How to Play Craps

Excerpt from

The Intelligent Guide to Casino Gaming

by Sylvester Suzuki

Craps is one of the oldest and most popular casino table games. It is also one of the easiest casino games to learn and understand. However, due to the complexity of the betting and the sometimes confusing, almost frantic pace of the action, many casino patrons are reluctant to give the game a try This is unfortunate because craps offers some of the best bets in the casino.

The game begins with one of the players (called the shooter) at the table throwing two die against a retaining wall. This first throw of the dice is called the “come out roll.” If the total number of spots on the two die is 7 or 11 (which is referred to as a “natural”), the shooter wins his bet. If the total of the spots is 2, 3, or 12 (which is referred to as a “craps”), the shooter loses. In either case, the shooter is allowed to remain as the shooter and make another bet. However, he may also choose not to remain as the shooter and pass the dice to one of the other players at the table.

Craps Table Layout

Craps Table Layout

If the total of the dice on the come out roll is 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10, that number becomes the shooter’s “point” and the shooter will continue to roll the dice until he rolls either a 7 or his point. If the point appears before the 7, the shooter is said to have made a “pass.” The shooter therefore wins his bet. If the 7 appears before the point, the shooter loses and the dice move to the next player.

Since there are six sides to each die, there are 36 possible combinations of the two die as is shown in the figure below.

The 36 Possible Combinations for Two Six-Sided Die

36 possible combinations of two dice

The possible combinations of the two die that are illustrated are summarized in the table. In many casinos, you will find players, especially the shooters, excitedly calling for their point to appear. I have therefore added commonly used nicknames for the various numbers.

Summary of Dice Combinations
Number Common Nickname
Possible Combinations
2 Snake Eyes
1
3 Trey
2
4 Little Joe
3
5 Fever
4
6 Sixey from Dixie
5
7 Natural
6
8 Eighter from Decater
5
9 Kneener
4
10 Big Dick
3
11 Natural
2
12 Box Cars
1

Total Possible Combinations = 36

Based on the data that is shown above, a few basic deductions can be made.
On the come out roll:

• There is a 22.2% (8 out of 36) chance that a natural will appear.
• There is a 11.1% (4 out of 36) chance that a craps will appear.
• There is a 66.7% ( 24 out of 36) chance that one of the six points will appear.

If the shooter has established a point:

• The shooter is a 5 to 6 underdog to win if his point is either 6 or 8. The reason is that there are six possible combinations that add up to 7, but only five combinations that add up to 6 or 8.
• The shooter is a 4 to 6 underdog to win if his point is 5 or 9.
• The shooter is a 1 to 2 (3 to 6) underdog to win if his point is 4 or 10.

The Pass Line Bet

The basic wager at a craps table is known as a “pass line bet.” This is a bet that the shooter will win. This bet is made by placing chips in the section of the table that is marked “Pass Line.” Although bettors may also bet that the shooter will lose (a don’t pass bet), the pass line bet is by far the most commonly made bet at a craps table. Collectively, bets that will pay off if the shooter wins are known as “right bets” and bets that will pay off if the shooter loses are referred to as “wrong bets.” On a pass line bet, the casino enjoys a 1.4% advantage over the bettor. However, as was noted above, on the come out roll, the shooter is twice as likely to win (throw a natural) as he is to lose (throw a craps). After a point has been established, however, the shooter is always an underdog.

The Odds Bet

After a shooter has established a point, the casino offers players who had made a pass line bet the opportunity to “take the odds” on an additional bet at true odds. In other words, if the shooter’s point is 9, he will be allowed to make an additional bet at true odds of 2 to 3. This means that if the shooter takes odds on a $2 bet, he will win $3 on this second bet. He will, of course, also win his original bet. Since the casino gains no advantage on an odds bet, the net effect is that the house advantage on the total amount that was wagered on the pass line bet and the odds bet will decline. For example, if a player who had bet $10 on the pass line takes an odds bet for $10, the 1.4% house advantage on the original $10 bet will decline to approximately 0.85% on the combined total of $20. The more the bettor wagers on the odds bet, the more the house advantage will decline. Obviously, the house advantage can never decline to zero.

Because the casino enjoys no house advantage on an odds bet, only players who had made a pass line bet can make the bet. Also, the amount that may be wagered on an odds bet is contingent on the amount that was wagered on the pass line bet. This amount varies between casinos, but is often limited to twice the amount that was wagered on the pass line bet.

