Your Blackjack Tournament Primer

Casual Blackjack games (or what I like to call “kitchen table Blackjack”) are really fun, and are great for developing your skills as a player. But in time you might notice that you’re becoming too good for the table. If you keep winning, maybe it’s time to move up and give tournament Blackjack a try. The same goes for casino Blackjack; eventually, you’ll want to test your skills against greater opponents.

The experience of playing in a tournament might be nerve-racking at first, but you’ll eventually learn to thrive in the type of high-pressure environment that a Blackjack tournament provides. But before you jump in with the sharks, make sure you read this article. I’ll be giving you Blackjack tournament tips, and a few pieces of Blackjack tournament strategy.

Blackjack Tournament

Tournament Blackjack vs Casino Blackjack

Tournament Blackjack is quite different from Casino Blackjack. Before you think about how to win a Blackjack tournament, you need to know the difference between Tournament Blackjack and Casino Blackjack first:

Tournament Blackjack Casino Blackjack
You play against the dealer and other players. Players play against the house (dealer).
The object of the game is to have more chips than everyone else by the end of the tournament. The object of the game is to win money.
The dealer winning is sometimes in your best interest. The dealer winning is never in your best interest.
There is no limit to your bankroll. You can keep digging into your wallet for more money to bet. Betting is limited to your entry fee.
Card counting is a valid and important strategy. Card counting is banned; to win, you will have to outplay other players.
In addition to card counting, you need to know basic player strategy, and stick to your game plane. Knowing basic player strategy is important, but so is knowing when to deviate from to that strategy.


How do Blackjack Tournaments Work?

Not all Blackjack tournaments are alike. Tournaments come in different flavors. They are:

Traditional Elimination

This is the most common tournament type. If you find a tournament to join, chances are it’s this format. Under this type, you play against the players at your table. Winners advance, losers are eliminated, although losers can pay the rebuy fee to re-enter the tournament.

Mini Tournaments

These tournaments are usually smaller, and have smaller entry fees. The pool is also smaller – around $2,000 in most games. They’re held more frequently in casinos, but also online.

Non-Elimination (or Accumulation)

You play against all the players in the tournament. The goal of the tournament is to win more chips than everyone else at the end of the tournament.

Tournaments with Elimination

This format is pretty popular, thanks to the TV tournaments that use this format. Players with the lowest chip counts after the 8th, 16th, 25th, and 30th hands are booted out from the tournament.

Live Money

Most tournaments use chips. While chips have no inherent value, they represent the monetary value of your bets, and are traded for real cash at the end of the game. But in Live Money tournaments, players use real cash instead of chips.

Sit n’ Go

Sit n’ Go tournaments are pretty simple. A tournament begins when six players sit at the table. This format is also popular online.

How do Blackjack Tournaments Work

Tips for Playing Tournament Blackjack

Here are a few tips to help you on your Blackjack tournament journey:

Know the Tournament Equity

In addition to Blackjack tournament rules, you will also have to know what the tournament’s equity is. Equity is the amount of money organizers receive in entry fees vs the prize pool. Some tournament organizers will put additional prize support on top of the collected fees. This is a positive equity. You’ll want to enter a tournament with that sort of equity, instead of one where the prize pool is significantly less than the collected fees.

Know the House Rules

Blackjack tournament rules aren’t always the same through different tournaments. A few will have unique “house rules” which are determined based on the local “meta” (a regular group of players). Before you join a tournament, be sure to know what the house rules are. This is doubly true if you’re entering a tournament series for the first time.

Never Break These Two Rules

House rules may chance, but I’ve seen these two rules strictly enforced in all the tournaments I’ve joined. Make sure you don’t break these two rules:

1. Never Make String Bets

A string bet is when you drop your chips onto the table in a cascade-like sequence. In Blackjack tournaments, you are required to put your entire stack of chips in the betting area one motion. If you make this mistake, only the first chip that touches the table will count as your bet. The rest of your chips will be returned to you.

2. Never Talk to Non-Players

This one should be a no-brainer, but you’ll be surprised by the number of players I’ve seen break this rule. Bystanders can feed you vital info on other players’ hands, which is why this is strictly forbidden.  

Tips for Playing Tournament Blackjack

Vital Tournament Skills

Here are the skills you’ll have to master in order to excel in Blackjack tournaments. Since a single blog post won’t have enough space to tackle each skill, I’ll be giving you an overview. In time, I’ll be tackling each skill in great detail in this blog – so keep coming back!

Understanding Betting Position

The first person to bet rotates around the table after each hand. A button is given the player who goes first and that player is known to be “on the button.” Being on the button gives you a slight disadvantage, since you’ll be betting without knowing how much the other players bet. On the same token, if you go last, this gives you an opportunity to bet more aggressively, since you will have a clearer view of the table and how everyone is betting – so take advantage of that opportunity.

How to Stay Ahead

If you’re ahead, you can hold on to your position by betting as much as your closest competitor. That way, they won’t be able to overtake you after a single round of betting.

Knowing How to Catch-Up

If you’re behind the leading player, you can try to get ahead by making bigger bets, instead of making small or medium bets. You will also want to be no more than one maximum bet behind the leading player. That way, you can theoretically catch up after one round of betting.

Know When to Go Low

If your current chips aren’t sufficient to overtake the leading player, you can “go low” by holding one chip more than he or she. This will put you at an advantage in case the dealer wins.

Don’t Go All-In

Seeing the rest of the table go all-in is an exhilarating sight. To some people, that’s the climax of the tournament. However, it’s best not to get caught up in the moment. If everyone else goes all-in, bet hard, but hold back one chip. The logic is the same as going low; if the dealer wins, you could be at an advantage over the other players.

Use Your Bankroll Wisely

Towards the last few rounds of a tournament, you may have to make a series of big bets to get ahead. When that happens, you can try betting half your total bankroll. Doing so will allow you to pair split if you happen to draw a pair. If you do this, you’ll have the other half of your bankroll as a reserve in case you want to pair-split or double down.

Double Down on Your Last Hand

If you’re still behind on the last hand, you may want to bet super-aggressively. You could try doubling down, no matter what cards you’re dealt. It’s a bit of a Hail Mary, but I’ve had some dramatic wins doing this.

“When in Doubt, Put Out”

Blackjack is a game that rewards aggressive play. If you ever find yourself in a position where you’re unsure about how much to bet, you might as well take a huge swing and bet the maximum amount.

Blackjack Tournament Skills

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