Don't pass on Craps

April 13, 2017

by Henry Tamburin

The following story is true. I'm telling it to prove this point – craps playing systems don't have to be complicated.

The story begins when friends decided to join my wife and me for a long holiday weekend in Atlantic City. John and Mary (aliases) didn't know a lot about casino gambling but they enjoyed their monthly jaunts to Atlantic City to get away from the rat race. They play mostly the dollar slot machines and not to surprisingly they often wound up losing a fair amount of money.

We were having an enjoyable weekend together enjoying the sun, surf, great food, entertainment, and everything else that makes Atlantic City a great place to visit. And besides, the Gods of Chance were being kind to my wife and me at the blackjack tables. But we could sense that John and Mary were not as lucky on the slots. So I was not surprised when they approached me and asked if I could teach them how to play another casino game where their chance of winning were better then the slots.

My first thought was blackjack or video poker since these games offer players much better odds then the slots. The problem is that you need to learn the correct playing strategies for these games to achieve the good odds. And there wasn't enough time left in the weekend for me to teach them all the right plays nor did I think it was a good idea for me to play with them every second to ensure that they wouldn't make costly playing mistakes. Then it dawned on me – why not craps?

I bounced the idea off my wife, who thought I had too much sun and was suffering a delusion. “Are you nuts?” she said, “craps is a complicated game. They'll never be able to learn it and play this weekend.” But I had confidence in my ability to show them the basics in quick order and to teach them a simple playing system that would give them better odds then playing the slots. In fact unlike the 92-93% returns they were most likely getting on the machines, what I was proposing to teach them would give them a long-term return of 98.6%. And beside, I wanted to show my wife that I could do it (I love telling her “I told you so”).

I offered to teach them craps and in the same breath I also cautioned them that there were no guarantees that they would win because over the short span of a weekend, Lady Luck will greatly influence their fortunes. They clearly understood this point and said they were willing to take the risk. If I was game, so were they.

I began my tutorial by explaining to John and Mary that the casino game of craps appears complicated because of all the different bets on the layout, However, not all the bets have good odds for the player. Therefore, my goal was to keep it simple and show them how to make only one bet which has the best odds for the player – a bet on the don't pass line.

To make it as easy as possible for them to understand how to play the game, I told them that craps is really a series of mini-games which starts with a come-out roll. I brought them to a closed craps table to show them where to place their $5 red chip on the don't pass line and then explained the rules for winning and losing as follows.

If the shooter throws a 2 or 3 on the come-out roll, you automatically win your don't pass line bet. If you bet $5, you win $5. If instead the shooter throws a 7 or 11, then that would result in an automatic loss.

So far, so good but now came the more difficult part, namely explaining what happens if the shooter throws another number on the come out roll other than the 2, 3, 7 or 11 (specifically one of the 6 numbers that are located at the top of the layout - the numbers 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10).

Suppose the shooter throws a 5. I explained to them that the rules for winning the don't pass wager now change. Because the shooter threw a 5 on the come out roll, in craps parlance the number 5 becomes the shooter's point and the dealer with mark the number at the top of the layout with a round marker that looks like a hockey puck.

“So what does all this mean?” asked Mary, “ I still don't know how I win my bet on the 5.” I explained that once the shooter throws a point number and it's marked, the same shooter is obliged to continue to roll the dice until one of two events occur. If the shooter rolls a 7 before throwing the 5 point number then all players who wager on the don't pass line will win $5 for their initial $5 wager. However, if instead the shooter rolls the point number 5 again before tossing the 7 then the don't pass wager losses.

Mary and John quickly picked up on the fact that the number 7 causes them to lose if it's thrown on the come out roll but if it shows on a point roll then that would make them a winner on the don't pass. Also the numbers 2, 3, and 11 have no effect on their winning or losing the don't pass bet once a point number is thrown.

I also emphasized to them that because they were betting on the don't pass line they would be in the minority on the table since most players will be betting on the pass line. I explained that by betting on the don't pass, the casino has a big advantage on the come out roll (because the 7 and 11 can be rolled more ways then the 2 or 3). However, once a point is established the odds shift in favor of the don't pass bettor on point rolls. And the latter will occur two-thirds of the time you play craps, therefore it's comforting to know that if you wager on the don't pass line, two thirds of the time you will have the slight edge.

John was astute enough to ask me what happens if the shooter throws a 12 on the come out roll. I told him that to make the odds virtually the same for the pass line and the don't pass line, the casino “bars the 12” (I pointed to those very words on the layout). This means when if you wager on the don't pass line and a 12 is thrown on the come out roll, it's a push and you don't win or lose.

John and Mary were anxious to start playing but I had just a few more points to cover. I explained that you shouldn't just walk up to craps table and immediately make a bet on the don't pass. You need to check if there is a mini-game in progress by the position of the point marker (the thing that looks like a hockey puck). If it's resting on a point number at the top of the layout with the word ON visible on top of the marker then now is not the time to make a don't pass wager. You need to patiently wait until the shooter either sevens out (throws the 7) or makes his point number. After this occurs, the dealer will place the marker in the top corner of the layout with the word OFF facing up. When you see that, you'll know the next roll is a come out roll and now is the right time to make your don't pass wager.

I covered table etiquette with my friends and basically told them not to dangle their hands over the table (most craps players believe if the dice hit a player's hand it will cause them bad luck); don't root for the 7 on the point rolls (it would upset the pass line bettors who lose when the 7 is thrown on a point roll); place your bet on the layout before the dice are given to the shooter; don't talk to or jostle a shooter (again bad luck); and because they were betting on the don't pass line, I suggested they pass on throwing the dice. I showed them how to get chips by placing their money on the layout between dice throws (not handing the money to the dealer) and how to quickly pick up their chips and place them in the rails so as not to disrupt the player throwing the dice. I pointed out to them that they will be observing a lot of their fellow players making all kind of high percentage wagers on the layout before each dice roll and that they should ignore it all and just stay focused on their don't pass wager.

I finished with a quick lesson on money management. They felt comfortable with a $100 session bankroll so I told them to place the $100 worth of chips in the front rails and use these chips as their betting fund. When they won, they should place their winning chips in a lock up fund in the back rail. After they consumed their $100 betting fund, they should take stock of their winnings. I emphasized not to increase their betting level if they started to lose (discipline). If they found themselves ahead and wanted to take a slightly higher risk at the potential for greater profits, I suggested they increase their betting level by 50% following each consecutive win. I also recommended that if things were going well they consider pocketing 50% of any profits in their lock-up fund. In the event things were not going well and they had less money in their lock up fund then when they started, I suggested they take a break from the action before starting another session.

My tutorial took about 15 minutes. I spent another 15 minutes or so with them at a live $5 minimum table as they set out for the first time in their lives playing craps in a casino.

To say that they had a ball is an understatement. In fact they enjoyed the game so much they wanted me to teach them more. So I showed them how to make a few additional don't come bets along with their initial don't pass wager (the “Beginners Don't Pass Playing System” from my book, Craps: Take The Money & Run).

I remember vividly the last dinner together with our friends after a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. Fortunately, they had recouped their losses at slots with their newfound skills at the craps table. I remember them saying over and over how they underestimated how easy it was to play craps, how much fun they had, and how foolish they had been for not learning how to play sooner. I was happy for their good fortune, and beside I got to tell my wife “I told you so”.