What exactly is an expert crap player? In his classic gambling text, The Theory of Blackjack, Peter Griffin writes, “Not long ago a Newsweek magazine article described Kirk Kerkorian as ‘an expert crapshooter.’ I am intrigued to learn what it is that distinguishes the expert from the novice in a series of negative-expectation guesses on the results of independent trials.” In layman’s terms, since the casino has an unalterable advantage for all possible wagers on a dice table, there are no strategies that can distinguish levels of expertise.
Well, what about combining bets to create elaborate betting sequences and hedges? Another legendary gambling author, Edward O. Thorp, writes in The Mathematics of Gambling, “The expectation for a series of bets is the total of the expectations for the individual bets. [Therefore] a series of negative-expectation bets must have negative expectation.” In other words, no matter how you string your dice bets together, they simply cannot be combined in a way that will give the player an edge.
Okay then, how about money management? Surely the canny money manager can mix and move the size of his bets in a manner that allows him to overcome the house edge. Unfortunately, no. Think about it for a moment and you’ll understand why not. Since the casino has an advantage on every bet, how much you bet or when you bet it can’t make any difference; you’ll encounter the same 1.4 percent expected loss every time you bet the pass line.
The truth is, there are only two ways to make money from betting and money-management systems: The first is to sell them, and the second is to book them (which is what the casinos do). Does this mean that there is no such thing as an expert player of this venerable gambling game? Not at all. I can think of several areas where the term “expert” applies to craps.
Watch players who’ve shot dice for years as they hold court at a table and there’s no denying that they possess expert knowledge of the game. These players can recite dice odds and payoffs in their sleep, and they speak a language all their own, developed specifically to facilitate their betting-“odds on my six and 52 across,” “press it up and buy it,” “high horn eleven,” “two-way yo,” “odds work, hardways off.”
To get a first-hand look at these expert dice players in action, check out the quarter crap games at the Horseshoe or the El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas (see Max Rubin’s “The Ropes” for a full discussion of the wonders of quarter craps). A former El Cortez crap dealer describes the scene. “The action is incredible at the beginning of every month. All the oldtimers show up with their pension checks in hand, and the gambling is fast and furious. You can’t believe how well these guys really know the game, and you’ll see everything you could possibly want to see just by hanging around and watching. But you have to be there around the beginning of the month, because by month’s end their money is gone.” Experts, yes. Winners, no.
Expert Recreational Players
A noted wine connoisseur once stated that a wine expert is simply a person who knows what he likes and has a casual understanding of why he likes it. Take this definition to the dice table, and you’ll discover a whole group of recreational gamblers who qualify as crap experts. These gamblers are, for the most part, resigned to the fact that they won’t beat the game over time. Still, they enjoy playing it and are willing to fade a small house edge in return for the entertainment value (much like someone who considers $7 a fair trade to see a movie).
This brand of crap player is expert in his ability to reduce the fee that he pays to play, which means he knows how to keep the house advantage as low as possible. One way to do this is to play at crowded low-limit tables. Another is to play in casinos that offer better deals on payoffs. Field bettors, for example, take care to play in casinos that pay triple (rather than double) on 12, which cuts the house edge from 5.6 percent to 2.8 percent. Variations also occur in payoffs for the long-shot proposition bets. Las Vegas’ Horseshoe extends a small break to gamblers by charging commission on buy and lay bets on the 4 and 10 on losing bets only.
Most important to the expert recreational player is the multiple of odds the casino allows. While the odds bet can’t overcome the advantage the casino enjoys on the pass line wager, it does water down the edge on total action. A few Las Vegas casinos deal up to 10X odds, and I’ve heard of casinos in Mississippi offering 20X. A flat $20 bet on the pass line generates an expected loss of 28¢, but a $1 bet backed up with $20 in odds has an expected loss of just 1.4¢. The “tough players,” as the casinos call them, stick with the low-edge line bets with odds and get a drink or two while they play along with a breakfast comp from time to time. Their playing sessions alternate winners and losers with a slight bias toward the latter. Overall, they’re getting a lot of entertainment at a marginal cost. I’d call that expert play, but not winning play.
Expert Money Makers
So is it possible to win? Yes, but as I explained earlier, you can’t do it with betting or money-management systems. Since mathematics tells us that there’s no way to beat craps as it’s played in the standard player-versus-casino format, it follows that the game must be altered in some way before it can become profitable for the player. Altered conditions that may result in profit involve either a change in format, a change in rules, or a change in payoffs. The expert money maker has a thorough understanding of the mathematics of the game, which allows him to recognize and exploit profitable situations when they arise.
