Play Craps (Editor's Pick)

play craps
An understanding of the layout on the heavy wooden twelve-foot-by-three-and-a-half-foot table is the next order of business. The green baize cloth on the surface, a "Craps road map" if you like, permits the game to function efficiently. Of course we dare not do away with it, but if the layout suddenly disappeared, a dice game could still be carried on. But just imagine the dealers trying to remember all the bets some dozen or more players wishto make. The crew is very good, but they are not supermen. Examine the two outside sections. Note that they are symmetrical, so a player can stand anywhere and have access to identical areas. The center section is under control of the stickman with his proposition bets. I am always surprised by how many visitors to a casino play craps with real money without understanding the rules and conditions of the games. People who spend days comparison-shopping for everything they buy, from groceries to stocks and bonds, blithely toss their money on the table without the slightest idea of where the best and worst bets are. There are over thirty different bets on a craps layout, but fewer than half a dozen offer the odds that make craps the game with the best value in the casino, exceeded only by blackjack when played by very knowledgeable players. Let's make a study of the different bets with the idea of getting the most for our money.

How do we start? Well, each player has designated spots on the table where his bets are to be placed, either by himself or by the dealer. Once you become familiar with the layout, it's a simple matter to locate and keep track of your bets. The stickman now announces, "The dice are coming out," and one of the players becomes the shooter. Players become eligible to shoot as the dice travel around the table in a clockwise direction, and when a new shooter takes the dice, all players make their bets. Because most gamblers bet on the pass line with the shooter, almost everyone at the table pulls for the shooter to "make his point" or throw his winning number before he throws a seven. In craps jargon, this is called "do" or "right"-side betting. "Don't"-side betting, on the Don't Pass Bar 12 line, is also referred to by many craps players as "wrong"-side betting.

To shoot, you must make at least a minimum bet on the pass or don't-pass line. Both are shown on the layout. So when the cubes are pushed in front of you, select two and place a wager on the pass line, called the front line by inveterate gamblers, and throw the dice toward the far end of the table. When they come to rest, the numbers appearing skyward are added together and the total is called out by the stickman. The results of the initial throw, called the come-out roll, affect your wagers as well as those of all the other players, since some bets can be won or lost on the first roll. If the spots on the dice add up to 7 or 11 on the first throw?a natural?the shooter and do bettors win; the don't bettors lose. This is called a pass and the shooter makes a new bet and continues. Should the initial throw total 2, 3, or 12?craps?called a miss, the shooter and do bettors lose; don't bettors win and the shooter does not relinquish the dice, but makes another bet and comes out with a new roll. When the total of the come-out roll is 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10, this number becomes the shooter's point and the number must be repeated before throwing a 7. After a point is established, a roll of 7 is a loser rather than the winner it was on the starting roll. All numbers, other than the point or 7, thrown in the meanwhile (including 2, 3, or 12?craps?and 11, a natural) are waiting numbers and do not alter the pass-line wager in any way. Waiting numbers can be used for other betting situations, which will be discussed later. When the shooter establishes a point, the dealer places a marker called a puck on the appropriate number near the top of the layout. Since there are more ways to make a seven than any other point, the casino now has the advantage and a pass-line bet can't be removed, although a don't-pass bet can. A don't bettor would be foolish to cancel his bet, however, as the odds now favor him. Never make a pass-line bet after the come-out roll, since you have lost the opportunity of winning with a natural 7 or 11 on the opening roll. For a similar reason, the house will not permit a don't-pass bet to be made after the initial roll. You can always tell when the shooter is coming out, as the puck will be resting on the Don't Come Line instead of a number. After the come-out roll, the shooter continues to throw the dice until a decision is reached, regardless of how many rolls it takes. Should the shooter roll his point, he and the do bettors win, and the dealer places an equal amount of chips next to his bet. Always remember to pick up your winnings?if they remain on the table, the dealer may assume you are letting it all ride on the next bet. After making a point, the shooter makes a new bet and repeats the come-out-roll procedure. After the point isestablished, if a seven should be rolled, the dealer whisks up the bet with great speed and without a "thank you." The dice now pass to the player on the left of the former shooter and it becomes his turn to shoot. The pass line is the most popular area on the layout, and it's where some 80 or 90% of all players, mostly due to habit and tradition, make their wagers. The percentage for the house, only 1.41%, makes the pass line one of the best bets in the entire casino. Compare this with the slot machines, which are programmed to take approximately 17% of all the money deposited in them. DONT PASS BAR 12
Betting the don't-pass line, often called the back line, is just the opposite of betting the pass line, and is preferred by many veteran gamblers. The bet is made on the section of the layout marked Don't Pass Bar 12, and you are betting against the shooter, which could be yourself. Now the appearance of a natural 7 or 11 on the come-out toss will cause you to lose immediately. But when the cubes dance and come to rest exhibiting a 2 or 3 on top, you will experience the thrill of a win, which pays even money. However, craps 12 is a standoff. Neither the casino nor the don't bettor wins, and the gambler is free to remove his don't-pass if he chooses. It is this remarkable piece of arithmetic which permits the casino to bank all bets whether one wagers with or against the dice. The house, as you recall, enjoys a positive expectation of 1.41% on the pass line, and through the expediency of barring the 12 on the don't-pass line, the casino realizes an advantage of 1.40%. Thus, one may stake on either line. When the shooter rolls a point and then misses out, you win. If he makes his point, you lose. We have learned that most people wager on the pass line. Perhaps only 10% are wrong bettors, possibly because of the pessimistic connotation. It's unnatural for most gamblers not to be able to call with the other bettors for a natural on the come-out roll and for a steady stream of passes. Nevertheless, don't pass is not an erroneous or poor bet; on the contrary, it is one of the best bets in the casino.

