You may have heard of the World Series of Blackjack or the Ultimate Blackjack Tour.
Both of these competitions are now defunct, but they are a great example of how elimination blackjack tournaments work, and in fact, it was the Ultimate Blackjack Tour that introduced the idea in the first place.
The glaringly obvious difference between elimination tournaments and regular blackjack at a casino, is that the players are competing against each other instead of simply competing against the dealer.
This brings a whole new dynamic to the game and therefore alters what would be considered optimal play, with tactical plays coming into the equation and even borrowing elements from poker.
Many players are attracted to blackjack elimination tournaments because it is a different challenge, and although they aren’t as famous as their poker tournament cousins, they do share some of the same ideas, and are available to play online and in some brick and mortar casinos.
They also cost a set amount to enter, so potential losses are capped while potential winnings could be an awful lot more than in a regular session of blackjack if you finish at or close to the top of the table. You won’t need to play anywhere near as many hands to get there either, so the grind is much less.
How Elimination Blackjack Tournaments Work
Whatever the size of the tournament, each player who is competing will be given the same number of chips to begin with.
Players will be split up across however many tables are required, and will then play through a set number of hands with players being eliminated at certain points along the way.
For example, if 30 hands are being played and there are 7 players at the table, players may be eliminated after hand 8, hand 16, and hand 25, with the final two going on to the next round.
There might only be one final round after this to find the winner, or there might be another round of knockouts, it just depends how big the competition is, but the format remains the same.
At the final table, the few remaining players will battle it out to decide the winner, and that person will claim the prize. Smaller prizes may also be available for those finishing a few places below.
Unlike at a casino, there is a strict time limit within which each player must make their decisions. This is generally 25 seconds for regular hands and 45 seconds for elimination hands.
This keeps the competition moving and adds pressure to the players to keep the stakes high and the game interesting.
Another thing you might not be used to, is that the dealer will start the deal from a different place for each new hand, working their way around the table.
This keeps the competition fair, because betting first can be a disadvantage in these tournaments, while betting last allows you to make decisions based on information the other players did not have, such as the size of their chip stacks.
The prize money is made up of everyone’s entry fee, minus a percentage which the organiser would keep.
How Players Are Eliminated
Although there are other types of blackjack tournaments which are structured without the need for eliminations, an elimination tournament will inevitably see players knocked out as the competition goes on.
Generally, players can be eliminated in one of three ways:
- The player loses all of their chips
- The player does not have enough chips remaining to make the minimum bet
- The player has the least chips remaining after an elimination hand
Essentially then, it’s all about having more chips than at least a few of the players at your table. Being the player with the most chips isn’t necessary in earlier rounds, so strategy can be applied to get yourself through each stage.
Even if a player ends up knocking themselves out before an elimination hand by losing all their chips, the next elimination hand will still see another player removed from the proceedings, so it is theoretically possible for the table winner and runner up to be found before all 30 hands have been played.
How Elimination Tournament Play is Different to Casino Play
As we said earlier, the fact that players are competing against each other means that tactics can be employed in order to avoid being knocked out.
For this reason, keeping an eye on the other player’s chip stacks is imperative.
For instance, if you know that it is an elimination hand and the player to your right has just lost unexpectedly and has fewer chips than you, you might decide to make the minimum bet and play the hand safe to ensure your safety.
Equally, you might find yourself in a situation where you have no choice but to go all in on a bad hand and cross your fingers, because the only other alternative is elimination.
Knowing when to bet big and when to bet small, when to bet aggressively and when to back off, is very important in tournaments.
If you let yourself fall too far behind then you run the risk of not being able to catch up later on in the game, so you need to start upping your bets if you find yourself with too few chips compared to the person in the lead.
Working out where you will be in the deal for the final round is another consideration that will effect how you play right from the beginning.
If you know you will be dealt first, then you will hit the last hand at a disadvantage so should perhaps think about trying to establish a bigger lead earlier on so your chip count is difficult to beat. Alternatively, if you are to be dealt last you can make a more informed final decision so can afford to perhaps be a little more cautious beforehand.
These are just a few examples, but they demonstrate the difference in mentality when compared to playing in a casino, when it is simply about playing optimal strategy.