In this guide, we’ll get into blackjack tournament structures and tips on how to adjust your core blackjack strategy for tournament play. Don’t go throwing away that black book just yet!
As the King of Mobile Casino, it’s important we cover the king of casino games - blackjack and blackjack tournaments. For many of us, blackjack is a game against the dealer. But, if you’re looking to play a blackjack tournament, you’re going to need to adapt to the competitive landscape that blackjack tournaments bring to this beloved classic.
Blackjack tournaments are no time to scrap your entire blackjack strategy, rather, you’ll simply need to adjust to a new mindset that it’s no longer just you versus the dealer; there’s a whole pool of competitors you’re now playing against and the game has become one of longevity.
Similar to poker tournaments, blackjack tourneys progress and follow a structure. For many, this means a series of timed rounds that are played out with escalating betting limits. This helps diminish the playing field through low chip counts and straight up busts.
To get started in a blackjack tournament, an entry fee is required. Once it's paid, likely at the host Casino’s Cashier or via a qualifying satellite, players receive a receipt voucher that has an assigned table and seat number. Every player receives the same starting chip stack, and play begins!
Blackjack tournaments can be either a single table format or multi-table events. Similar to poker tournaments, they follow a structure of rounds and minimum/maximum betting limits. These can vary depending on the tournament’s exact rules and structure. The ultimate winner, the player with the highest chip count at the end of the tournament, receives the lion’s share of the prize pool. Let’s break down a single table event versus a multi table blackjack tournament.
In most single table blackjack tournaments, the winner will be the one holding the highest chip count at the end of the predetermined round(s). Beating the dealer is irrelevant in terms of winning a single table blackjack tournament, as the goal is to hold the highest chip count than any other participating player when it comes to an end.
In a multi table blackjack tournament, the structure follows one similar to a poker tournament that perhaps you’ve seen or played in the WPT (World Poker Tournament), the WSOP (World Series of Poker), or at your local casino. The tournament proceeds in rounds, whereby betting limits are increased along the way, and lower chip count standings or those who simply bust, are ousted. It’s this process of elimination that eventually brings the player pool right down to a final table of 7 or 8 players. At the end of the tournament, the player with the most chips or the last one standing, wins.
A blackjack tournament introduces so many additional variables that the game and your core blackjack strategy becomes more complex. You’re playing against others now, rather than just the dealer. Beyond your hand, the dealer's up card and the count, considerations such as other players' bets, relative stacks, and the remaining rounds should all influence your strategy.
While navigating this intricate landscape lacks a perfect strategy, there are methods to optimize your approach while keeping your core blackjack strategy intact. Here are a few key tips to help you adjust.
Stay sharp on rising betting limits and elimination rules. Keep an eye on the clock, noting when bets increase and understand the tournament’s progression and elimination rules to enhance your competitive edge.
Pull out your poker skills of observation. You’ve got to be aware of your fellow blackjack competitors, watch how they’re betting, and know their chip count level in relevance to yours. The aim is to capitalize on others' mistakes or losses, prioritizing longevity over pursuing a winning streak.
Make strategic betting decisions based on where you stand and look for opportunities. Consider more aggressive bets when you’re trailing, and conservative moves when you’re looking to steady your pace and let weaker stacks falter.
Don’t exhaust your stack too quickly and always keep tabs on your overall tournament position. If the tournament allows for a rebuy should you bust early, consider your budget and the chip counts of others to see if it’s a wise financial decision before jumping back in.
A spin off of the World Series of Poker, this blackjack tourney was a televised event that aired on the Game Show Network from 2004 to 2007. The buy-in provided players with a $100k chip count and started with minimum $1k betting rounds. Unlike the WSOP, it didn’t have a committed location to house it each year, rather it moved around from casino to casino with professionals and celebrities vying for a piece of the $1 Million prize pool.
Despite being one of the most beloved casino table games, blackjack tournament prize pools have yet to see the insane standards of those set by mega poker events like the WSOP. Nonetheless, there have been many blackjack tourneys to date that feature a $1,000,000 prize pool, like the $1 Million Dollar Blackjack Tournament of Maryland, that featured a grand $500K prize. The Atlantic City Tropicana has also been known to host $1 Mill prize pool events with top prizes that run from $35,000 down. With blackjack being such a celebrity fan fuelled casino game, it’s no shock that Million Dollar celebrity charity events pop up too, to the likes of Jay Z’s recent $1 Million Dollar blackjack tournament that ran with $100K buy-ins!
Tropicana Laughlin hosts a $200,000 Blackjack Tournament of Champions every July in Las Vegas. Leading up to the main event, the Tropicana will select one to three Champions of the Day who progress to the main event, which awards the top player a $199,000 cash prize with runner ups, usually 2 through 5, vying for $1,000 USD in free slot play.
When it comes to big wins, blackjack is all business. Let’s take a look at some of blackjack’s biggest winners to date.
OY, this Aussie businessman has had various blackjack highpoints in his life, walking out of casinos after single sessions with $7 Mill and even $40 Million wins. The latter of which was achieved in just about an hour while playing a table at the MGM Grand on the Vegas Strip. It took betting rounds of $250K to jump his bankroll so quickly, so much so, he felt the need to drop a million dollar dealer tip in his wake.
The MIT Blackjack Team put their skills to work across various casinos and over the course of a few years back in the 2000s, this team of ivy league schoolers amassed blackjack wins of $50 to $100 Million. Want the Coles notes on how this all played out? Grab some popcorn and watch 21 or read the novel it's based on, Bringing Down the House.
CEOs may look at blackjack like a business; Like Don Johnson, CEO of Heritage Development, who won just over $15 Million on a five month blackjack run. But, it wasn’t simply due to his wealth and his ability to drop big bets, rather he is well known for putting his mathematical skills to the felt. If you want to learn his tips of the trade, watch the 2014 Netflix documentary The Player: Secrets of a Vegas Whale, a master class in mathematics for blackjack enthusiasts.
The King of Blackjack Strategy, Ken Uston, was the inspiration for the MIT Team we speak of above. In fact, this blackjack player’s mathematical approach earned him the nickname, The King of Blackjack Strategy. Way back in the 70s and 80s, his blackjack team, the first of its kind, played $12,000 hands and amassed millions doing so.
If it’s an open blackjack tournament, any blackjack player can enter by paying the entry fee or winning a seat via a lesser buy-in satellite event. In a casino setting, buy-in into a blackjack tournament is usually done via the host Casino’s Cashier. Other blackjack tournaments may be closed affairs, only open to those who receive a casino invitation to join.
To make the jump to blackjack tournament play, you’ll need to come to the realization it’s no longer you solely facing the dealer. In a blackjack tournament, this classic table casino game transforms into a dynamic competition against fellow players. To succeed, you’re going to need to track rounds, understand elimination, observe, and keep a keen eye on the clock.
Much like poker tournaments, this depends on the structure of the game. Some guarantee a set prize pool like the Million Dollar Blackjack Tournaments, while others will be based on entries. Always check the pay table and structure of prize pool distribution before jumping in a blackjack single or multi table tournament.
The consensus is that you can, but it’s not effective in blackjack tournaments. For starters, it’s going to really dominate your concentration when there are many other factors at play in tournament games you’ll want to focus on, such as your chip count versus your competitors.
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