How and When to Make a Catch-Up Bet
It is rare to win a blackjack tournament round without having to make a catch-up bet somewhere along the way. Deciding when and how to catch the chip leaders at your table is therefore the most common decision a player must make, but it's also a decision where many players make fundamental errors. This article will look at ways to make the right play.
First, how do you decide when to make your move? If the chip leaders at your table are still within a max bet of your bankroll, you can usually afford to wait a bit, and see if they continue to make large bets. If they're betting large, you can bet small and hope the dealer wins. Of course, your opponents will often extend their lead in these situations. Still, the best way to catch another player is to bet opposite of them. As long as that has a reasonable chance of working, you should postpone any riskier plays.
You're much better off trying to regain the lead in one hand, rather than hoping to win several of the next few hands with medium sized bets.
Usually, one way or another, those small waiting bets just won't get the job done. If the leaders begin betting small, and you're still within one max bet of them, your best chance is winning one large bet to take the lead. You're much better off trying to regain the lead in one hand, rather than hoping to win several of the next few hands with medium-sized bets. If you find yourself multiple max bets behind the leader, you'll need to be lucky to catch up, winning several large bets. In those cases, there's often little strategy involved. Bet big, and hope for the best.
If you instead can achieve your goal with one bet, you should time your bet for optimal effect. Assuming you have a few hands left before the final hand, you are usually best served by waiting for the first-base button to pass you before making your catch-up bet. Being able to see all your opponents bets before you make your large bet allows you to bet enough to take the lead, and no more. If you're forced to make your catch-up bet from another position, you'll have to guess what your opponents are likely to bet. Worse yet, your opponents can easily margin your bet once they see you are making a run for the lead.
Sometimes you don't have the luxury of waiting for the button to pass. In those cases you should try to guess what your opponents will bet behind you. If you've been paying attention to their bets all along, you may have picked up on their 'favorite' bet size. That's valuable information.
Now, how much to bet? Let's look at an example.
Seat 1 : Bankroll $850 Bet $10 Seat 2 : Bankroll $550 Bet $100 Seat 3 : Bankroll $320 Bet $60 Seat 4 (You): Bankroll $520 Bet ?
Assume there are 5 hands left, and betting limits are $5 to $500.
The leader has $850, which is a considerable lead of $330 over your $520. Since the leader has made a small bet, this is a good spot to risk a large bet. How much should you bet? I've seen players who would bet $335 here, betting their deficit plus a chip. That's fine if the leader pushes or loses this hand while you win, but that's not the most common outcome. If you win, the leader is likely to win as well, since you're both playing against the same dealer cards.
A better bet is $345, so that if you both win, you still lead by $5. But you can do better yet. Since the leader has bet so little, you can easily cover several other possible problems. If the leader gets a blackjack, or a double down, the $345 bet comes up short. Why not add a few more chips to cover those possibilities?
In general, if you can cover an opponent's double-down bet with just a few more chips, do it.
In general, if you can cover an opponent's double-down bet with just a few more chips, do it. I like a bet of $355 here, and I might consider $365 or $375 as well. These amounts cover multiple splits or doubles after split. However, an opponent is unlikely to win more than double his initial bet, so $355 is probably my choice unless I have chips to spare.
Now, let's change one key part of our example. Assume instead that this is the next to last hand of the round. Now what's the best bet? It's not the same, because the value of your unbet chips is very different now. If you lose a $355 bet, you're left with only $165. $165 is useless on the final hand, unless your opponents really make a big mistake. If losing a bet will leave you in a hopeless situation, you should make a max bet. Your best bet on the next to last hand is a max bet of $500. If you have to win the hand to have a chance, you may as well be paid as much as possible for it. The extra chips you win can be decisive on the last hand.
See you at the tables, -Ken-