If you really want to savor the action at the craps table, the come bet is the way to go. The come bet, made only after a point is established, is exactly the same as a pass-line bet except you can bet the come anytime you want? not just on a come-out roll. Let's say that the shooter has established his point, and he has thrown the dice two or three times and has still not made it. On average, it takes about three and a half rolls to effect a decision and, anxious for action, you bet the come by placing your chips directly in front of you in the come line of the layout. The very next roll of the dice establishes this new bet. If the shooter throws a 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10, the stickman moves your bet to a specific spot in the appropriate number box on the layout, which indicates that it's your bet. As with a pass-line bet, a come bet cannot be taken down. Of course, if the roll had been 2, 3, or 12, your come bet would have been a loser. An 11 would have won. A come-out roll of 7 would have been a winner, but the pass-line bet would lose. With a come bet in the number box, you are pulling for the shooter to repeat the number before a 7. If he does, you win even money; if he sevens out, you lose. When you win, the stickman places your winnings plus your original bet in front of you on the come line. Be sure to pick it up before the next roll of the dice or you will have a new come bet for the total amount. Everyone at the table, including a new arrival or the shooter, can make a come bet on all subsequent tosses of the dice after the come-out roll. It's obvious that betting the come line before every roll of the dice can result in a very exciting and profitable situation if the dice stay away from 7. Of course the 7 becomes a real threat after a number of come bets have been made, since it will wipe out the pass line as well as all the come bets. Even after the pass-line number is made, you are not looking for a natural 7 on the come-out roll, as it wipes out all the come bets in the number boxes, which we have learned can't be taken down. The dreaded 7 loses most of your bets, but it represents a winner on the final bet on the come line. Players frequently leave the table, forgetting this last winner. The house advantage on come bets is 1.41%, exactly the same as the pass-line bet.

