One increasingly popular version of tournament Blackjack is called “Elimination Blackjack.” Played not only in casinos but also online, it combines the game of Blackjack with certain aspects of the Poker game known as “No Limit Texas Hold’Em.” It is the version of Blackjack played since 2006 on a CBS Sports television show, “The Ultimate Blackjack Tour” (UBT). In fact, as its main proponent, UBT reportedly attempted to register the Elimination Blackjack format with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
The game rules of Elimination Blackjack are quite similar to Single Deck Blackjack, with the dealer required to draw on hands totaling soft 17 or less and stand on those valued at hard 17 or higher. With the exception of paired Aces, players can split pairs up to four times, early surrender is available, and insurance is offered when the dealer’s hand shows an Ace as the up card.
Other applicable rules include the use of six decks per shoe, a strict limit on the highest bet allowed, and doubling down only on the first two cards. A maximum of seven players are allowed per table, and 30 hands are dealt per round of play. Players start the first round with equal amounts of chips, between $10,000 and $100,000 worth, which are non-redeemable and non-negotiable.
During play, participants are automatically eliminated from the tournament if they lose all their chips or are unable to wager the minimum required by the table stakes. Another way players can be eliminated is by having the least amount of chips on the table at the end of certain pre-determined deals, specifically hands #8, #16, and #25. Collectively, these three deals are known as the “Elimination Hands,” and they ensure than no more than four players make it to the final deal, #30.
One special innovation used in Elimination Blackjack is called the “Secret Bet.” When a player makes his/her Secret Bet, the other players at the table do not know its value until after play of the hand is concluded. Typically, this option is available to a player only once per round throughout the tournament.
The Elimination Hands and Secret Bet were the brainchild of Ross Hamilton, a professional Blackjack player and the main event champion of the 1994 World Series of Poker. Hamilton had played on a pro Blackjack team in Las Vegas and was well versed in the strategies of tournament play. He was well aware that adding new nuances to the tournament format would force participants to play more aggressively, which would in turn add the element of excitement required to take an otherwise methodical game to prime time.
Players who trail in the chips totals heading into the Elimination Hands must often go “all in,” the same sort of risk that short-stacked players have to take in Texas Hold’Em. While the Secret Bet adds a little mystery to the game, it also allows players to conceal their betting strategies at opportune moments and “bluff” opposing players—another tactic borrowed from Poker.
Another aspect of Elimination Blackjack that keeps the game moving quickly is the time element. Players have just 15 seconds to make their decisions on most deals, a deadline which is increased to 30 seconds on Elimination Hands. If time expires before an initial wager is made, the player’s bet is automatically set at the table minimum. If a player fails to act on a hand within the time allotted, the hand must automatically stand.
Doubling, splitting, taking insurance, and surrendering are all actions allowed in conjunction with the Secret Bet, but opposing players are not permitted to see the wagered amounts. In online versions of the game, this is accomplished through the use of a special “Secret Bet Menu” that only the wagering player can see.