How to play Craps
Craps is among the most confusing and exciting casino games. If you happen to hear an uproar coming from any of the gaming tables, you can almost be certain that the center of attention is two tumbling dice. The pace is fast and the potential winnings are huge.
To play craps is paradoxically simple and complex. Craps has a long history. Games played with dice are among the oldest forms of gambling. According to Greek mythology, the Olympian gods threw dice to determine how to split up the Universe.
That’s how Zeus, the big winner, got his place in the heavens, Poseidon was given control over the seas, and the loser, Hades, ended up with the underworld as his domain. Some 10,000 years ago, our human ancestors used four-sided sheep hucklebones called astragali for recreational purposes—“throwing bones.”
By 3000 B.C., players began filing the bones into cubes so that they would roll more smoothly. Eventually, more consistent materials, such as ivory, jade and wood, were used to make the cubes, and six-sided dice were born.
The addition of pips (dots or spots) to mark their faces came into vogue around 1300 B.C. By 500 B.C., a board game using dice became popular in India— Parcheesi—and two hundred years later, another enduring dice-based board game evolved to become Backgammon.
By comparison, the dice game we know today as Craps is a relatively modern invention. It has been said that William of Tyre and soldiers of the Crusades created a game called “Hazard” to pass the time.
It is played with two dice, and the value of a roll is the total number of pips showing on the sides facing up. In Hazard, rolls totaling two or three are called “crabs,” and a player who roles them “crabs out.”
From England via France, this game passed on to America, where Bernard de Mandeville was said to have perfected it with “field” and “come” bets in New Orleans in 1813.
He named the new form of the game “Craps,” which is likely a corruption of either “crabs” or the French word for a pair of ones.
Craps can be played either against other players or against a banker known as “the house.” In the former version, two or more players form a circle, place wagers in the middle or “center,” and bet against themselves.
Discussion here, however, will be focused on the latter version, which is mostly common played online as well as at specially designed tables in land-based casinos.
Craps Rules – The Table and Basic Bets
In both casinos and on online, all bets are made on a playing surface that roughly resembles a billiard table. Its face is divided into betting areas, and the five most basic wagers are clearly marked: Pass Line, Don’t Pass, Come, Don’t Come, and Field.
PASS LINE – This is an even-money wager and the most common place for new players to start. Bets placed here will win 1-to-1 odds immediately if a natural seven or an eleven is thrown on the first roll by the “shooter” (i.e., the person who throws the two dice).
However, if the shooter throws a combination totaling two, three or twelve, which are collectively known as “craps,” all Pass Line bets lose immediately. Any other value rolled (i.e., a total of 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 or 10) is called “the point.”
The shooter must continue rolling until the point is obtained, in which case the Pass Line bets pay out 1-to-1. However, if a value of seven is rolled before the shooter makes the point, then all of the Pass Line wagers lose and the shooter must pass the dice to the next player in turn, clockwise.
DON’T PASS – This is also an even-money wager, and the reverse of the Pass Line. Bets placed here lose if the shooter comes out with a natural seven or eleven, they win on craps totaling two or three, and they push (no winner) on craps totaling twelve.
Bets here lose if the shooter makes the point, and they win if a seven is thrown before the point is made.
COME – Another even-money bet, this wager is not available when the shooter first rolls, but can be made any time after the point has been established.
Like the Pass Line bets, wagers placed here will win on a natural seven or eleven and lose on any craps. Any other number that shows up is called “the come point.” To win, the come point must be rolled before a seven, otherwise it loses.
DON’T COME – Like the Come bet, this even-money wager can only be made after the point has been established. It wins on craps two or three, loses on natural seven or eleven, and is a stand-off (push, tie or draw) on a roll totaling twelve.
Once the come point is established, this bet wins if a seven appears before the come point is made and loses otherwise.
FIELD – This is a single roll bet that can be made at any time. It pays even money, 1-to-1, on the roll of a 3, 4, 9, 10 or 11. It pays double, 2-to-1, if a two or a twelve comes up. All other totals (i.e., 5, 6, 7, or 8) are losers.