When making an odds bet, it is necessary to size your bet properly in order to insure that the casino will be able to actually pay you true odds. For example, if you make a $5 odds bet when the point is 9, the casino might be unable to actually pay you true odds of $7.50 because the smallest chip on the table is a $1 chip. The easiest way to avoid any such complication is to make all odds bets in multiples of $10.
One interesting feature of the odds bet is that the bet may be withdrawn at the discretion of the bettor. The casino will have no objection because the casino enjoys no house advantage on an odds bet.

Another interesting feature of the odds bet is that the astute player can minimize the house advantage by properly apportioning the amount that he will wager between the pass line bet and the odds bet. For example, if the bettor wagers $20 on a pass line bet, the casino will enjoy a 1.4% advantage on the $20 wager. However, if the bettor wagers $10 on the pass line bet and then wagers an additional $10 on the odds bet after a point has been established, the house advantage on the total of $20 that was wagered will be only 0.85%. If he bets an additional $20 on the odds bet, the house advantage on the total of $30 will decline to 0.61%. However, as was indicated previously, casinos have limits on the amount that may be wagered on odds bets.

An odds bet is made by placing the amount of the bet just outside the pass line behind the amount that had been wagered on the pass line bet.

The Don’t Pass Line Bet

The “don’t pass line” bet is the opposite of the pass line bet and is a bet that the shooter will lose. However, in order to insure that the casino will have the necessary house advantage over don’t pass line bettors, the 12 is a neutral number on the come out roll that results in tie. In order to minimize confusion, the following comparative table is provided.

Come Out Roll Summary
Number Rolled Pass Line Bettor
Don’t Pass Line Bettor
2 Loses
Wins
3 Loses
Wins
4, 5 & 6 Establishes Point
Establishes Point
7 Wins
Loses
8, 9 & 10 Establishes Point
Establishes Point
11 Wins
Loses
12 Loses
Ties

In some casinos, the 2 rather than the 12 is designated as the neutral number. This, however, does not affect the house advantage which is 1.4% over those who make a don’t pass line bet.

Unlike the pass line bet which cannot be cancelled after a point has been established, a don’t pass line bet may be cancelled. This is because after a point has been established, the don’t pass bettor will have an advantage over the casino. Obviously, it would be foolish for any bettor to cancel a bet when the odds are in his favor.

Don’t pass line bets are made by placing chips in the section of the table that is marked “Don’t Pass Bar.”

Laying Odds Bet

Once the shooter has established a point, players who have made a don’t pass line bet may make a “laying odds bet” which is the opposite of the odds bet. In other words, the bettor will be wagering that the shooter will not be successful in making his point. Since the shooter will be an underdog to make his point, the laying odds bettor must give odds of $2 to $1 when the point is 4 or 10, $3 to $2 when the point is 5 or 9, and $6 to $5 when the point is 6 or 8. This means that like the odds bet, the casino will have no house advantage on a lay odds bet.

As when making an odds bet, in order to get full payment, it is necessary to wager the proper amount when making a laying odds bet. These amounts are as indicated in the following table.

Optimum Betting Amounts for Laying Odds Bets
Point
True Odds
Optimum Betting
Potential Winnings
6 & 8
5 to 6
Multiples of $6
Multiples of $5
5 & 9
2 to 3
Multiples of $3
Multiples of $2
4 & 10
1 to 2
Multiples of $2
Multiples of $1

Since there is no space on the table to place a laying odds bet, tell the dealer that you wish to lay odds and he will place your bet partially atop the chips that you had wagered on the don’t pass line bet. One of the reasons why there is no space provided on the table for laying odds bets is that relatively few players enjoy betting with the house against a fellow casino patron (the Shooter).

The pass line bet combined with the odds bet, and the don’t pass line bet combined the laying odds bet, are among the best bets that are available in a casino. The bets also have the advantage of being very easy to understand and follow. There are numerous other types of bets that can be made at the craps table. Many of these other bets can be very confusing to a novice who may be lacking in experience at a craps table. It is therefore recommended that until you get acclimated, you limit yourself to the four types of bets that were discussed above. Additional bets at the craps table are described in Chapter 4 of The Intelligent Guide to Casino Gaming.

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