Tournament Prizes


Casino games tournaments are fun, and they can be profitable too. In upcoming articles, we will be publishing a series of excerpts from Stanford Wong’s book, Casino Tournament Strategy.

Tournament Entry Fees and Prizes

Getting an edge in casino tournaments means enjoying a positive expected value. It means if you can play a large number of tournaments you will be a winner overall, though in most individual tournament you will lose.

Part of getting an edge is careful selection of which tournaments to enter. There are differences from tournament to tournament in the relationship of total prize money to total entry fees. Best are tournaments in which total prize money equals or exceeds total entry fees. The casino may also offer comped food or rooms or welcome gifts.

One way to compare total entry fees with total prizes is get a copy of the promised prize structure and add up the numbers. Another is to read the brochure; tournaments giving back 100% or more of the entry fees usually announce it in large type because it is important to prospective entrants.

Tournament players use the word “equity” to describe the relationship between entry fees and prize money. When prize money exceeds entry fees, the tournament is said to have “positive equity.”


In any tournament you enter, it is important to familiarize yourself with all the details of all the rules. Any surprises you receive during a tournament due to not knowing a rule will hurt you. For example, sometimes people do not show up for their second-round sessions because they did not realize they qualified. Generally, the rules are printed out. Read them.

Even if you already know everything there is to know about playing the game, such as blackjack, you cannot know everything about the tournament until you study the details. Experts who have played hundreds of tournaments still read the rules for every tournament they enter. Every big tournament has a rules meeting, generally in a party atmosphere with hors d’oeuvres and refreshments. The party always is fun, but go to the rules meeting anyway even if there is no party. If you have any questions about the rules, ask the tournament director. The only foolish question is the one you do not ask that comes back to bite you in the wallet.

In a tournament you need to know exactly what options are available to the players; they may be different from the rules the casino offers at its real-money tables. How will the round end, and how will you know when the last hand is approaching? Do you get to make a secret bet? How many people from your table will advance to the next round?


The book Casino Tournament Strategy frequently refers to the players according to the relative sizes of their bankrolls. To do this concisely, the following terms are used: BR1 means highest bankroll, BR2 means second-highest bankroll, BR3 means third-highest bankroll, and so forth.

N is the number of people from your table that will advance to the next round of the tournament. BRN means the Nth highest bankroll, which is the smallest bankroll that advances to the next round from this table. If three people advance per table, BRN means BR3. BR* means any bankroll that advances to the next round. If three people per table advance, then BR* means BR1, BR2, or BR3.

Principles Useful at All (or Most) Casino Tournaments

The following are general principles that underlie specific strategies. A good understanding of these principles helps in learning tournament strategies, and also will aid you in developing an appropriate strategy for any tournament situation you might encounter that is not explained in the book.

Succeed or Bust

A large part of your edge comes from applying a simple money-management strategy: Either advance to the next round or bust out trying.

The succeed-or-bust strategy is easiest to understand in tournaments where you know what bankroll total will allow you to advance to the next round. Suppose you buy in with $300 and know for certain that finishing with $600 or more will put you in the next round. You maximize your chance of advancing to the next round by either turning your initial $300 into $600 or busting out.

Do not enter a tournament if you cannot afford to lose the whole buy-in. For example, if a tournament requires you to buy in with $1500 and keep what you win (which really means parting with what you lose), then you should not enter that tournament if you are not willing to lose the whole $1500. You have a big edge over anyone who buys in with $1500 because it is required, but is willing to risk only $500 of it, and is not willing to make a bet from the final $1000.

When To Bet Big

You are better off betting small until you know for certain that your present bankroll will not be enough to accomplish your goal. Once you decide that you need to bet big, do it at the first good opportunity, which means picking a spot where if you win you gain on the people you need to catch.

When Behind, Get a Swing; When Ahead, Go With the Flow

If you are behind, try to make a bet that gives you a chance to win while the people you are trying to catch are losing. An obvious example is baccarat; if you are not BR* and everyone with more money than you is betting on bank, you should bet on player. If you are BR*, try to make your bets correlate with those of your most serious competitors so that if they win, you win too.

If Losing a Bet Will Leave You In a Hopeless Position, Bet the Max

Try to avoid getting into the position of having chips left, but too few to have a chance. You should have a large enough bankroll to have a chance to advance to the next round, or you should bust out; try to avoid the middle between those two extremes.

For example, suppose only two opportunities to bet remain in the session, you have 180, and the people you are trying to catch have 260 or more. Bet the whole 180. Do not consider betting 90, which is half of your bankroll, because if you lose the 90 your remaining bankroll is helpless against 260. Losing 90 is as bad as losing 180 in that you have no chance to advance either way, but winning 180 can give you a better chance to advance than winning 90.


When you make a big bet, try to make a bet that gives you maximum flexibility. You like to give the casino the smallest percentage possible of course, but if there is a conflict between casino edge and flexibility, go with flexibility.

Give Your Opponent a Chance To Make an Error

If the only way you can win is for an opponent to make a mistake, give that person the opportunity. Just because an opponent can beat you does not mean you will be beaten.

Another good source of information on tournaments is

This article is part of a series, to be continued…

Excerpted with permission from Casino Tournament Strategy by Stanford Wong, edited for this format.

For more information about online tournaments, please visit


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