Don't-come wagers are the reverse of come bets and work the same as don't-pass-line bets. These wagers are positioned by the player in the space on the layout marked Don't Come Bar 12. The very next roll of the dice dictates the disposition of this bet. Craps 2 and 3 are winners and pay even money. Winnings are paid off on the don't-come bar, and if not picked up are added to the original bet, and the total becomes a new don't-come bet. As with the don't pass, 12 is a standoff and the bet can be canceled at the gambler's whim. A throw of 7 or 11 is a loser. Naturally, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10 becomes a don't-come number, and the dealer will move the wager to your designated spot in the appropriate box on the layout. Again, the venturesome don't bettor may make a series of these bets, but unlike come bets, these wagers are lost one at a time and the big 7 can result in the winning of six bets. The casino's edge on don't come is the same 1.40% as don't pass.

Place bets are by far the most popular number bets and resemble come bets in that you are betting on a particular number to be thrown before the 7. The difference is that your money goes right to the number instead of to the come line. Thus, if you put a bet on the table and announce to the dealer, "Place the 5," your chips are put on your designated spot in the place-5 box on the layout. If 5 is thrown before 7, you win and are paid off at 7-to-5 odds. The dealer will place your winnings in front of you and ask, "Same bet?" You can say, "Yes," and let the bet ride; or, "Take it down," and your bet will be returned; or, "Press it," and enough of your winnings will be taken to double your bet. Your odds on this bet are not very good?the house advantage is 4%. If you place the 9, the house advantage is the same 4%. Placing the numbers 4 and 10 are even worse, yielding the casino 6.67%. A place bet on the 6 or 8 is a completely different matter; the casino advantage of 1.52% is just slightly more than the 1.41% for come bets. Aggressive come bettors, eager for action, sometimes place the 6 and 8 right after the come-out roll, replacing the wager with a come bet if the number comes up. You must make place bets in increments of $6 to take full advantage of the odds when you place the 6 or 8. If you insist on placing 4, 5, 9, or 10, you must bet in increments of $5. If you bet less, you will be paid even money. If you bet more, you will be paid the odds on the next lower amount. Incidentally, place bettors of the 4 and 10 would reduce the casino's advantage from 6.67% to 4.76%, if they would buy instead of placing the bet. This requires betting in increments of $20 and is described in the next section. Many players that play craps believe that place betting gives them a better deal, and the house less of an advantage, than come betting. This is not true. Come betting gives the house a small advantage of 1.41% as compared to place-betting advantages ranging from 1.52% to 6.67%. Why the large difference? Because when you make a come bet, you have a chance for an immediate winner when a natural 7 or 11 is thrown. It's true that you also lose immediately when craps 2, 3, or 12 is rolled, but this occurs only half as often. Some people that play craps like to have all the numbers working for them immediately. "$32 across the board," means place $5 on each of the numbers 4, 5, 9, and 10, and $6 on the 6 and 8. The 4 and 10 pay off at 9 to 5; the 5 and 9 pay off at 7 to 5; and the 6 and 8 pay off at 7 to 6. Thus for every number the shooter rolls, the place bettor has a winner. The come bettor must wait for a number to be rolled twice before he can win?once to establish his point and the second time to win. Place betting in this manner can be very dangerous to your bankroll. In addition to giving the vegas casino a much higher advantage, five numbers must be rolled before you recoup your investment. A 7 thrown early in the series will wipe out your $32 bet with little, if any, return. I have seen many players walk up to a table and say, "$32 across the board," only to have a 7 on the very next roll wipe out their entire bet. In come betting, your entire investment is not risked all at once. Also, a 7-out early in the series is a winner for you; 7 is a winner for the last come bet. Another argument that place bettors offer pertains to long runs. Most people that play craps bettors turn off their bets on the come-out roll. A place bet can be taken down at any time, and this is, essentially, what they are doing on the come-out roll. Thus, if the shooter throws a 7 on the come-out roll, the place bet is not lost. If their number is thrown, their bet isn't won either. The come bet can't be turned off on the come-out roll and is lost if a 7 pops up. The house caters to this superstition by automatically turning off all place bets on the come-out roll unless the dealer is specifically informed that the bets are working. The theory is that this is when the shooter is supposed to throw his 7's. Therefore, during a long run which includes some 7's on come-out rolls, the place bettor's progression keeps working, while the come bettor must start over again after the 7 is rolled. The smart craps player ignores this faulty reasoning, sticks to the pass line, and makes come bets to get on the numbers.

