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A CLASSIC MATCHUP

by Joe Pane

Joe Pane is a skilled advantage blackjack player and an experienced tournament player who has won over half a million dollars in blackjack tournaments. He competed in the World Series of Blackjack in 2005 and finished first in a monthly qualifier in the Las Vegas Hiltonís Million Dollar Blackjack Tournament. He also was selected to play in the inaugural Ultimate Blackjack Tour and recently played in the UBT tournament stops in Aruba and St. Kitts. He participated in the beta testing of the UBT software (www.playubt.net), he actively contributes to the message boards on www.lasvegasadvisor.com and www.blackjacktournaments.com, and he also writes the column "House of Pane" in the All In Blackjack magazine. His peers consider him to be one of the strongest blackjack tournament players on the circuit.

 

 

A few months ago, over 200 players competed at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas to determine who would play for the Palms UBT championship that will be filmed and shown on CBS TV in season 2 of the UBT Tour. The match was filmed two weeks ago in a TV studio in Los Angeles and it had all the drama that Hollywood could muster. Two UBT Team Members, Anthony Curtis and Antonio Estarfardi, made it through the large field along with Blair Rodman, who has successfully competed at both Blackjack & Poker tournaments at a world class level. Blair has wrote the much acclaimed poker book, Kill Phil, which teaches new players that venture into the shark infested waters of No Limit Hold-Em, how to play against the top poker tournament players with a style that will just drive the Pros off their game.

This match was billed as a potential classic match-up of three pros: a Poker superstar, a Blackjack Tournament superstar, and a player who has notched his legacy in both games.

We were not disappointed as two of the Pros squared off in a classic heads-up battle that was like a heavyweight fight, with each boxer delivering one big right hand after another to the otherís jaw. This match was one knockdown after another with both players coming off the mat to deliver their own knockout punch.

What made this more of a classic heads-up battle is how one of the players, who seemingly was ready to be knocked out for the ten count, miraculously staggered on the ropes, and punched and scratched his way back into the match. This final tournament round will be remembered like the classic Heavyweight fight between the two champions, Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed.

By now you must be wondering who was Rocky, and who was Apollo Creed in this classic blackjack tournament final?

Well, let me start by telling you which one of these Pros was eliminated first. With Anthony and Antonio drawing bad seat positions, Antonio in Seat 1 and Anthony in Seat 2, you knew they would not be tip-toeing during the course of the first eight hands, so the fur would fly early. In a UBT format, the player with the lowest bankroll is eliminated after hands 8, 16, and 25. So with the betting starting with players seated in positions #1 followed by #2, when hand 8 comes around, seats 1 & 2 will be betting and playing their hands first before the other players. This is a disadvantage, so aggressive play is recommended if you happen to draw those particular seats.

Antonio made big bets on Hands 2, 4, and 5. His bets and results of the hands respectively were: $14KĖPush, $12K-Loss, and on Hand 5, he bet $22K and was dealt a solid 20 vs. a dealerís upcard of 10. The dealer made a 20 on that hand leaving him with $82K going into Hand 5. Anthony, not to be left standing in the dust, made significant sized-bets on the first five hands but wound up with three hard 16 hands, with the dealer showing either a 9 or 10 upcard. Anthony, therefore, had to surrender these three hands.


Approaching hand 6, Antonioís bankroll was $82k and Anthonyís was $70.5K. Blair, in the meantime, was pacing his bets from seat 6, avoiding big loses, and had a bankroll of $90K.

On hand 6, Antonio lost $16K, while Anthony Curtis won $25K putting all the heat on Antonio going into hand 7.

On Hand 7, Antonio bets all of his remaining $66K bankroll and is dealt a 20 vs. a dealerís 6. No other players covered Antonio on the high end, so it appears as if he will go from last to first in one hand. (Donít you just love this format?)

But, the former magician could not pull the rabbit out of the hat. When the dealer made an unbelievable four-card 21, Antonio was eliminated in a very unfair way. The first knockout punch was delivered by the dealer.

Hand 8 will eliminate another player, and Anthony has to bet first with a BR of $80.5K. Seat 3 has $75.5K, seat 5 has $72K, and Blair, who is always on top of things, has Anthony beat by a mere $500 worth of chips with a bankroll of $81K.

