Craps is easily the most fun and entertaining game in the casino, but to someone who has never played before it can appear extremely intimidating. It’s often crowded, it’s often noisy, it’s fast paced, and with a labyrinth of different bets the novice can get overwhelmed and not know where to start.
As a craps dealer, I have explained to beginners hundreds of times how to play. So much, in fact, that I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. With a game as complicated as craps, I’ve found that the best advice is always to keep it simple. Learn the basics, and later on figure out what your style is — your own personal way of playing.
In this article I will expound on the brief explanation I typically offer to beginners, which includes (a) how to play, (b) why the odds are better than any other table game, and (c) why I find it to be the best game of all-time.
The Pass Line
The first bet a beginner needs to know is what is called the “Pass Line.” To be eligible to roll the dice you first need to have a stake in the game. On the first roll, also known as the “come out roll,” the Pass Line wins on 7 and 11 and loses on 2, 3, and 12, which are known as “craps.” Any other number that appears on the dice will turn into what is called the “point.”
Those numbers include 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10.
The object of craps is to roll one of those six numbers, and repeat it before 7 rolls. Everything else is a side bet.
In theory, a roll can last forever — so long as 7 doesn’t come up. Since 7 is the most common number that can possibly appear on two six-sided dice, it becomes the only number you don’t want to see once a point is established. Below is a list of every number that can show up, and how many different ways it can be rolled:
2: 1-1 3: 1-2, 2-1 4: 1-3, 2-2, 3-1 5: 1-4, 2-3, 3-2, 4-1 6: 1-5, 2-4, 3-3, 4-2, 5-1 7: 1-6, 2-5, 3-4, 4-3, 5-2, 6-1 8: 2-6, 3-5, 4-4, 5-3, 6-2 9: 3-6, 4-5, 5-4, 6-3 10: 4-6, 5-5, 6-4 11: 5-6, 6-5 12: 6-6
As you can see, it’s a perfect mathematical triangle. The further out you move from 7, the fewer combinations exist. So on the first roll, the Come Out Roll, the shooter wins on 7 and 11 — meaning they have eight possible combinations to win on — and loses on 2, 3 and 12, meaning they have four possible combinations to lose on.
If I was to recommend one bet for a beginner to make, it’s the Pass Line. That is the gateway into learning craps. So long as you know that 7 and 11 win on the first roll, and 2, 3, and 12 lose on the first roll, you’ll have a foundation for the game.
Once you get past the first roll, and establish a point — which can be any of 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 or 10 — you will have the option of taking odds behind your Pass Line bet. This is the only bet in the casino that is not advertised, because it is the only bet in the casino that pays true odds. Here is what that means:
If the point is 6 or 8 the odds behind your Pass Line bet pay 6-to-5, because there are only five possible ways to roll either a 6 or 8, and six possible ways to roll a 7. (In other words, it pays 6-to-5 because your chances of winning are 5-to-6.)
If the point is 5 or 9 the odds behind your Pass Line bet pay 3-to-2, because there are only four possible ways to roll either a 5 or 9, and six possible ways to roll a 7. (In other words, it pays 3-to-2 because your chances of winning are 4-to-6.)
If the point is 4 or 10 the odds behind your Pass Line bet pay 2-to-1, because there are only three possible ways to roll either a 4 or 10, and six possible ways to roll a 7. (In other words, it pays 2-to-1 because your chances of winning are 3-to-6.)
Again, the math is perfect. It’s so perfect in fact that the casino doesn’t want you to know that there is one bet — taking odds — where the house has no edge. It’s the most clearly defined “if you know, you know” wager currently in existence. That’s why whenever you have the chance to take odds, you should take the maximum amount that’s allowed by the casino.
In most places, including where I work, the craps table offers 3x, 4x, and 5x odds. That means if the point is 4 or 10, you can bet 3x the amount of your Pass Line bet; if the point is 5 or 9 you can take 4x the amount of your Pass Line bet; if the point is 6 or 8 you can take 5x the amount of your Pass Line bet. If it’s a $5 game — let’s say — you can take $15 odds on the 4 and 10, $20 odds on the 5 and 9, and $25 odds on the 6 and 8.