Play Craps – Additional Bets
Many beginners start out by limiting themselves to the five basic wagers described above. However, with the exception of the Field, these are simply even-money bets, with little expectation of winning or losing much in the short term.
For that reason, it is a good idea to become familiar with the other types of bets available on the table, which pay out at much higher odds. There are four additional betting areas to be aware of, as follows:
ODDS – This bet is made in the unmarked portion of the table adjacent to the Pass Line, also known as the “apron.” It is where you can increase your Pass wager, once a point has been established.
Stack your additional chips directly behind the original bet on the apron. (For Come bets, tell the dealer, who will place the chips for you.) The limit you can bet depends upon what odds the house offers. You can double up at 2X odds, triple your bet at 3X odds, and so on up to 20X or even 50X at some casinos.
This is called “buying odds” or “taking odds.” The payoffs on these wagers are 2-to-1 on a winning point of four or ten, 3-to-2 on a winning point of five or nine, and 6-to-5 for a winning point of six or eight.
For odds on Don’t Pass or Don’t Come bets, you must tell the dealer you want to “lay odds” and give the chips directly to the dealer to place on the table for you in the designated areas. Do not do so yourself.
BIG 6 OR BIG 8 – This even-money bet pays 1-to-1 if a six is thrown before a seven comes up (Big 6) or an eight appears before a seven is thrown (Big 8). Craps experts agree 100% that this is a terrible wager.
Not only are the odds strongly in the house’s favour, but there is a more promising wager that can be used to cover the 6 or 8: Place Bets.
PLACE BETS – Once the point has been established on the first roll, you may place bets on the numbers 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10, straight up. If the shooter throws any of these numbers before throwing a seven, you win.
The payoffs are 9-to-5 for a four or ten, 7-to-5 on a five or nine, and 7-to-6 for a six or eight. As you can see, the latter pays much better than Big 6 or Big 8. Also, place bets may be taken off any time before a roll.
PROPOSITION BETS – In the very center of the Craps table, you will see a number of smaller betting areas, some showing combinations of dice faces. This is where the proposition bets are placed.
Some of these areas can be bet at anytime, while others are available for wagering only after the point has been established. Again, experts agree almost universally that proposition bets are bad wagers.
They can be fun to play, but they carry a very high house advantage. The specific bets and their associated payouts are treated separately, below.
Getting Ready To Play Craps
Now that you know the table layout and understand the basics of betting, you will want to give the bones a roll. When you are the shooter playing at a casino, a staff member called the “stickman” or “croupier” will use a long wooden stick with a curved end (“the whip”) to push five dice toward you.
With one hand (never two), select any two of the dice you would like to use. The stickman will then pull back the other three, taking them out of play.
You will notice that there is another piece of Craps equipment on the table besides that dice and the stick—the ON/OFF Chip Button. This is a circular marker that looks a bit like a hockey puck.
One side is white bearing the word “ON” in black letters and the other side is black with the word “OFF” in white letters. When the OFF side is showing, no point has been established and no bets may be placed in areas of the table restricted to post-point betting.
Once a point has been established, the croupier will turn the button over to “ON” and all types of bets other than Pass/Don’t Pass may be made.
Before you throw the dice the button will be OFF. That’s the time to place your “coming out” bet. If you think you can win by rolling an initial seven or eleven, or by rolling a point and making it, you will place your wager on the Pass Line.
If you think you will lose by throwing craps on the initial roll, or by establishing a point and then rolling a seven before you make it, you will place your wager on the Don’t Pass bar. (Note: As a common rule of thumb, most shooters start by betting on a Pass, rather than betting against themselves.)
After the initial bets are down, it is time to throw the dice. The croupier will call, “Shooter coming out, no more bets.” It is important that you throw the dice to the far end of the table, away from you.
