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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Playing It Smart: Why craps players take odds, but few lay them

23 April 2009

Most craps buffs who play Pass or Come take Odds after the point is established. Technically, the extra money put at risk to do so represents a "good bet" because the house has no edge on it. The reason is that the payoff precisely mirrors the chance of success. A four, for instance, is a 6-to-3 (2-to-1) shot, so $5 taken as Odds pays 2-to-1 or $10. A $5 Place bet on the four also has chances of 2-to-1 but $5 pays only $9 the bosses keep $1.

Zero-edge wagers are inherently desirable. Players must make the initial bet to be able to take Odds, though, so the house still has a net advantage. However, when money is added as Odds to a base wager, the house's percentage of the total is less than it would be were the whole amount bet at once in any other way.

The more money taken as Odds relative to the original bet, the greater the discounting effect on the edge. This explains why casinos proudly proclaim the availability of high Odds multiples, then pout when solid citizens actually push them to the limit.

Not everybody takes the maximum available Odds on Pass and Come bets, of course. Some players just don't understand their significance. Others find the combined bet too big for their bankrolls or the butterflies in their bellies. A $200 stake usually suffices to survive normal downswings for hours with $5 on the line, no Odds, and a $5 or $6 Place bet on the table. The $200 is marginal with another $5 or $6 out there as Odds. Sure, anyone can luck out with $200, $5 on the line and $25 or more as Odds and a Place bet or two, but the strategy is perilous.

On the other hand, comparatively few players who bet on Don't Pass or Don't Come lay the Odds the bosses allow. The underlying principles are the same, Do or Don't. The Odds are edge-free. And a bet with Odds gives the house a lower percentage than the same total wagered on a single result in any other way.

Here's why the one but not the other. More dice combinations equal seven than any other total, so Pass and Come bets are expected to lose more often than they win during the point phase. As noted previously, if the point is four, money will vanish twice as often as it appears, so zero edge means $1 taken as Odds pays $2. Don't Pass and Don't Come bets win more often than they lose during the point phase. Zero edge is accordingly achieved by the amounts won being proportionally less than what can be lost. On a four, for instance, $1 laid on the Odds pays $0.50.

Why, then, is laying Odds uncommon? For one thing, gamblers tend to consider each decision as it comes down; they don't think about how easy or tough it was to triumph or bite the dust. Watching $10 get taken away when the prize would only have been $5, or gaining $5 while worrying about $10 going down the drain, is not comforting. A second factor is that, in the span of a single session or casino visit with a bankroll that's apt to be too small, anyway a few more losses than the average predicted by the law of large numbers can be fatal. The impact of wins being smaller but more frequent than losses balances out over extended play. But in the short haul, volatility and skew are dominant.

For players who go whole hog, the contrast between Do and Don't bets reverses. Say one such person starts with $10 on Pass followed with two $10 Comes, taking $20 Odds on each. Another begins with $10 on Don't Pass, then makes two $10 Don't Come bets and lays $40, $30, or $24 on each for four or 10, five or nine, or six or eight, respectively. With Pass and Come, once the table is loaded, a seven will wipe out $90 while a hit will only get $50 (four or 10), $40 (five or nine), or $34 (six or eight). With Don't Pass and Don't Come, a seven pays $90 while a number costs $50 (four or 10), $40 (five or nine), or $34 (six or eight).

This phenomenon highlights the short versus long term enigma that blesses or curses recreational gamblers, and some professionals, too. As the clever coupleteer, Sumner A Ingmark, commented:

Statisticians don't know how,
To foretell the here and now.

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.