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by Monkeysystem

Monkeysystem is an advantage player who has been playing blackjack tournaments for ten years, having cashed in many tournaments. In his most recent large event he cashed at Blackjack Blowout at Kewadin St. Ignace. In live play he once used the AO2 count system, but has now simplified things and gotten better results with Knockout.

Blackjack tournaments are a good tool for an advantage player or gambling enthusiast to have in his toolbox; however, they have the drawback of high variance. We can, however, mitigate this variance by making deals with other players. By mitigating variance, we increase the value of tournaments. In this article, I will discuss the implications of this common practice in blackjack tournaments. I will go over three main types of deals: chops, partnerships, and backing.


Almost all blackjack tournaments have a prize distribution that pays the champion the biggest prize, and then gives prizes to the other finalists in decreasing amounts, based on the final ranking of their bankrolls. An agreement by the players at a final table to distribute the prize money more evenly than the tournament rules stipulate is known as a "chop." Many casinos will cooperate with a table of finalists who have agreed on a chop, provided that all the players unanimously agree to it. Some casinos, however, will not change the prize distribution and state that any chop needs to be settled by the players themselves after the prizes are distributed.

The benefit of chops is to distribute the prize money more evenly. Evenly distributed prize money makes a tournament more valuable for an EV player (i.e., someone who plays to maximize his mathematical expectation). This is because it reduces the variance of a tournament. The same logic applies to investments; a low-variance investment is more attractive to investors than a high-variance investment with the same rate of return. Another argument in favor of chops could be described in the statement, "We all played hard all weekend to get this far. Why should anyone have to go home with barely enough to cover his costs just because he got unlucky on the last hand?"

Chops are harder to arrange than you might think. If it's a small tournament or the prize distribution isn't top-heavy, many players won't see the point in it. Other players buy into tournaments because they are attracted by the large prize for first place and will refuse to accept the possibility of any reduced amount for the champion. Some people just want to play cards, and won't accept any agreement that obviates the need to play an exciting final table. In one tournament when a chop was suggested, I heard one player exclaim, "Chop? Hell! I came here to gamble."

If you're interested in offering a chop at a final table, there are a number of ways to approach it. An important thing is to have the prize amounts for each kind of chop calculated in advance so you can quote them during the discussion. Here are some variants of chops:

Even Chop

The prize pool is distributed evenly to each finalist and the final round is not even played. This might be an attractive option to the tournament director, so that the dealer and other tournament officials can get back to the live pits earlier to score extra profit for the store. It is also attractive to people who still have to drive several hours to get home that day. There are no strategy implications here - you won't even be playing.

Double Share Chop

The prize pool is divided into even shares, with a double share going to the first place winner. This gives the players something to play for and might make it a little more attractive to a go-for-broke type. The non-winning players will enjoy prize money almost as high as in an even chop.

Guaranteed First Place Chop

The first place prize remains the same as if there were no chop. The remaining prize money is divided evenly. This is for the player who entered the tournament because of the first place prize he saw in the advertisement. This chop would likely be more attractive in a top-heavy tournament than the other chops. The prize money for the non-winners is considerably less than that of the even chop or double share chop but it is still considerably higher than that of last place with no chop.

Of course, in any chop arrangement in which the table winner gets more prize money than the other players, use the same betting strategy throughout the round as if it were a one-advance elimination table.


Prize sharing agreements between players that are made before a tournament starts are...

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