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10 easy steps to learning the Gambling game

By Frank Scoblete


The oldest known form of gambling saw primitive man carving symbols into the ankle bones of various deceased animals, usually sheep, sometimes wild animals that were respected as a source of food or strength, and even into the ankle or knee bones of deceased humans, usually relatives, but sometimes respected warriors from other tribes. These “bones” were then shaken, rattled and rolled to discover the will of the gods, and thus, the current craps expression, “roll them bones,” has a lineage stretching back to the dawn of human consciousness itself.

The earliest craps players were serious-minded folk who shook, rattled and rolled them bones to discover whether to plant in this or that field, raid this or that neighboring village, or marry this or that tribal member or look outside the tribe for a suitable mate, preferably one with comely ankles that would be useful should said spouse pass on. No one really knows if primitive man ever played the game of craps as we know it, strictly as a leisure-time activity to get the adrenaline pumping, the vocal cords tuned, and the money flowing. So the biggest question of all can’t be answered: Did primitive man have to hit the back wall?

But modern craps players must hit the back wall when they roll the dice, which are no longer made of bone but of cellulose acetate, a plastic, and today’s players not only have to wonder about the will of the gods, such as Lady Luck, but they must obey countless human rules, some etched in stone by the casinos and some written in the wind of superstitious craps players’ minds.

And what of the name “craps,” where did that come from? The name “craps” is actually a bastardization of the name “crabs,” which is what the game was originally called by the folks along the southern Mississippi River who invented it. Actually, they didn’t “invent it,” but they did borrow the British game called Hazard, which they revolutionized into the American game, “crabs.” But their thick accents were such that when they said “crabs,” it sounded to other folks who didn’t quite understand the dialect as “craps,” and thus as the game made its way northward, craps became its official name.

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How the Game is Played

With such a long and glorious history behind it, craps is the quintessential casino game. It’s communal; one player’s roll can affect all the players’ wagers; exciting, as amazing pulse-pounding streaks are the norm; and challenging, especially to the newcomer, who looks at the craps layout and thinks to himself: “This thing looks like Sanskrit, let me get back to the slots!”

The layout, created in 1907 by John H. Winn, and tinkered with by him for many years, is a conglomeration of various single and combined bets, some placed directly by the players, some placed for the payers exclusively by the dealers, and some placed by either. This can give any newcomer the jitters as he watches what at first appears to be a bunch of primitives screaming and yelling out strange-sounding names, while throwing chips this way and that. “Give me a yo-eelev!” “Five dollars on big red.” “A dollar box cars!” “How about a $15 whirl?” “C&E for me!” The names of the bets seem obscure and endless: any craps, snake eyes, hard 6, hard 8, hard 4, hard 10, pass line, don’t pass, come, don’t come, odds, full odds, true odds, hop, hopping hard way, and on and on it goes.

But hear this–craps is actually an easy game to understand, if you take it step by step and bet by bet. And that’s just what we’re going to do. By the time you finish reading this article you’ll be able to step up to the craps table confident that you know how to play the “essential” casino game.

1) Who’s Who – Check out the personnel at the table. You have a person seated in a chair in the middle of the table who is called the boxman. His or her job is to oversee the entire game and make sure it runs properly. To the right or left of the boxman is the dealer. Across from the boxman is the stickperson, so named because of the long, thin stick with which to push the dice around.

2) The Basic Game – See that ring around the layout with the words Pass Line on it? Just above that is another ring called Don’t Pass. These are the two basic bets of the game. Since 95 percent of the players bet the Pass Line, let’s take a look at the game from this perspective first.

The shooter places a Pass Line bet. The stickperson now empties a bowl of five or six dice on the table and pushes them to the shooter. The shooter selects two dice, the stickperson takes back the rest and, as Sherlock Holmes was wont to say, “The game is afoot.” This is called the Come-Out roll. The shooter now rolls the dice to the back wall.