The absolute best bet you can make on a craps table is playing the Pass Line and taking full odds. There, and only there, does the house have zero edge over you, the player. With that said, taking some odds is better than taking no odds. Craps is great because you aren’t forced to do anything. You can be as aggressive or as conservative as you want to be.
Place bets are where the real damage can get done on a craps table. Once the point has been established (and god willing you have taken your odds), you are also eligible to put money on what are known as “place bets.” This is what you see when you walk up to a craps table and realize six equally-sized squares on either side of the table, with the numbers 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10.
Here, you can set your money on the table and tell the dealer which number(s) you want to bet on. If, for argument’s sake, the point is 6, you could put money down on every number other than the 6 (since the Pass Line already represents 6). Below are the payouts for each Place Bet:
4: 9-to-5 5: 7-to-5 6: 7-to-6 8: 7-to-6 9: 7-to-5 10: 9-to-5
Again we see how, similar to the Pass Line odds, these numbers are reciprocals. The 4 and 10 both pay 9-to-5, the 5 and 9 both pay 7-to-5, and the 6 and 8 both pay 7-to-6. Because of these payouts, it behooves the player to bet in increments of $5 when playing all the “outside numbers” — 4, 5, 9 and 10 — and $6 increments on the 6 and 8 (since they pay 7-to-6).
Most conservative players, and beginners, like to bet exclusively on the 6 and 8 because those two numbers — aside from the dreaded 7 — come up more frequently than the rest. On any given roll there is a 10 out of 36 chance that either 6 or 8 roll, or about 28 percent of the time. The further out you move on the triangle I posted above, the less likely it is that number is going to roll — which is why they pay better.
One of the most popular bets for a beginner is The Field. It is perhaps the most heavily advertised space on a craps layout, located in arm’s reach no matter where on the rail you are standing. Below are all the numbers that win in The Field:
2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 12
The Field is a one-roll bet that pays even money on 3, 4, 9, 10 and 11, and pays 2-to-1 on both 2 and 12. (In many casinos the 12 pays 3-to-1, but for the purpose of simplicity we’ll just say the 2 and 12 are the same.)
It seems like a great bet, right? If any of seven numbers roll, you win, and you only lose on four of them (5, 6, 7 and 8). However, the reason it sounds too good to be true is because it is. Although you win on seven numbers and only lose on four, the four you lose on make up 20 of a possible 36 combinations on the dice. In others words, it’s an even money proposition for a bet that theoretically only wins 16 times in 36 rolls.
The house preys on novices to waste their money in the Field, which is why any time a beginner asks me if it’s a good bet I always say “16 ways to win, 20 ways to lose,” rather than “seven numbers you win, four numbers you lose.” That doesn’t make me a good employee who works for the casino — that wants to extract extra dollars from players making bad bets — but it does instill confidence in me, the dealer, who is only looking to offer a proper education.
So we’ve tackled the Pass Line, we’ve gone over taking odds, we’ve talked about Place Bets, we’ve even taken a brief look at the first sucker bet — The Field — so now we’ll get into the Come. The Come line is located just beyond The Field, a vast space that leads into the position of the Place Bets.
Come Bets work out exactly like the Pass Line. Whenever beginners ask me what it is I always say “it’s a game within a game,” which is both true and sounds kind of cool and mysterious. Basically, once the point is established players have the option of betting the Come, which effectively turns into another Pass Line bet.
Just as with the Pass Line, Come Bets win on 7 and 11 and lose on 2, 3, and 12. If any other number rolls your Come Bet will travel to that number, and at that point you will be eligible to take odds. The odds pay just like the Pass Line: odds on 6 and 8 pay 6-to-5, the odds on 5 and 9 pay 3-to-2, and the odds on the 4 and 10 pay 2-to-1.
I try to discourage beginners from playing the Come for the simple fact that I don’t want to give them too much, too soon. If in your first craps session you understand how the Pass Line works, and to stay away from Field bets, you are already winning.
The reason Come Bets don’t really jive with my brand of playing craps is because a number has to get rolled twice for you to win your money. If you make a $5 Come Bet and 6 rolls, you need the 6 to roll again in order to get paid. In my opinion, you are much better off simply making a Place Bet on the 6, where you only need it to roll once to realize a return on your investment.