Both dice must hit the far wall and bounce off for the roll to count. If a die fails to reach the end of the table or flies off the table and out of play, the croupier will call “no dice,” and you will have to throw again. Also, if a die lands on top of some chips so that it is unclear which face is showing up, a re-throw will be required.
Assuming the coming-out roll is “clean,” the croupier will call out the result, pay winners, and rake in losers by using the stick. If a point is established, the croupier will turn the button to ON and position it above the corresponding number on the Place Bets portion of the table.
The dice will be returned to you, more bets will be placed, and you will continue rolling until you make your point or roll a seven, whichever comes first. Then, the table will be paid or cleared, the button will return to OFF, and a new series of rolls will begin.
You will continue to hold the dice and be the shooter even if you throw craps on your first roll. Throwing craps after a point has been established does not affect the point or the rolls.
The only time you lose your right to be the shooter is when you throw a seven before making an established point. That’s called “seven out” (not “crap out”), and the next player to your left will be offered the dice.
Please note that it is considered bad etiquette to stop shooting or leave the table before your turn as shooter has ended. If you do not feel comfortable about throwing the dice yourself, you can pass your turn when it comes.
It is not necessary to accept the dice when they are offered, nor is it necessary to bet when others are coming out.
Play Craps – Odds and Progressions
The casino always has an advantage, of course, but Craps offers some of the best odds of all table games. The house edge on the Pass Line is only 1.41%, which is far better than Roulette (2.70% to 5.26%) and comparable to Blackjack (0.21% to 5.9%).
For this reason, it is possible to play a progressive betting strategy, and many beginning players start with the Martingale gambling system, doubling up on a loss.
To begin, you bet one unit on the Pass Line. If you win, put your profit (one unit) to the side and start a new series, betting one unit again. If the Pass Line loses, double your wager (two units) and bet on it again.
You will continue to double your bets in this manner until you win. Then, set your profit (one unit) aside and begin the series again.
Unfortunately, this approach has a couple of inherent drawbacks. First, unlike Roulette or Blackjack, there can be many inconclusive rolls between making your initial bet and learning its outcome. This makes for a very slow and uninteresting game.
Also, streaks are quite common at Craps. Should you be fortunate enough to win seven straight throws, your accumulated profit will be seven units. However, if you lose seven throws, your net loss will be 127 units.
According to Martingale, you must then wager 128 units on the next roll, risking a total of 255 units to win just one—hardly a good bet, especially with the odds against you at 50.71%.
Perhaps a better progression for betting at Craps is the Anti-Martingale system, doubling up when you win. Your objective might be to win three bets in a row. Winning such a series will bring you seven units in profit.
You start out by betting a single unit on the Pass Line. If you win, double the wager for the next throw. If you lose, return to betting one unit. Your strategy is to win enough short streaks to cover any losses, and you will never have more than one unit of your own money at risk.
Once you get comfortable with this simple strategy, you can extend it to a similar series of bets on the Come. You may also wish to use your winnings to take odds on your Pass Line bets whenever a point is made.
In fact, taking odds is the one “free” bet you can make at the Craps table, since the payouts are exactly the same as the odds, with no house advantage other than the 1.41% against your initial Pass Line bet.
How to Speak Craps
As you begin to spend time at the table, you will soon discover that Craps has its own special language, which can be quite colourful. Phrases are used to describe the combinations that come up, such as “Little Joe from Kokomo” meaning a combination of a one and a three rolled together or “Big Dick” for a four and a six.
Others are “Snake Eyes” for a pair of ones, “Yo” referring to the number eleven, and “Midnight” or “Box Cars” for a pair of sixes. Although it is not necessary to master the language of Craps in order to play and win the game, familiarity with some of the most basic terms will be useful.
One important term is “Press.” This is the act of increasing a bet, usually by a factor of two, although you can press a bet by any amount you wish. You simply need to instruct the dealer as to how much you wish to add, such as “Press the nine, five dollars.”