Place to lose is the opposite bet of place to win and is available in very few casinos. This wager is not very popular since nearly 90% of dice players bet with the dice, and knowledgeable don't bettors wager on the don't-pass or don't-come line. You must bet $11 or multiples thereof to place the 4 or 10 to lose, and the house advantage is 3.03%. At least $8 must be put up to place the 5 or 9 to lose, and this gives the house a margin of 2.50%. The casino edge is reduced to just 1.82% when 6 or 8 is placed to lose, and the bet must be a multiple of $5.

Buy bets are nearly the same as place bets inasmuch as you are betting a given number will appear before a 7. The only difference is in the way the bet is made and the casino advantage. This wager can be made at any time by placing chips totaling $20 or multiples thereof plus 5% on the table and announcing to the dealer the number you want to buy. Some casinos will accept buy bets of less than $20, but the full commission on the $20 must still be paid, thus increasing the casino advantage. The dealer deducts the casino's commission as he puts the wager in your designated spot in the appropriate number box, and identifies it as a buy rather than a come bet with a small "buy" button placed on top of the stack of chips. If the number comes up, you win and are paid off at true odds, 2 to 1 for 4 or 10; 3 to 2 for 5 or 9; and 6 to 5 for 6 or 8. Now you must either take down your original bet with your winnings or pay the dealer another 5% commission if you want your bet to ride. Just like place bets, buy bets are automatically off on come-out rolls and can be taken down at any time. If you elect to take down the buy bet, the 5% commission is returned to you. Since you must give the dealer $21 for every $20 you bet, the house advantage is 4.76% for all the numbers. Not only is this more than three times as much as the 1.41% edge for come bets, it is also worse than the 1.52% edge for the 6 and 8 place bets, not to mention the 4.0% margin on the 5 and 9 place bets.

Lay bets are the reverse of buy bets, as you are betting a 7 will appear before a given number. These bets are made at true odds, 1 to 2 for 4 or 10; 2 to 3 for 5 or 9; and 5 to 6 for 6 or 8; with a 5% commission on the amount you would win rather than the amount bet, as with buy bets. The minimum lay bet is $40 on a 4 or 10, which yields the house 2.44%. $30 is required to lay the 5 or 9, and the house advantage is 3.23%. Oddly enough, the 6 and 8 are the worst lay bets, with a casino margin of 4.00% with a minimum wager of $24. Bets must be in even multiples or the house advantage is even greater.

A field bet, positioned by the player, is a one-roll bet. Unlike a pass-line bet, which occurs over a series of rolls, your field bet is won or lost on the next roll of the dice. This wager can be made at any time, and to the beginning craps player the field bet appears to be a really good bet. After all, you've covered seven of the eleven numbers; 3,4, 9,1.0, and 11 pay even money and the 2 and 12 pay double. You lose only if the 5, 6, 7, or 8 comes up. However, if you examine the number of combinations in which each number can be rolled, it turns out you would lose 20 units and win 18 for every 36 units wagered. This equates to a casino advantage of over 5%. The field bet is definitely not a good bet to make. You are much better off sticking to the pass and come line, where the house advantage is only 1.41%. If you insist on playing the field, find a casino, such as Gaesars Boardwalk Regency in Atlantic City, that pays triple if a 12 is rolled instead of double, as at the other casinos. This reduces the house advantage to 2.70%.

