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DOES IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE WHERE YOU SIT?

by Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin is an accomplished blackjack player, editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter, and featured writer for a host of gambling publications. He also hosts smartgaming.com.

You stroll through the crowded casino, itching to play blackjack, when you spot two adjacent tables with open seats. The first table has an opening at the first-base position, while the second table has an opening at third base. Where would you sit?

The answer depends on whether you are a basic strategy player, a card counter using the popular Hi-Lo counting system, or a player using Speed Count.

Basic Strategy Player

Mathematically, it makes no difference where you sit, if you are solely a basic strategy player (i.e., not counting). Are you surprised at the answer? I know many players are, because they mistakenly believe that the anchor player can influence whether the table wins or loses by how he plays his hand. Some players even expect the anchor player to "sacrifice" his hand for the betterment of his fellow table players (no, Iím not kidding you on this). Why do players believe this? Probably because they vividly remember the times that an anchor player misplayed his hand and "screwed" the other table players. It goes something like this.

"Iím sitting there playing blackjack and minding my own business when that anchor fellow decides to hit his 16 with the dealer showing a 6. We tried to convince the dummy to stand, but he wouldnít listen. Sure enough, he draws the dealerís bust card. And of course, the dealer has a picture card in the hole, and draws a 5 for 21 and we all lose. So donít tell me a screwball playing third base wonít hurt me."

If you play blackjack, Iím sure the above scenario, or one similar, has happened to you (if it hasnít yet, trust me, it will). Somehow, we always seem to remember the times we lose a big hand because of the clueless player at third base (Itís called "selective memory.")

Letís suppose that the lack of skill of an anchor player can result in bad things happening to other table players. Now letís suppose we pool our money and open a casino with lots of blackjack tables. To ensure that we make a ton of money at blackjack, weíre going to pay players to sit at the third-base seat at every table with instructions that they must hit when they are supposed to stand, and stand when they are supposed to hit, to cause all the other players to lose. Weíll be rich!

Of course, this is nonsense; otherwise, casinos would have implemented "clueless shills" to their benefit a long time ago. The facts are these: the skill of the anchor player, or for that matter any player on the table, has no affect whatsoever on your chances of winning or losing. In fact, you could have five chimpanzees playing next to you on the same table and your chances of winning and losing in the long run wonít change one iota. The reason is because you have no earthly idea what the sequence of the cards is in a shoe, so it could happen that a dumb play by any player could result in you winning the hand, or, just as likely, losing the hand. In the long run, it all evens out.

Nevertheless, blackjack misconceptions such as this one live on, so hereís my advice for players who fret about where to sit. If you are a newbie to the game and need to bring a strategy card along as an aid (hey, there is nothing wrong with that, and its casino legal), I suggest you sit in player spots 3, 4, or 5. Why? If you sit at first base, the dealer will be looking your way for a playing decision rather quickly (remember that the first-base player acts first). This doesnít give the first-base player much time to look at his hand, then the dealerís upcard, and then glance at his strategy card to determine how to play the hand. However, if you sit in positions 3, 4, or 5, you will have a little more time to figure out how to play your hand, and when you are not rushed, you are more likely to make the right play, win more, and enjoy the game better.

So why shouldnít a newbie sit at third base, since the anchor player has the most time to determine his playing strategy because he acts last? As I said earlier, blackjack misconceptions live on, and although the etiquette of players in general has improved over the 35 years Iíve played blackjack (just my observation), there are still some goofballs who get annoyed at anchor players who misplay their hands. This is why I recommend that newbies avoid the anchor position and instead take a seat closer to the middle of the table.

Hi-Lo Card Counter

The situation changes for a Hi-Lo player...

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