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Aaron Todd

Aaron  Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

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Success not in the cards for elimination blackjack

21 Dec 2006

By Aaron Todd

I tried to like elimination blackjack. I really did.

I was pretty excited about the idea after I interviewed Robert Williamson III a few months ago about his involvement in the Ultimate Blackjack Tour. And after talking with him, I was looking forward to watching it on CBS.

Then I watched one episode on a Saturday afternoon. And I hated it.

There are times when I overuse the "I have to watch this for work" excuse when my wife protests the volume of poker-related shows clogging up our DVR. This was one show that I was perfectly happy to delete and never record again.

I held off on writing about it, in large part because I really liked Williamson and didn't want to slam the show after he'd pumped it up so much.

I even gave elimination blackjack a second chance when I convinced the guys in my home game to play a tournament under the UBT's rules a few weeks ago. Six of us threw in $5 with a $20 prize for the winner and $10 for second place.

I finished second and can honestly say it was the most tedious game I've ever played. And I don't think I've ever felt that way after winning money.

The UBT is attempting to cash in on poker's popularity by putting people like Williamson, Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke in its televised events. It's even comparing elimination blackjack to poker. I don't think that comparison is fair to poker.

Here are three key factors that combined to create the poker boom:

  1. The hole cam reinvented televised tournament poker
  2. You can play with your friends at home
  3. Internet poker gave people a chance to play and practice for free and for low stakes

Elimination blackjack only has one of these factors in its favor: You can play online (either for free at or for money at It is a fun diversion online, but personally, I'd never play for money, mostly because I don't think I'd have any edge over an average player.

Yes, tournament blackjack does include a "hole cam" so you can see the dealer's down card before the players. But that card is actually irrelevant to the tournament strategy that players adopt. The real strategy of tournament blackjack is calculating your chip stack compared to others at the table and betting accordingly.

Four hands into our elimination blackjack home game, I knew it was a bad idea. Several players started betting the maximum amount every hand because they wanted to bust and put the tournament out of its misery.

There are at least a dozen reasons why elimination blackjack doesn't work in a home game, but here are a few of the biggest ones.

  1. Most home poker games are played with one or two decks of cards. Shuffling six decks of cards is onerous. This can be alleviated by playing single or double-deck blackjack, but doing either changes the strategy.
  2. Since it's not always clear how many chips a player has, it takes FOREVER for a table of players to determine betting amounts. This is alleviated somewhat online since everyone's chip stack is displayed.
  3. Everyone wants to play, which means that you have to deal an extra hand for the "house."
  4. If everyone has a hand, no one can peek at the "dealer's" down card when there's an ace or a face card exposed. As a result, everyone has to act as if the dealer does not have blackjack, then recall and either honor or retract all subsequent actions (surrender, insurance, double down) if the dealer does have 21.

As soon as our elimination blackjack tournament ended, Shobu, probably the best blackjack player in our game, expressed everyone's thoughts: "Never again."

Sorry UBT, elimination blackjack is not "the next poker."

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