26 May

How to Play and Win at a Blackjack Tournament

How to Play and Win at a Blackjack Tournament

Most of today’s major casinos, online and on land, offer blackjack tournaments. These events are very popular among some crowds. The rules of the game are the same, but the tournament format makes it much more interesting, and more profitable, to those who finish high enough to make prize bubble.

How to Play Blackjack Tournaments with Strategy

Blackjack tournaments are a fantastic way to enjoy the game of 21, with a shot at winning far more money than you might make in a standard game. The following information is intended to help you play a more strategic game that focuses not only on traditional blackjack tactics, but meeting the winning criteria for a blackjack tournament.

  • Standard 21 vs Tourney: Playing in a blackjack tournament is nothing like playing the standard game. It’s less about win rate, and more about survival…
  • Types of Tournaments: There are two basic types of blackjack tournaments you can enter – Elimination, and Non-Elimination, playable in Scheduled, SNG, and Live Money formats…
  • Round by Round: Your goal in each round of play, leading up to the final round, is to survive each shrinkage of the field. This means maintaining an above average chip stack…
  • Final Round: The last round is unlike any before it. This is your time to shine. You’ll need to take risks to come from behind, or mimic others to retain the lead…
  • Watch the Stacks: You need to keep up with how many chips your opponents have at all times. This makes it easier to keep your own stack above surface level…
  • One to Grow On: When things are getting iffy, and everyone at your table is betting all-in to stay afloat, do the same, but hold onto one chip in case the dealer scoops…
  • Final Hand Tips: The final hand can be the trickiest of all, depending on how you stack up against the remaining players. These tips will help you make the right move…
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Difference Between 21 and Blackjack Tournaments

This biggest mistake people make in a blackjack tournament is playing their hands the same way they would at a standard game. Yes, the rules of play are the same, but winning takes a completely different strategy. In a standard game, you’re competing against the dealer. In a tournament, you have to outlast the other players to win.

Most tournaments are won by the player with the most chips remaining. Instead of playing to win money in each hand, you are playing to have the most chips left. This means you can win the tournament, and the money, even if you end with fewer chips than you started with.

Like a typical game of 21, you want to use basic strategy and, if you aren’t already familiar with it, learn how to count cards. These strategies will give you the maximum return against the dealer, and an edge over any opponent that is not employing the same tactics. Note that there are certain situations – especially the final hand of any round – where you may need to deviate from basic strategy. We’ll talk more about that below…

Types of Blackjack Tournaments

There are two main types of blackjack tournaments you need to be aware of. These include Elimination tournaments and Non-Elimination tournaments. Additionally, they can be played with variable fields and cash types. An event can be Scheduled or Sit’n’Go events, and it could have a Live Money chip count.

Elimination Blackjack Tournaments

This is by far the most common type of blackjack tournament. An elimination event has numerous, timed rounds of play. At the end of each round, the half of the field with the lowest chip stacks remaining is eliminated. There will be as many rounds as are needed to drop the field to a final table of play. When time ends in the final round, the player with the highest stack wins.

Non-Elimination Tournaments

Non-elimination tournaments usually have smaller fields and only a single round of play. The tournament will end when either a) all other players run out of chips, or b) time expires (i.e. the highest stack wins). Non-elimination events usually take place in SNG format.

Scheduled vs. SNG

A scheduled tournament is one that is advertised in advance. It has a specific start time, and registration is open for an extended period of time leading up to the event. These are usually larger tournaments, played in elimination format.

Sit’n’go (SNG) tournaments, found mostly at online casinos, are smaller tournaments where registration is always open. As soon as enough players join, the tournament begins, and another one is always waiting for enough entrants. Due to the smaller fields, these are sometimes played in non-elimination format.

Live Money Chips Count

Most casino and poker tournaments require a standard buy-in and fee, then give all players an equal amount of chips to begin with. In a live money tournament, the chips you play with are your own real money.

Blackjack Tournament Strategy by Rounds

Every elimination-style tournament must be played on a round by round basis. You cannot look at the bigger picture. Surviving the current round is the only thing matters.

In the early and middle stages of a round, you’re working to win as many hands as possible. Employ basic strategy on all hands, and use card counting to increase your win rate whenever possible.

In the late stages of each round (except the final round), your only concern should be staying above the average-stack mark. If you finish the final hand of a round with a below-average stack, your game is over. If you’re behind, you’ll have to bet more and/or take more risks to get ahead. Depending on the table limits, you may have to bet max, then double down, regardless of basic strategy, just to ensure your survival. 

Strategizing the Final Round Based on Position

Once you reach the final round, that’s when things can really get hairy. At this point, you need to be in the lead. Or, if it’s a prize pool event, you have to finish high enough to earn your share. Often times, basic strategy goes out the window. If you’re in the lead, your job is to stay there, even if it means making a bad move.

For example, if the only person with a large enough stack to catch you bets 3,000 chips, you must also bet 3,000 chips. If they stand on any total between 12 and 16, you must also stand on any total between 12 and 16. If the dealer busts, you both win and you retain the lead. If the dealer wins, you both lose and you retain the lead. See where I’m going here?

If you’re in a low position, your job is to play opposite of everyone else. You need them to lose and you to win. If you have to take more risks to get there, do it. It’s the only way to jump into the lead, and therefore worth the risk.

Know Where Your Opponents Stand in the Count

You should always know how many chips your opponents have. If you lose track of where you stand in respect to everyone else, you may slip below the average chip stack. Wait too long to count them, and you may run out of time or hands to recover.

Don’t Follow Everyone All-In – Keep One to Grow On

It’s not uncommon for a full table of tournament players to go all-in at the same time, especially in the second half of a round. Once a player does this, it tends to scare others into following. If you keep betting small, you could fall way behind, but if you go all-in, you could lose everything. The best move is to follow them, but to keep one chip back. This way, if the dealer beats the table, everyone else is eliminated, but you’re still in the game.

Tips for Winning the Final Hand

When the tournament is almost over, the dealer will call “Final Hand”. It’s easiest to play if you’re in late position, because you can see what everyone else is doing first. In this case, you do whatever it takes to give you a chance at finishing in the highest position. From early or middle position, you’ll need to do some calculating.

If you already have the lead, bet enough to beat the second-highest chip stack, even if he bets max. If you’re coming from behind, you may have to bet everything you’ve got. If you’re in the first seat, don’t go all-in. Keep one or two chips back, just in case everyone else shoves and the dealer scoops. How nice would it feel to win it all with a single chip remaining?


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