Pull Up a Seat

I get questions about blackjack strategy all the time. One of the most common is, “Where is the best place to sit at the table?”

If you play, you probably think you know the answer. Most blackjack players, especially if they fancy themselves good at the game, will tell you that the most important position at the table is the one that’s last to act. At a full table, that’s the seat farthest left as you face the dealer, or the “third base” position.

Why? Because what the “anchorman” does with his hand will determine which card the dealer gets if he has to draw. As the conventional wisdom goes, a “bad” player who hits his hand when he shouldn’t might take the dealer’s bust card. Example: The dealer shows 5 and a player on third base hits his 12 and busts with a 10. The dealer then turns a 10 in the hole and draws a 6 for 21.

So what happened here? The bad player took the 10 that was supposed to go to the dealer and screwed up the hand for everyone, right?

Wrong. Of course, that’s the way it seems. But the reality is, the cards about to be dealt could just as easily have been reversed, meaning that the incorrect play would have saved the entire table. This happens all the time, but our selective memories don’t catalog it. Believe it or not, there have been mathematical studies proving that whether you’re playing with a table full of world-class card counters or a bunch of real monkeys, your personal expectation at a blackjack game is unchanged—it’s how you play your hand that matters.

So, for the casual player, there is no single best seat. However, there is one seat that should be avoided. Believe it or not, it’s the very one we’ve been discussing, third base. The reason is that 99 percent of blackjack players don’t know or understand what I’ve just explained. And that means they’re almost sure to blame you when they don’t agree with your play and something goes wrong.

Who needs that added pressure? Take a seat in the middle.