When you play in a blackjack tournament, you are competing against other players rather than the casino dealer. You and your opponents start with the same bankroll and play the same number of hands. The player with the most chips at the end of the round (which consists of a designated number of hands) wins and advances to play other table winners. (Sometimes the top two players with the most chips advance.) The initial large field of players is eventually whittled down to a final table of six (or seven) players who play a final round to determine the overall tournament champion. The latter usually receives the lion’s share of the prizes while the other finalists receive less. Nevertheless, it’s the goal of every tournament player to want to finish “in the money,” meaning making it to the final table. Bottom line: Your goal is to have more chips at the end of a round than your opponents.

You don’t need to “win” a lot of chips to advance in a tournament. For example, suppose you have a starting bankroll of 5,000 chips and end up with only 500 chips at the end of the round. If that is more than your fellow opponents, you will advance. Therefore, in tournament play you not only have to play your cards against a dealer’s upcard but you have to keep an eye on your opponents’ bankrolls so you know if you are ahead or behind in chip count as the round progresses.

The following table compares what you already know to what you might not know playing blackjack in a tournament.



Players must pay an entry fee to play in a tournament. The best tournaments are those that return all the tournament entry fees in prizes to the players. In some tournaments, the casino might even kick in some more money to fund the prize pool. These are the most desirable tournaments since the total prize pool exceeds the entry fees. The least desirable tournaments are those where the prize pool is less than the entry fees. But keep this in mind: Even though a casino might pay out less, it might also give players free rooms, free meals, and other perks; so you need to factor the value of these perks into the equation. Bottom line: Ask the tournament director how much of the entry fees are returned to the prize pool, and stick to playing tournaments that return close to or over 100% of the entry fees.


Once you enter a tournament, make sure you read the tournament playing rules, because no two tournaments have exactly the same rules. I’ve seen many players make costly playing mistakes because they simply didn’t take the time to read the written rules. You can usually get a copy of the tournament rules after signing up for a tournament, or at the minimum you will be given a set of rules just prior to playing. (If you are playing on an on-line casino, read the rules there.) Take the time to read the rules so you know what the betting limits are, whether or not each player’s bankroll is counted a few hands prior to the last hand, how many hands are played, how many players advance, whether surrender is allowed, and in the case of elimination hands, which ones they are, and so forth. Bottom line: Read the blackjack tournament rules, and if you have any questions, ask the folks running the tournament before you sit down to play.


There are two blackjack tournament rules that I’ve seen players violate (on several occasions) that resulted in their either losing a tournament or being immediately disqualified from the tournament. The first is making a “string bet.” This means palming several chips in your hand and then letting them fall one by one into your betting spot. In a blackjack tournament, you must place all of the chips that you want to bet into your betting spot with one motion, meaning it’s best to stack the amount of chips you want to wager outside of your betting spot, and then slide the stack with one motion into your betting spot. If you make a string bet, or try to add another chip into your betting spot, the secondary chips that you bet will be given back to you. (The first chip that hits the felt in the betting spot is the one that counts; I’ve seen players lose their last hand because of this mistake.) The other faux pas you want to avoid is talking to observers during the final round. This is disallowed in most tournaments. (In one tournament I witnessed, a player started speaking to an observer in a foreign language and the observer answered back in the same language … both were immediately removed from the tournament room for breaking this rule.) In most tournaments, in the final championship round, players are also not allowed to speak to their opponents. You are on your own in the final round so be careful not to break the “no talking” rule.

There is a unique set of tournament skills that often determines whether or not a player will succeed in tournament play. Below is a summary of these skills.


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