On the Come-Out roll if the shooter rolls a 7 or 11, he wins even money ($10 wagered, $10 won); if he rolls a 2, 3 or 12, he loses his bet. There are 36 possible combinations of two six-sided dice (6X6=36), and there are eight possible ways to win on the 7 (six ways) and an 11 (two ways) as opposed to only four possible ways to win on the 2 (one way), the 3 (two ways) and the 12 (one way). On the Pass Line, there are 12 possible decisions that can win or lose and the player is favored to win them by a margin of two-to-one (eight-to-four).

However, there are 24 combinations of the other numbers: 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10. These are called “point numbers.” On the Come-Out roll, should the shooter roll one of these numbers, it becomes his “point.” That means he must roll that number again without rolling a 7 in order to win even money on his Pass Line bet. If he rolls a 7 before he repeats his “point,” he loses. This is called “sevening-out” and it’s a very bad thing for all “right players,” that is, players who are betting with the point and against the 7.

The other bet that can be made on the Come-Out roll is called the Don’t Pass bet. It is almost a mirror image of the Pass Line bet. On the shooter’s Come-Out roll, if the 7 or 11 appears, the Don’t Pass bettor loses; if the 2 or 3 appears, the Don’t Pass bettor wins; and if the 12 appears, the Don’t Pass bettor has no action on his bet–it’s a push.

So on the Come-Out roll, the Don’t Pass bettor is in the “action” 11 times, with three wins (the 2 and 3) and eight losses (the 7 and 11). Now, should the shooter establish a point, the Don’t Pass bettor wins even money if a 7 is rolled before the shooter can repeat his number, but he loses if the shooter rolls the “point.”

And that’s the game, pure and simple.

There’s the Come-Out game, sometimes called the “Come-Out Cycle” (COC), and the point game, sometimes called the Point Cycle (PC).

What is the casino edge playing this basic game? It’s small, approximately 1.4 percent, which means that for every $100 you bet on the Pass Line or the Don’t Pass line you can expect to lose about $1.40 in the long run.

If you knew nothing more about craps than Step Two, you could go to a casino tonight and play the game. However, with a few more wrinkles, you can go to the casino tonight and actually play the game well.

3) The Odds Bet – Playing the Pass Line and Don’t Pass are good bets, but the player can reduce the house edge even further by taking advantage of a bet called “the Odds.” Here’s how the Odds option works:

The 7 can be made six different ways with two dice. The 5 can be made four different ways with two dice. Thus, the odds of a 7 appearing in relation to a 5 are six ways to four ways, or three to two. Once the shooter has established his point number, a win only garners even money on a bet that the casino is heavily favored on. To give the players a fighting chance, the casinos allow the player the option of placing an amount equal to (single odds), twice as much (double or 2X odds), three times as much (triple or 3X odds), five times as much (5X Odds), ten times as much (10X Odds), 20 times as much (20X Odds), or 100 times (100X Odds) or more, as his Pass Line bet in “odds” immediately behind it on the layout. The casino determines how much “odds” it will allow. Let’s analyze the bet based on double odds.

The point is 5 and you have $10 on the Pass Line. You can now place $20 in odds behind it. If the shooter rolls a 5, you will be paid even money for your $10 Pass Line bet and the true odds for the Odds bet–thus, you would win $30 for your $20 Odds bet. The casino has no edge whatsoever on this bet in the long run. On the Don’t Pass, you have to “lay” the odds, which means taking the long end of the bet. So, on the 5, you would lay $30 in Odds to win $20 should the 7 roll.

