Elimination Blackjack Tournament Strategy

Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 | by CasinoGuide

Elimination Blackjack is a fairly new, truly exiting variation of blackjack that gives you a chance to find positive expected value. Naturally you need to know the best strategy to win and that is what we're going to teach you here.

Elimination Blackjack is said to be a mixture of poker and blackjack, but to be honest, it is a lot more blackjack than poker involved. Nonetheless, it is perhaps the most thrilling game you can find in casinos today. Elimination Blackjack is basically a regular blackjack tournament with two extra elimination rounds.

The outcome of a regular blackjack tournament is always decided on the last hand (usually the 25th or 30th.)  In the elimination variation, however, there are three elimination hands: the 8th, 16th and 25th. After these hands, the player with least chips is eliminated and the rest of the field carries on playing. When the game is over, the prize money is divided according to the players' chip stacks.

Elimination blackjack is the only form of blackjack with an element of "bluffing." Once every round players may post a "secret bet," which means that they can post a bet their opponent are unaware of. In consequence, your opponents can't always adjust their bets according to what you have wagered and you have the chance to outplay other players when you are "out of position."

If you know the basic blackjack strategy, you also know the fundamentals of Elimination Blackjack tournaments, but there is still a lot to learn. The fact that you are up against other players and not the bank demands a different approach to the strategy.


Elimination Blackjack Rules

All players start with 25,000 in chips. The minimum bet is 500 and the maximum bet is 25 000. The player on the button is first to act (not like poker where the button is last) and everybody makes their initial wagers clockwise around the table.

The player who opened the betting then plays his hand, followed by the other players clockwise. The secret bets are reviled after every hand is played. After hand 8, 16 and 25, one player is eliminated and the player with most chips after hand 30 wins the tournament.


You vs. Other Players...Not the Bank

This is important to remember: It doesn't matter how much you lose as long as you have more chips than your opponents, and it doesn't matter how much you win when you have less chips than your opponents.  Even if you have lost half of your initial stack, you might have most chips and be in pole position. Consequently, never try to chase losses when you are actually in good shape.


Basic Blackjack Strategy

When you play blackjack online, the decks are shuffled before every hand is played. This means that there is only one way to get the best odds and that is deploying the basic blackjack strategy. In Elimination Blackjack, however, you can be short of chips and then you might need to adjust the basic strategy - more on this later.


Mindset of a Tournament Player

Some might think that the only way to win is to get good cards and knowing the basic strategy. This is not true. Skilled Elimination blackjack players have as much edge as a good poker tournament player. Here are some thoughts you need to take with you to the tables.


Risk and Reward

As in all forms of gambling you want to receive the maximum reward when risking your chips. You will end up in situations when you need to risk, say, 30% - 80% of your stack. When this happens, make sure the reward is maximized. If you win and your opponent loses, there is no point in being slightly behind. Make sure you end up ahead when making a risky move.

A rule of thumb: don't make mid-sized bets all the time. The reward is not that big when you win, and when you constantly make mid-sized bets, the risk of going broke is quite large. Instead you should either make mini-bets combined with aggressive wagers when trying to take the lead.


Often Similar Result

In an Elimination Tournament all players are up against the same dealer. As a result of this players usually have similar results. If the dealer receives a weak hand, there is a big chance that both you and your opponents win, and of course, if the dealer has a strong hand, many players will probably lose.

If you understand this, and the other players at the table don't, you have a huge advantage.

Say that you are in the lead with 50 chips, and the player behind you bets 100, then you should never bet less than you opponent - remember that when your opponent wins you probably win as well. But if you decide to bet 150 or more, you will give up the lead when both players lose, which is equally bad.

You have probably realized how much you are supposed to bet. Always make a larger wager than your opponent's but never as large as the opponent's bet and your lead combined. In the example above you might want to wager somewhere between 125 and 149.


Learn the Basic Strategy and Focus on what's Important

You don't want to waste energy on how to play the cards according to the basic strategy - that must be a straightforward task. You should instead focus on how much to bet depending on the players' stacks. With that said, there are often times that you need to make unconventional plays.

If your nemesis at the table busted before you, it might be best to give up the hand to stay ahead. If you are trailing and is becoming desperate, you might need to double on a hand the basic strategy advices against. On elimination hands, you might even find yourself in situations where you need to double on, say, 19 to stay in the tournament!


Pick Your Battles

In Elimination Tournaments, there will be situations where you need to risk large parts of your stack, and there will be situations where you need a lucky card to stay in the tournament. When you put your fate in the hands of Lady Fortune, make sure the reward is great when you win. You should never put in a large bet without a good reason. If the turnover won't be big, perhaps you should wait for a better spot to make a move

At a table with a lot of maniacs it is very effective to make a series of mini bets, and at a tight table, it is good to make a large bet in an early hand.

To beat both playing styles you need to combine the two approaches. Play a tight game and pick your battles.


Position is Everything

Poker players often talk about the importance of position, but in fact, it is even more important in elimination blackjack tournaments. In a blackjack tournament, the button indicates the first base - the player first to act - which is a huge disadvantage. When you open the betting your opponents can adjust their wagers so that they either overtake you or keep you behind.

If you are pondering a move, wait until the button just has passed you. In doing so, your opponents will not be able to neutralize your large bet. Also, if you wish to take command, it is best done when the button is on your left. When you are in position you are able to bet the perfect amount for taking the lead while risking the minimum.

If you are far behind, make one huge bet and hope for that one hand to solve your problems. In doing so, you will avoid trying to climb gradually with an increased risk of going bust. Of course it is boring when you fail to double up; nonetheless, it is the right way to go.

