Saturday, February 7, 2009


"Oh, my, my, my, I'm the lone crap shooter, Playin' the field ev'ry night... You got to roll me and call me the tumblin' dice."

-"Tumbling Dice" by the Stones, performed here in Brussels in 1972


In our continuing effort to introduce our readers to bad habits, we continue our series on drinking, drugs and gambling with the game of "craps."

A Little History

Craps first became hugely popular in World War II, when soldiers on both sides rolled dice between fighting, but it was primarily U.S. soldiers who brought the game to the far corners of the earth.

The modern layout of the game was created by John H. Winn, "the father of craps," and it put an end to crooked dice (since the bettor could now bet against the shooter). The game was based on "crabs" played by the French in the 17th and 18th centuries. The name "craps" is a bastardization of the word in English. I know, it seems just as easy to say "crabs," but that's what the scholars tell us.

ancient dice from Egypt

Crabs, in turn, came from the game "Hazard," which was mentioned in 1125 by Sir William of Tyre, a favorite pastime of his knights during the siege of a castle named "Asart" or "Hasarth" and named for it "Hazard." Yeah, I know.

This game, in turn, came from an Arabic dice game called "Al Zar" which means "dice" in Arabic and perhaps the game migrated to Europe with the help of merchants even before the 12th century. Before that, there is evidence of dice games going back to 2600 BC played by the Egyptians.

modern day precision-made dice come within .0005 inch of a perfect cube

The Basics

*Roll the dice. This is the comeout roll. If you get a 7 or 11 you win (and so does everyone betting with you, on the passline).

*If you get a 2, 3, or 12, you "crap out" and lose (and so do passline bettors. Conversely "Don't Pass" bettors, who have bet against you, win on 2 and 3, but not 12).

*If you roll any other number, this is your point--and you must roll it again before you "seven out" and roll a seven. In other words, a 7 on the comeout roll is good news, here it's bad.

(More on craps basics here.)

The video below will takes you through the basics, but some things are worth mentioning here. You can minimize the house advantage by knowing the odds of rolling a certain number and playing accordingly.

There are 36 possible outcomes of rolling dice, and there are six ways of rolling a seven--the easiest number to produce--and conversely only one way to roll a 2, two ways to roll a 3 (1 &2, or 2&1), and three ways to roll a 4 (1&3, 2&2, 3&1), and so on. After 7, with the most possible combinations, the probability goes back down again, so the odds would form a bell curve like this:

(More Craps Betting and Etiquette here.)

The Passline Bet

As you can see, the layout looks a little confusing. There are about 40 different bets that can be made on a craps layout, but most of them are "sucker" bets and should be avoided. A good bet for the beginner is the passline bet.

Sorry if I repeat myself, but a passline bet works like this. You place your bet on the passline before a new shooter begins his roll. If the shooter rolls a 7 or 11 you win. If the shooter rolls a 2, 3 or 12, you lose. If the shooter rolls any other number, that number becomes the shooter's point number. The shooter must roll that number again before a seven is rolled. If that happens, you win even money for your passline bet. If a seven is rolled before the point number is rolled again, you lose. This is when knowing the probabilities come in handy. (Conversely, the no pass bet works the opposite way: you're betting against the shooter winning) Everyone gets to roll the dice, unless a player declines, and the dice travel in a clockwise fashion.

The Odds Bet

This is a smart bet. To reduce the house advantage even more, a smart bettor backs her passline bet with an odds bet. It is the only bet in the casino that does not have a house edge as it is paid off with true odds. Most casinos offer double odds, which means you can make a bet twice the size of your pass line bet. If your passline bet is $5 you are allowed to make an odds bet of $10. You places the odds bet behind (closer to you) the passline bet--and you only make it after the come out roll, when a point is made.

The odds bet is paid as following:
If the point is 4 or 10 it pays 2 to 1
If the point is 5 or 9 it pays 3 to 2
If the point is 6 or 8 it pays 6 to 5.

The Video

This guy is slicker than a frycook's forehead but he has some useful information and it's worth a look.

Remember, don't bet money you don't have. The old gambler was asked how to leave a casino with a million dollars, and he answered: "Start with two million."

There's an even better video on craps here.

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