Blackjack tournaments have become more popular over the last 3 years or so. They add an element of competition since you are playing against other players and not against the dealer. The prize pool for a tournament is usually 100% of the entry fees paid by the players. There are enough 100% payout tournaments that you can ignore any tournaments that pay out less than 100%.
Tournaments are played in two different formats - elimination and non-elimination. In elimination tournaments, players at each table compete against only the players at your table and the player with the most money at the end of the round advances to the next table. All of the other players are eliminated from the tournament. A round of elimination blackjack is usually about 30 hands in length. Elimination blackjack was invented by poker player Russ Hamilton. The game combines the rules of blackjack with the betting elements of No-Limit Texas Hold'Em and is played exclusively on the Ultimate Blackjack Tour. UltimateBet, a sponsor of the Ultimate Blackjack Tour, offers online elimination blackjack tournaments.
In non-elimination tournaments, every player is competing against all of the other players at all of the tables and they are trying to win the most money after a certain number of rounds. In this format, no players are eliminated - they simply win or lose at the end. Elimination tournaments are more popular than non-elimination today.
One of the attractions of blackjack tournaments is that you can develop into an advantage player by learning tournament strategy. Knowledge of optimal tournament strategy hasn't become widespread the way that poker strategy has over the last 5 years or so. There are only 2 blackjack tournament books on the market that deal exclusively with blackjack tournaments - and only 1 really good one.
Another attraction is that the tournament may have an overlay where it pays out more than 100%, and therefore the average player will have a positive expectation.
In order to be successful at playing blackjack tournaments you will definitely need to get lucky. But aside from that, there are still strategies and philosophies that you can learn in order to maximize your expectation.
The key philosophy you should learn about tournament blackjack is the same one learned for poker tournaments - that it isn't about cards, it is about betting. To consistently win blackjack tournaments, you need to play, and bet, aggressively. Think of it as "win big or go home". Good poker tournament players are not afraid of going broke.
Now, when it comes to strategies, the most important thing you need to do is to monitor the size of the other players’ stacks so you will know where you stand and then play accordingly. Keep in mind that tournaments are all about your relative position.
When you're behind in the tournament you need to bet big to try to catch up. More specifically, you need to bet bigger than other players to create swings.
Now, when you're ahead, it is just the opposite - you don't want swings. This means that you should generally bet the same as the other players. If you bet big and lose you give other players the chance to catch up, but if you bet small, then you are also giving them a chance to catch up by being more aggressive.
Anyone inquiring about blackjack strategy will naturally wonder about the role of card-counting. Card counting by itself will not be the determining factor in winning or losing blackjack tournaments. This is mainly due to the reason we stated earlier - that it is about the betting and not the hands. Counting cards, however, can add to your advantage because the count will possibly tip you off as to what other card counters will be betting. For example, if you are behind in the tournament and the count goes negative, you will know that the card counters will likely bet small. This creates an opportunity for you to bet big and overtake them. You may be able to take advantage of card counters who will play a "count-optimal strategy" at the expense of a "tournament-optimal strategy" and give you an edge over card counters who have a rigid style of play and don't have the flexibility to break out of the card-counting mindset.
HPG ADMIN on March 1, 2013