If you are behind, but don't fear elimination, it is time to make smart wagers when given the opportunity. Bet when you can take over the lead and as little risk as possible.


Mirror Bet the Chip Leader

A way to give yourself a chance to climb when you are behind is to look what the chip leader does and then do the opposite. If the chip leader bets little, you bet big and vice versa. As long as you are just one maximum bet from the leader you may play a little more patiently, but if you are far behind, you will need to push eventually.


It's All about the Bets

As you may have noticed, Elimination Blackjack is more about deciding what to bet than the cards.  These are two methods to keep in mind when all players win a hand or the dealer wins.

Bet high: If the dealer busts, you take the lead.

Bet low: If the dealer wins, you take the lead.

If you decide that it is time to attack the leader, make sure that you have a playable amount of chips if you would lose. If not, go all-in! There is no reason in having an unplayable, small stack.


Play the Cards

How much to bet is the most important aspect of a blackjack tournament, but when the wager is on the table, you need to play the hand as good as possible. The best way to have a decent chip stack in the elimination rounds is to follow the basic blackjack strategy. There are more advanced plays to be made, but if you are a beginning player, simply stick to the basics.

However, in the end-game you might have to do more unconventional plays. The most common is to double when the risk of going bust is limited and you have the chance to take the lead when the doubling succeeds - more on this later.

If you haven't managed to outsmart an opponent, and the final hand is closing in, there are a couple of moves you can do when sitting in position. Here are two plays that go against the basic strategy but can be very effective under the right circumstances.

Play the Gap: This is a situation in which you take a card (although the basic strategy advices against) to get a higher hand value than your opponent. You hope to create a gap between you and your opponent and the dealer hopefully ends up in between.

Free draws: In a situation where the result is the same whether you stand or go bust you can draw another card and give yourself a chance to win.


In some games you have the option to surrender your hand. This means that you give up your hand before you have taken any additional cards and get to keep half of what you have wagered. This is best to do in hopeless situations - your hand value is bad, the risk of going bust is big and the dealer shows a 9, 10 or an ace.

However, the surrender option can also be used as a more deceptive play, especially in the later stages of the tournament. If your opponent makes a bet, and you will have more chips than him when losing just half the wager on the table, surrendering is a great choice.


Free Draws

You are in the last round of the tournament, you have made a small bet and your opponent has made a big bet. This means that you will win the tournament if your opponent loses or ties the hand. Your opponent gets 18, which he stands on, and you get 17. What to do?

If you decide to stand, you will only win if the dealer gets 19, 20 or 21. If you, on the other hand, draw cards until you have at least 19 you give yourself two ways to win the tournament.

Either you bust and still win on the dealer's 19, 20 and 21...

...or you improve your hand and win on the dealer's 18, 19, 20 or 21

All in all, when you decide to draw a free card there is a small chance that you improve your hand while risking nothing.


Double for Less than the Bet

Another useful trick is to double for less than the amount of the initial wager. This is a great way to take or protect the lead. Say that you are 100 chips behind the leader, you bet 200 and the chip leader copies the bet. You get 12 and your opponent gets 17.  According to the basic strategy you should just hit, but here you might want to go for a double.

Since doubling here is against the optimal blackjack strategy, you are better off doubling for less than 200 - for example 110 chips. In doing so you give yourself the chance to take the lead and at the same time you minimize the losses (it is a -EV play).


The Secret Bet

Since everything is decided in the end, when hand 30 is approaching, it is good to have the secret bet unused. The main reason for this bet is to give players a chance to reduce the huge disadvantage of sitting in early position. When your opponents, who sit in position, don't know how much you have bet, they lack vital information.

But remember that position is always better than playing the secret bet. Even though you use the secret bet you can never base your decision on what other players have done when you are out of position.


The 2-4-5 Rule

This is a devious little play you should have in your arsenal - a weapon used in the last hand or in an elimination hand when you need to surpass an opponent but sit out of position. This is perhaps the most frustrating situations in a Blackjack Elimination Tournament. The problem is that your opponent gets to act after you and can follow your bet. You can only win by getting better cards or if your opponent makes a mistake.

However, the possibilities to double split and get blackjack give you a couple of additional ways to win. Now it is time for some really cunning moves.

Your opponent can, and probably will, follow your bet. He will bet more then you but never as much as your bet and his lead combined. Is it getting confusing? Let me explain.

You are 50 chips behind and wager 100. If your opponent now bets between 100 and149, he will stay in the lead when you both beat the dealer or the dealer beats you both. You take over the lead if you win the hand and your opponent loses or ties. You also take over the lead if you tie and your opponent loses the hand.

But there is another way to win: If you double and your opponent only wins the regular way, you will win 200 and your opponent 149. This means that you win the tournament with one chip. To succeed with this move you must wager at least double the amount you are behind - for example 100 if you are 50 behind.

But it doesn't stop there. If you dare to bet four times the amount you are behind another possibility appears. Say that you bet 200 (your opponent puts in 249) and you manage to get blackjack, you win 300 and take the lead with one chip.

A last way to take over the lead is to wager five times what you are behind, which means 250 in our example. Your opponent bets 299 and manages to get blackjack and rakes in 448.5 chips. Since the blackjack is paid out instantly you see your chance to double whatever cards you hold. If you would succeed, you are 1.5 chips ahead.


Where to Practice Blackjack

Here at CasinoGuide.com you can practice the basic blackjack strategy. First try the free blackjack game to find out the basics - how to bet, what beats what etc. However, for those really interested in a perfect strategy, our blackjack trainer is the perfect tool. It allows you to play free blackjack and get comments on your game. When you have finished training, and can go through the games without any complaints from the virtual trainer, you are skilled enough to focus on the betting in the elimination tournaments.

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