With that said, basic strategy on craps — the optimal way to mathematically play — is to bet the Pass Line with full odds, and two Come Bets with full odds. There, you essentially have three separate points where the house has zero advantage on you. I’d be remiss without mentioning that, but again it’s not how I, personally, would opt to do it.
Don’t Pass (Bar 12)
This is where the game gets kind of fucked up. Remember how I spent all that time talking about the Pass Line, taking full odds, making Place Bets and Come Bets? Well, there is another way to play craps. It’s basically the complete opposite version I wrote about above.
Whereas, once the point is established, the only number you can lose on when betting the Pass Line is 7, in betting the Don’t Pass the only number you win on is 7. On the Don’t Pass, you are betting that the shooter is not going to make their point. You want 7 to roll.
Almost everything on the Don’t Pass is opposite the Pass Line. On the come out roll the Don’t Pass loses on 7 and 11, wins on 2 and 3, and pushes on 12. It’s a common thought that the “house number,” the number the house wants to roll more than any other, is 7. That’s not true. The real “house number” is 12. Because while the Pass Line loses on 2, 3 and 12 on the come out roll, the Don’t Pass wins only on 2 and 3. It does not win on 12. When 12 rolls, the Don’t Pass pushes.
That’s what you see on the Don’t Pass. Next to those two words you will see the word “Bar” and two dice that show 12. Bar means “push.”
Doing a Lay on the Don’t Pass is exactly opposite of taking odds on the Pass Line. On the Pass Line you are betting less to win more, and on the Don’t Pass you are laying more to win less. Here are the odds you get for laying numbers:
4: 1-to-2 5: 2-to-3 6: 5-to-6 8: 5-to-6 9: 2-to-3 10: 1-to-2
Does that look familiar? On the Pass Line odds on the 4 and 10 pay 2-to-1, but on the Don’t Pass they pay 1-to-2 (also known as “half”). On the Pass Line odds on the 5 and 9 pay 3-to-2 (blackjack), but on the Don’t Pass they pay 2-to-3 (a reverse blackjack). On the Pass Line odds on the 6 and 8 pay 6-to-5, but on the Don’t Pass they pay 5-to-6. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?
The lay on the Don’t Pass, much like the odds on the Pass Line, still pay true odds. Only in this case you are betting on the most common number to roll — 7 — before the shooter makes his or her point. So if you bet a $30 lay on the 4 or 10, you are only getting $15 back when 7 rolls. If you bet a $30 lay on the 5 or 9, you are only getting $20 back. If you bet a $30 lay on the 6 or 8, you are only getting $25 back.
The reason for this is the same reason it pays better on the Pass Line. There are still six ways to roll a 7, and still only 3 ways to roll a 4 or 10; that’s why you are only getting paid half. Because once the point is established the odds are in your favor.
As an aside, lay bets must be proper. Since the 4 and 10 pay 1-to-2, or half, you should bet even numbers. If you bet an odd number, like $25, you will only get paid $12 in return and the house will gobble up the remainder. Since the 5 and 9 pay 2-to-3, you should bet in increments of $3. Since the 6 and 8 pay 5-to-6, you should bet in increments of $6. If you don’t, you are giving the casino free money.
If you know how Come bets work, then you know how Don’t Come bets work. It’s exactly like the Don’t Pass. You win on 2 and 3, lose on 7 and 11, and push on 12. If any other number rolls, your Don’t Come bet will travel behind that number. If that number rolls again you lose your money; if 7 rolls you win. It’s that simple.
Just as with the Don’t Pass, once a number rolls you have the option of making a Lay bet to accompany your Don’t Come bet. The odds work out exactly like the Don’t Pass.
