The basic premise of tournament blackjack is the same as all types of educated gambling: Manage Your Risk. This concept is the idea behind learning basic blackjack strategy, calculating lose/win probabilities and even the subtle strategy of card counting. The difference is that in tournament blackjack, the risks are much higher, and win you lose, that’s it. There’s no way to buy more chips and keep playing. As a result, there’s a three-part strategy for tournament play. It’s known as Risk and Reward, Similar Outcomes and Basic Strategy.
Risk and Reward: This is the biggie. Your key to tournament play should be assured you get the maximum value out of every bet. This should be your overriding thought with each bet. Thinking constantly in these terms can help you adapt your strategy depending on the situation at the blackjack table.
Similar Outcomes: Like regular table play, tournament blackjack pits all players against the dealer. The result is that players are likely to have similar outcomes on each hand. For example, if the dealer turns up blackjack, everybody loses. The trick is to compensate for these common situations by playing and betting your hand differently from your opponents.
Basic Strategy: Important as it is, basic blackjack strategy isn’t the biggest factor in most hands of tournament blackjack. The key is to limit risk. For example, by keeping bets small on most hands, any mistakes you make on those hands won’t hurt much. However, make a mistake on your big bet, and you could be out of the casino game. Here’s how to apply this three-part strategy at the table, looking at examples for a standard elimination round in which you compete against other players.
Risk and Reward: Time was that players who could manage their risk effectively were guaranteed a shot at a second- or third-round table. That’s because players then thought the way to win was to bet big. Now players are more sophisticated, so more players are skilled at preserving their bankrolls well into the last rounds. The “bet small” strategy has become less effective because so many are using it.
These days it may prove more helpful to develop a hybrid strategy based on observation of how other competitors are playing and betting. For example, if everyone’s betting small, a large bet early on could guarantee a win. However, early rounds often bring out a few wild bettors, so the “bet small” strategy can still work when combined with choosing when to bet big.
In short, risk management often comes down to a simple rule: Bet enough to get the job done. This maximizes the value of the wagers you’re risking. If you’re opting to make a big bet, remember the second part of the overall tournament strategy: Most players’ outcomes are similar. Betting just enough to reach your goal, even if an opponent also wins his or her bet, most likely means that you’re weighing your risks and rewards accurately.
Similar Outcomes: Once you take the lead, however, the rule of similar outcomes kicks in. Making minimum bets at this point increases the chances that other competitors may pass you in total winnings. So now’s the time to shift your playing strategy. Try to marginalize their bets by wagering similar amounts. Although you may be victimized by bad cards that allow some opponents to pass you, it’s still a better strategy to risk a medium-sized bet to keep parity with your competitors.
Basic strategy: The final prong of your tournament plan involves knowing when and how to place those large bets that put you in the lead. In other words, you can’t rest on your mid-tourney strategy of medium-sized bets to keep pace with your competitors. This is the time to hunker down and watch for your opportunity to make the game-winning play.
Here’s a scenario: You’re at the online tables and you’re trailing the leader by almost the amount of a max bet Then the leader makes a small bet. Your best option to catch up and pass the leader at this point is to weigh the risk and reward of making a max bet in order to capture the lead. It may require risking a good part of your bankroll, but the potential for a big reward could be significant.
Among the things you’ll need to consider are how many hands are left in the round you’re playing, and whether this hand is your last chance to take the lead with one bet. If the time is right, then assess whether a total maximum bet is really needed. You might be able to take the lead with a big, but not necessary max, bet. Whatever you do, don’t wimp out with a medium-sized bet, but take the lead in one hand if you can. You’ll be making a large risk, it’s true, but you’ll be making a single large risk as opposed to a series of medium-sized risks that could lead to greater losses overall.
Most tournament players have a final piece of advice. Whenever you’re wagering so much that your remaining chips wouldn’t do you any good, go all in. For example, if it’s late in the tournament round, and you need to bet a minimum of $450 out of your $500 bankroll to capture the lead, it’s probably best to bet $500. Any time you need to win an amount that’s more than half the total of your bankroll, it’s a better strategy to try to do it all at once in a single bet rather than waiting for a split or a double. These aren’t all the strategies that could be used in tournament play, but they are the basics that most tourney players use regularly.