Well, you've done it! You've entered a tournament, and the great day is here. You're at the casino, and you're ready to play. Now what happens? If you're playing at a large tournament, there will probably be a registration table. Here you check in, pay your fee, and pick up your table assignment and time slot. Smaller tournaments sometimes have registration tables, too, or you might be told to check in at the player's club desk. In some casinos, you simply check in at the tournament tables. Don't be late! Many tournaments disqualify late players, so give yourself enough time to get there. Doing so will also give you some time to catch your breath and compose yourself before you hit the tables.
After you register and/or check in, go into the tournament area and find your table. Some tournaments assign table positions randomly. At others, you'll have to draw for position. Some tournaments will let you choose where to sit. If the tournament is open seating and spots are open at your table, simply pick one. If there are other players at the table, introduce yourself. As you do so, you'll probably meet a variety of different personality types. You also might notice that some of your fellow competitors look a little jittery. Others might appear to be cool, calm, and collected, but don't fool yourself. Just about everyone gets a little nervous — or very nervous — at these events. Even the small, low-key ones. There's just something about competition that fires folks up.
Once tournament play begins, you'll be required to stay at your table until the end of each round unless you really need to leave. Rounds typically don't last very long — usually anywhere from 20 to 100 hands or so — so schedule your bathroom breaks for between rounds. There might be some people — friends, loved ones, assorted hangers-on and kibitzers — milling about the tables before the tournament starts. For security reasons, and to eliminate any possible cheating schemes, they'll be asked to leave before play starts.
You don't have to bring much with you to the tables. Nor should you. When it comes to tournaments, it's best to keep your attention focused on playing. Keep your accoutrements to a minimum to avoid distractions.
If the tournament you're going to play in is following different rules than what you're accustomed to, generate basic strategy charts based on these rules and learn them well in advance of the event. Don't put yourself at a disadvantage by using strategies that don't match rules and conditions where you are.
That said, a bottle of water is a nice thing to have, especially if you tend to get parched when you play, but you'll be offered beverages during play. Along these lines, even if you typically like to have an alcoholic drink or two when you play, skip them during tournaments. It's best not to ingest anything that could impair your abilities or judgment, even if you think it might calm your nerves. Other things you might want to bring along include:
Breath mints, gum, or throat lozenges. Dry mouth is a common tournament malaise.
If you're a smoker, bring your cigarettes unless smoking is prohibited. If you usually use a lighter, if it's a reflective metal lighter you might be asked to pocket it as it could be used for cheating (you wouldn't dream of this, of course, but others do, and have). You'll be given a book of matches to use instead.
A jacket or sweater. Casino air conditioning can kick in, and usually does, at the most inopportune times.
Lip balm or lip gloss. People tend to lick their lips a lot when they're nervous. If you're really anxious, you could end up with a bad case of chapped lips by the end of the tournament.
If you have one, a lucky charm, amulet, or talisman. No one will think you're odd, so don't feel embarrassed about this. You might, however, be asked to keep it in your pocket. Casinos typically discourage players from placing extraneous items on the felt, especially during tournaments, again because of security issues and cheating concerns.
The one thing you don't want to bring with your are basic strategy charts. If you're playing in a tournament, you shouldn't have to use them anymore. If you still need them, you probably shouldn't be playing.
Let the Games Begin!
At the appointed time, the casino will announce the opening of play. As is the case in any blackjack game, the dealer at your table will distribute two-card hands to all players and himself. But here's where things go a bit differently than normal table play. Betting might not start at the traditional spot, which is to the dealer's immediate left. It could start somewhere else.
Some tournament players play close attention to the fact that first base rotates around the table. Being able to figure out exactly where play will begin could make a difference in how the final round of betting plays out, as the person who goes last will be able to see how everyone else bet, and can structure his or her bet on this knowledge.
Here's why: In tournaments, players advance through rounds based on how much money they have at the end of each round. To even the playing field as much as possible, and ensure that everyone at the table plays an equal number of hands, first base usually rotates around the table. The opening first base location might be determined by drawing numbers or by playing a quick hand of poker. Or it simply might start in the traditional spot, and after each hand, the dealer will use something called a button to indicate who goes first on the next round. Each player will have the chance to open a couple of betting rounds, or more, depending on the tournament, by being “on the button.”