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Blackjack rookies take note – the importance of seating position


1 Jun 2017

Poker is typically the casino game where seating position is considered to have a big bearing on results.

For example, sit in the seat to act before a tight opponent and enjoy the likelihood of raising and stealing blinds on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, be in a late position on the table and benefit from more knowledge regarding the strength of the hand of the opposition, in comparison to the player who was positioned under the gun and forced to act first following the deal.

However, blackjack is also a game where seating position can have a big bearing on profits and losses. Although the significant difference is that any decisions made are likely to have a larger impact on the results of others rather than yourself.

First base

This is the seat directly to the left of the dealer and the significance of taking this vacancy is that you will be first to act following the deal.

The problem here for a blackjack rookie is the pressure to make decisions at speed to avoid the snarls and glares of other, more regular, players wanting a quick game and getting impatient over a situation they deem has an obvious action.

If a rookie was first to act and was dealt 14 against a dealer six, it is unlikely to be a straightforward and obvious decision as to what their next move should be.

To any player fairly clued up with basic blackjack strategy, the recommended play is to stand. This is on the basis that the dealer has a strong chance of flipping a 10 with their second card to make 16 and then being forced by the rules of the game to hit, which leaves them strong candidates to bust.

Yet, with a hand of 14 also open to improvement from many cards in the deck, there is some logic for a newbie player to want to hit. Acting first and feeling rushed may prevent a rookie from making a decision they are happy with.

Third base

The easy solution to getting around this problem is to sit at third base instead, which is the final seat to the dealer’s right. Rather than acting first, a player gets to go last from this position.

Not only does this provide as much time as possible to decide on their next move, it also arms a player with the most knowledge of the deck.

For example, if everybody else has completed their hands and are showing a high number of low-value cards, standing may be considered the sensible move for a player holding 14 at third base.

This is because higher-value cards are typically more likely to balance out the deck and one of these would cause this player to bust.

Some experts have calculated that the extra knowledge available at third base is enough to reduce the casino’s house edge by over 0.4%.

The different pressure of third base

However, it is pretty much an unwritten rule in blackjack that a player lacking a working knowledge of the game shouldn’t sit themselves at third base.

Imagine a table where the majority of players are regulars, understand the rules inside out and know basic strategy instantly from memory. These players will be making decisions based on the dealer’s face card, as much as the cards in their own hand.

Should the dealer be showing a six, the general play is to attempt to ensure that a card with a value of 10 is on top of the deck to increase the likelihood of the dealer busting.

Therefore, players adopting basic strategy will be standing on almost anything, particularly if the deal to all players up to this point shows a large number of lower-valued cards.

How frustrating for these players then when the rookie at third base hits on their 12 and busts with a king. The dealer will then undoubtedly flip a seven with their six to make 13 and then get an eight for 21. This will invariably cause the whole table to lose this hand.

If the rookie had a basic understanding of strategy and stuck as everyone else had with average hands, the king on top of the deck would have gone to the dealer and busted their initial two-card 13.

Such a move is likely to generate all kinds of insulting remarks and criticism. The third baser’s so-called stupid plays will be the ones every other player on the table remembers and will spoil what was meant to be a fun night free of confrontation and abuse.

Sit in the middle instead

There is an air of potentially unwanted responsibility for those seated at first or third base, similar to that discovered by those finding themselves unintentionally manning a door seat on an aeroplane which needs to be opened during times of emergency.

For those new to the game and struggling to completely grasp all of the rules, this is far from ideal.

The only other seating position noteworthy enough to have its own specific name is called shortstop, which is the middle seat in a seven-player layout that is located directly in front of the dealer.

Sitting here, or either side, should give a rookie enough time to decide on how they wish to play their hand, without interfering with the pace of the game. It will also allow them to make a decision which doesn’t come under intense scrutiny from others.

A player gets a good view of all cards on display at the table from here too.