The Blackjack Page Archive
A Blackjack Tournament Bet Examined
If you've played Blackjack tournaments at all, it's very clear that the most important bet is probably the bet you make on the final hand. Sure, there may be other critical bets in the match, like when you successfully bet your entire stack and catch a Blackjack, but I think it's fair to say that no bet has been closer examined in Blackjack tournament literature than the final bet because it's the bet that usually determines who wins and who loses. The beauty of such a bet - in fact, almost any bet in Blackjack - is that we can assign an "expected value" (e.v.) to it, which is based upon our two cards and the dealer's up card. In a tournament situation, we can also assign an e.v. to our opponent's hand and calculate the probability of the various possible outcomes. For example, we know that a player will, on average, receive a "blackjack" (or natural, as we call it) about 6% of the time. We also know that we'll win approximately 44% of the time (which includes naturals), push on 8% and lose 48%; again, on average. Statistics like that, plus those found in Stanford Wong's "Casino Tournament Strategy" (Pi Yee Press, $49.95 - a book I highly recommend), such as the probability of one player winning while the other loses (12%) allow us to precisely measure our expected value for a hand.
Those who are serious Blackjack tournament players know the math involved in each decision and that's not surprising because it's basically how we've all learned to play - expected value is "King". While I'm a great believer in e.v. in the game of Blackjack, to me it's much more important when playing a cash game against the house where I'll have the opportunity to play thousands of hands, which will allow the e.v to have its effect. But, in reality, I'm probably not going to play thousands of tournaments so I cannot rely on e.v. doing its job for me. Oh, certainly when I have a choice, I'll choose the higher e.v. play 90 or 95% of the time, but to me a tournament is basically a one-time event in which anything can happen, so I've got to do what I can to maximize my return for that event, even if it means making a negative e.v. play. Admittedly, that'll eventually catch up with me - if I were to play thousands of tournaments, but I might get hit by a truck tomorrow.
Now understand, I'm not saying tournaments are just all luck and we should play in any wild-ass way that suits us at the moment; but at the same time, a tournament isn't all just positive e.v. or negative e.v decisions, either. Tournaments are played by human beings and we all have the capability of making great decisions and dumb decisions. Heaven knows I've made more of the latter than the former, but if I can put my opponent "on the spot" so to speak, I think that'll improve my chances.
With that as a background, let me tell you what happened in a match recently. On the final hand, I had a bankroll of $582.50, my opponent had $322.50 and I had to bet first. As you may or may not know, the "textbook" bet for me would be $70. Why this amount? Well, we already know that the very best my opponent can do is double his bankroll on the next hand (remember, even a "natural" pays only 1.5 to 1), so if we double his bankroll ($322.50 x 2 = $645.00) and subtract my bankroll from that, we get $645.00 - $582.50 = $62.50 as a bet. However, that would cause a tie, so we round up to $70 because $5 is the minimum bet unit. Following me on this? If my opponent were to double his bankroll on the next hand, he (it was a "he" I was playing) would end with a total of $645. If I also won my bet, I'd have $582.50 + $70 = $652.50, which would win the match. If my opponent doubled successfully to $645 and I lost my $70 bet, he'd win the match, $645 to $512.50.
That's the textbook way of figuring a proper bet, but I took a different approach and bet $200, the maximum. Why $200? Several reasons. First of all, there are two ways for a player to double his or her bankroll; by doubling down or by splitting pairs. But, in order to split pairs, one must have an amount at least equal to the original bet held in reserve. In other words, s/he can make a maximum bet of only 50% of the bankroll in order to keep the splitting option available. And, while a player may double any first two cards in this match (including a natural), s/he may only split matching cards (10,10; 8,8 and so forth), so setting 50% of the bankroll aside is the only guarantee the splitting option will be available, if he was dealt a pair. Because a hand of 10,10 is the most common pair (all 10s and faces may be split in this tournament, regardless if they match), my bet basically forced my opponent to ignore the splitting option. For example, if he bet only $160 (effectively 50% because $5 is the minimum betting unit) and was not able to split, the best he could do would be to double down in order to get all of his $$$ bet on the hand. If he bet $160, did not double but won, he'd have $482.50 total. With my $200 bet, I'd be at $782.50 if I won the hand and at $382.50 if I lost.
If he made a maximum bet of $200 and didn't double or get a natural, but won when I lost, he'd have a total of $522.50, which would still beat me if I lost either $200 (ending with $382.50) or $70 (ending with $512.50). I honestly hoped my $200 bet would "encourage" him to bet $200 also, because I can live with a he-wins-I-lose scenario on the last hand (a 12% probability), basically because it's up to the cards at that point and I cannot control the cards. Of course, with a $200 bet by him, I have both the "low" and the "high" tied up. If we both won the hand (say to a dealer bust), I'm still the winner and if we both lose (say to a dealer's natural), I will have the higher ending total.
The game we play in these matches at Global Player Casino allows "late" surrender and that was part of my thinking also. I knew if I surrendered my $200 bet, I'd have a final total of $482.50, which would still give me the win if he bet $160 in order to split pairs and pushed, which is typically what happens when you split pairs. That said, this is where the "textbook" bet of $70 by me would be a better choice. Had I bet $70 and surrendered, my total would be $582.50 minus $35 = $547.50. Had he bet $160 and won, his total would have been $482.50, giving me the win. Even a table maximum bet of $200 by my opponent would leave him at $522.50 with a win, versus my $547.50 so I definitely messed up on that point.
However, none of that was my primary reason for making the bet I did. By betting $200, I was hoping my opponent (a very skillful Blackjack tournament player who has beat me before) couldn't find the proper bet. And, at least in part, I succeeded although at some risk. Had I bet $70, his options were clear: double his bet and hope I lose. Because I bet $200, he had other bet options that I'll discuss shortly. What actually happened was that he bet $100, which would give him the lead if he successfully doubled and I lost or surrendered. However, with a $100 bet had he received a natural, he would have lost to my surrender (although I assume he'd have doubled it, which is allowed.) Of course, doubling a natural might turn the hand into a 12 or something like that, which then requires a dealer bust for it to succeed.
Had he bet half his stack ($160), then the splitting option was open and he would have blocked my surrender, which is important because I had to play first. If he had won just one bet of $160, his final total would have been $482.50, which would be my total if I surrendered. Because I lose a tie in these matches, had he bet that amount and received a decent hand, a surrender by me was an automatic loss, so I'd be forced to pretty much play out my hand in an attempt to get a total that matched or exceeded his. That might have caused me to hit an 18 or 19, which has little chance of success, obviously.
Naturally, my opponent could make some assumptions about how I'd play my hand - I'm not likely going to split pairs or double - before he sized his bet, but there's actually a bet he could have made that would cover a lot of bases. That amount is $135. He was still going to have to double (or split pairs) and win, but if he did, his total would have been $592.50. That would beat me if I lost, of course, but perhaps more importantly, it would have beat me if I pushed. As an extra bonus, if I for some dumb reason or another had doubled (or split pairs) and lost, my total would have been $182.50 and his would have been $187.50, even if he lost one bet! A longshot, admittedly, but not impossible. The only problem with a $135 bet would be that he could win one bet, ending with a total of $457.50 and I could still keep the lead with my surrender, which would put me at $482.50, which is another reason why I bet $200.
I'll let you draw your own conclusions about which is the best bet for either party, but I'll repeat what I said earlier: if I can put my opponent "on the spot" so to speak, I think that'll improve my chances. In this case, it did.
See you here next time.
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