The Odds bet reduces the casino edge on the Pass Line as follows (the Don’t Pass is fractionally less):


Pass Line with no odds 1.41%
Pass Line with 1X odds 0.85%
Pass Line with 2X odds 0.61%
Pass Line with 3X odds 0.47%
Pass Line with 5X odds 0.33%
Pass Line with 10X odds 0.18%
Pass Line with 20X odds 0.10%
Pass Line with 100X odds 0.02%

The true odds for the point numbers are as follows:


Number Ways to Make Ways to Make Seven Odds
4 3 6 2-to-1
5 4 6 3-to-2
6 5 6 6-to-5
8 5 6 6-to-5
9 4 6 3-to-2
10 3 6 2-to-1


4) Come & Don’t Come Bets – Two other low-percentage bets are the Come and Don’t Come bets. These function in exactly the same way and have exactly the same house edges as the Pass and Don’t Pass bets. The only difference is that they are made after the point is established. Once the shooter has established a point, you can place a bet in the large Come area on the layout or on the smaller Don’t Come area in the upper left- and right-hand corners of the layout. A 7 or 11 wins the Come bet at even money, but loses the Don’t Come bet. A 2, 3 or 12 loses the Come bet, while the 2 or 3 wins the Don’t Come bet. Again, the 12 is a push on the Don’t Come, just as it is on the Don’t Pass.

However, should one of the point numbers be rolled (4, 5, 6, 8, 9 or 10), that number now must be rolled before the 7 for the Come bet to win. Should the 7 appear before the number, the Don’t Come bet wins. The Come-Don’t Come is merely a game within a game. As with the Pass and Don’t Pass, the Come and Don’t Come players are also offered the option of Odds. You do this by placing the amount you want in Odds on the table and saying to the dealer, “Odds.” He’ll know to put that money on top of your Come or Don’t Come bet when it is up on the number.

5) Place Bets – The last of the low-percentage bets is the “placing” of the 6 and/or 8, which can be done at any time. Here you simply place a wager in multiples of six dollars. You do this by putting the bet down on the layout in front of you and saying, “Place the 6 and 8 for six dollars each,” or “Place the 6 [or 8] for six dollars.” The dealer will take your chips and place them directly on the number. The casino will pay off a winning bet at “casino odds” of seven for every six dollars wagered. The casino edge on this bet is 1.52 percent because the real payoff should be $7.20 for six dollars, not seven dollars. You can place a number at any time and you can also call the bet off or take it down at any time, something you are not allowed to do with the Pass or Come bets. (You are allowed to take down your odds and to take down Don’t Pass and Don’t Come bets.)

You can also Place the 4 and 10, and the 5 and 9, but these bets come in with very high house edges. The Place Bet of the 4 or 10 has a 6.67 percent house edge. The Place Bet of the 5 or 9 has a 4 percent house edge.

6) Buying the Numbers – Most casinos will allow players to “buy” the 4 or 10 by paying a commission of five percent. So, if you want to bet $20 on the 4 or 10, you put the bet down plus a one-dollar commission. In the event of a win, you will be paid $40 for your $20 bet. Had you simply placed the 4 or 10, you would only be paid $36. In fact, thanks to the Captain of Craps (see my book Forever Craps), players can now buy the 4 or 10 for $35, still paying that one-dollar commission. This reduces the edge to 2.78 percent from that high of 6.67 percent. The Captain was the first player to “push the house” into giving us a better deal on the Buy bets.

In some casino venues, you can buy the 4 or 10 and only pay the commission if the bet wins! That reduces the house edge on a typical $25 buy to around 1.3 percent. Buy bets are just like Place bets and can be working or removed at any time during the game.

7) Bets to Avoid – Just about all the other bets on the craps layout are not worth making, as they come in with house edges of between 5 percent and 16.67 percent. Many of them also come with exotic names. Here’s a rule of thumb about bets at craps: If they have fancy names, they have crummy edges.

