that's what it takes to win.
18. If you need to make a large bet on the last hand (but not your entire bankroll) consider betting half your bankroll. This gives you the option of pair splitting if you draw a pair (unlike doubling down you can't pair split for less which is why you bet half your bankroll and have the other half in reserve to pair split or double down).
Henry Tamburin, Ph.D., is the author of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and host of smartgaming.com.
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