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How Many Numbers Should You Cover at Craps?

5 July 1999

By Alan Krigman


How Many Numbers Should You Cover at Craps?

Part of the allure of craps, and the heart of countless systems and strategies, is the variety of ways players spread money around the table. "Right" bettors, especially, want to win when any of several numbers -- and not just the "point" -- are thrown. This is usually done after the "come-out" roll with Place or Come bets on one or more of the four, five, six, eight, nine, and 10.

I'll illustrate the whys, wherefores, and why nots in terms of solid citizens willing to start a round risking $30 per shooter.

One option is to bet $10 on the Pass line and take $20 odds. Everything on a single number. Assume six is the point. The bet pays $34 if a six appears. It loses $30 if a seven shows instead. Nothing else has any effect. But a shooter could have a long roll, number after number, never repeating the six. The bettor would lose $30 waiting in vain for the point, while players whose chips dotted the layout were amassing the spoils of hit upon hit.

Another $30 player could bet $5 on Pass and take $10 odds, then place three numbers other than the point for $5 each. Say the point is six and the Place bets are on four, five, and nine. The six would pay $17, fours are worth $9, and fives and nines $7 each. Nothing would lose until the seven reared its ugly head.

The second player could profit from a roll that included fours, fives, and nines -- even if the shooter never made the point. For instance, three hits on each of these numbers would bring in $69. If the Place bets were kept the same after they hit, $30 would eventually be lost on a seven, for net gain of $69 - $30 = $39.

Spreading has drawbacks as well as benefits. A shooter might repeat a point immediately then miss-out on the next round, hitting nothing else. A player with $5 flat and $10 odds on a six, plus $15 in Place bets, would collect $17 then forfeit $30, losing $13 net. In contrast, betting the $30 as $10 on Pass and $20 odds would have won $34 before losing $30, for a $4 profit.

Which way is better? Gobbledygook by the gurus aside, how many numbers to have active is a matter of personal preference. For whatever you're comfortable putting at risk, would you rather grab for bigger payoffs on fewer numbers, or try to eke out profits or trim your losses in more smaller stages?

Everyone knows what they should have done after a roll is over. In advance, good and evil in gambling are mainly dreamstuff. But some factors can help you set strategies that will best balance your private fantasies for winning and your stomach for losing.

The trade-off involves probabilities and amounts. No matter how money is allocated with this type of play, all the chips on all the numbers go down when the seven appears. The chance of a seven on any throw is 16.7 percent. Betting $30 as $10 flat and $20 odds, with a point is six or eight, the likelihood you'll win $34 on any throw is 13.9 percent; the other 69.4 percent yields no decision. For fives and nines, the figures are 11.1 percent to win $40 and 72.2 percent for no decision. For fours and 10s, it's a 8.3 percent shot at winning $50 and 75 percent at no decision.

Assume you bet Pass and Come, covering two boxes each with $5 flat and $10 odds. Regardless of the numbers, there's still 16.7 percent chance of losing $30 on any throw. But, as an example, if six and eight are covered, your chances are 27.8 percent to win $17 and 55.5 percent of no decision. Compared with $30 on the six alone, you're twice as apt to win half as much on each throw.

Going with multiple numbers, you must also select between Come or Place. The choice is one of those articles of faith dividing craps buffs into opposing camps. Forgetting the folderol, the options have two real distinctions. Come bets, even without odds, offer lower edge. Place bets afford greater flexibility to select what's covered, when, and for how much. Again, it's personal preference. As the immortal poet, Sumner A Ingmark, knew:

On issues important, most everyone acts,
In line with emotion, not figures and facts.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns were focused on those interested in gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.