At any time you can make what are known as a bet on the Hardways, which is basically a prop bet saying that 2-2 (hard four), 3-3 (hard six), 4-4 (hard eight), or 5-5 (hard ten) will appear on the dice. If you roll any of these pairs on the dice then you win, but if you roll the “easy” way of that number, or 7, you lose. Below are the payouts for the Hardways:
Hard 4: 7-to-1 Hard 6: 9-to-1 Hard 8: 9-to-1 Hard 10: 7-to-1
The reason the Hard 4 and Hard 10 pay less than Hard 6 and Hard 8 is because there are fewer combinations of 4 and 10 on the dice than there are 6 and 8. There are only three ways to roll a 4 (1-3, 2-2, 3-1) or 10 (4-6, 5-5, 6-4), while there are five ways to roll a 6 (1-5, 2-4, 3-3, 4-2, 5-1) or 8 (2-6, 3-5, 4-4, 5-3, 6-2).
On any given roll there is only a 4-in-36 chance that you roll a Hardway, and there is only a 1-in-36 chance that you roll a specific Hardway. When you put that up against the four easy ways that exist on 6 or 8, or the two easy ways that exist on 4 and 10, and you are obviously looking at a money-making bet for the casino, and a sucker bet for the player.
My best advice is to stay away from the Hardways completely, but you can be damn sure that whoever the dealer handling the stick is will be trying to sell you on these bets. Craps is a simple game and makes money for the casino in simple ways: players see those loud SEVEN TO ONE and NINE TO ONE payouts and they usually want a piece of it.
Speaking of horrible bets for the player, let’s get into the Horn Bet. A Horn is a four-piece bet that wins on 2, 3, 11 (also known as “yo”) and 12, and loses if any other number rolls. It is a one-roll proposition: you either win or you lose. It isn’t like the Hardways — that stay up so long as the easy way of that number rolls, or 7 — and it isn’t like the Pass Line, Don’t Pass, Come or Don’t Come. All of those bets will stay up until there is a decision on the dice.
Since the Horn is a four-piece bet, it behooves the player (if they are one to throw their money away) to bet in increments of $4. If the low side of the Horn comes in — that being 3 or 11 — every $4 wins you $12 (3-to-1). If the high side of the Horn comes in — that being 2 or 12 — every $4 wins you $27. The payout for each individual number that appears on the Horn is as follows:
2: 30-to-1 3: 15-to-1 11: 15-to-1 12: 30-to-1
Here, we see why a $4 Horn pays $12 when 3 and 11 roll, and why it pays $27 when 2 or 12 roll. We are subtracting the losing bets from the winner. A $4 Horn is equivalent to there being $1 each on those four numbers. So 3 and 11 each pay 15-to-1, and we subtract the $3 from the other three numbers that didn’t win (giving us $12). The 2 and 12 each pay 30-to-1, and we subtract the $3 from the other three numbers that didn’t win (giving us $27).
It is on these long-shot bets that the casino really cleans up. There are two ways to roll a 3, and two ways to roll an 11, but either of those numbers only pay 15-to-1. You have a 2-in-36 chance — or 1-in-18 — yet it only pays you 15-to-1. That makes the house edge a whopping 16.6%.
Similarly, there is one way to roll a 2, and one way to roll a 12, but either of those numbers only pay 30-to-1. You have a 1-in-36 chance to roll either a 2 or 12 in any given roll, yet it only pays you 30-to-1. The house edge remains at a mammoth 16.6%.
Some people bet the Horn for fun. Others bet it as insurance on the Pass Line during the come out roll, since the Pass Line loses on 2, 3 and 12 and the Horn bet wins on those three numbers. My best advice is to stay away, but if you are going to bet it make sure it’s in $4 increments (or else the house will collect what is known as “breakage”, or fractions of a dollar that the player loses).
Since we have now gone over the payouts for the Horn, now we can do Hop bets. These are also one-roll propositions, and they are also sucker bets. But for the purposes of this article and the complete education I aim to give you, we’ll just glide over this.
As stated above, there are 36 combinations on the dice. On any given roll you can throw money into the stick person and tell them you want to “hop” a specific number. That includes any of the following:
4: 1-3, 2-2 5: 2-3, 1-4 6: 2-4, 3-3, 5-1 7: 1-6, 2-5, 3-4 8: 2-6, 4-4, 3-5 9: 3-6, 4-5 10: 4-6, 5-5
The payout for Hop bets is either 15-to-1 (like a 3 or 11) or 30-to-1 (like a 2 or 12). If any easy way comes it pays 15 times the bet, and if a hard way comes it pays 30 times. But it is only a one-roll bet. My best advice is to stay away from these completely as well, as the house edge is the same as on a Horn.
