All Blackjack tournaments can be classified into one of two broad categories: single table or multi table. Rather than purchase chips, players usually pay an entry fee to participate, and the fees that are collected determine the prize pool for the entire tournament. Players receive a fixed number of non-redeemable tournament chips, worth anywhere from $500 to $100,000 in non-negotiable value.
In most single-table tournaments, there is just one round of play, and the player with most chips at the end claims the entire prize pool. The objective, therefore, is not simply to beat the dealer and finish with more chips than were issued initially, but also to amass more chips than anyone else at the table.
Because most Blackjack tables are laid out for 5~7 players plus the dealer, the number of persons who can participate in a single-table tournament is quite limited. The players are usually seated by invitation only or by qualifying in satellite tournaments. Single-table tournaments can also be set up at home, among friends, with the prize pool divided among the top two or three winners.
In all Blackjack tournaments, any player who runs out of chips or cannot wager the minimum bet is eliminated from play. In single-table tournaments, players can also be eliminated by periodically increasing the minimum/maximum table stakes or by the use of a “knockout” format.
In a single-table knockout tournament, the player with the lowest chip total after a certain number of deals must leave the table. Eventually, only one player remains—the winner. Alternatively, the tournament may limit play to a fixed number of deals, often no more than 25~32, with the chip leader declared the winner after the last hand. Time-limited tournaments are also organized, with the chip leader after an hour or other specified period of play declared the winner.
Multi-table Blackjack tournaments usually involve a number of elimination rounds, with the chip leaders at each table moving on to the next round, and the rest of the players eliminated. Small cash prizes are usually awarded to the top finisher and runner-up at each table. A pre-determined number of hands are played in each round, again 25~32 being common. The players all start out with the same number of chips at the beginning of each round; winnings do not carry over from round to round.
In the multi-table format, the very first round may be further divided into sessions. This allows eliminated players to re-enter the tournament by buying in again. For example, if a player is eliminated in the first session of the first round, he/she may join a second or third session in an attempt to qualify for the next round. This encourages aggressive play in the first-round sessions. The final round is usually played like a single-table tournament, with all qualifiers receiving a share of the prize pool according to a payout schedule and the players’ final rankings.
Blackjack tournaments fell out of favor for many years in the late 20th century, at least partly because casinos did not want to encourage players to develop card counting skills. But tournament Blackjack revived in 2002, when the Las Vegas Hilton launched its multi-table Million Dollar tournament. It received a further boost in 2004, when cable television’s Game Show Network initiated the World Series of Blackjack.
A very new type of tournament is “Duplicate Blackjack.” Only available at online casinos where computers do the dealing, it allows every contestant to play separately against the house, with the same sequence of cards dealt to each entrant. The player who ends with most chips at the end of a series of deals is declared the winner. To a large extent, this format eliminates the luck of the deal. The player who optimizes wagers and makes the best betting decisions will usually come out on top.
Today, most casinos offer occasional Blackjack tournaments for their loyal customers, and many offer regular public tournaments, some as frequently as three times a day. Entry fees range from $5~$25 to several thousand dollars. For those who are new to the game, tournaments offer an easy and limited cost way to play. They also offer big rewards for very little risk to experienced Blackjack players.