Blackjack Tournament Strategy
Most people who play blackjack in casinos do it for some fun. However, amateur and professional enthusiasts often engage in tournament blackjack, coming out on top requires knowledge of tournament strategy.
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 assuring 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 those of 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. Make a mistake on you big bet, however, and you could be out of the 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 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 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 full 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. If you’re keeping up with these strategic concepts, then the rest of your play is up to Lady Luck.
Blackjack Probability & Simple Maths To Help You Win
The exploits of famous big-money blackjack players such as Ken Uston and the MIT Team can lead beginning blackjack enthusiasts to think that it’s necessary to have a complex strategy to win at the tables. In truth, blackjack is one of the few card games in which the strategy truly rests on a skill: the ability to perform some simple math.
Being able to calculate the odds of losing (and gambling is always based on the odds of losing, not winning) won’t assure a win every time. There are simply too many variables in play. That’s why even the best blackjack strategies are based on the science of probabilities, or the statistically likelihood of a certain outcome given some common conditions.
However, using probability math effectively can certainly improve a blackjack player’s chance of winning a blackjack hand. For example, whatever else is involved in strategy, the one thing that is sure in blackjack is that if you bust, you lose. The following table gives the probability of busting if you take a hit when your cards total certain numbers.
|Hand Value||% of Busting||Dealer’s Up||% of Dealer|
|11 or less||0%||Ace||17%|
Here’s the probability of receiving the following two card point total:
1) Blackjack – 4.8% (winning hand)
2) 17 – 20 – 30.0% (automatic stand)
3) 12 – 16 – 38.7% (decision hands)
4) 4 – 11 – 26.5% (must hit)
Here’s the probability that the dealer will receive the following point total:
1) Blackjack or 21 – 12.2% chance
2) 20 points – 17.6% chance
3) 19 points – 13.5% chance
4) 18 points – 13.8% chance
5) 17 points – 14.6% chance
6) Dealer Busts – 28.3% chance
The odds that a dealer will not bust is 71.7% chance (before any cards are flipped)
Knowing these odds makes it possible to understand why a blackjack strategy card tells you to hit or stand in certain situations. There are a lot of combinations and you have to use your best judgement when there isn’t a clear-cut decision. That is part of what gambling is all about.
Here are some situations that you shouldn’t have to make a decision:
Don’t ever split 10′s or 5′s
Don’t hit 15 or 16 unless the dealer has a 7 or higher
Don’t split 2′s through 7′s if the dealer has an 8 or higher
Don’t split 9′s when the dealer is showing a 7, 10 or Ace
Do split or double down every good chance when the dealer is showing a 5 or 6
Do split 8′s every time with the possible exception when the dealer is showing an Ace and you want to surrender
Do double down on 10 except when the dealer is showing a 10 or Ace
Always split Aces
Always double down on 11
Always hit 12 if the dealer is showing a 2 or 3
These situations will pay out in the long run if you make the same decision each time. Will you always win? Absolutely not. Are the percentages in favor of listening to the advice above, Yes!
Now remember that the casino always makes sure it has an edge in the game. This edge is about 2% on average. Casinos get this edge because the dealer always acts last after all other players have bet and made their decisions on whether to hit or stand. This means that more players are likely to bust before the dealer must decide how to play his or her hand.
Furthermore, the house sets the rules, which means that certain options may not be available to players in certain conditions. For instance, a common table rule is that the dealer must hit until 17, or must stand on a soft 17 (a hand that includes an ace that can be counted as either 1 or 11). It’s essential to determine what the house rules are before sitting down to a blackjack table.
Here is the House Advantage statistics for the different variations that you will see:
Single Deck Blackjack: 0.17%
Two Deck Blackjack: 0.46%
Four Deck Blackjack: 0.60%
Six Deck Blackjack: 0.64%
Eight Deck Blackjack: 0.66%
Dealer Hits on soft 17: 0.21%
Player can only double down on 9, 10, 11: 0.09%
Blackjack pays 6 to 5: 1.36% (only usually found in charitable blackjack games)
In order to decrease the house percentage, a player should learn basic blackjack strategy as well as memorize the probability table listed above and use a good blackjack strategy card to follow along with. Looking at this table, it’s obvious that more than half the time, you’re going to get a hit that will bust your hand. The reason for this is simple: There are more cards valued at 10 than any other value in the deck. These cards are 10-Jack-Queen-King. That’s what makes the probability of busting so much higher once your hand begins to run into the teens as a total.
One quick way to calculate the probabilities of busting is this simple rule: If you always assume that the dealer’s down card is a 10, you’ll hardly ever go wrong. So if the dealer shows an 8 up, and you have 16, there’s a high probability that you’ll bust if you take a hit.
That’s the thing with blackjack. To get really good at it, you simply must learn to do the math.