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Tournament playing tips

18 November 1999

Playing in a gambling tournament is not the same as playing in a casino. Here are some tournament basics to get you started.

Although the rules may vary from one tournament to another, the basic concept is the same. All contestants start with the same playing bankroll. Your objective is to finish your playing session with more money than your fellow competitors. It doesn't make a difference whether you finish ahead by $5,000 or by $1. The player with the most cash wins.

In table games like blackjack, all contestants are assigned to a specific table and seat. Everyone at your table starts with the same bankroll. After a specified number of hands or a set time limit, the player that has the most money advances to the next round to play the winners from the other tables. Eventually the field of contestants is whittled down to a final group of six or seven who play a championship round for the big prize.

Slot tournaments are a little different. Here players are given a specific playing bankroll or a certain amount of machine credits. After a specified number of handle pulls or a set time period, the player with the most credits (or winnings) advances to the next round.

The fascination of tournaments is that contestants are competing against other players. Therefore you must watch not only the status of your bankroll but also your fellow players' bankrolls.

How you bet in table game tournaments is the most important factor to improve your chances of winning. Betting strategies employed by your competitors, whether you are ahead or behind the leader, and whether you bet first or last are factors that must be considered before you bet. Knowing when to play it close to protect your bankroll by making small bets and when to let it all hang out and bet big is crucial in tournament play.

The following tips are based on my experiences of how to get the most from playing in tournaments.

  1. Tournament sponsors charge a fee. You should ask how much of the total fees paid by all the contestants will be returned to the players in the form of prizes. Some tournaments return 100 percent, especially the low-entry "fun" tournaments where entry fees are as low as $25 or $50. Don't forget to factor in any comps the sponsoring casinos throw in to contestants. For example, I played in a tournament in Las Vegas that returned all of the fees in prizes, gave complimentary buffets and show tickets, and offered a discount off the entry fee for a future tournament. Quite a deal!

  2. Some tournaments, especially the "fun tournaments," give the players their starting bankroll in non-negotiable chips. In other tournaments you must put up your own cash as a starting bankroll. This is where tournament play gets risky because players are betting with their own money.

  3. All tournaments have a specific starting bankroll, specific playing rules, a posted minimum and maximum bet and rules on how players advance. In some tournaments, for example, it is only the table winner that advances; in others the top two winners advance. Make sure you read and understand all the rules before entering (sponsors will provide the rules, just ask).

  4. If you lose all your chips in a table game tournament, you are eliminated. Some tournaments allow you to reenter (for another fee). You should always try to end a round with at least one red chip. Don't laugh. I've been in and observed tournaments in which a player won a round because he had one chip left while everyone else bet it all on the last hand or dice throw and lost.

  5. In table game tournaments, all players take turns betting first. You have an edge if you bet last because you get to see how much your opponents have bet in relation to their bankrolls.

  6. Some tournament players bet conservatively from start to finish while others make large bets from the get go. From my experiences you need to have a more aggressive betting style than you would normally, especially when you have a smaller bankroll than the table leader toward the end of the playing round. My advice is to bet small in the early rounds and increase your bets only if a fellow player begins to amass a larger bankroll. Sometimes you'll find yourself leading the table with this strategy because your fellow players are betting big and losing. However, sometimes a fellow player will start betting big, win and begin to pull ahead. That's when you have to start to increase the amount of your bets. The point is that you want to be within striking distance of the leader prior to going into the last five minutes of the round. Be prepared, however, to step up your betting even more on the last few hands or dice throws to stay in contention. Specifically, if you are serious about winning the top prize, then you should be prepared to make large bets up to the maximum allowed (usually $500) if that is what it will take to stay ahead or catch the leader. This is especially the case on the last hand or dice throw.

  7. You need to learn how to estimate what a stack of chips is worth since it is important you have some idea of the status of the bankrolls of your fellow players. I once witnessed a tournament blackjack player take a ruler and start measuring the height of the stack of chips his opponents had. (By the way, one stack of 10 casino chips measures about one and one-quarter inches). Remember, it is important to keep track of your opponents' bankrolls, especially the leader's, so you can adjust your bet size. Nowadays, most tournaments have a count-down where everyone's bankroll is counted prior to the last round, so all the table players know the amount of their bankrolls in relation to the other players.

  8. Be careful of players who take the lead then mimic every bet you make so you have no chance of catching up. This strategy often occurs in craps or baccarat tournaments. For example, if a player has the lead in a craps tournament and his closest competitor makes a $300 bet on the pass line, the leader will often do the same. By betting in this manner no one can catch him. On the other hand, one way to catch a leader is to bet the opposite of him. If he is betting the pass line, you should bet don't pass. This way, if he loses, you win. Also be careful in craps tournaments where it is possible for someone to catch you in one or two dice throws by making bets that pay off large amounts (especially the proposition bets). The same goes for the tie bet in baccarat.

  9. With slot tournaments, the key is to get as many spins as possible during the allotted round. This means you must keep your finger(s) constantly tapping on the spin button. I have seen players become distracted during slot tournaments and let precious seconds go bye without activating the spin button. Your finger(s) will get tired, so you need to learn which jackpots are large enough to allow you to stop and rest a few seconds while the machine totals the winnings in credits.

  10. Be careful of unorthodox plays, especially in the last hand or dice throw, as desperate players do what's necessary to overcome a leader. I once learned this lesson the hard way in the very first blackjack tournament held in Atlantic City. I had the lead going into the last hand. My closest opponent was dealt a blackjack hand and I knew even with his 3 to 2 payoff on the hand, I had him beat even if I lost the hand. Can you imagine my shock when he doubled down on his blackjack hand? He drew a picture card for a three-card twenty-one and won the hand when the dealer busted. Because this astute player doubled down, he won twice his original bet instead of one-and-one-half his original bet, which was just enough to end up with $30 more bankroll than me. (By the way, don't think of trying this strategy -- doubling on a blackjack hand is no longer allowed in most casinos).

If you want to get your feet wet in tournaments, I would strongly suggest you start in one of the low stakes fun tournaments where the risk is low. There are also several good books and computer software programs dealing with tournament strategies and I can recommend the ones written by Stanford Wong.


For more information about tournaments, we recommend:

Casino Tournament Strategy by Stanford Wong
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Recent Articles
Best of Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

Winning Baccarat Strategies

> More Books By Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin