Why We Blame Third Base

“I would have won at the blackjack table tonight if it wasn’t for that idiot at third base! He ruined everything!” Hang out in casinos or on gambling forums long enough and you will hear that from time to time. It’s not the player’s fault or even bad luck that he lost money at the blackjack table. It’s that player at third base. That, of course, is not true. As I have written before, the player at third base does not affect your odds of winning, but he sure does make a good scapegoat. But why do we blame the players at third base?

Everyone notices when the third base player deviates from basic strategy and hits when he shouldn’t, resulting in him getting a card that would have busted the dealer if the player had stood. However, the odds of the dealer busting did not change. The dealer always has the same odds of busting on a given hand and, in general, it is approximately 24%. Deviating from strategy that time may have helped the dealer, but every decision has a chain reaction and as a result of one more card being played in that hand, maybe on the next hand the dealer will bust when he would not have.

Or look at it this way. People have selective memories. We remember when the player at third base took a card that would have caused the dealer to bust, but we forget all of the times when he took a card that would have helped the dealer, which resulted in the dealer busting on the next card.

This is a form of confirmation bias, which is the tendency of people to look for and notice information that confirms their preconceptions or beliefs, regardless of whether or not they are true. Confirmation biases reaffirm stereotypes whenever you find a black man who can jump or a drunken Irishman at a bar. Because of your preconceived notions about them, you don’t notice black men who can’t jump or completely sober Irishmen. This bias works on the third base player as well.

That first time the third base player takes the dealer’s bust card, you will blame him for losing the hand. After that, every time it happens you will notice because it confirms your theory that the player at third base is causing you to lose. However, you will ignore the times in which the third base player’s deviation from basic strategy helps you, because that would form cognitive dissonance. To resolve that dissonance and confirm your theory, you will in essence have selective recollection and focus only on the bad things done by the third base player.

This is a form of self-serving bias, which is when people attribute their successes to personal or internal factors but attribute their failures to factors outside of their control. This bias is a way of protecting your positive self-concept, where most people see themselves as good people who are good at what they do. In fact, self-serving bias also causes the “better than average effect,” where individuals are biased to think that they’re better than the average person at every area that is important to their self-esteem. Unfortunately, that many people can’t really be above average.

Think back to school, when “I got an A” on a test because you studied and paid attention in class, but “the teacher gave me an F” because he hates you or because the test was unfair or something.

Your schema protects your concept of reality, both as it concerns yourself and others, and more easily stores and recalls information that matches your expectations. When something happens, such as losing, that doesn’t match your expectations, you have cognitive dissonance. To resolve that dissonance, you have to either admit that you’re not as good as you thought (an idea that your schema protects against) or that losing wasn’t your fault. You then blame others for your failures.

When you win at blackjack, it is because you’re a skilled player who knows basic strategy, but if you lose it’s because you were dealt the wrong card or because the third base player took the dealer’s bust card. Other players have selective recall about the actions of the third base player because of their preconceived notions about that seat.

Now, I don’t blame you for using the player at third base as a scapegoat. It’s important for your positive self-concept. Besides, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you’re above average at everything you do, you have perfect memory recall, and all of your successes are the result of your actions but your failures aren’t your fault. Would it make you feel better if I said that?

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