BLACKJACK TOURNAMENT STRATEGY:
LET THE RABBIT RUN!
by ‘The Babe’
‘The Babe’ is a Tournament Blackjack winner. As a serious casino player in the 60’s and throughout the 70’s, he specialized at grinding low to mid stakes blackjack action out of Nevada Casinos, while keeping a low profile. During that time, he wrote, copyrighted, and sold his own book, "Beat Blackjack, Simplified". He entered his first tournament in 1981, and has undoubtedly, played in more major Blackjack Tournaments than anybody. He has cashed for more than $600,000, and continues to compete today, with two major titles to his credit this year.
In the world of Tournament Blackjack, there are many tales of catastrophes, bad beats, and streaks of phenomenal luck. On the other hand, when it comes to ones own streak; luck usually has little to do with it. It is more of a ‘long overdue turn-a-round’, or a ‘calculated risk’! Those of us who have been playing for a long time have many of these tales, but some have come to realize that average outcomes are very often the exception rather than the rule. Streaks of fortune, both good and bad, seem to be common occurrences, but these stories of the ‘fantastic’ sometimes lead to the creation of legends. This article will attempt to tell the story of one legend. A player, who had the courage to "let the rabbit run"!
I first ran across this gentleman in the 80’s. Watching him at final tables in numerous mini-tournaments with $25 entry fees, I noticed that he usually made small bets. On a couple of occasions, he even locked himself out of any real possibility to win by betting a minimum amount, when it seemed obvious that a large bet would have been more appropriate. My first impression was that he was far too conservative a player to be a major threat. CAUTION! Conclusion leaping may be costly to your bankroll!
Years passed, and it became apparent after he made it to way too many final tables that he wasn’t a tournament moron. He had bested me at least once, because I expected him to follow my bet with a small bet but instead he laid out a bundle. His style kept me guessing until the day he confessed to me that a mini tournament payday of 2nd or 3rd was better to his thinking, than an all-in long shot which often leaves one in last place. Having said that, let’s look at his performance in a more recent final.
Fortune had buffeted him both up and down on a couple of high risk plays in the prior five hands; and now, with the final five hands remaining he stood in the exact middle of the pack—4th out of 7 players and $1,600 behind first with a $2,500 maximum bet rule. As he was first to bet on the fifth to last hand, he laid out a minimum $100. We might disagree with this waiting move; but a maximum bet loss would leave a bankroll balance of only $3,350 and he would have little hope to make a comeback from that level, while a big bet win might be covered by the leaders who act after him. He hit two cards to reach hard 16 vs. the dealers 7 up card, and played counter to basic strategy by standing. Two opponents busted, two surrendered, and two stood pat. The dealer had her 17 and the two pat hands won.
Now there are 4 hands left, he is last to bet and in 5th place $1,850 out of first. Three players bet small, two make mid-sized bets, and the 2nd place player bet the maximum $2,500, leaving no good bet for our underdog. He goes with the maximum! He is dealt 16 vs. dealer 7. What a nightmare! It is a repeat of the previous hand only for a lot more bankroll. This time he goes with the ‘Tortoise’ (Basic Strategy) and hits. He catches an Ace for 17 and stands. Again the dealer turns her hole card for 17, and this time he pushes, but all six opponents win. Ouch!
With three hands left his situation is truly bleak. He is now 6th out of 7 and $3,850 behind first (which is pretty ugly!). 1st place bets $100; 2nd bets $2,400; 3rd bets $1,700; 4th bets $2,500; 7th bets $1,500, and 5th will bet $300 after ‘The Legend’ places his MAX bet. The cards come out and he is dealt a 12 hand vs. dealer 10. Last place busts, and 1st place surrenders to save half of a $100 bet. What now? If he loses this 12 hand, he is almost certain to be out of the game with a $3,250 balance and 2 hands left. So what does he do? He DOUBLES for another $2,500! His card is a 2 for a total of 14. The dealer turns over a 6 and busts. Wow! What a comeback! He now lays claim to 1st place by $350, with four opponents breathing down his neck.