The best way to make big money playing craps today is in crap tournaments. Tournaments use a standard casino crap format, but the player’s main concern is his result relative to the other tournament players; the big payoff comes when he outperforms them. An expert tournament player uses an extensive knowledge of bets and payoffs to enhance the probability of catching up when he’s behind, protect a lead when he’s ahead, and squeeze every possible bit of value out of his chips on the crucial last bet. Stanford Wong’s classic book, Casino Tournament Strategy, provides a model for winning play, but there’s no substitute for experience. Sam’s Town Las Vegas runs a $50 entry fee tournament on the first Tuesday of every month that provides invaluable practice for tournament players.
In private games (usually illegal), players offer and accept propositions negotiated among themselves. I’ve heard these games referred to as “back-alley” or “back-room” craps, “fading games,” and “floating games.” In the private game, there is no casino to bank bets, so players bet against one another. This format allows the expert to capitalize on the inexperience of the less knowledgeable. The classic example is booking the pass line bettors. Since the 12 is not barred (as it is in the casino banking game), the don’t bettor effectively assumes the role of casino and enjoys a 1.4 percent advantage. A player with a comprehensive understanding of dice probabilities can recognize (or concoct) any number of propositions that give him an advantage.
If you can find it, pick up the movie called “The Big Town” starring Matt Dillon. It’s the story of back-room crap games in old Chicago. The dialogue in the movie is authentic, a testimony to the film’s technical advisor, author and expert Edwin Silberstang. Though it’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself in one of these private games any time soon, you may run across similar opportunities at charity gambling events. A friend recently told me of playing in such a game at a Las Vegas Night, in which she was able to bet against the 6 and 8 at even money (a 9.1 percent advantage) throughout the course of the event because the operators didn’t want to bother making the change necessary to pay off at correct odds.
Lucky bucks for craps change the game’s payoffs. Imagine being paid 2-1 on a winning pass line wager. That’s what happens when you bet with a lucky buck or a matchplay chip. This bonus on winners is too much for the casino to overcome, which is why lucky bucks usually have maximum bet amounts printed on them. The operative word here is “usually.” A few years back, the Marina in Las Vegas (now part of the MGM Grand) issued a funbook with lucky bucks good up to the table maximum of $500. Two crap coupons in the book had a combined expected value of $497„which is why the books didn’t last very long! Lucky bucks that pay $2-$1, $3-$2, or $7-$5 are fairly easy to come by. The 2-1s and 3-2s are worth about 47¢ each, the 7-5s are worth 92¢. Play a few a day and after a year’s play you can reasonably expect to net a profit in the $1,000 range.
Casinos sometimes run promotions that alter the rules or the payoffs on a dice game. The two best promotions I’ve heard of were each worth well over $200 per hour to play. In the first, the Rainbow Casino (in Henderson, Nevada) paid 3-2 for naturals (7 or 11) on the comeout roll on bets up to $50. Players had a 9.7 percent advantage on each comeout. Stanford Wong writes about playing the promotion in Casino Tournament Strategy, and estimates that he was making from $130 to $390 per hour, depending on the speed of the game. The second promotion was at the Nob Hill casino in Las Vegas. For three minutes every hour the casino paid double on 4 and 10 and triple on 2 and 12 in the field. The payoff alteration resulted in a 16.67 percent advantage for the player on a maximum wager of $200. It was worth $33.33 per roll, or about $230 for every three-minute session. The opportunities will rarely be this dynamic; you’re much more likely to run across promotions that offer lesser value, such as the one at the Four Queens in Las Vegas a few years ago. Whenever a hard total was thrown on the comeout roll, players betting at least $1 on the pass line were given a free $1 bet on that hardway. Result: Players were getting paid $2.25 per hour to make $1 pass line bets and order free cocktails. Now that’s expert play.
There definitely are a few expert crapshooters-players who can alter the randomness of the outcome of a toss via a controlled dice shot. Most people call them cheaters, though this is debatable since they use honest dice and adhere to procedures set forth by the casinos. The object of a controlled dice shot is to ensure that one die displays a desired number. For example, assuming the shooter can control one die and guarantee that a 6 will land, consider the possible results as they apply to the field bet. If a 1 or a 2 shows on the second die (7 or 8 total), the shooter will lose his field bet. If a 3, 4, or 5 shows (totals of 9, 10, or 11), the shooter wins. If another 6 shows (total of 12), the shooter wins triple. This results in an enormous 66.67 percent advantage. It’s not exactly easy money, though. One of the few players I’ve met who’s mastered the move tells me it took 1,000 hours of practice to perfect, then countless more hours to maintain.