Blackjack Tournament

Many casinos, from the goliaths on the Las Vegas strip to small regional operations, offer periodic blackjack tournaments.

Blackjack tournament Las Vegas

The size, cost, and scope of a tournament will vary according to where it is played. Most regional casinos have a regular (weekly or monthly) tournament that will be attended by 100 or so players for a single afternoon, each of whom pays a $20 entry fee for a purse of around $1,000. The same casinos may have seasonal or annual tournaments that last a few days and require a more significant stake for an even larger purse. The largest tournaments are held in Las Vegas, involving hundreds of players who may buy in for $500 apiece to play for a purse of $100,000 or more.

In rare cases, a tournament may be restricted to favoured customers, or to players who have won a certain number of smaller tournament events.

However, most tournaments are open to anyone who signs up and pays the entry fee. Casinos hold these events to draw entrants, who are typically a mix of frequent gamblers and high rollers, to their establishment in hopes that they will return later to play against the house. In brief, it’s a marketing gimmick.

How to run a blackjack tournament

A typical blackjack tournament will involve anywhere between a dozen to a few hundred players who compete in several rounds of play. The duration can last from a single afternoon to a few days, depending on the casino and the number of players their tournaments draw and are almost universally held during off-peak hours (very seldom evenings or weekends).

Blackjack tournament format

A few different blackjack tournament formats are most common:

In one format, players may be issued a fixed amount in “tournament cheques” at the beginning of the play (these are seldom the same cheques used in daily business, though this is not unheard of) and the winners are those who end the tournament with the highest amount. This format is less common because all players are involved for the entire length of the tournament, so there are no “drop outs” to stick around and play against the house.
In a universal format, players are given a fixed amount at the beginning of a round of 50 to 100 hands and advance to the next round only if they outperform the other players at their table, progressing toward a final round. One example would be a tournament that’s open to 108 players at tables of six players each. The top two players from each table advance for a total of three rounds, such that the finals are played between the top six contenders.

Blackjack tournament rules

Blackjack tournament rules

Tournament play will differentiate from typical play to ensure fairness to all competitors, at least in the opinion of the house.

Most often, the order of the deal will rotate, so the person sitting at first base will not always be the first deal. Instead, a puck will be rotated around the table and cards dealt accordingly so that each player plays an equal number of hands as first and third base, and any position in-between. Other than accommodating superstition, this is done to even out the slight advantage a player gains by being able to vary his bet according to what other players are betting, which can affect the outcome.

It is also not uncommon for stricter wagering limits to be imposed. Players may be forced to flat bet or may be subjected to an upper limit that is well below what is typical. The rationale for this is to prevent an “inferior” player from using a wagering system from defeating a “skilled” player who does not. (The quotation marks are used to denote that does not share the opinion that wagering systems are unfair. In our opinion, deciding how much to wager on each hand is as much a part of the strategy as deciding to hit or stand.)

Blackjack tournament strategies

Decent blackjack tournament strategies are as important in playing a tournament as it is in playing against the house. In either case, your goal is to win as much and lose as little as possible in each session. However, there are no differences in strategy that will make you a more effective tournament player. You must still use the same basic, intermediate, and blackjack advanced strategy techniques as you would in an against-the-house situation.

How to win blackjack tournament

The primary allure for the skilled player is that the house edge is eliminated. Since tournaments are played with token cheques rather than real money, nothing is lost or won except the entry fee and, if you come out on top, a share of the purse.
What’s more, if you can come out in the winner’s circle (which isn’t difficult, given the number of novice players in many smaller tournaments), you’ll make more money than you would have you been playing against the house. Outside of tournament play, there are very few situations in which a player can begin with a few hundred dollars and walk away after a few days with fifty thousand.

In almost every tournament, the prizes go to experienced players who can count cards and know basic strategy like the backs of their hands. A novice will fall by the wayside in the first few rounds of play—but that doesn’t mean that there is no value at all in attending a tournament as a novice player.

Blackjack tournament tips 

Since a tournament is a marketing gimmick, it is usually bundled with an excellent package that includes discount room rates, free meals, and other perks, all of which make it worthwhile to take advantage of the promotion even if you don’t participate in the tournament at all. Comparing the total cost of the tournament package with the cost of a stay of equal duration will indicate whether it’s a good idea to take advantage of tournament invitations.

Even so, if you are drawn to a casino by a tournament promotion, you should play in the tournament. Besides gaining experience at the game, an empty chair will be noticed in an event with a fixed number of entrants. Your absence will be noted, and you may not receive invitations to future events at that casino.

Disadvantages to Tournament Play

There’s only one disadvantage to attending tournaments: if you win frequently or consistently, you will gain a reputation as an active player. This is especially detrimental to the serious player or card counter, as tournament winners are tracked by the casino and their names are often published in industry journals. After making a few big scores on the tournament circuit (especially in different locations), you may find yourself unwelcome at some establishments.

Concluding remarks

The typical player will generally receive mailings about tournaments at casinos he has visited (‘that hold a players club membership). If you’re interested in actively pursuing tournament play, you can call or visit the websites of various casinos to find out when tournaments are being held, or subscribe to gambling periodicals that provide tournament listings.