"Five dollars on any craps. O.K. Who wants the eleven? Ten on the hard four." The stickman at the craps table is like a circus barker, standing in the center of the table and controlling the flow of the game. His primary job is to entice the players into making proposition bets. I call them sucker bets because the odds against you and in favor of the casino are extremely high: the casino edge ranges from 9.09 to 16.67%. There are two types of proposition bets: hardway and one-roll bets. These bets can be made and taken down at any time, Hardway bets pertain to the numbers 4, 6, 8, and 10. A hard 4 is thrown as 2-2; a hard 6 is 3-3; a hard 8 is 4-4, and a hard 10 is 5-5. You win a hardway bet and are paid off as shown on the following table if the shooter makes the hard number before the number is rolled the easy way (i.e., an easy 6 is a 5?1 or a 4-2) and before a 7 is thrown. When you make your hardway bet, put your chips on the table and announce your bet to the stickman. He will put your money on the hard number of your choice, where it will remain until your hard number is thrown or until you lose as described above. One-roll bets are good only for the next roll of the dice. For example, an Any Craps wager is a bet that either 2, 3, or 12 will be thrown on the very next toss of the dice. You can make any of these bets by tossing your chips to the stickman and announcing your bet verbally. Proposition bets are explained in the table below. I don't recommend any of them.

Bet Casino Payoff % Casino Advantage
Hard 6 or 8 9 to 1 (10 for 1) 9.09
Hard 4 or 10 7 to 1 (8 for 1) 11.11
Any 7 4 to 1 (5 for 1) 16.67
2 or 12 30 to 1 (30 for 1) 13.90
3 or 11 15 to 1 (15 for 1) 11.11
Any Craps 7 to 1 (8 for 1) 11.11

Note the payoff column uses the words "to" and "for." 9 to 1 means that if you win, you are given nine units plus your original wager. 10 for 1 means exactly the same thing, but to the uninitiated it sounds like more. Beware of the casino that combines the two, i.e., 15 for 1 for a 3 or 11 one-roll bet. Here the casino advantage jumps from 11.11 to 16.67%. When you make a proposition bet and win, your original bet is not given back to you unless you ask for it. For example, if you bet $5 on the 11, you win $75 if an 11 is thrown on the next roll. Your $5 bet stays on the 11 for another roll. The stickman will usually announce, "Pay this gentleman $75 and you're still up to win, sir." If you don't want to bet on the next roll, you have to say, "Down with my 11 bet." This works the same way for the hard-way bets. The amounts you may bet on the proposition bets are determined by the table minimums. At $2, $3, $5, or $10 tables, your minimum bet is $1 on any proposition bet. At a $25 table, $5 is the minimum proposition bet. Many times you will hear a player call, "$1 on the yo," and throw a dollar chip to the stickman. What does "yo" mean? Eleven, believe it or not. This is the shortened version of "eee-ooo-eleven" which many players yell at the thrown dice if they have money riding on the eleven. The C-E arrows around the Proposition Box in the center of the layout allow the stickman to keep track of all the popular Any Craps or Eleven bets around the table, as well as a combination bet called Crap-Eleven. This bet requires putting up at least double the proposition minimum and the chips are placed between the C and the E. However, one-half of the bet actually goes separately on each, and they are treated as two separate bets. If one part wins, the other part still loses. To make a one-roll wager called a Hop Bet (the next hop of the dice), you toss the chips to the boxman, who places the bet on the table in front of him and just remembers it. The player must specify the exact combination of numbers coming up on the next roll. There are fifteen possible combinations made up of different numbers, such as 1-5, which is called Hop Ace Five or Sixteen, and winners are paid off at 15 to 1, the same as a one-roll 3 or 11. The six possible pairs are paid off at 30 to 1, the same as a one-roll 2 or 12. Hop Bets are available at very few casinos, probably because there is no spot for it on the layout, and the bet requires the attention of the very busy boxman. Another one-roll bet that is rarely seen is the Whirl Bet. You must put up a bet equal to at least five proposition minimum bets, and you are covered for all the naturals, 7 and 11, and craps?2, 3 or 12. If a 2, 3, 11, or 12 comes up, it is paid off at the odds shown in the proposition box, and the other bets are lost. If a 7 comes up, the entire bet is a standoff. Of course, if any other number is thrown, everything is lost.