Craps features the most superstitious gamblers in the casino. As someone who doesn’t live according to all that mumbo jumbo I think it’s all rather silly, but if you are a beginner I would recommend doing whatever you can not to piss off other players at the table.
The first, and most important lesson in etiquette on craps is to never say the word “seven,” for obvious reasons. Most everyone loses their money when 7 rolls. The craps table — players, dealers, floor people — goes to great lengths to disguise itself from words that come close to even resembling the sound of that word.
In discussing Horn Bets I mentioned that 11 is also called “yo.” This is because “seven” and “eleven” sound similarly. We also witness this when people throw in money to bet on the 7, and dealers will repeat their bet by calling the 7 a “red.” Red means 7 on a craps table.
The second-best form of table etiquette is to not buy in during the middle of a roll. Once the point has been established, players will blame somebody who decides to buy in if a 7 comes up on the next roll. They are always looking for somebody to blame, somebody to shit on for breaking up the momentum of the game. So if you see the puck “ON” a number — meaning the point has already been established — just wait patiently and buy in once the number hits or once 7 rolls. (It usually doesn’t take too long.)
The third, and perhaps last, bit of table etiquette is to not have your hands in the middle of the layout placing bets once the dice are out. If the shooter hits your hands and 7 ends up rolling, everyone on the table is going to blame you. Obviously by this point we all know that 7 is the most common number that rolls, but that doesn’t mean a thing if the dice hit your hands and it happens to be a 7 that comes up. It still counts as a roll, and it still means that you are going to be the enemy of everyone that has money riding on the layout.
Tipping The Dealers
A surefire way for you to have a good time playing craps is if you give the dealers a stake in the game. I know I sound a bit biased in saying so, but I don’t know. For me, personally, I like those around me to have a good time while I am having a good time. It doesn’t matter if I’m gambling, or tipping servers, or food handlers. I always take care of the people who are putting on the show.
There is no such thing as a bad bet if it’s for the dealers. Whenever somebody who doesn’t know asks me “How I do I tip you?”, I usually tell them “You win, I win,” and put the bet beside theirs on the Pass Line. Sometimes they will voluntarily bet it for the dealers, or “for the boys,” on the Hardways. Sometimes they make Place Bets for the dealers. And, shit, sometimes they just throw us money and tell us to put it in our toke (tip) box.
No matter what, it’s a good way to get the dealers on your side. If you bet for the dealers, then the dealers want you to win. You won’t be relegated to all of us thinking in the back (or front) of our minds that “I hope 7 rolls so this piece of shit will get the fuck out of here.” From the perspective of a dealer, there isn’t very much worse than a player who wins a shitload of money and doesn’t even think about taking care of the people who have been paying them the whole time.
Listen, craps a helluva game. There is a lot going on. Even if you study this entire article and have a game plan for your first experience on a craps table, there is a good chance that your ability to process everything will be going at high speed once you are actually there. There is absolutely no harm in asking the dealers if you are doing it right.
Most of the time, the dealers will be more than happy to help (since they work for tips). Occasionally you’ll run into a group of old curmudgeon dealers who are unhappy with their life choices and won’t have the patience for you, but fuck ’em. It’s quite amazing what you can accomplish by putting a $5 chip on the Pass Line. In no time at all the stick person will remind everyone at the table that “Dealers are on the line!”
I have been dealing craps since March 13th, 2015, and I still remember it to the day because of how traumatic an experience it was for me. It took me a solid six months before I felt truly comfortable on the game, and another two years before I felt like I had it mastered, under my control. It’s by far the hardest game for a dealer to learn. Any dealer can handle all the other games; not every dealer is a craps dealer.
I take a lot of pride in what I do, even as insignificant in a real-world way it happens to be. It was never enough for me to climb the mountain and learn the game; for me, I wanted it to be a way of being able to showcase myself and show off. Craps is a game that is meant for the players to have fun, and me and my craps crew aim to give the best experience we can. I want you, the player, to enjoy yourself.
There is simply no rival for the game of craps.