Craps Strategy

Craps is a negative expectation game, but as negative expectation games go, it’s a good one. If you place the right bets, you’ll face a low house edge. If you have the right personality type, you’ll probably also really enjoy the experience. What you probably won’t do is find a craps strategy that will overcome the house edge.

Some gambling writers believe that craps players can get an edge over the house using “dice control” techniques. The idea is that by setting the dice in their hands in a certain way, they can learn to minimize the number of times the dice land on losing results, which increases the chances of winning, especially on the lower house edge bets.

craps-gamblingI’m skeptical of this in the extreme. If casinos thought this were actually possible in real life, you’d see all kinds of preventative measures taking place to avoid losing money. And maybe dice control in craps is so rare or so new that the casinos just haven’t caught on yet, but if you know anything about the casinos’ reactions to card counting when it first rolled out, you’d be skeptical that they would turn a blind eye to something like this.

Craps are just one of the many dice games that players around the world enjoy. There are hundreds of games that are just played for fun. In other words, you don’t have to gamble to enjoy games using the little six-sided cubes.

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Craps Math

For me, the beginning of craps strategy is understanding a little bit of craps math. Craps is a game where someone rolls two dice and gets a total, so understanding the mathematical odds of achieving each of those totals is the beginning (but not the end) of craps wisdom.

Everyone knows that if you roll two dice, you’ll get a total of between 2 and 12. What most people don’t know is what the odds of achieving each total are. They’re not hard to calculate though.

For example, there is only one way to roll a 2 with 2 dice. They both have to land on 1. The odds of a single die landing on 1 is 1 in 6. To get the odds of both of those dice landing on 1, you multiple the probability of one event by the other, so you get a total chance of getting a 2 of 1/36, which is what you get when you multiple 1/6 by 1/6.

You could also express this as a percentage. 1/36 is the same thing as ~2.78%.

You could also express this in odds format. The odds of rolling a 2 are 35 to 1. (There are 35 possible results that don’t total 2, and 1 possible result that does total 2.)

The odds of rolling a 12 are exactly the same, because you’re looking at exactly the same situation. There’s only one way to get a total of 12 when rolling two dice, and that’s for both of the dice to land on 6. So the percentage of getting a total of 12 is ~2.78%, or 1/36, or 35 to 1.

There are two ways to roll a total of 3 though, and there are also two ways to roll a total of 11. The first way of rolling a total of 3 is to get a 1 on the first die and a 2 on the second die. The second is to get a 2 on the first die and a 1 on the second die. (The same logic applies to the total of 11, but we’re looking at a 5 and a 6 or a 6 and a 5.) Either way, the odds are 1/18, or ~5.56%, or 17 to 1.

There are three ways to roll a total of 4 or 10.

There are four ways to roll a total of 5 or 9.

There are five ways to roll a total of 6 or 8.

And there are six ways to roll a total of 7.

Craps Odds

But what’s really important to a gambler is the odds, so here’s a chart showing the odds of rolling a given total with two dice:

Total Odds
2 35 to 1
3 17 to 1
4 11 to 1
5 8 to 1
6 6.2 to 1
7 5 to 1
8 6.2 to 1
9 8 to 1
10 11 to 1
11 17 to 1
12 35 to 1

I’m sure you’re thinking by now that this is a lot of math, and why is this writer showing off, and what possible good is this information anyway.

Winning at Craps

My firm belief is that understanding the math behind a game makes the game more enjoyable. And once you understand the math behind the game, you can start to make educated decisions about which craps bets are a good value for your gambling dollar and which ones aren’t. That doesn’t mean you’ll start winning at craps just because you understand the math, but you’ll have a better shot at it than someone who doesn’t get the arithmetic.

The big trick that casinos use to make their money is to have payout odds that are lower than the true odds of getting a certain result. So, for example, I could create a craps variant that would just have payouts for each of the totals above, and if you bet on that specific total, you’d get a specific payout. For example, I might set up the game so that any time you rolled a 7, and you’d bet on 7, you’d win 4 to 1 on your money. But the actual odds of getting that total are 5 to 1.

Who would profit in that scenario? In six rolls, on average, you’d win that bet once. You’d lose five times. If you were betting a dollar each time, you’d lose $5. On the one time you won, you’d win $4 back. Where’d the extra dollar go? That’s the casino’s edge, and they have such an edge on every game they play. Your goal, as a savvy gambler, is to try to keep that edge as low as possible.

Of course, real craps doesn’t work exactly like that. Real craps games have a whole array of bets available, and most of them aren’t as simple as just betting on a specific total. But the house edge on those bets vary widely. Some of these craps bets offer a really low house edge, while others offer a really high house edge. Savvy craps players can make their money last longer by sticking to the bets with the lower house edge.

I’ll have more to say about craps and craps strategy in future articles, and I’ll cover more of the basic stuff in some future articles, but here’s one example of a good craps bet and one example of a bad craps bet.

The “pass line” bet is the most common bet craps players make, and it’s one of the better bets on the table. The house edge on the pass line bet is only 1.41%. When you bet on the pass line, you’re betting that the shooter will “win.” In order to win, the shooter has to roll a 7 or an 11 on his first roll, the “come-out” roll. The shooter automatically loses if he rolls a 2, 3, or 12 on the come-out roll.

Any other total sets a “point.” The shooter’s goal then becomes to roll that total again (the point) before rolling a 7. The shooter rolls until he gets a 7 or the point, whichever comes first. If he rolls the point, the pass line bet pays even money. If he gets a 7, then the pass line bet is lost.

Some of the worst bets at the craps table are proposition bets. For example, you can bet on any roll that the total will be 12. We’ve already demonstrated that the odds of that happening are 35 to 1. But guess what that bet pays out if you win it? Only 31 to 1. That’s a house edge of well over 10% on that bet, which should tell you something. (Okay, I won’t be coy. Don’t place proposition bets at the craps table, especially not this one.)

That’s as good an introduction to craps strategy as I can write, but the subject is complicated enough that I’m sure I’ll write several more pages on the subject, including more detailed tutorials on how to actually play the game of craps.