8) Know the Rules – I mentioned in the opening to this article that craps has rules and you must follow them to the letter or you’ll be scolded by the boxman and the dealers. Here are the typical rules of the game:

1. You must have a Pass Line or Don’t Pass bet in order to shoot the dice.
2. You cannot take the dice off the boundaries of the table.
3. You can only touch the dice with one hand.
4. When you shoot the dice you must hit the back wall.
5. When you buy in, you must drop your money on the table and say, “Chips,” or something to that effect.
6. You are not allowed to touch someone else’s chips, even if they land in front of you.
7. Should the dice leave the table and land in your chip rack, pick them up and put them back on the table. Do not hand them directly to dealer.
8. Should the dice land on the floor, pick them up and hand them to the dealer. Do not put them back on the table. (When dice leave the table it is possible that they are “switched,” which is an old cheating move. So you hand the dice to the dealer, who will hand the dice to the boxman, who will look to see that the proper identification numbers are on them before putting them back in play.)
9. Make your bets when the dice are in the middle of the table, not when a shooter is about to roll them bones.
10. Do not dangle your hands over the table.
11. Do not call out a bet unless your chips have been placed on the table.

9) Know the Culture – Craps is a world unto itself. Suffice it to say that there are certain superstitions or mores that you had better adhere to while at a craps game or else you’re going to get some lip from guys who think you are an idiot and aren’t afraid to tell you and the whole world so in the grossest of terms and loudest of tones. So even if you are not the “knock on wood” superstitious type, when in Rome do as… well, you get the picture. Here are seven superstitions that you should follow, whether you believe in them or not.

1. Never say the word “seven” when the shooter has the dice in his hands after the point has been established. Even if you are a Don’t Pass bettor and you want the 7 to appear, you don’t want to actively root for it for fear of offending someone who has not yet been DNA tested as fully human.

2. Do not dangle your hands over the table or point to a bet, even if it’s just the tip of your finger over the table, or you could be in trouble.

3. Do not laugh when someone asks a girl who appears to have never rolled the dice to do so. It is a known “fact” that women who have never rolled the dice will have good rolls the first time out.

4. If you are a man, never admit that this is your first craps game. As soon as you get the dice, people will be sneering at you because men who have never rolled the dice before are destined, destined, to seven-out early.

5. When you are rolling and one or both dice go off the table immediately call out, “Same dice!” If you allow the dealer to substitute different dice, you’ll seven out on the very next roll.

6. Never interrupt the shooter. It is possible that the shooter is in “the zone” and you might just disrupt his rhythm. This is just good common sense and good manners as well.

7. Do not drink anything at the table with the number 7 in it like Seven-Up or Seven-and-Seven.

10) Playing Strategy – Let’s put this in a simple package, shall we?Bet the Pass, Come or Don’t Pass, Don’t Come and take/lay the most in Odds that you can afford once you get up on a number. Place the 6 and/or 8 for six dollars each. If you can afford it, you can consider buying the 4 or 10 for $35 or for $25 in games where the commission is only taken from a winning bet. Obey the rules and adhere to the superstitions of the game. Go up on two or three numbers and don’t increase your betting level or the number of your bets until you have a nice, hefty profit for the roll at hand.

Play the above way and you will face low house edges on your bets and enjoy the most exciting game in the casino. And think on this: Once you have played craps the above way, you are no longer a novice, but a player!

Frank Scoblete is the #1 best-selling gaming author. His books and tapes have sold over a million copies. He is also executive director of Golden Touch Craps Dice Control Seminars. His websites are and For a free catalog of his books and tapes or for information about his seminars call toll-free: 1-866-SET-DICE or 1-800-944-0406.

A Hazardous History
by Basil Nestor

The game of craps has an epic origin. Nearly 1,000 years ago, an army of Crusaders left Europe, marching under the orders of Pope Urban II. Their objective was Jerusalem. The 2,000-mile trek and subsequent war to “liberate” the Holy Land from its local rulers was well intentioned (the purpose was to protect Christian pilgrims), but the results were predictably bloody and tragic. According to an eyewitness, Fulcher of Chartres, “They [the inhabitants of Jerusalem] were unable to escape from our gladiators. Many fled to the roof of the temple of Solomon, and were shot with arrows, so that they fell to the ground dead. In this temple almost ten thousand were killed. None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared.”

