THE BUFFALO RUN BLACKJACK TOURNAMENT
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 Knock-Out card counting system.
Good open blackjack tournaments are getting harder and harder to find these days. So when a new event comes around, I want to check it out. Since 2015, I have been driving ten hours one way from my home to attend the quarterly blackjack tournament at the Buffalo Run casino in Miami, Oklahoma.
This tournament has a $30,000 guaranteed prize pool for a $120 buy-in, plus an additional, optional, $10 that goes to a dealer appreciation fund. All entry fee money goes to the prize pool. You start each round with 2,000 in non-negotiable tournament chips. The $10 for the dealers buys you an additional 500 in tournament chips. I have seen only one player refuse to pay the additional $10. Of course, this player was eliminated from the round in which I saw him make this choice. You can register and pay when you arrive at the tournament. Rebuys are $120 plus the $10 dealer-appreciation fee. In the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, you can buy an additional 500 in chips for a $10 dealer fee paid at the table. Don't let the dealer-appreciation fees deter you from playing in this tournament. Even with these fees factored in, this event offers an attractive overlay.
You can also register and purchase your seat online at Stub Wire. There will be a link to the tournament registration and information on Buffalo Run's website starting the month before the scheduled event. You can also find information about the tournament at www.blackjacktournaments.com in the Calendar section. You can get a casino rate for your hotel room, and they are fairly generous in comping a room for your side play if you ask. Tournament players get prizes such as shirts, etc. They cater a nice brunch on Saturday morning, and a high-quality dinner on Saturday evening. There are good quality box lunches for Sunday, with enough to go around if you want to take a second one.
The next event will be in October, 2016.
The tournament has a guaranteed prize pool of $30,000 distributed as follows:
1st Place: $14,400.00
2nd Place: $4,800.00
3rd Place: $3,300.00
4th Place: $2,400.00
5th Place: $2,100.00
6th Place: $1,800.00
7th Place: $1,200.00
Buffalo Run previously held this tournament in January, 2016. They are considering not offering an event in January, 2017, and instead, offering a bigger event in April, 2017. The prize pool for the April event may be $50,000. Buffalo Run is still working on the details for the larger April event.
This tournament is relatively new; however, it is already attracting players from Ohio, Mississippi, and even as far away as California. This is because it is rapidly becoming one of the premier open-entry tournaments in the country.
The main reason for this is Table Games Manager and Tournament Director, Cindy Courtney. Cindy is an experienced gaming person, going back to when she worked for Benny Binion in Las Vegas. Cindy believes that blackjack tournaments are an effective marketing tool for her casino, and she wants these tournaments to attract strong players who travel. She meets with the players, and wants their feedback about the tournament. She has incorporated many players' suggestions in her quest to improve the tournaments. It's also great fun to listen to Cindy as she shares her many entertaining stories from her long career in gaming.
Buffalo Run is a smaller-than-average casino. The hotel is not physically connected to the casino; it is about a 100-yard walk outside from door to door. However, they operate a shuttle if you don't want to walk. There is no buffet at Buffalo Run, but there are choices for dining. You can get quality dining at the Coleman House, or get burgers, pizza, and other such fare at the snack bar and at the bar and grill. (See the casino's website for more information.)
Buffalo Run offers blackjack and a handful of carnival games. There is no poker room. Video poker is mostly full-pay, and the bartops are full-pay with progressive jackpots. During the weekend of the July event, blackjack tournament players reset the 25-cent progressive jackpot at over $1,100, and the dollar progressive jackpot at north of $5,000.
The blackjack in the pit is H17, but this is mostly compensated for by double after split, double on anything, split up to four hands, and late surrender. The penetration in two-deck pitch is dealer-dependent but good - from 65% all the way to 80% or even better. You get very little or no heat. The penetration in six-deck shoes is usually about 75 to 85%. You may have heard that in Oklahoma, blackjack players must pay an ante on every hand to play. This is only true at Buffalo Run if you play without a Player's Club card. Buffalo Run pays the ante for you, taking this fee from the players' fund. Since you have to have a Player's Club card to play in the blackjack tournament, you will want to present your card when you take your seat at the pit as well.