Another important term is “Parlay.” This is when you take the winnings from a bet and use them to increase your initial bet for the next roll. You can instruct the dealer to do so by saying “let it ride.”
A third key term is “Off.” This is an instruction to the dealer to take a wager out of play. For example, if you have made a Place Bet on the six and a six comes up a couple of times, you may wish to collect your winnings and tell the dealer to “turn off the six.”
A small black marker called a “lammer” will be placed on your chips to indicate that they are not in play for the next roll. You can put them back in play whenever you like between rolls by telling the dealer to “turn on the six.”
Other terms you will encounter frequently are related to chips and they include “Money Plays” for a bet made with cash instead of tokens, “No Bet” when a bet is made too late or cannot be accepted for some reason, and “Change Only.”
This last phrase refers to placing a large value chip on the table between rolls to get smaller value chips. It is important that you make sure the dealer hears you say this, otherwise your big chip may be mistaken for a bet.
As noted previously, the center portion of the table layout is divided into areas for proposition bets. This is where the highest odds are paid and the house has its greatest advantage. It is also a part of the table strictly controlled by the dealers, and you must ask for your chips to be placed there.
Beginners are usually advised to steer clear of this section until they master the basics, but you will certainly want to understand what the opportunities and risks are if you are going to spend time at the tables.
Perhaps the “safest” and easiest proposition bet is a “split bet” placed on the small circles marked “C&E.” The “C” refers to craps and the “E” refers to eleven. A bet on both circles costs a minimum of two units. It will pay 7-to-1 for any craps rolled (2, 3 or 12) or 15-to-1 for a “Yo” (11).
It will lose if any other number comes up. To make the C&E bet, toss two units on the apron and tell the dealer “C&E.” Do not try to position the bets yourself.
Another split bet is the “Hi-Lo,” betting on the extremes, two and twelve. Although any craps pays 7-to-1, this bet pays 30-to-1. Again, do not try to place the bet yourself.
Put your wager on the apron and tell the dealer “High-Lo.” If a two or a twelve comes up before you lose this bet 29 times in a row, you’ll be a winner.
Similar to these split bets is a four-unit wager called “The Horn.” It is a single roll bet similar to C&E that the 2, 3, 11, 12 will show up. The Horn pays 15-to-1 for a three or an eleven.
It pays 30-to-1 for a two or a twelve. Be aware that these are four of the worst bets on the table, although they do carry high odds. Combining Hi-Lo with the Horn is also possible and costs five units. A Hi-Horn has an extra unit on the twelve, and a Lo-Horn has an extra unit on the two.
Much more popular than these split bets are “hard way” bets. “Hard way” refers to any non-crap pair— two 2s, two 3s, two 4s, or two 5s. Hard way bets are not single roll wagers. You are betting that a hard-way number will come up before its “easy” (non-pair) counterpart or a seven.
Hard-way bets on the six and eight pay 9-to-1. They pay 7-to-1 on the four and ten. Again, tell the dealer if you want to make this bet by placing your wager on the apron and say “hard eight” or “hard six.” Wager four units if you want to take “all hard ways.”
Another proposition bet—with such poor odds that many casinos do not even offer it—is the so-called “Hop.” This is a one roll bet on a specific dice combination for the next roll.
To place this bet, you must be very specific, calling out to the dealer the combination desired and the amount wagered, such as “three, two hops for a dollar.” In this example, if a three and a two show, you will win 15-to-1.
However, a roll of a four and a one would be a loser on this bet; the total doesn’t matter, just the actual two numbers that come up. Just for reference, true odds on this bet are 1:18.
Lastly, you can place proposition bets on the “Yo” by itself, paying 15-to-1 for a single roll. A bet on “any seven” will pay with odds of 4-to-1 on a single roll. Again, these are not considered to be good bets.
When used by knowledgeable players, they are almost always as “insurance” or a “hedge bet” in conjunction with other wagers, not as stand-alone bets.