Let’s take a quick departure here to analyze this play. Calculating results from a six deck shoe, the double down on a 12 vs. a 10 up card will bust 30.42% of the time. Out of the other 69.58 hands in 100 tries of this particular double, 27.35 will win, 36.25 will lose and 5.98 will tie. This means that the success rate for this play is 29.09%. Fairly long odds, considering that a loss will mean you have no chance left for the MILLION dollar prize. Oh! Did I neglect to mention that first place pays $1,000,000, and this is the Las Vegas Hilton’s "Million Dollar 3" Tournament? Can you now understand why I used the word "courage" in the first paragraph? Not many competitors would have dared to turn this ‘Hare’ loose with two more hands remaining to be dealt.
Now, back to the action—the second to the last hand! Every player wagers $2,500, except the last to bet, 5th place. 5th is $1,250 behind first, and if the dealer could beat the table, he would take a commanding lead with his $100 bet. The dealer’s up card is a Ten! 7th place doubles 14 and busts out of the game, but 3rd place catches the biggest Blackjack of his life. This will put 3rd into the lead even if all players win, but if all lose, he has a $4,600 lead over 2nd and more than double the maximum bet over all others. 2nd place is next to act and hits a 4, 3 with a 3 and then a 10 for a 20 hand. 5th place hits a hard 12 and busts. Our leader has a 4 and a 5, which is an automatic hit vs. dealer 10. But ‘The Legend’ does not believe in automatic anything! He DOUBLES down for another $2,500! Holy smokin’ moley! With a double loss he can kiss the Million goodbye. He catches a 10. 6th place makes a desperation double down with hard 18 and busts. The $100 low better stands on 16. Once again, the dealer turns over a six in the hole, and busts out with a face card.
A fantastic double win, but why would any table leader double down with nine vs. 10? Looking at his opponent’s blackjack, he knew that a straight win would leave him in 2nd place for the last hand, and even with the best betting position, he wanted no part of that 2nd place. He decided to risk everything in an attempt to go into that last hand leading the pack. So, once again, the rabbit races, and caution is thrown to the wind. What were the long odds here? The player wins 34.23 out of 100 attempts with 9 vs. dealer 10. He loses 57.3, and pushes 8.47. Throw out the pushes and this yields a 37.4 win percentage. A lot better than he had in the last hand, but no less a courageous act!
The final hand comes out after all players bet the maximum. Our leader catches a hard 18—a hand that leaves one completely at the mercy of the dealer, but she was kind enough to turn a 7 up card. 2nd, 3rd and 5th place players all double down for the maximum and end up with 16, 17, and 20, respectively, but the fifth place 20 hand is too far behind to reach 1st place. Our determined leader stands, the dealer turns over a ten for 17, and the "Million Dollar Tournament 3" is history.
Congratulations to Sam Vaughn for the win of a lifetime! My condolences to the 2nd and 5th place finishers, because one of them would have most certainly won, had they not been playing against ‘The Legend’.
Without doubt, there are many ‘experts’ out there, who are certain that Mr. Vaughn made some poor decisions, got lucky, and still won. Trust me! He did get lucky! He made no poor decisions! He did make a play or two that I would not have made, and HE has a million dollars. Maybe next time, I will make those plays!
Ordinarily, this would end a story about a champion in a championship match, but this isn’t the end. Sam Vaughn achieved a far more astonishing accomplishment than this one win. A year earlier, he won his way to the final table of the "Million Dollar 2" Tournament. He lost that final table; largely due to a failed double down, proving that sometimes it is better to keep a horrendous hare on its leash! But Sam, ever optimistic, climbed right back on the horse (or in his case, the rabbit) and entered "Million Dollar 3". He won the qualifying event on his first try for $20,000!
Breaking this down into round by round play, it comes out to four wins and one loss in "Million Dollar 2" and 10 consecutive wins in "Million Dollar 3". Sam won 14 out of 15 rounds! All you math wizards—get out your laptops and calculators! What are the odds? Is this even possible? I don’t think so! Well, one thing is certain. ‘You’ve gotta love this game’!
©2015, DeepNet Technologies. No material to be copied without express permission of DeepNet Technologies.