Blackjack Tournament Table Positions
A major part of blackjack tournament strategy is what position you are in on the blackjack table. This is simply what seating position you are taking on the table before the game begins and as the game progresses. Each tournament has different rules and most of the time players are randomly seated into different positions along the table. Although, there are times when players can just choose where to sit like on a poker table. If you know the rules beforehand and understand where the best places to sit are, you can gain a small edge. Most of the strategy here revolves around the button or marker that moves around the table and I will discuss this below.
The most ideal table position is one where you get to see what everyone else does before your turn. The goal is to be the last person to make a bet because you have much more information than anyone else and can perform risk management. Fortunately, everyone gets to take different turns as the button moves around the table. After each hand, this button moves on to the next person one by one. If the button is on you, this means that you must take the first bet. Being the first one to bet is the worst position on the table because you have to be the first one to figure out how much to bet. You do not know what the other players after you are going to do and they will know exactly what to bet in order to move ahead of you.
The button usually moves from right to left as you are looking at the dealer. If you are on the button, this means you take the first bet. The person on your right, or the one who had the button on the previous hand, will be the last to bet and will have the greatest advantage of extra knowledge. On each hand, the button rotates along the same path to each person. Although some tables have a button that moves from left to right as well but this really is not much of a big deal and is not what the strategy is all about.
To make things fair, everyone usually gets the same amount of hands on every position on the table. The button makes things fair since no one person gets to have the last bet all the time or be the one that is "last to act". It is a big deal at the end of the game though, especially the final hand of the blackjack tournament. If you are the last person to bet on the last hand, this is the time to make the big move, especially when you know exactly what value to beat! In contrast, the first person to bet is in a really bad position because they do not know if they should go all in and risk everything, whether they are in the lead or losing.
Why is it so important to be the last to act?
One of the benefits of being the last person to act is risk management tactics. You are able to bet more conservatively and bet just enough to beat out a competitor without risking more money than it necessary. This is the core of tournament strategy. You also do not need to be way ahead of everyone either and you actually have a good chance of beating the chip leader on the final hand as well. This is why it is important to be the chip leader if the button falls on you in the final hand of blackjack though. You have to expect that someone on the table may go all-in and you have the unfortunate decision of having to risk a huge amount of chips.
What to do when you get to choose your table seating position
As I was saying before, many tournaments randomly seat players and place the button in a random spot on the table. This ensures that players can not pick out the best position on the table ahead of time to set them up as the last person to bet on the final hand. There are tournaments that put the button on a default position and players get to choose what seats to sit in. Normally the button is placed on the first seat on the right side of the table when you are facing the dealer (or to the dealer's left). If you are able to choose your position, it is wise to figure out how many hands are played, how many players are playing and where that last position of the button will be on the final hand.
For example, if there are 30 hands of blackjack and 5 people playing, you would like to choose seat 1 or the seat that the button starts on. On the final hand, the button would actually be on seat 2 or the one to your left. This ensures that you are the last to act on the final hand, which is a huge advantage strategically. The one thing that can ruin the whole strategy is if a player drops out of the tournament midway through. Then the button starts moving in sequence past 4 people and it will end in a different spot. Either way, it is best to do it this way anyways as it improves your odds in the end if everyone makes it to the final hand.
How to determine initial table positions and who goes first
Determining who sits where can differ depending on where the tournament is played and what type of tournament there is. Like a board game, players can roll dice, draw cards or even play one five-hand poker game. It is not so crazy to believe that it can be determined by a rock/paper/scissors game either, as long as it is random. Whoever wins, gets the highest ranked card, dice roll or poker hand, will be the person who gets the button and must open up betting. The advantage becomes random in this case and it does not matter who chooses their table positions or not.
Being the one to win the button at the beginning of a round may not be such a boon. The button may still land on you in the last hand which would mean you would have to bet first again. It is only beneficial if you are positioned to be the one who is just right of the button on the last hand and this depends on how many players there are, how many hands are dealt and who loses in the middle of the round. If you know you are going to be in a bad position at the end of the round, you need to set up a strategy at the beginning of the game that will benefit you at the end when you have the disadvantage. If you are going to be the first to act or second to act on the last hand, it is best to accumulate more chips for this time of the game and it may require a riskier strategy at the beginning and a more aggressive betting style than normal.
Who you need to watch out for on your right and left sides
The first thing you need to watch out for is the players on your left. These opponents are a much greater threat than the ones to your right because they almost always get to watch your betting actions except when the button is on them. They get to set up their own strategy based on you and they get margin you out more often as well, which is the act of betting slightly more than a competitor in order to stay ahead of them. This makes it harder for you to catch up to them, especially if they lead in the chip count. They are particularly your enemy in the game. Also, you get to see pretty much every move of the person on your right before you bet, which makes you the enemy of this guy or gal.
There are some strategies you can use against the player to your left, especially if you are losing. The most powerful moves against the person to the left happen when the button falls on them. Then you get to finally see this person's actions before making your own for once and it prevents them from marginalizing you out. You should take this opportunity to make some major bets if you are trailing them, especially late in the game which also mixes up game for your competitors as well.
A few other tips include knowing who you are playing against. When you know there is a powerful blackjack player at the table with a lot of experience along the likes of Ken Smith of the World Series of Blackjack, then it is best to sit on his left side or have him on your right side. This way he does not have as much of a huge advantage over you and at the same time you can keep a better eye on him and his actions in order to give you a better chance of actually winning the tournament.
So in summary, if you can choose your seating position, take advantage of the strategies described above. Many players may not know this strategy and it could give you some big benefits in small tournaments and tournaments with many inexperienced players who do not yet know about this advanced strategy. Always keep track of where the button is and who is still playing. Do not forget to factor in each position every player is in when making a bet, especially if you have a problem player on your left side.