The Crusaders then established the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, a pseudo-state that lasted for almost a century, until 1187.

It was during this turbulent time in Palestine that craps was born. The local Arabs played a game that they called az-zahr (the Egyptian word for “dice”). Crusaders adopted the game and mangled the pronunciation into “hazard.” The term was originally just a humble moniker for this prototype of craps, but the mercurial character of the game and the perilous world from which it came eventually made hazard synonymous with jeopardy and risk.

Adventurous Europeans embraced the new contest with gusto. Two centuries later, hazard was important enough to be mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The pardoner, a kind of priest, tells some colorful stories of this “mother of leasings [lies], and of deceit, and cursed forswearings.” He includes the following gambler’s oath: “Seven is my chance, and thine is cinque and trey. By Godde’s armes, if thou falsely play, this dagger shall throughout thine hearte go.” Whew!

Happily, Chaucer wrote of hazard in more noble terms in Troilus and Criseyde, “Lat not this wrecched wo thin herte gnawe, but manly set the world on six and seven.” In other words, have courage even when the odds are against you.

Charles Cotton, an English author, wrote in 1674, “Hazzard is a proper name for this Game; for it speedily makes a man or undoes him.” He also observed, “Certainly Hazzard is the most bewitching game that is played on the Dice; for when a man begins to play he knows not when to leave off; and having once accustomed himself to play at Hazzard he hardly ever after minds anything else.”

This idea of being in the grip and at the mercy of capricious and disagreeable fate extended to hazard’s most popular nickname. From the very beginning, a roll of 2 was a loser. Europeans called the combination “crabs” (as in crabby or crab apple). Perhaps people were imagining a pinch on their wallets when the dice produced something that looked like a crab’s claw.

At the about the same time that the new name was catching on, the rules of hazard spontaneously changed so that craps and hazard became two separate contests (though they’re still quite similar). Hazard subsequently did a long fade-out, and craps assumed the mantle of “the definitive dice game” by the beginning of the twentieth century.

Along the way, it contributed many universal phrases to the English language. Examples include “no dice,” “on a roll,” “crapshoot,” “crap out,” and “vigorish,” to name just a few.

The astonishing thing is that after 1,000 years, craps has kept (and indeed embellished) its poetic and fatalistic theme of hazard. Nearly half of the bets on the table are called “don’t,” and some of the most popular wagers are “hardways.” Meanwhile, the craps shooter is desperately trying to “pass.” Games that were born in the upbeat Renaissance such as blackjack and poker are identified by winning combinations (twenty-one, jacks-or-better, and so forth), but craps with its medieval roots is called… craps.

Of course, this doesn’t mean craps is a depressing game. On the contrary, it’s one of the most exciting and fast-paced gambling games every invented. But the notion of abandoning oneself to the fates is deliciously downbeat and dark in a romantic sense.

All this poses an interesting situation for me as a gambling-game strategist. You see, craps is actually a very good gambling contest. In fact, it’s more “beatable” than blackjack or video poker in some circumstances. But craps has a passionate Rat-Pack-reckless-blowout reputation. One of the biggest challenges I have in teaching the game is convincing people that they can use strategy to win. They’re shocked to learn that craps responds to math; it’s not all a “crapshoot.”

Remember that craps wasn’t invented for casinos. The house edge was sort of grafted onto the game in the modern casino era. That’s also when some of the worst craps bets were developed. But you don’t have to make those bad bets. You can plunder the casino with good wagers while other players are losing their shirts. Do a little research, study the strategies (such as those in the Smarter Bet Guides), and you’ll have a good chance to win at craps.

Enjoy the game!

–Adapted from The Smarter Bet Guide to Craps. Basil Nestor is author of The Smarter Bet Guide to Craps, The Unofficial Guide to Casino Gambling, and other comprehensive gambling guides. Got a question? Visit and drop him a line.

10 easy steps to learning the Gambling game.

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