image courtesy of Fremont Hotel & Casino
In an ideal setting one should place bets on all 5 spots at the BlackJack table, locking down the table to minimize your margin of error. You rarely see this happen nowadays, so it is important to know which seat to select. (e.g. Seat 1 = S1)
It takes years of playing to really understand the complexities of seat position. Many articles written will tell u the best spot to sit is S1 or "1st Base" immediately next to the dealer's left hand. (This player will receive the first/next card dealt and make the first decision that affects the outcome of the entire table.) I agree and will sit in that spot about 75% of the time. That being said, if I'm taking up S1 where are u gonna sit?
That is the reason for this discussion. The average BJ player joins a table that already has action, meaning others have been playing, observing trends of the cards and dealer interaction. Even if no other players are currently sitting, it is still VERY IMPORTANT as to which seat u should select.
Quite often u will see S5 or "3rd base" available. I believe this spot takes the most skill because after everyone has made their decisions, good or bad, this position can save or devastate the entire table. All players must realize that the goal here is to beat the dealer and NOT the others at the table. Pay close attention to how the person in this position is playing. Adjust your betting based on how 3rd base is affecting your hand. All Amateurs: PLEASE DO NOT SIT THERE!
S3 aka "2nd base" might just be the best position for the novice player. Based on my earlier descriptions, the novice sitting in this spot will be protected by the more skilled players at 1st & 3rd base. As a newbie to the grind, play slow, ask questions, talk to those at the table openly between shuffles, and most importantly pay attention to the cards.
Now with 3 seats taken, your next best option is S2 (between 1st & 2nd base). I would sit here automatically if S1 is my first choice but it is occupied. With 1st base playing properly there should be no significant difference in play. Build up a good rapport with that player to recognize your skill levels. In the event S1 decides to leave the table, quickly slide into that spot when they depart.
S4 is my least favorite spot at the table. Unless u have been observing expert play by the other 4 players leave this seat open. This position is being left open for those that pass by and like to disrupt the flow of the table. Those are the ones that only have a few dollars they want to put into action, hoping for a win or two so they can pay for lunch. They make their mistake by positioning themselves too deep into the deck without knowing the run of the cards. In the event that u are a player of average skill or above and want to play for a while have a seat and play slow. Ask the others how things have been at the table. If no one cares to converse with u, you are gonna be at a disadvantage. S1, S2, & S3 might be making poor decisions, which will make it harder to win. You must be observant to the tendencies of the other players or you'll be just throwing away money.
Note: Some tables have 7 seats, for our purposes I will refer to them as S2b & S4b. If you're playing at one of these tables the casino is probably using 8 decks with a $3-$5 min. bet.....Get up and find a table with only 5 seats! The casino has a larger probability of winning because the odds are stacked in its favor. Only tourists play there and it's simply because they don't know any better. The casinos do and will hire shills, enticing casual players with a lower min. bets (even down to $1). These tables are always in the most visible locations of the casino or where the most traffic passes by.