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Blackjack Insider Newsletter, March, #39

Getting To The Finals In The Milllion Dollar Blackjack Tournament

by Henry Tamburin, published on Wednesday, February 26 2003

Yes, I did it. I participated in the February, 2003 monthly preliminary round in the Las Vegas Hiltonís Million Dollar Blackjack Tournament and I made it to the semi-final round.

This automatically gives me entry into the Finals in April where one winner will receive a lump sum payment of one million dollars.

This article is a follow-up to the one I wrote several days ago, which I penned in flight on my way to Las Vegas to play in the February preliminary round. In that article I described the format of the Hilton tournament and what specifically I did to study and practice to bone up on my tournament skills.

Here are the details of my experience in this three-day tournament.

  1. I registered on Thursday evening at 4:30 p.m. and selected the 4:00 p.m. playing time for round 1on Friday. My logic for picking the late round rather than one of the earlier rounds (10:00 a.m., noon, or 2:00 p.m.) was that I expected more novice players would chose the late time slot to give them time to get familiar with the tournament surroundings and watch the competition unfold. The more novice players, the greater my chances of advancing.
  2. There were four other players on my table in the first round. We all started with $5000 in tournament chips. I bet the minimum in round 1 through the first 18 hands. I estimated I was about $700 behind the leaders so I made my first big bet using a 2-step betting progression as outlined in Wongís Casino Tournament Strategy book. It worked and I had a slight lead going into the final 10 hands.
  3. It was anyoneís table to win on the last hand. I was dealt a hard 12 and had to draw and busted. I wound up in fourth place with a $1150 bankroll (the two table winners were tied with $5850).
  4. The first wild card drawing occurred at 9:45 am Saturday morning. There were 120 names of round 1 losers in the drum (including mine). Twenty names were selected and the winners got to play in round 2. Unfortunately, my name wasnít selected.
  5. At 1:45 p.m. they had another wild card drawing. This time they picked 8 wild card winners from the losers of round 1 and 2. Surprisingly, one player was not present after his name was called therefore he was disqualified and they ended up drawing a total of 9 names. My name was called on the 9th pick.
  6. I played round 3 at 2:00 p.m. against five other opponents. I finished second with a total bankroll of $7,200 (first place winner had $7,400 bankroll).
  7. At 4:00 p.m. I played in the semi-final round with 17 other players (3 tables of 6 players). I was in contention up to the last hand and bet small after all the leaders bet big. I was hoping the dealer would win the hand but it didnít happen so I ended up in 4th place with a $5,100 bankroll (the top two finishers on my table had $11,050 and $7,050).
  8. Because I won round 3 and played in the semi-final round and lost, I won $1,000 (ten black $100 chips to be exact). More importantly I got the bye into the April final round.

You can see the importance of the wild card drawing in this tournament. Even if you lose in the early rounds you still have a shot of advancing if your name get picked in the wild card drawing. Sure itís a long shot, but if I can get picked, so can you. But keep this in mind. The 2 wild card winners that get picked to play in the semi-final round and the final round must win in order to advance to the April finals.

Here are some other observations about this tournament.