Anthony does not use his secret bet and bets $8K, a bit more than his lead over seat 3, who he leads by $5K. Seat 3 increases the drama by not betting enough to pass Anthony and not taking the low that Anthony "kind of offered him." (See reference to the "surrender trap" at end of article.) Seat 3 bets $13K, and if the dealer breaks, we will have a two-hand playoff to determine who gets eliminated since seat 5 moved all-in for $72k, and the other players covered Anthony and Seat 3 on the high end.

As if we needed more drama, the dealer provided it when she broke, so now we have a critical and exciting two-hand playoff that will send one player home. Anthony "Rocky" Curtis will just not be knocked out today, and he survives the "sudden-death playoff" to stave-off elimination. Rocky has a couple of more rounds left in him and the crowd loves the high intense drama that this final table is providing.

As we approached the next elimination hand, Blair knows that he will be betting first on hand 16, so he steps-out and builds a lead over the other three players. Going into hand 16, Blair had $162,500 betting first, Anthony had $122,500 betting second, David in seat 4 had $124,000, and Christian in seat 5 had $122,000

Blair bet $38 K. Anthony, with a short lead of $500 over the low bankroll, bet $100,000. Anthony hasnít survived in Las Vegas this long without some sort of table smarts, and almost like clock work, or as Anthony must have seen in his crystal ball, the low bankroll matched Anthonyís bet giving him the high and the low. David made a bet of $42K. The dealer decided that Anthony needed to suffer another crushing right hand to his jaw and flipped over a Blackjack taking $100,000 from Anthony and leaving him still at the table by only 500 dollars, but going into the home stretch with a sick bankroll of $22,500, compared to Blairís $124,500 and Davidís $82,000.

It was now going to be David and Blair playing for the UBT Palms championship since Anthony was all but knocked out for about the 3rd time and had one bet left to make, if that. With everyone in the building expecting Anthony to go all-in on hand 17 and finally ending his valiant effort, to everyoneís dismay he bet only $2K on hand 17, $1k on hand 18, and then $1K on Hand 19 like he knew he was going to lose those hands and guess what? Anthony, in fact, lost 2 of those 3 hands but still had $19,500 left going into hand 20.

But Rocky was not done just yet. On Hand 20, Anthony bet first and went all-in, pushing his remaining $19,500 in the betting circle and was dealt a miraculous blackjack, which increased his bankroll to $48,000. Man, can this guy take a punch or what! On hand 21, he pushes his entire $48,000 into the betting circle and is dealt an A-9 against a dealers 10 upcard but itís his moment now, and the dealer, with only a 24% probability of busting, obligingly busts (when Rocky is throwing them, you betta duck).

Anthony went from a measly bankroll of $19,500, to a competitive bankroll of $96,000, in just two hands. But he still trails Blair by $72,500 and he closed the gap on David, who has $112,000. Blair meantime, being the top player that he is, was pacing Anthony bets while still keeping David behind him. Anthony takes a break on hand 22, just like a fighter catching his breath after throwing a barrage of punches. But on hand 23, he returns to the brawl and bets $42K and is dealt another 20 bringing his new total to $139,000, which now passes David chip total of $98,000. Davidís lack of tournament experience is starting to show as he does not try to correlate with Anthony and he is now the low bankroll.

On Hand 24, with Blair holding a $10,500 lead over Anthony and having to bet before him, he makes a classic tournament pro bet and bets all of his lead less a chip. Blair bets $10,000, Curt feeling like a player on a mission, bets $28k, enough to pass Blair on a win-win, and just like in the movies, Anthony is dealt another big bet 20 and he now passes Blair by $7,500.

Elimination hand 25 finds Blair betting first with $159,500, Curt 2nd with $167,000 and, oh yea, David with now only $88,000. Blair bets $34K, Anthony bets $30K, and David uses his secret bet and moves all-in for $88K. The dealer gives herself a blackjack and David has officially taken Anthonyís spot in the trainers room getting his cuts repaired.

Itís now heads-up between two friends, who have had casinos running for cover for the last 25 years, and who have been playing this game a long time at such a high level that they have bets named after themÖ." Curts Revenge" and "Blairís Lock. What a fitting end to a great match.

Blair retakes the lead on Hand 26 after Curtis bets all of his lead less a chip and Blair bets enough to pass Anthony on a straight win (he returned the favor that Curt delivered to him on hand 24).

Blair holds a $23,500 lead going into the last hand: $179,500 to 156,000.

