Playing Third Base at the Blackjack Table

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Baseball and blackjack may have little in common, but some terminology from the outdoor sport has been borrowed for the indoor game, notably “third base” used to describe a player’s position. Third base is a defensive position in baseball, located last in the counterclockwise rotation of infielders facing home plate. In Blackjack, third base is the last position clockwise among players facing the dealer. It is where the last cards are taken and the last decisions made before he dealer shows his/her hole card.

In baseball, the third baseman requires special skills, including quick reactions and a strong throwing arm. The player may need to throw his entire body at a ball to stop it from reaching the outfield. In blackjack, the player at third base should also be a strong player, able to take difficult decisions. Even though blackjack is not a team sport, he/she may sometimes need to stop a favourable card from reaching the dealer. In many respects, it is the most visible position at the table.

The Benefits of Third Base

Just like in any other game, there are certain advantages to being the last one to go in blackjack. The third base player can see everything that has gone before his/her turn to play. All of the other players’ decisions and their results are clearly on view. This can be a huge advantage to anyone who counts cards and plays a hand based on what cards remain in the deck.

In single- and double-deck games, when cards are dealt face down, only the third baseman gets the chance to see all of the other players’ cards before hitting, standing, doubling down or splitting. This advantage has been measured by experts as the same as reducing the House edge by as much as 0.41%, which in some cases may be equal to eliminating the House advantage entirely. A different study has shown that for each seat to the right of third base that a player sits, roughly 0.05% in advantage is lost. At a seven seat table, that can mean a difference of 0.35% between third base and the first seat, known as “first base.”

This advantage is somewhat less pronounced at blackjack tables where cards are dealt from a shoe face up. Each player is able to see the majority of the cards in play prior to taking a turn. But even so, third base is still the only position where everyone’s cards can be viewed prior to taking decisions, which is certainly a real benefit.

The Disadvantages of Third Base

Give all the benefits, it might come as a surprise that players do not scramble to occupy third base whenever it is open, However, this reluctance has less to do with card play or winning opportunities than it does with human nature. Third base has often been referred to as the “hot corner.” Whoever sits there is the last to act before the dealer shows the hole card, which means that the third base player’s every move is scrutinized by the other players. It’s a bit like playing under a microscope.

Third base players are under considerable pressure to follow basic strategy and do exactly “what the book says,” otherwise they risk annoying others at the table. This is particularly true in situations that require the third base player to hit a weak hand. If the player catches a face card or a ten that “would have busted the dealer,” it can raise considerable ire among other players.

Second-guessing is something of a card-playing habit. The third base player can expect to be blamed on many occasions when the dealer wins. On the other hand, the third baseman’s “fine play” can also earn praise when the dealer busts. In truth, the dealer must hit or stand by the House rules, so third base decisions are really irrelevant, but that will make little difference to a table full of players who just won or lost because of a card the third baseman took or didn’t take. It takes calm nerves and considerable focus to ignore the play of others and play solely for oneself.

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