The Horn Bet covers the numbers 2, 3, 11, and 12. You bet four chips, each equal at least to the proposition minimum, and you are paid off for whichever of these numbers is thrown. Naturally, the other three chips are lost. I must admit there is one proposition bet I do occasionally make?Any Craps. If I have progressed to a large bet on the pass line, I may want to protect it against a craps? 2, 3, or 12?thrown on the come-out roll. I then bet what is commonly called "craps check," or enough money on Any Craps to protect my pass-line bet. For example, if I am betting $100 on the pass line, I lose if a craps is thrown. But a f 14 bet on Any Craps returns me $98, a 7-to-l payoff, and keeps my progression going. I now add two dollars to the $98 and make another $100 pass-line bet. I don't do this very often, as the 11.11% insurance premium is ruinous in the long run. No longer available in Atlantic City, and to be avoided in other casinos, is the Big Six and the Big Eight, prominently located in the corners of most layouts. Big Six and/ or Big Eight bets are positioned by the player, and win if the number appears before 7, paying even money. If you don't pick up your winnings and your original bet, it all rides on the next roll. The casino edge on this bet is a whopping 9.09%. If you want to bet on the 6 or 8, wager in multiples of $6 and "place" the number; then you will be paid at the rate of 7 to 6, decreasing the casino's advantage to 1.52%. It has been said, "Casino games were never devised to favor the player." How true this is when, at the dice table, every bet has some percentage in favor of the house. So far in our study of the layout, we have discussed some 30 possible wagers one can make. Well, the best betting move is not even on the green. It's called the free odds, or backup bet.

The first and foremost thing to remember is that this bet is paid at the correct odds; therefore, you have an even chance of winning. Thus, if the point number is 4 and the odds are taken, say, for $5, the house will pay $10 for winning this 2-to-l wager. But stop! Don't get into the sedan or hop a bus just to take advantage of this. Remember the house enjoys an edge on every play at the table. You can take advantage of the free-odds bet only if you have already made a wager on the pass line, don't pass, come, or don't come. Of course, if you have a friend who makes these bets and never takes the odds, you could pick up a little action at no cost to you in vigorish (the house advantage or charge taken on bets) by backing up his bets with your money. Such players could be considered downright philanthropic, and if the casinos become aware of what you are doing, they will not permit it. "Taking the odds" is the correct phrasing when a wager is made on the pass or come line. This bet is also known as a "right bet," and the player is, or course, a "right bettor." When a point is established?4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10?the bet is backed up by placing the odds wager directly behind the pass-line bet. Taking the odds on pass- and come-line bets reduces the casino advantage from 1.41 to .085%.

It is important to memorize the free odds so you can be paid off at the maximum rate. Backup bets on 5 and 9 should be made in increments of two, so the bet can be paid off at the rate of 3 to 2. The 6 and 8 should be backed up in increments of five, so the bet can be paid off at 6 to 5. The numbers 4 and 10 never become a problem, as the payoff rate is 2 to 1. In many casinos your backup bet may not exceed the initial bet unless it's just a small increase to make the payoff come out even. For instance, if your pass-line bet is $3, your backup bet would be $4 if the come-out number is 5 or 9. With a come-out number of 6 or 8, the minimum backup bet to receive a 6-to-5 payoff would be $5. Of course, the casino would permit you to make a smaller backup bet than $5, but it would be paid off at even money; the casino edge would then leap to 9.09% on the odds bet. If the dealer will not accept a larger backup bet, never increase the original bet, which is always permitted. The increased original bet would be paid off at even money, and the disadvantage would not offset the gain of the odds bet.