Anthony bets first and these two Pros have saved their secret bets for one last dramatic bone crunching round.

Anthony Secret bets $44K.


Blair secret bets $45K, which will allow him to surrender if things look bad, and force Anthony to win his hand. It turns out to be a great correlation bet and he didnít see it. Man is this guy good; knowing your opponentís tendencies are an important tool in last hand situations, and it looks like Blair had a good read on Anthony.

The Final Hand

Curt is dealt 6-7.
Blair has 10-5.

Dealer has a 2 upcard.

Curt uses a secret action to hide the result of his hand, and double downs for another $44K.

Now keep in mind, Blair has no idea what Curt bet, or what action he took on his hand because the secret bet and action allows you to bluff your opponent. Curt could have surrendered, or doubled down for any amount up to his original bet, or just stood, and Blair doesnít know. The power of the secret bet has made this last hand a great finish to a great match between two good friends.

Blairís bet does not allow him to double down since he has bet double his lead less a chip and its design was for him to surrender and force Anthony to win his hand after the cards were dealt out face-up. The dealer has a 2 up and Anthony has a 6-7 with a secret action pending. Blair decides to surrender which takes away the push from Anthony.

The dealer flips over her hole card and shows a 7 to go along with her 2. She draws an Ace for a dramatic 20.

Now Anthony, who has risen off the mat numerous times in this battle, will need an 8, and only and 8, to win Ö just like in Rocky 1, when he takes the champ till the final bell, refusing to be knocked out. However, Anthonyís day is finally over when the dealer turns over a 3 on Anthonyís double down bet of $88K.

Both of these tournament Pros put on a display of tournament skill that you should definitely make a point to see when it airs on national TV in the coming months. It was a pleasure to watch this match live.

When playing in a tournament heads-up against one other player, here are some tips that will give you the edge over your opponent.

First, as I mentioned earlier, watch the above match when it airs during season 2 of the UBT Tour. It is a pure clinic.

Always keep a running total of your opponentís chip-count in your head. This prevents any chip counting mistakes that you may make. You can always verify your mental chip count with a visual one if you are unsure. This saves time in calculating your bet. You can just manually count your bankroll. The bankroll totals are not that important; just keep track of the differences in your bankrolls. Make sure every bet that you make has a meaning to it.

When betting first with a lead, bet some portion of your lead. You never want to give your opponent an easy job of taking the lead from you by only having to risk a small amount of chips to pass you. Make it difficult for them to pass you.

Now how do you determine how much of your lead you should bet when betting first?

Here is how I do it.

If my opponent is aggressive, then Iím betting most of my lead, usually all of my lead less a chip. If the tournament has surrender and itís the last hand, I might even bet more than my lead, actually up to 1.5 times my lead is a strong play because if he decides to take the low by holding back one more unbet chip than yours, than you can just surrender your hand (any hand you receive except a blackjack) and win the match right there.

Here is an example. You have $35,000 and player B has $20,000. You have a $15,000 lead so you could bet $22,500, leaving you with $12,500 in unbet chips. Your opponent will see an opening to take the low and bets $2,000, holding back $13,000 unbet. He now can only get to $15,000 or $17,000 if he were to double down. Once they fall for the trap, you just surrender bringing your total to $23,750 (this ploy is known as the "surrender trap"). Game, set, and match without ever playing the hand.

This move should never be tried unless you are sure they will fall for the trap. In other words, donít pull it on a Pro because they have seen it, and have done it to many times to others, to fall for it.

Without surrender, the amount of your lead that you will bet will vary according to the player and how many hands are left. Less aggressive players can be chased away from attempting to over take your bankroll with a bet equal to maybe only 1/3 of your lead. These fractions will be something you must decide based upon your read of their aggression, or lack of it.

If behind, make your move when and if your opponent gives you a shot that will not cripple your bankroll. If they bet all of their lead, take that hand off and hope the 44% win expectation is on your side for that hand. If you have several hands left, bide your time if he is risking chips to protect and keep his lead. If you start running out of hands, then make your move when betting last; never let your opponents get to see your bet before they make theirs.

In a future column I will give you more tips on how to improve your results when you get locked up in a head to head match up. Your head to head skills will be rewarded in the UBT format, which seems to be the blackjack tournament format of the future, and head to head battles are very common on the last five hands.

Until next month may all your aces have a little paint on them

Joe Pane

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