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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Playing It Smart: The superior bet at the craps table

18 February 2009

One of the great things about craps is the variety of bets you can make on a roll of the dice. Not only on the totals and how sums will form. But also alternate wagers on the same results.

Pretend you want to bet directly on a so-called box or number a four, five, six, eight, nine, or 10. You win if the dice show your total and lose if a seven pops. You're fighting odds of 6-to-5 (1.2-to-1) for six and eight, 6-to-4 (1.5-to-1) for five and nine, and 6-to-3 (2-to-1) for four and 10.

The usual wagers on the numbers are "Place" bets. With these, every $6 at risk wins $7 on a six or eight (7-to-6 or 1.167-to-1), every $5 brings $7 on a five or nine (7-to-5 or 1.4-to-1), and every $5 garners $9 on a four or 10 (9-to-5 or 1.8-to-1).

You can improve the payoff ratio in some cases with "Buy" rather than Place bets. Here, you pay a "vigorish" or "vig" up-front. The payout on the nominal bet then mirrors the odds against winning. For instance, a $30 Place bet pays $54 whereas a $30 Buy would get you $60 minus the effect of the vig. To understand when Buy bets are advantageous, you have to know that vig is 5 percent of the nominal bet, rounded down to the next lowest whole dollar. So, a $20 Buy calls for $1 vig (5 percent of $20 is $1), as does any amount up to $39 (5 percent of $39 is $1.80, which rounds down to $1). Likewise, vig is $2 from $40 to $59, $3 from $60 to $79, and so forth. Casinos don't book Buy bets under $20.

To Buy the four for $20, you hand over the $20 bet plus $1 vig. On a win, the $20 pays $40, and your $20 is returned. But you began with $21 and ended with $60, a $39 profit. So the actual payoff ratio is 39-to-21 or 1.86-to-1. This is better than the 1.8-to-1 you'd get Placing the four for $20. The ratio improves further up to a $39 Buy, where you fork over $40 to net $78-$1 = $77, so the payoff ratio is 77-to-40 or 1.925-to-1. The ratio declines, however, when you reach the next vigorish level. To Buy the four for $40, you shell out $42 and win $80 minus $2 vig. The ratio is 78-to-42, which is back to 1.86-to-1. Still, on four and 10, with a $20 minimum, all Buys beat their Place counterparts.

Conversely, on sixes and eights, Buy bets are never as good as the 1.167-to-1 of Place bets. And on fives and nines, Buy bets pay at higher ratios than the 1.4-to-1 of Place bets only in the ranges of $26 - $38, $50 - $58, $74 - $78, and $98.

There's another option. Some casinos let solid citizens make "Put" bets. These are wagers with flat and Odds components that pay like Pass and Come bets. However, they are made directly on the numbers and don't go through come-out rolls.

A Put on four or 10 of $5 with $50 Odds would have $55 at risk to win $105. The ratio is 105-to-55 or 1.91-to-1 compared to 1.8-to-1 for a Place bet. Buying the same number for $50 nets $98 on a win, with a payoff ratio of 98-to-52 is 1.88-to-1. Puts beat Place bets for 5X and larger Odds multiples on fours, fives, nines, and 10s. The crossover is 6X Odds for sixes and eights.

Everyone wagering $20 and above on fours and 10s uses Buy bets. Pretty much, dealers ask you drop them the vig if you try to Place these numbers at this level. Almost nobody Buys fives or nines in the ranges where they pay better than Place bets. And asking for a Put bet will generally interrupt a game while the floor person or pit boss calls the casino manager for an OK.

Should you make these rarely-used alternatives? The upside is, when applied properly, they pay more than their more conventional alternatives. The downside is that the gains are small, and none are as good as Pass and Come bets so it's a best-of-the-worst situation. There's another trade-off. Buy bets for the germane amounts on fives and nines, and Put bets with sufficient Odds, will identify you as a someone who really knows the game of craps. They'll also mark you as a pretentious show-off. As is often true in gambling, it boils down to personal preference. The venerable versifier, Sumner A Ingmark, verbalized it thusly:

Your bets may be common, they may be obscure,
Though some may pay better than others, what's sure
Is win 'em you're wealthy and lose 'em you're poor.

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 focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
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 focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.