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BLACKJACK TOURAMENT REVIEW: FOUR WINDS CASINO

by Monkeysystem

Monkeysystem has been playing advantage blackjack recreationally for many years.  Early in his career he used High-low and AOII, and then simplified things, switching to Knockout a few years ago and getting better results.  He started playing tournaments in 2004 and has cashed in many tournaments. In this article, Monkeysystem gives a review of a tournament held monthly not far from Chicago.

Note: Four Winds Casino is located at 1111 Wilson Rd., in New Buffalo, MI.

There is a nice, medium-sized monthly blackjack tournament that is held at the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, Michigan. They hold it on the first Tuesday of every month. Registration starts at 5:00 pm Eastern time and play starts at 7:00 pm. 

I like this tournament, and I try to attend as often as possible because itís a good way to practice your tournament playing strategies. The tournament director, Chris, is knowledgeable, fair-minded, professional, and friendly. The tournament staff and dealers do a great job too. Chris uses a microphone to speak over the PA system in the tournament area. His jokes and banter are as much a part of this tournament as the blackjack tables. 

Part of what attracts me to Four Winds is the casino itself. It is bigger than an average Midwestern casino, it has lots of facilities, many of which I have yet to check out. There is a Hard Rock Café on the premises. There are several shops and restaurants. They even have a game room and supervised child care so you can bring your kids. (Check out their website for more details: www.fourwindscasino.com ). Additionally, I think they have the best casino buffet in the Midwest. On weeknights, which are when youíll be there for the tournament, you can enjoy the International Buffet. They have Mediterranean, Italian, Asian, and other choices of cuisine. Itís not possible for any human or Monkey to even come close to trying everything because thereís so much food to eat. 

The table games are the usual fare of roulette, craps, carnival games, and blackjack. The craps tables give only up-to-5X odds. There is one 6-5 "blackjack" table that Iíve never seen open on Tuesday nights. (Letís hope it stays closed.) They offer eight-deck blackjack game, the rest are six-deck games. The six-deck tables are h17 with 80-85% penetration. They have a Pai-Gow table, which is the only carnival game Iíll play. I havenít found any full pay video poker on the property, though there is 9-7 double bonus at the $1 level. I noted the absence of a poker room.

The tournament attracts about 55 to 70 players. The entry fee is $60, plus an additional $5 fee. The $5 fee buys you an additional 1000 chips. Because everyone pays this additional $5, the casino automatically charges $65 Ė you would have to ask to not pay the additional $5. To register, bring your playerís club card and ID to a cashierís booth adjacent to the cashierís cage at one end of the blackjack pit. Then take your receipt to the registration table. They put one copy of your receipt in a drawing drum and return the other copy to you. You then randomly draw a card from a bag to get your seat assignment. If you are there early enough and donít want to play at the same table with your spouse or good friend, just ask for another draw in the event. 

There are three preliminary rounds in each tournament. There is no such thing as a lower-cost rebuy here. If you donít make it in time to buy into the first round, you can buy into the second. In theory you can buy into all three rounds if you donít advance in your first two tries. In practice many players who fail to advance from the first preliminary round find that the second preliminary round is sold out by the time they get to the front of the line at the cashierís cage. However, those who bust out quickly in the first round usually can get into the second round before it sells out. The tournament staff tries hard to sell seats to everyone that wants one in the third round. The most recent tournament had a record turnout and they almost sold out the third preliminary round. 

The format for the most part favors skilled players. Blackjacks pay 3:2; there is no surrender; and you can insure for up to half your bet. All cards are dealt face up from six-deck shoes that are shuffled in red-blue shufflers. 

In the preliminary rounds, your starting bankroll is 6000 chips if you paid the extra $5 fee. The betting limits are 100 to 5000 chips, in increments of 25. Eighteen hands are played. The rotating button always starts at seat 1. Most of the time, the preliminary rounds have six players, though there may be five or seven, depending upon participation. They never allow one table to start with two more players than another table, unless someone is late enough to be disqualified. There is a chip count after hand 14. Two advance to the semifinals from each table in the preliminary rounds.

After the third preliminary round, six non-advancing players are given seats in the semifinals. Three of these are the three highest non-advancing chip counts from the preliminaries. In one recent tournament, I had the highest non-advancing chip count (15,800). The third-highest non-advancing chip count in the December tournament was in the 12,000ís. The other three non-advancing players to get semifinal seats are drawn from the drum containing copies of playerís receipts. If you bought in three times and never advanced, you have three chances in that drum. If you only bought in once, you only have one chance. 

In the semifinal round, your starting bankroll is 10K chips. The betting limits are 100 to 10K, in increments of 25. Twenty-one hands are played. The rotating button starts at seat 1. The semifinals will have six or seven players at each table, depending upon participation. There are chip counts after hands 17 and 20. One player advances to the final table from each semifinal table. There is no wild card draw or high chip count for advancement to the final table. However, if there are eight semifinal tables, the lowest chip count of all the table winners does not qualify for the final table. There are only seven finalists. This possibility is clearly spelled out in the official rules of the tournament. I had never seen this actually happen until the recent, record-breaking December event. The unlucky table winner who didnít qualify had a chip total of 9500. 

Chris, the tournament director, handled this situation as well as can be expected. After each chip count, play was stopped until every table was caught up and chip counts were tallied. Chris then announced over the PA what the chip totals were at each table. He gave the chip leadersí totals as well as the contendersí totals at each table. So every player still alive in the semifinals knew at the beginning of hands 18 and 21 what all the important chip counts were in the entire tournament.

The final table is similar to the semifinals in every way; except the starting bankrolls are 20K and the betting limits are 200 to 20K, in increments of 25. 

There are no prize winners except at the final table. It is not too top-heavy, as medium tournaments go. The payout schedule is based upon the following percentages of the total prize pool:

1st Ė 40%

2nd Ė 23%

3rd Ė 13%

4th Ė 9%

5th Ė 6%

6th Ė 5%

7th Ė 4%

The prize pool in the recent December event was over $8640. This is not huge, but itís an excellent practice event and big enough to drive a couple hours to play in. 

About now youíre probably asking, "How did you do in the December event, Monkeysystem?"...

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