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Heads Up Blackjack Tournaments
Our innovative friends at Global Player Casino have once again brought a new dimension to Internet Blackjack by developing "heads up" Blackjack tournaments. These are tournaments where you play against just one other person, winner take all. The match consists of 15 hands, each player starts with 1000 tournament chips and the player with the most chips after the last hand is played wins. Because the prize pool is created by the players, the casino has no interest in who wins - they take only a small fee for offering the game. There are, at the current time, three different "Sit & Go Duels", as they're called, available: $10, $20 and $50. In the case of the $10 duel, each player pays $10.50 to participate. The casino receives $1 and $20 goes to the winner. The $20 match has a $21 entry fee, with $2 going to the casino and $40 to the winner. For the $50 duel, the entry fee is $52, with $4 going to the casino and $100 to the winner. Let me say that these are very reasonable fees being charged by the casino, especially when you consider the fact that most Sit & Go poker tournaments have a 9 or 10% casino fee. Fees like that cut into your earnings, so the lower, the better and these are lower.
In my series on Internet Advantage Play, I wrote about how I used Blackjack tournaments as an income stream, so naturally I'm very enthusiastic about this latest addition to the opportunities available to me. When you think about it, not many people have a lot of experience at playing heads up Blackjack tournaments. In the past, the only time you'd get to play heads up is if you were one of the two finalists at the table of a multi-table tournament and/or a single-table "Sit & Go" tourney. Of course, there are quite a few people who have been in that situation, but even the best might see something like that happen in less than half of the tournaments they enter and in any case, they seldom played more than two or three hands heads up. In my particular situation, I've played quite a bit in heads up competition, due to our monthly "GameMaster" tournament that we co-sponsor with Global Player Casino. If you're not familiar with that, I play one qualifier each month in a heads up match consisting of 30 hands with a minimum prize of $1000 on the line. Because we've been doing that for about five years now, I have at least 60 heads up matches under my belt, so to speak.
Now, with the new Sit & Go Duels at Global Player Casino, the experience that took me five years to gain can be had in a week, maybe two! And don't kid yourself - experience at any tournament format definitely pays dividends. Does this mean I'll be unbeatable at a Sit & Go Duel? I wish; in fact, I lost the first two I played. While I feel I played my very best, the 'blackjack gods' still have their say in events like this. Just like poker, the luck factor is large, which is not to take away anything from my opponent - he's a very talented BJ tournament player - but in at least one of the matches, he got lucky. Well, so will I get lucky from time-to-time, but we all know that depending upon luck to win is not the way to go if one is interested in a consistent income, which these tournaments can provide to a skillful player.
To me, heads up or 1-on-1 tournaments, be they poker or Blackjack are the essence of the game. The luck factor - while it can never be removed completely - is reduced to the minimum, so whatever skill one possesses will eventually come shining through. Sure, I can beat Phil Ivey in a hand of poker, but can I beat him in 300 hands of poker? Maybe, but probably not (at least at the moment, anyway.) It won't take very many Sit & Go Duels at Global Player Casino for you to find out if you're very good at them...or not. But don't worry; even if you've never played a Blackjack tournament of any kind - let alone a heads up match - I can give you a leg up.
One of my favorite sayings is, "It's not how you drive - it's how you arrive." That's not about golf, although it might apply there, too. Used in this context, it's about still being in competition when it's time to play the final hand. What I mean by "still in competition" is that you're either in the lead or are no more than half a maximum bet behind your opponent after hand # 14 is played. Getting yourself to that point isn't easy, but neither is it nuclear physics. For some ideas on "general" Blackjack tournament play, see my series "Tournament Blackjack Training", which is in the archives here. (Just click on the Blackjack tab at top and you'll see it on the lower right-hand side of the page.)
Your success or lack thereof will come down to what happens on the last hand in about 80 or 90% of your heads up matches. As I said before, you still have to be within striking distance of your opponent when it gets down to the last hand, but that's the (relatively) easy part. Just what to bet on the last hand is the hard - and most often - the critical part of the match, so I'll spend some time talking about it. But before I do that, let me fill you in on the game itself. The casino uses 6 decks, the dealer stands on soft 17, you may double on any first two cards, split pairs (all 10s, Js, Qs and Ks are considered 10s, so a hand of K,Q may be split) to form three hands; split Aces receive only one card, but other split hands can be doubled, plus late surrender is available. The dealer "peeks" under a 10 to see if he, she, it has a 'blackjack' before you get to play your hand and insurance is available when the dealer is showing an Ace. You may surrender against a dealer's Ace, but if he, she, it has a 'blackjack' you lose your original bet unless you've insured the hand, which is what makes the surrender "late".
For me, the most important aspect of this game is that the cards are not shuffled after every round of play. In fact, it offers a minimum of 75% penetration, although you'll never get very deep into the shoe in a heads up match. During the course of 15 hands, two players and the dealer will use, on average, just a bit over 2 decks, so card counting is of limited value. I always count the cards (it's almost automatic), but use the count primarily for playing my hand (the Basic Strategy variations) because how much to bet is more dependent upon what my opponent is betting than whether or not the count is favorable. That said, a high count will encourage me to bet more, especially if my chip stack is less than my opponent's, but it really is a minor consideration most of the time.
Because each final hand you'll play in a heads up match is unique, I cannot give you any hard and fast rules for what to do, although I will discuss some specific situations in part 2 of this. For now, just fix in your mind what situations you may encounter after hand # 14 is finished:
- You are in the lead and must bet first on the final hand.
You are in the lead and will bet last on the final hand.
You are trailing your opponent and must bet first on the final hand.
You are trailing your opponent and get to be last on the final hand.
You are tied with your opponent and must bet first on the final hand.
You are tied with your opponent and get to bet last on the final hand.
Each of those situations has a "general" strategy that will apply in the vast majority of situations, but a lot depends upon how savvy your opponent is, plus the cards you're dealt may completely ruin your strategy. However, as a general rule, if you are:
- In the lead and must bet first, bet your lead minus one chip, so if you both lose, you win.
In the lead and will bet last, match your opponent's bet so if you both lose or if you both win, you win.
Trailing your opponent and must bet first, bet the maximum.
Trailing your opponent and get to bet last, bet enough to take the lead if you both win, if possible.
Tied and must bet first, bet the maximum.
Tied and get to bet last, bet one chip less than your opponent, so if you both lose, you win.
Again, let me stress that these are just general strategies for each situation and do not take into consideration that your opponent might get a 'natural' and win 3 to 2 on his or her bet or s/he might split those 10s or double, yet there will often be times your bet on the final hand must take that into consideration. But we'll talk more about it in part 2.
For now, I recommend you get the Global Player Casino software because you can watch these heads up matches and the other 5-player Sit & Go matches, plus the GameMaster monthly match for free, in real time. Just watching a few of these will increase your confidence and that alone is a big step toward becoming a winner. By the way, my handle is GM there, so if you see me, say hi.
See you here next time.