In baseball, the defensive position immediately to the left of the pitcher as he faces a batter is called “first base.” In Blackjack, the same name is given to the person seated first at the table, immediately to the dealer’s left. In both the outdoor sport and the indoor game, first base is a critically important position and very difficult to play well.
First Base Advantages
Going first in any game comes with certain inherent benefits. In Blackjack, the first base player is the first to receive the initial two cards of the hand and the first to make decisions about how to play them, from drawing a card or standing to doubling down, splitting a pair, taking insurance, or surrendering.
Other players with hands of similar value often choose to follow the first base player’s example. In this sense, first base may be seen as a leadership position. But the player sitting there can’t give much thought to whether others will emulate his/her actions. Blackjack is not a team sport. Players must act according to the cards they are dealt and the status of the deck.
First base is the only position at the Blackjack table where a card counter can wager based upon the “true count.” At all of the other seats, there will be intervening cards dealt and seen between the moment the wager is made and the appearance of the first card in the player’s hand. If a player in the sixth seat knows the deck is rich in tens and bets accordingly, five of those tens may well come up before he/she ever gets a chance to receive one.
The ability to go first, without others taking cards or making choices that affect the status of the deck, is why so many players like to be seated at first base. Moreover, this position is a bit “under the radar”—far less scrutinized by other players than those further around the table—especially the last seat, “third base,” which has bee identified by some as the “hot corner.”
First Base Drawbacks
Unfortunately, going first also comes at a cost. Before making decisions about a hand, the first base player has less information to go on than the other players have. He/she sees fewer cards displayed. This is particularly true when playing at a Blackjack table where the cards are dealt face down—less so when all cards other than the dealer’s hole card are distributed face up.
One study conducted by professional card counters indicated that first base is actually at a severe disadvantage during certain sets of circumstances. For example, when the deck is rich in tens and the dealer shows a small card, such as a 3~6, the player may catch a pair of tens. Advanced card-counting strategy indicates the tens should be split if the count is still at +3 or higher, but by the time the dealer gets to play, that count could easily be reduced to a negative, leaving first base stuck with two weak hands against a weak one with a stronger probability of being made.
This is not an isolated case. Players further along in the dealing order may split or double down, using up lots of cards that the first base player’s count did not take into consideration. The house advantage against the first base player may be as much as 0.16% higher than it is against the player in position two and perhaps up to 0.41% higher than for third base, the last position to play.