From the first rudimentary games of twenty-one dealt 500 years ago until one Las Vegas night in 1978 blackjack was a game contested between a player and a dealer. Brothers Ed and David Fishman changed that at the Sahara Hotel by staging “The World’s First Blackjack Tournaments Championship.” The goal was not to beat the dealer but other players in the tournament by accumulating the biggest stack of chips from the same starting point. The entry fee was $250 and the buy-in was $500; the minimum bet was $5.00 with a maximum of $500.
More than 2,000 of the gambling world’s best blackjack players showed up at the Sahara tables. Since the house had no stake in the individual outcome of hands cards were dealt from single decks and no measures were taken to discourage card counting. The championship was a hit and the Sahara blackjack tournaments became a tradition. “The Jewel of the Desert,” with its Moroccan theme and camel statues out front, became the go-to casino for blackjack players.
With long sessions of play the card counters and sharp players inevitably emerged as winners in these regular tussles at the Sahara which hurt the popularity of tournaments – everyday players became discouraged and casino operators did not want to glamorize the practice of card counting. Eventually in 2002 the Las Vegas Hilton christened its Million Dollar Tournament with shorter rounds of deals and shoes with multiple decks.
Types of Blackjack Tournaments
The classic format for a blackjack tournament is a multi-table event where all players begin with an equal value of chips and a pre-set number of hands are dealt. At the end of the round players with the fewest chips remaining are eliminated and one or more of the top chip-holders advance to new table. Chips are returned and all players begin with an equal value of chips for the next round. This pattern continues until a final table is determined and a winner emerges. Usually there is a payout schedule from the prize pool rather than a winner-take-all format.
Blackjack tournaments can also be staged on a single table with a single round. Usually the player holding the most chips at the conclusion of the shoe will claim the entire pot.
Tips for Blackjack Tournament Success
For those familiar with the more popular poker tournaments, there is less skill involved during the play of the hands which puts a premium on betting strategy. At the very least blackjack tournament players should know basic blackjack strategy that is readily available in books and online and in charts. The player should also be 100 percent sure of the rules peculiar to the tournament before sitting down to play.
So, if betting is critical to blackjack tournament success then what is the best strategy to employ in managing a chip stack? There is no magic plan but most players shove the minimum bet onto the table in the beginning so as to remain within striking distance of the chip leader as the final hands approach in a round. While large bets in the beginning offer the allure of a guaranteed advance to the next table they are just as likely to lose and put the player out of the tournament.
Blackjack Tournament Variations
While betting the minimum provides the clearest path to advancement in blackjack tournaments it is also a prescription for a dull event. To counter that effect, tournament organizers have introduced devices to get the chips moving earlier. At the World Series of Blackjack two “knockout cards” are inserted into the shoe. Whenever one of the cards is dealt the player with the smallest chip stack is eliminated. To evade that fate players will be more aggressive with early round bets. Tournaments may also employ Elimination Blackjack where there are mandatory dismissals from the table for the lowest chip total at the conclusion of the 8th, 16th and 25th hands in a 30-hand round.
Another variant will be the “power chip.” This permits the player one time each round to change one of his cards for the next card in the deck. Again this device will encourage a large early bet with an extra chance to massage a winning hand against the dealer. A different one-time bullet at some tournaments is the “hidden bet” where a player’s wager and actions on the hand are not revealed to the other players.
Online blackjack tournaments may employ Duplicate Blackjack where all the players make decisions form the same sequence of cards. With everyone playing the same hands the quality of the betting decisions should trump luck in determining the winner.