Play Craps – A Simple Strategy
To get the most out of your Craps table experience, you will want to have a plan that takes advantage of the best odds available. As previously mentioned, the house advantage is 1.41% on the Pass Line.
On the Don’t Pass bar, the edge is slightly lower, at 1.36%. However, when you take Odds at 2X on the Pass Line, the house’s advantage drops considerably, to just 0.60%, and it is only 0.45% on Don’t Pass when you lay 2X Odds.
At 100X, the house edge is reduced to 0.021% and 0.014%, respectively. Taking or laying odds, therefore, should be a central part of your play.
The problem, of course, is that few beginning players can afford to back a wager at 100 times for very many rolls, so you will begin by reinforcing your initial bets at 1X or 2X Odds, and then complement them with other bets when a point has been established.
The idea will be to have enough combinations covered, so that you have a good possibility of winning something on every roll without putting too much at risk.
Let’s suppose you begin with a $5 bet on the Pass Line and a six is rolled. You will back up your initial bet by placing $10 on the apron and taking 2X Odds. If a six comes up before a seven, you will win $5 for the Pass and $12 for the Odds at 6-to-5 for a total of $17 in winnings.
Your total risk is $15. But if you make no other bets, you may see a lot of rolls go by before you win or lose, so it is a good idea to make at least one Place Bet whenever a point has been established.
Most players like to buy the number “opposite” the point. For example, if the point is six, you would place a bet on the eight, the number on the opposite side of seven.
The minimum wager is six units, because it pays 7-to-6. There are five ways to roll a six (1+5, 2+4, 3+3, 4+2 and 5+1) and five ways to roll an eight (2+6, 3+5, 4+4, 5+3 and 6+2). Now you have 10 ways to win and only six ways to lose to a seven (1+6, 2+5, 3+4, 4+3, 5+2, and 6+1).
Each time an eight comes up before a seven, you will win $7. Winning twice will bring you $14 in profit and you may wish to “turn off the eight,” pocket your gains and wait for a six to show. Or maybe you will prefer to parlay your winnings for the chance to win even more.
To parlay your Place Bet, the first time the eight comes up, you will call “let it ride.” The dealer will double your $6 bet and give you $1 in profit.
When the eight hits again, you will win $14 plus the $6 you let ride and the $1 profit, for a total of $21 in winnings. Now you can turn off the eight and your initial Pass bet and 2X Odds are fully covered.
If the point is eight, then you can put a Place Bet on its opposite, the six. If the point is five, you can bet on the nine opposite, and if the point is four, you can wager on the ten, and vice versa. The odds are different on these, but the strategy is the same.
Your objective is to win the Place Bet twice before the shooter loses or wins. And if the point is made, you can either have your wager returned or else leave it “off” until the next point is established and move it to the corresponding opposite number.
Play Craps – Additional Approaches to Wagering
Place Bets on the six and eight are so popular that many players will wager on them whenever available. The house edge is just 1.52% on these. So instead of betting the ten opposite a point of four or the nine opposite a point of five, you may wish to bet on both the six and the eight.
To cover the additional cost, you can take 1X Odds rather than 2X Odds on points of 4, 5, 9 or 10. For reference, the house advantage on five and nine is 4.00%, and it is 6.67% on the four and ten.
As you become more confident in your play, consider trying out some other wagers in conjunction with your basic bets. On an even numbered point (4, 6, 8, or 10), many players like to buy the corresponding hard way to give their Pass Line bet some extra “kick.”
After a series of points made, some shooters will begin using their profits to hedge by buying the seven at 4-to-1 odds, although the house edge is a whopping 16.67%. Others will begin betting C&E in addition to the Pass Line as their insurance policy.
Field Bets carry a house advantage of 5.56% when paying 2-to-1 on the two and twelve. In some casinos, 3-to-1 is paid on either the two or the twelve, but never both, lowering the edge to 2.78%. Remember, this is a single throw bet.
You may wish to bet the Field when you are “on a roll” (winning consistently), and then parlay winnings using the Anti-Martingale strategy. It is an inexpensive way to get more action out of the table.