The tournament format is fairly standard. The rules are strictly, and fairly, enforced. The dealers and staff do a great job. Dealer errors are inevitable, of course, but the mistakes are corrected in accordance with the written rules every time. As in any casino tournament, read the rules carefully before play starts.
There are a couple of rules in this tournament that have taken players by surprise. Tucking a busted hand is grounds for immediate disqualification from that round. If you are nervous or unsure of your hand total, show your cards to the dealer, rather than risk disqualification. The rule sheet is vague on this busted hand rule. It applies to every hand - not just the final hand of a round. Cindy told a group of players that she plans to rewrite this rule in the rule sheet to clarify it.
Tucking a blackjack or turning it over out of turn will result in that hand being counted as a total of 21. When asked why a player is penalized for turning a blackjack out of turn, Cindy didn't have an answer other than that she was benchmarking other tournaments. She says she will consider removing this rule for the October event. However, tucking a blackjack will still be out of bounds.
As already stated, each player at a table starts with 2,500 in tournament chips. Table assignments, seat assignments, and the starting hand button are determined randomly. The tournament staff makes every effort to avoid pitting spouses against each other.
There are up to six preliminary rounds, which are played on Saturday. The early preliminary rounds have six or seven players and two advances from each table to the quarterfinals. The later preliminary rounds have fewer players. The final preliminary round of July's event had three tables of four players each. Each preliminary round consists of 20 hands. There is a chip count after the fifteenth hand.
The quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals are played on Sunday. Before the quarterfinals begin, there is a wild card draw to fill any shortages in the field of 72 quarterfinalists. In the quarterfinals, there are six players at every table and three advance to the semifinals. Twenty hands are played, with chip counts after the fifteenth hand. In the Semifinals, there are six players at every table and one advances to the final table. Twenty hands are played with a chip count after the fifteenth hand.
Before the final table, there is a wild card draw in which ten players are each awarded $100 worth of promotional chips for the pits. Then there is a wild card draw to fill the 7th seat at the final table. In the final table, 25 hands are played with a chip count after the 24th hand. There is no $10 dealer appreciation fee on the final table, so the starting bankrolls are 2,000 chips.
The game is two-deck pitch dealt all the way to the bottom. When the dealer runs out of cards, she shuffles the discards and continues dealing. The betting limits are 10 to 2,000 chips in increments of five. Blackjacks pay 2:1. There is no surrender, insurance, or even money. The dealer hits on soft 17. You have 30 seconds to make a betting or playing decision when it's your turn. But this is only enforced if an opposing player calls time. The vast majority of the players have been respectfully patient with their opponents in critical and complex situations. The Golden Rule applies here.
Some may disagree with what I'm about to tell you - I myself preached against this until recent years. I believe the 2:1 payout on blackjacks penalizes players who like to bet the minimum until five to 10 hands before the end of a round. That's because the 2:1 payout on blackjacks gives the players the advantage over the dealer. When you hit a 2:1 blackjack with a minimum bet, the lost opportunity stings. I've come to believe that in this format, being one of the highest bettors at your table within the limit of incurring excessive risk-of-ruin is a better strategy. If you've been unlucky and it's getting late, a maximum bet that is nearly your entire bankroll allows you to make a catch-up bet that is nearly as effective as if you had been using the minimum-bet strategy. When using this betting strategy, you will have upticks and downticks in your bankroll. When you hit an uptick that puts you in the lead, take advantage of blackjack's mathematical principle of correlation; back off and bet about the average of your leading opponents.
