Ask a dozen tournament Blackjack players for advice on improving your play, and you are sure to get a dozen varying viewpoints. Everyone has a favorite style of play. Some strategies are based in mathematics. Others are rooted in personality.
Following are a dozen insights to Blackjack tournament play, garnered from occasional players and experts alike. Some of them may seem to contradict each other, but each has its own rationale. Browse through the list a see which ones fit your method of play. There may not be one tip that fits all situations, but there is always a time and a place for borrowed wisdom.
1. Stanford Wong, one of the world’s most successful tournament players, advises aggressive and competitive play. He sums it up as “succeed or go bust.” You can only win by advancing to the next round, so don’t hold back by playing conservatively.
2. When you are behind in the chip count, bet big. Catching up quickly must be your primary objective when you find yourself lagging.
3. When you are ahead in the chip count, stay with the pack. Betting big may lose you your lead. Playing conservatively will allow others to catch up. Watch what your opponents are wagering and go with the flow.
4. When you are behind in the chip count, do the opposite of the chip leader. Make small wagers whenever he/she bets big, and go big when he/she goes small. You will never catch up simply by drawing better hands.
5. Aggressive betting in the early hands of a tournament is the only way to get a head start on the competition. Make your big bets early.
6. Conservative bets placed in the early hands will allow you time to assess your situation and learn how your competitors play. Let them take the risks. You can always bet big in the later hands, because you will still be at the table, while more aggressive players may not.
7. Keep a close eye on your chip count, and a closer eye on the chip counts of your opponents. Your betting strategy should be determined less by how much you have than by how much your opponents have.
8. When your bankroll exceeds that of your opponents, begin increasing your bets slightly. Force them to chase you. Make them wager a higher percentage of their stacks than you do and they can never catch up.
9. Blackjack is still Blackjack, whether you play in a tournament format or against the dealer at your usual table. So count the cards and let the quality of the deck determine how much you bet—make bigger wagers when the deck is rich with tens and smaller bets when the deck is lean.
10. The last five hands are the most important ones. You must be in the lead or near it with five hands to go in the round or else you cannot win.
11. The first five hands are the most important ones. The player who is in the lead or near it after the fifth hand inevitably finishes as the chip leader.
12. For the last hand of the round, it should be easy to tell how much you need to wager in order to win, just by looking at how many chips the others have left. If you are not sure how much to bet in the last round, bet the maximum possible, but always keep one chip, just incase everyone busts out.
And here is one additional tip that has nothing to do with how you play your cards, but a lot to do with your finances: Look for early bird discounts. Many casinos offer reduced entry fees to players who sign up in advance. Why pay more than you have to? Now, go out there and win!