A few casinos and online gambling sites also allow “Place Bets to Lose.” In other words, you are betting on a seven coming up before the number selected. Such wagers can also be used to hedge Pass Line bets.
Other less common bets used to hedge are “Buy” bets and “Lay” bets. These are the same as Place Bets and Place Bets to Lose, but a commission (typically 5%) is charged by the house to make them, the minimum wager is 20 units, and they pay true odds.
You may also encounter something called the “Put” bet in certain casinos. This is a wager that increases the value of a Pass Line or Come bet after a point has been established.
It is not considered a good gamble unless valued at least four to six times the initial wager, or more. Players are better advised to take Odds.
A Note about Cheating at Craps
Some folks subscribe to the theory that that the best way to avoid being cheated is to know how to cheat. If that’s you, then here are some things to be aware of.
Craps table etiquette has been created to discourage cheating. That’s why you must use only one hand to handle the dice. Too many people have tried to substitute “loaded” or unbalanced dice for the real ones.
It is also why the stickman offers you five dice—so that if unbalanced dice were to enter the game, the chances of a shooter picking up two of them are diminished.
Similarly, you do not place your own chips on certain parts of the table. This discourages “past posting,” the act of slipping chips into a stack or placing late bets after the outcome is already known.
The “rail” around the edge of the table contains a groove for storing your chips. These are partitioned so that one player’s chips are not inadvertently mixed with another’s.
When the table is crowded and action is hot, thieves sometimes reach in and try to grab a few chips, or else a player may try to move chips from your section over to his/her own. This is why table etiquette requires new players to wait until an open place at the table is available. Never reach between players to place a bet.
A few cheats have learned ways of throwing the dice that gives them an advantage. They are known as “mechanics,” and the most proficient can hold and throw the dice to come up whatever combination they want. Craps dealers and pit bosses are always on the look out for such players.
They watch for “whip shots” that send the dice spinning vertically without turning over. Again, this is one reason why your throw must hit the opposite end of the table to be considered a clean roll.
In the past, casino dealers had been known to cheat customers by taking idle “off” chips from the table, shorting a player’s winnings, or moving proposition bets to losing areas.
But these instances are extremely rare nowadays. The house has the advantage and it is in the dealers’ best interests to operate a fair game. Nevertheless, the old saying holds true: “Keep both eyes open when playing Craps—one on the dice and the other on your chips.”
Playing Craps Online
Whenever you play carps online—it is always a good idea to conduct a search for both trusted and blacklisted web sites. You will only want to play at an online casino where results are consistent with a random play and legitimate winnings are always paid out.
If for any reason you do not trust a site, simply leave it and play elsewhere. There are plenty of trustworthy online casinos where you can play baccarat.
After you have selected a site, read the rules of the Craps game before you place a bet. As noted, there are some subtle differences between versions, especially regarding odds and types of bets accepted.
Games such as “crapless craps” and “high point craps” have different rules and payouts. Until you have mastered the basics of the standard game, it is unwise to wager on these variations.
If you are sure that you understand the online Craps rules and believe that the odds are fair, it is a good idea to spend a bit of time playing in the “for fun” mode.
You can play for credits, not cash, and get a good sense of the game. There is no need to risk any real money until you feel comfortable. Again, you can leave and choose another game or site if something doesn’t seem quite right.
Most online Craps games are individual, not multiplayer. For that reason, you will control the pace of play. Take as much time as you like to consider what bets you want to place between rolls.
Use any books, odds tables, strategy charts or reference software at your disposal. Unlike the tables at land-based casinos, the online Craps environment favours beginners. It also allows faster play for experts, too.
Assuming you choose to play at an online casino that offers bonus cash—and you most certainly should—make sure that you find out whether playing Craps qualifies for bonus redemption.
A number of web sites exclude certain table games from promotional play. You can avoid problems later by carefully studying the terms and conditions of play before you come out shooting.