One typically thinks of blackjack as a solitary endeavor. Sure there might be other players at the table, but it ultimately comes down to a one vs. one contest between you and the dealer. Online blackjack tournaments offer a twist on this traditional format by pitting you against other players in a tournament-style format. Perform better than the competition and you’ll win a cash prize.
Blackjack tournaments at online casino sites offer the unique ability to put your betting skills to the test against other people. Instead of competing against the unbeatable casino, you can actually get an advantage over the competition through skillful play.
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The only real problem is in finding a place to play blackjack tournaments online. For some crazy reason, it’s hard to find real money blackjack tournaments anywhere. Only a few casino sites host tournaments with any frequency. Let’s take a quick look at where you can get in on the action today.
How Blackjack Tournaments Work
Online blackjack tournaments typically take one of two formats. The most common is the scheduled multi-table tournament. These tournaments are hosted at certain times of day and are open to however many players decide to join. Each player pays an entry fee and everyone begins with the same number of chips.
Six players are seated at each table and each hand is played like a normal hand of blackjack. You still compete against the dealer on a hand-by-hand basis, but your true goal is to accumulate more chips than the other players at the table. Ultimately, you want to end up with more chips than everyone else at the table.
Multi-table blackjack tournaments are normally run in elimination rounds that last for a predetermined number of hands. At the end of each round, the top 1 or 2 players at each table move on to the next round. The remaining players are knocked out.
The tournament progresses through elimination rounds until a final table round. The remaining few players compete for one more round. Whoever ends up with the most chips at the end of playtime is crowned the winner and paid a cash prize. Each of the top players receives a payout as determined by the payout schedule.
Sit-n-go blackjack tournaments are not scheduled in advance; they begin as soon as every seat has been claimed by someone. These tournaments are often played with six players, but you can also sometimes find heads-up, 3 player, 4 player and 5 player tournaments. The basic idea is the same no matter how many people join: get as many chips as you can.
Chips Do Not Have a Cash Value
After you pay your entry fee, you are given casino chips that have no cash value. The only purpose these chips serve is to keep score. So if you rack up a bunch of chips, I’m sorry to say you won’t be able to cash them out. However, you will be able to claim a nice tournament prize.
In fact, this is one of the biggest advantages of blackjack tournaments. After you pay your entry fee, you’re done risking money. You’re not going to risk even more money by playing with real money chips. Every bet you make after that point is placed using play-money chips. Blackjack tournaments give you the opportunity to go crazy and play a lot of blackjack with the only risk being whatever you paid to enter the tournament.
First of all, you should have a firm grasp of basic blackjack strategy so you can maximize your odds of winning any given hand. You should know when to hit, when to stand, when to double down and so on. Proper blackjack strategy increases the odds of winning individual hands.
Blackjack tournaments have additional strategy considerations beyond knowing when to hit and stand. Always keep track of how your chip count compares to everyone else at the table. If you’re behind and the round is about to end, it’s time to take bigger risks and try to catch up quickly. If you’re in the chip lead, it is best to play a conservative game and maintain a safe lead.
You should also keep your position at the table in mind. One of the key differences between online blackjack tournaments and regular blackjack is that the dealer’s position moves around the table from seat to seat. Sometimes you’ll act first in the hand and other times you’ll act last.
Acting last gives you a significant information advantage over the other players. You get to see what they do and how much the bet before you have to make any decisions. This information gives you the opportunity to see who is taking big risks and adjust your own strategy accordingly.
It is generally best to play more conservative when you have to act first. Minimize the information disadvantage by playing a conservative, small-ball game when you’re the first to act. Sometimes the situation will require more aggressive play in early position but generally its best to err on the side of caution when you’re first up.
The Contrarian Approach
Blackjack is one of those games in which the whole table often wins and loses together. When the dealer busts, most players at the table all win. When the dealer gets a blackjack, most players at the table all lose.
Now consider how this impacts your ability to get ahead of the other players. A lot of times what happens is you win a hand and increase in chips, but so does everyone else. It’s tough to pull ahead when the table often wins and loses as a block.
Someone noticed this a long time ago and thus the contrarian strategy was developed. Basically, you bet big when most players are betting small and you bet small when most players are betting big. Your goal is to end up with a different number of chips than everyone else. Instead of moving up a few chips with everyone else, you hope to capture a whole lot of chips and take the lead.
The risk in the contrarian approach is that you lose bigger than everyone else when the dealer comes out with a strong hand. This is the high-risk high-reward approach. It may make you the chip leader or cause you to go down in flames. The contrarian approach still works to a degree but with most players having at least a basic handle on blackjack tournament strategy, it’s not as effective on its own as it once was. You’ll need to do more than just go contrary to achieve long-term success.
Play Conservative During Elimination Rounds
Playing not to lose is a bad strategy in poker tournaments, but blackjack is a different animal. You don’t need to risk it all during the elimination rounds because there will be plenty of time during the final round to go for broke. All you need to do during the early rounds is capture enough chips not to be eliminated.
Let the other players go crazy and knock themselves out during the early stages. You just need to pay attention to chip counts and make sure you set yourself up to survive each round. If the top 2 people at each table advance to the next round, you know what you need to do. Play just aggressive enough to make it through each cut and then ramp up the aggression at the final table.
Here’s another thing to consider. If you make it to the late stages of an online blackjack tournament and you’re short on chips, it’s really not that bad. You can go all in a couple times and if luck is on your side, you can catch up to almost anyone within a few hands. This is why it’s OK to play conservative during the early stages.
Optimize Your Bet Sizes
A first place finish in a blackjack tournament pays the same whether you win by one chip or a thousand. Optimize the size of your bets based on your current standing, what your opponents are doing, how many chips they have and how prizes are paid.
Let’s say you’re the chip leader and the guy in second place goes all in late in the tournament. Match his bet and save your remaining chips just in case. Now if you both beat the dealer, you’re still going to be ahead. If you both lose, you’ll still have a few chips left over but he’ll be out. This is a simplistic example and the proper strategy may change based on the circumstances, but it shows how you should be thinking.
Wes Burns co-founded OnlineCasinoSites.com with a mission to help gamblers understand and navigate the regulated online casino market in all countries around the world. Wes is a respected gambling journalist, working in the industry since 2008.