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Ute Hosts Final Blackjack Satellite Tournament

27 January 2006

COLORADO – (PRESS RELEASE) -- The convention center at the Ute Mountain Casino, Hotel and Resort was filled with the nervous murmur of gamblers, stacks of red, green and blue chips, professional blackjack players and TV cameras Saturday.

The convention center was the scene for the last of the casino's three World Series of Blackjack 2006 satellite tournaments. The winner of Saturday's tournament earned one of 40 seats at the World Series of Blackjack 2006 in Las Vegas and a shot at the $500,000 first prize. Seven people sat around each of the oblong, felt blackjack tables as the dealer slid one card at a time from the automatic card shuffler. Each card was slid across the green felt and snapped face up in front of the players until they each had two cards sitting before them. Decision time came next. Does the player hit, spilt, double down or stand?

In table play blackjack, it's the player against the house. For the blackjack players seated around the felt tables in the convention center on Saturday, it was much more.

"It's a war," tournament participant Joe Pane said. Pane is a Brooklyn, N.Y., native who now resides in Las Vegas. He was one of 91 blackjack professionals who came to Towaoc from around the country to compete for a spot in the World Series of Blackjack 2006.

This weekend's winner was Charles Montoya of Farmington, N.M., and like Durango resident Patricia Nichols and Scottie Black of Cow Springs, Ariz., before him, Montoya walked away Saturday night with $3,150 and a seat in the World Series of Blackjack.

A film crew from GSN The Network for Games circled the dimly lit convention center. GSN will tape the World Series of Blackjack during the last week in February and the first week in March at the Las Vegas Hilton. Executive Director of Publicity and Corporate Communications Dennis Johnson said viewers will be able to catch each of the 13 episodes beginning in June although the exact dates have yet to be nailed down.

"(Tournament play) brings an entirely different element to blackjack," GSN's Vice President of Programming Kevin Belinkoff said. "It's really exciting."

GSN's goal is to be the home of blackjack, Belinkoff said. Blackjack is the most popular casino game, and tournament black jack is the great equalizer because anyone can win, not just card counters and position players, he said.

"It has a more everyman feel to it," he said.

Playing for a shot at the World Series required a $100 entry fee, a little luck and the ability to outlast other players. The 21 players who made it to the semifinals all won their entry fee back, and the players who made it to the final table each walked away with cash in their pockets.

The top 21 players from five rounds advanced to the semifinal. Players who were knocked out of each round entered their name into a drawing for one wild card seat at the final table. The top six players from the semifinal round advanced to the final along with the wild card player.

The differences between tournament play and table play are significant. In table play there is no time limit on play and the person at first base, the seat directly to the left of the dealer doesn't change.

In this tournament each round, except the final, which lasted 30 minutes, was 21 minutes long. After time expired five hands were dealt before the end of the round and the player with the highest chip count won that round. On Saturday each player started the elimination rounds and the semifinal round with $2,000 worth of chips. In the final, players started the round with $4,000 in chips.

The first-base position rotates so one player won't have a betting advantage over the others.

According to blackjack professional and tournament player Skip Samad, the strategy in tournament blackjack is remarkably different. Samad said chip count compared to other players at the table will dictate strategy. If he has a chip lead he may place a minimum bet, bust on purpose, making other players think they have a shot to catch up by placing big bets and doubling down, and hope the house wins the hand and takes his competitors' chips.

"All's fair in love, war and blackjack," Samad said. "I like when I'm responsible for someone else to lose."

A player's ability to manage their chips can mean the difference between winning the tournament or going home after the first round, according to Darrell "Rock 'n' Roll" Arnold.

"I believe most of the strategy in a tournament is money management and timing," Arnold said. "If you play basic strategy you have a chance to win the tournament in the last three hands."

Last year Arnold won 68 tournaments with one win netting him $150,000. The other big difference between table play and tournament play is that in tournament play a player knows exactly what they stand to lose, Pane said.

"In tournaments you know exactly what your down turn will be," he said. "The most you can lose is $100, and the most you can win is $500,000."

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