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Blackjack 'Bases'

I liked playing blackjack at "third base" long before I knew what it meant. The official definition: last player's seat to the dealer's right.

Up until then, the only routine I recall concerning that term was the 1945 film "The Naughty Nineties" staring my favorite comedy team, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

The hilarious "Who's on First" routine, repeated many times on radio and television, went in part like this:

Costello: I want you to tell me the names of the fellahs on the St. Louis team.

Abbott: Who's on first, What's on second, I Don't Know's on third.

Costello: Well then, who's playing first?

Abbott: Yes.

In blackjack jargon, "first base" is the first seat to the dealer's left  where the first card is dealt.

I prefer third, a position I played in my much younger baseball and softball days, circa B.C. (Before College). I've played third when playing blackjack on cruise ships and in casinos. And I've been fairly lucky.

Blackjack expert Bill Burton aptly describes why third is the hot corner: "This is because the player in the seat is the last to act before the dealer and the decisions that this player makes receive the most scrutiny.

"Many players who have learned basic blackjack strategy feel that since they took the time to learn it, everyone else at the table should also know how to play. If a player at third makes a decision that goes against basic strategy, players at the table get very upset.

"The rest of the players at the table will blame the player at third for their loss. I have seen some heated arguments, discussions, name-calling or worse occur when this happens."

I can vouch for that. On a one-day cruise out of Fort Lauderdale my wife and I enjoyed the sea breeze, food and the gambling. Anita lost $10 or so on the slots and decided to play bingo. I headed straight for a low stakes blackjack table and sat at third base.

My wife won $150 playing bingo. I didn't do badly, but had to put up with the remarks of a feisty old lady that wasn't doing so well.

One bit of strategy I followed: sort of keeping track of cards that showed before my turn. If there were an abundance of face cards or 10s visible and the dealer's upcard was 4, 5 or 6, I hit on 16 or below. That's because the dealer's chance of busting is much higher, maybe 40 percent or more.

The ploy worked more times than not. But when I lost, the old lady would complain quite loudly.

When there was a lack of face cards or 10s, I'd stay when I had most anything. Luckily, the dealer had to draw another card more times than not, and often lost. Then the old lady would be quiet.

I'm happy to report she departed for greener tables long before I called it quits. When I did, I had netted about $150.

So I agree with Burton, who observes:

"The reality is that the only player that can affect your game in the long run is the player sitting in YOUR seat. Players tend to have selective amnesia. They remember the times that the third base player takes a card that results in a loss. However, they forget about all the times that the mistake by the third base player actually saves the table."

My advice: Adopt a basic strategy since there are differences between playing blackjack on the superhighway and at the brick-and-mortar casinos.

According to several online experts, here is some advice if the blackjack dealer's:

Upcard is 7 or higher, continue playing to 17.

Has a 6 showing and you were dealt a 9 and 3, usually stay on 12. But if you gamble and the next card is an ace, stand pat on 13.

Upcard is 2 or 3, play until 13.

Also from a consensus of experts.

Hit a soft 18 (ace and 7) when the dealer shows a 9, 10 or ace.

Hit a soft 17 when the dealer's is not 3 to 6.

If you have 10 or ace, double down if your total exceeds the dealer's upcard; otherwise stand.

Always split a pair of 8s or aces.

Most important, as Burton advises and I agree: "When you get ahead, you should lock up some of your winnings. One of the worst feelings is when you win money, but then keep playing until you are broke again."


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