  1. They had a record turnout of 200 players in the February preliminary round. This is the first time that one of their monthlies was sold out. I suspect as word continues to spread, this tournament will be at capacity. There is one more preliminary round (March 13-15) before the April finals so if you plan on entering do so quickly (as of today, 105 players had already signed up to play in March).
  2. If you canít make the March round donít fret. Jimmy Wike, V.P. of Operations at Hilton, told me they would be starting another year-long Million-Dollar Blackjack Tournament II beginning in May 2003 and ending with the million dollar final in May 2004. According to Jimmy, the format will be the same as the present tournament.
  3. This is a no-frills, well-organized tournament. There arenít any banquets, just a bunch of players getting down to the business of playing tournament blackjack. However, the $1,000 entry fee does get you accommodations for three nights at the Hilton (very nice accommodations I might add) and a tournament T-shirt to remember your participation in this historic event.
  4. There are no other expenses in the tournament. Funny money is used in each round (every player is given $5,000 in tournament chips Ė minimum bet is $100 and maximum bet is $5,000 Ė you play 30 hands except 28 in the championship round Ė two players with the most bankroll after the round is over advance Ė 6-decks are used with standard Hilton rules: h17, das, and late surrender.
  5. This is a tough tournament to advance because the maximum bet is high ($5,000). Even if you have a large lead, your opponents can easily catch you by making one large bet and winning the hand. So the winners at most of the tables were determined on the results of the last hand. If you play this tournament you better know how to bet depending upon whether you are ahead or behind going in to the last hand and whether or not you bet first or last (read Wongís book).
  6. Most of the pros are trying like hell to get into this tournament. One reason is that Jimmy Wike is allowing card counters and other advantage players to play the tournament. Only Jimmy doesnít want to see them play on the Hiltonís blackjack tables outside of tournament play and he tells them that (heís 86íd at least one counter who didnít heed his warning).
  7. I met two casual blackjack players who were trying for the 8th time to get into the finals. Thatís right theyíve already spent $8,000 trying. As far as I know neither were successful after their 8th try.
  8. Hal Markus the developer of the excellent blackjack software training program, Blackjack 678, was in the February round. He previewed his new Blackjack 678 Version 2003 to me and I was impressed. The program should hit the market in late March. Iíll have more to say about it then.
  9. I also got to meet Beau Parker a sharp shooter in craps and host of Iíve seen Beau in action and he certainly has a way of setting and throwing the dice. Heís quite famous in the dice community and teaches craps classes from his home (he has a regulation size table in his class). This was his third try in the tournament and unfortunately he didnít make it into the semi-finals. The hubby of famous singer Celine Dione also played in the February preliminary round but I couldnít get close to saying hi (his publicist or body guard wouldnít let me). He also failed to advance.
  10. I observed a lot of clueless players playing in this tournament. They donít understand that the objective of tournament blackjack is to not beat the dealer but to end up with more chips then your fellow players after 30 hands. Even if you have less bankroll then you started with thatís OK as long as it more than your opponents. The most common betting error that I observed was players betting big in the last few hands when they had a sizable lead over their opponents (if you are lucky to find yourself in this situation itís best to bet small and let them try to catch you). Other players who were behind bet large but at the wrong time (you should bet large when the leader bets small). A few players bit the dust on the last hand because they simply made the wrong bet (yes luck is involved but knowing how much to bet on the last hand will give you a big edge over players that donít know how much to bet). I also saw many players abuse the surrender rule, which is an unusual rule to have in a blackjack tournament. Several players made big bets when the leader bet small (good move) only to end up surrendering when they were dealt a lousy hand (how can you catch up if you give up half your bet?). Once smart player brilliantly used the surrender rule. He had a big lead going into the last hand so he bet the $100 minimum and then proceeded to surrender his last five hands. Thatís a terrific strategy to maintain your bankroll intact while you let your opponents try to catch you (they tried and failed and he won the table).
  11. An independent production crew from Los Angeles interviewed me for a tape they were doing for the Travel Channel. They also filmed the wild card drawing (when I got picked) and part of my round at 2:00 p.m. (round 3). They will be back to film the finals in April and will put it all together for a 1-hour TV special on the tournament that will be shown on the Travel Channel.
  12. The Las Vegas Hilton has a gift shop a few hundred yards from the main casino. In that gift shop they sell my blackjack book. Iím probably the only player in the tournament that has a blackjack book being sold in the same casino-hotel that is sponsoring the tournament. I thought that was neat but the TV producer didnít think so.
  13. Jimmy Wike and Tournament Director Less Thacker and his staff do a great job running this tournament. Everything was well organized and any time there were any disputes or questions they were promptly handled (the tournament rules were carefully checked and the tournament committee consulted before making a ruling). The only glitch I saw was that the rules specify that players were ďto have no more than 10 seconds to betĒ. Jimmy later told me that was a typo and it should have been 30 seconds. The fact of the matter was I observed a lot of players taking more than 30 seconds prior to betting especially on the last hand (myself included).
  14. There will be 16 semifinalists from each of the 12 preliminary rounds competing for the million dollars. In addition, the Hilton will draw 8 wild card players from a drum containing all the names of players that participated in the monthly rounds and didnít make to the finals. You get one ticket into the drum depending on the number of monthly preliminary rounds that you played so those folks that played in 8 monthlies will have their name on 8 tickets in the drum. I suspect the Hilton will be crowded for the drawings and the final rounds of play.

Iím looking forward to the April finals and of course I will let you know how I made out.

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