The format with two decks dealt all the way to the bottom puts a premium on card-counting, something I usually advise against in tournaments. If your betting strategy is aggressive as I've discussed above, there is an even higher premium on card counting. This is because if the count goes negative enough to wipe out the players' advantage from the 2:1 payout on blackjacks, you can throttle down your bets. As always, don't let the card count alter a betting or playing decision made for tournament considerations. Making a badly timed catch-up bet, or hitting a busting hand while protecting a lead, are mistakes made under the influence of the count.
Take another look above at the prize distribution at the final table. The 1st-place prize is three times as high as the second-place prize and nearly half the entire prize pool. The remaining prizes are fairly evenly distributed. This prize distribution puts a premium on aggressive betting in the early and middle hands. I would manage my bets and bankroll as if this were a one-advance elimination table. Be aggressive without incurring too much risk of ruin. Don't let a lucky wildcat bettor get a big lead on you. Only if my situation for winning 1st place is hopeless in the late hands would I consider maximizing my finishing rank among the remaining prizes.
The Buffalo Run tournament has not been around for very long; however, blackjack tournaments have been offered in Oklahoma for a long time. So don't underestimate the skills of the local players.
That being said, I have witnessed plenty of weak play in this tournament. If you don't know the players at your table, you can safely assume they will not make advanced moves on the final hand. If you must act early on the last hand, it's pretty safe to anticipate your opponent will make a 2,000-chip bet after you so bet accordingly. However, most of these players seem to know about holding back a few chips if someone acting before them has gone all-in. Most also recognize when they must double down on a hard hand to have the best chance to beat you.
What Happened in July 2016
In July, approximately 100 players participated in this tournament. The total number of entries was about 220, including rebuys.
By now you may wonder how yours truly did in this most recent event. Unfortunately, I did poorly, needing three rebuys to advance to the quarterfinals, only to be thumped from the quarterfinals on a three-advance from six-player table. Compare this to my previous two events, in which I only needed one rebuy in one of them, no rebuy in the other, and advanced to the semifinals in both. It wasn't pretty in July, but I still had a great time.
The final table was exciting. Three well-known contributors to blackjacktournaments.com, who traveled from other states, were on this final table. The "St. Louis Mafia" was also represented by two players, making it at least five finalists who traveled from other states for this event.
The dealer was blistering hot through the first half of the round. Two players were eliminated before the final hand. The third-baseman was down to less than 1,000 in his chip stack and hadn't won a single hand in the first 15 hands, before hitting timely blackjacks on big bets on two consecutive hands. He went from worst to first at that point and stayed sizzling hot until the last five hands or so.
On the final hand it was close enough to be anybody's game. The third-baseman led off with a large bet. I believe he had the second or third-highest chip stack - the action was too fast for me to get exact counts. The first baseman, with the second-lowest of the remaining stacks, went all-in. The chip leader then made a bet large enough to take the high (win if all win) over the third-baseman. The next player to act made a large bet.
The final player to act was the short-stacked player. He had been betting fairly aggressively through much of the final round. But seeing an opportunity, he surprised his opponents and made a tiny bet that took first low (win if all lose). Tiny bets on the last hand of a blackjack tournament round are usually suicide. But I believe this player took advantage of a unique opportunity and made a smart bet. Being short-stacked but acting last, this tiny bet was his best shot at winning 1st place. The dealer rewarded him for his smart bet and wiped out the whole table. He went from worst to first.
The blackjacktournament.com contributors on this final table were The Professional (second place), jonny21 (third place), and ptaylorcpa (fifth place). ptaylorcpa also cashed in the April, 2016 event. Note that I'm not "outing" anyone here. This information is freely available at blackjacktournaments.com.
I didn't know the tournament champion. He is probably one of the experienced locals I warned you about earlier in this article. If the champion is reading this, hats off to you, whoever you are. Nice work!
If you come to this event in the future, please consider giving some side play and patronizing the restaurants and other facilities. As I said, this event is relatively new.The casino managers' need all the encouragement they can get to make this event a staple for us blackjack tournament lovers for many years to come.
I hope to see you in October, 2016!
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