The Blackjack PageBlackjack Tournaments with Elimination Hands - Part 2
In Lesson 1, I discussed some general principles of surviving the elimination hand and presented some rather simple strategies - simple, in that I showed you what can be done if you have a chip stack that's higher than the lowest stack at the table. It's usually very easy to play when you're in the lead, which is what makes it simple. This time, I want to discuss what's probably the worst situation, which is when you're the lowest stack at the table and, while it's still pretty simple - just bet everything and pray is the primary strategy - there are other little "tricks" that can apply in certain situations.
But before I do that, let me introduce some terminology that I'll be using throughout this series. When I speak of "chip stack", I'm of course referring to the total amount of chips you or your opponents hold prior to betting the current hand. In Blackjack, we typically call this our "bankroll", which is often abbreviated as BR, so the highest bankroll is BR-1, the next-highest is BR-2 and so forth. But in tournaments that have elimination hands, like the type played at Bet21.com, the lowest BR often plays a key role, so what I do is designate BRs as either high or low. In other words, BR-1 to me is HB-1 or "high bankroll" number 1, which is the chip leader at the table and HB-2 is the second-highest, HB-3 the third and so forth. The lowest bankroll at the table is LB-1, the next-lowest stack is LB-2, etc. Of course, a chip stack that is HB-3 might also be LB-2, depending upon your perspective and the number of players remaining at the table. So the ranking goes like this, from high to low for a 7-person table: HB-1, HB-2, HB-3, HB-4; LB-3, LB-2, LB-1. Just note that HB-4 could also be LB-4, if I were concentrating on more than three low bankrolls, which typically won't happen, but you never know. Clear as mud? Let's move on.
Okay, so let's say you're LB-1 and it's time to play hand # 8, which is an elimination hand. If you must bet first, there's very little choice except to go all-in, but you probably still have your secret bet available. The big question here is whether or not you're going to fool anyone by going all-in as a secret bet. Personally, I'd like to save it in case I survive the hand, but you might want to try making a minimum bet in secret, with the idea that most of the others will think you've gone all-in and will bet accordingly. I used this technique to win a single-table tournament (SnG) just the other day. My opponent had a big, but not substantial, lead over me - something in the T32,000 to my T26,000 neighborhood - and I figured that he'd figure I would bet at least half or T13,000 - so he he would bet T7500 (he didn't have a secret bet, but he did get to bet last), which would put him at T39,500 and me at T39,000 if, indeed, I bet half of my stack and we both won the hand. I gambled that he'd play it that way (and you think poker is the only game with a "he knows I know that he knows" aspect to it?), so I bet T500, which would put me at T25,500 and him at T24,500 if we both lost the hand, which is what the basic odds favor, anyway. As it turned out, the dealer obliged me by having a 'blackjack' so we both lost and I won the match. Of course I was toast if we both won the hand because even a double on my part wouldn't help me, but you can't have everything - luck and solid probability still plays its part.
The one thing you should try to avoid is betting in such a way where you must win the hand and your opponent (in the case of an elimination hand, the player who is LB-2) must lose in order for you to succeed. Naturally, that isn't always possible, especially when you're LB-1 on an elimination hand, but you need to think about some basic percentages that I covered in my series on Heads Up Blackjack Tournaments (Part 2, as I recall) before you act. The probability of both players losing the hand is in the 31% area, which obviously means there's nearly a 70% probability that both of you will not lose the hand. All that's left - other than pushes - is that you will win and your opponent will lose or you will lose and your opponent will win or you both will win. The probabilities here are about 30% that both of you will win the hand; 12% that you'll win and your opponent will lose and 12% that your opponent wins and you lose. As for pushes, the probability of both of you pushing is very small, hardly worth a number at all, and the probability of you pushing and your opponent winning (or vice-versa) is about 2%, so it's not a major factor. A case of you pushing and your opponent losing (or the other way around) is a little more significant - about a 5% probability, but it seldom makes a huge difference in an elimination hand, so don't spend a lot of time sweating it.
The really important numbers here are the probabilities of you both winning or both losing versus the probability of one winning and the other losing. It's roughly 30% - both win or lose - versus 12% that one will win while the other loses. Blackjack is a game of percentages and if you play tournaments, these are percentages you need to learn. I think most Blackjack players are optimists, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that most will play their hands with the idea that both will win. But sometimes, like when you are LB-1 in an elimination hand, you have to play it in an opposite manner in order to survive; which might mean making a minimum bet if that's your only chance - however slim - to make it through. Sure, I've "taken the low" (held back more chips than my opponent) and lost when the dealer busted with an Ace up, but that's how it goes sometimes. Stick with the percentages and in the long run they'll pay off.
Another factor you should consider when sizing your bet on an elimination hand is that you might actually survive the hand so betting as little as possible could serve you well. After all, what good is it to survive the elimination hand and be left with T1000 in chips? Sure, you might parlay that up to T25,000, but care to bet on it? Surviving the elimination hand only to go bust on the next hand doesn't make a lot of sense. I cannot give you any hard and fast rules here because each situation is different. But knowing the different choices available to you, as well as a rough idea of the probabilities for success will help you in the long run. In terms of general strategies for LB-1 on an elimination hand, most of what you can do is based upon your betting position and how far you're behind in the chip count versus your opponent(s). Here are some ideas:
LB-1 Betting First:
You really have very little choice other than betting all of your chips and hoping for a decent hand. It's not likely that an opponent will hold back fewer chips than you, so you basically need to win the hand and hope that someone has made a bet that's not big enough to still beat you if you both win. Sadly, most will bet enough to "cover" you and since the probability that you'll get a 'blackjack' is only about 5%, you're really in a bad place. To survive, you usually need to win when someone else loses. As an aside, some players in this LB-1 situation will hold back T500 in chips so they can double for less, thus hiding their "hit" card, which may create some confusion on how their opponents should play the hand. Personally, when I see a desperate LB-1 double a 15 or higher, I figure they've busted and play accordingly. I seldom use that technique when I'm LB-1, but I do sometimes just split my BR and not use the secret bet, which can cause my opponents to under-bet their hands. Naturally, I then double any hand or split any pair, thus getting all of my chips in "the pot". The only thing I'm giving up is the 3 to 2 pay on a 'natural', but even then I'll double it. This works pretty well when you get a hand of 10-10, which can then be split. If an opponent bet his or her hand based upon you betting only 50% of your chips, they might be surprised. But in reality, this seldom happens in the $30+ entry fee tournaments - most of the players there will know what you're up to, although it's something to bear in mind.
LB-1 Betting Last:
What I mean by "last" here is that you bet after LB-2, who is really the player you need to beat. You're not likely to beat everyone, so just concentrate upon your closest competitor and use basic "last hand, 1 player advances" betting techniques. If your opponent has bet enough to cover you if you bet all your chips and you both win the hand, can you "take the low" by holding back one more chip than s/he has? If so, do that - you still might have the opportunity to double and win the hand. If your opponent is smart, s/he will bet his or her lead over you, thus winning if you both lose the hand, but not all opponents are smart. Again, I think it's the natural optimism of Blackjack players in general that will cause many to bet in such a way that they'll win if you both win the hand, so be quick to take the low when offered and double or split pairs if it looks like your opponent will win his or her hand. For more specific strategies to use in this situation, see my article, "Heads up Blackjack Tournaments - Part 3", which is in the Blackjack archives here, under the 2006 heading.
And I'll see you here next time.
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