Blackjack Tournament Risk Management

Because all players at a table in a Blackjack tournament compete against the same dealer, they tend to get similar outcomes from their hands. For example, when the dealer draws a natural Blackjack, which occurs about once every 30 hands, all players are likely to lose. Similarly, when the dealer busts, any players who have not busted will win.

Since there is no way to ensure getting better cards than your opponents, the only sure way to win a Blackjack tournament is by betting and playing your hands better than they do. And that involves risk management.

Players new to tournament Blackjack often think of “risk management” as betting small. When the minimum is wagered, any mistakes made in playing the hand will have limited effect on the chip total. If a shoe goes bad, the damage is less to the small bettor than the big one.

Years ago, players who took this conservative approach were almost always guaranteed an opportunity to play the final hands of a round that determine the winner. That’s because so many subscribed to the strategy of betting big and amassing chips—a methodology that more often than not leads to spectacular wipeouts.

More recently, new rules, such as those of Elimination Blackjack, have been designed to weed out players with low chip counts. They pose a threat to conservative bettors, as do tournaments that gradually increase the table’s betting minimum during play.

Managing risk means more than placing small bets to avoid ruin. It also involves managing big bets, because that where the rewards are the greatest. At a table where everyone else is betting the minimum, tossing in an occasional big bet is the easiest way to gain distance from the pack. A wait-and-see approach is usually better suited to a table where a few players come out wagering wildly during the early hands.

Using your betting position wisely is another aspect of risk management. Small bets placed on hands may be fine when sitting at “first base,” but once the button has been passed and you are betting last, you have the advantage of seeing everyone else’s bets before you wager. You can use this knowledge to know exactly how much to put up in order to take the lead or move near the top of the chip count. Bet accordingly and resist any temptation to over bet or under bet the hand.

By the same token, if the chip leaders start pulling far ahead in the middle hands of a round, a big bet may be the only way to keep pace. Knowing when to take a risk is an effective way of managing risk. Chose the optimum timing, such as when the leaders reduce their bets. That’s an opening and an invitation to catch up.

On the flip side, when you find yourself in the chip lead, don’t go back to minimum wagers and open the door to your competitors. Make medium-sized wagers to keep them in your rear view mirror. If you lose, they will probably be losing right along with you.

The last several hands are where the winner is determined. This is not the time to be shy. Nor is it an occasion to be foolhardy. Risk exactly the number of chips you need to stay in the leads—no more, no less. One exception is when your chip count is so low that a loss would leave you with only a near minimum bet for the last round. This is the time to go all in. I will prohibit you from splitting or doubling down, but you will be worse off you win without all of your chips in play.

True risk management means betting just enough to get the job done. It means getting the maximum value out of chips put at risk. And it means playing hands wisely with the chip count always in mind. Do this, and you will turn up a winner much more often.