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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Playing the Field Has Merits, but not Necessarily at Craps

12 April 2010

You don't hear the expression much nowadays. Once upon a time, though, single men or women who dated but didn't "go steady" were said to be "playing the field." Psychologists, social scientists, and many parents considered this generally prudent.

At craps, playing the Field is almost universally regarded as foolish – certainly in terms of its adverse impact on bettors' bankrolls. Indeed, these wagers are a hallmark of novices; experienced solid citizens normally avoid them.

In case you're unfamiliar with the Field, it's a bet at or above the table minimum that's settled on every roll of the dice. In most casinos, winners get 2-to-1 on a two or 12, and even-money – 1-to-1 – on a three, four, nine, 10, or 11.

The one-roll aspect of the Field bet is a serious shortcoming. In 36 throws of the dice, it wins or loses 36 times. Most other craps wagers require multiple rolls to be resolved. For instance, Placing the five wins on four combinations (1-4, 2-3, 3-2, 4-1) and loses on six (1-6, 2-5, 3-4, 4-3, 5-2, 6-1). That's 10 out of the 36 possible ways a pair of dice can land. This Place bet is consequently decided, on the average, only 10 times in 36 tosses. Throws proceed at a rapid pace. Depending on how much is up for grabs, a decision on each roll to not only quickly ravage a bankroll through volatility during a short cold streak, but also erode it noticeably by repeatedly applying the edge.

A closely related difficulty is that Field bets must be at least the table minimum. Most other one-roll bets can be as low as $1, even if the nominal lower limit is considerably greater. A string of $1 losses may have relatively minor evident impact when high-denomination chips are changing hands in the primary game. And, while edge may be high, its monetary counterpart is modest if it acts on a small wager. As an example, edge on Any Craps is a bit over 11 percent – $0.11 on a typical $1 bet. Edge on Field bets is half this rate, about 5.6 percent. But on a $5 wager, this amounts to $0.28; on $10 it's $0.56. Place bets on the five have 4 percent edge, equivalent to $0.20 or $0.40 on $5 or $10 bets, respectively. In 36 statistically-correct throws, $5 on the Field costs $0.28 x 36 or $10.08 due to edge; $5 on the five will be resolved 10 times, a loss of $0.20 x 10 or $2.00 from edge.

Further, craps aficionados who like one-roll bets often make them solely on the "propositions" at the center of the table. They commonly utilize these wagers to hedge or augment their primary action during come-out rolls. Therefore, they make these bets only intermittently during the course of a session. Bets on the Field, conversely, tend to be routine – throw after throw.

An additional element is the frequency at which Field bets succeed and fail. The bets win on two, three, four, nine, 10, 11, and 12; they lose on five, six, seven, and eight. This may seem like a favorable set of seven good to four bad totals. Sorry, but the ways results can occur are what's key. As illustrations, one combination each forms a two (1-1) or 12 (6-6), two combinations each a three (1-2, 2-1) or 11 (5-6, 6-5), and five combinations each a six (1-5, 2-4, 3-3, 4-2, 5-1) or eight (2-6, 3-5, 4-4, 5-3, 6-2). Aggregating all the ways the dice can land as winners or losers, the former sum to 16 and the latter to 20. Losing outcomes accordingly outnumber winning events 20-to-16.

Payoff is also an issue. Other one-roll bets pay decent multiples of the total at risk. For instance, Any Craps pays 7-to-1 and 12 pays 30-to-1. These returns are admittedly low compared with the odds which must be overcome to win, but one lucky hit can still compensate for many losses. The Field pays even money on 14 of the 16 winning combinations and 2-to-1 on the other two. A single hit therefore covers just one or occasionally two losses.

Still care to drop $5, $10, or more on the Field? Well, it's your money. Or, at least it was when you got to the casino. It will probably be the bosses' before you leave. For, in the memorable mutterings of the penny-pinching poet, Sumner A Ingmark:

In choosing bets at craps, a principle essential,
Is different wagers picked have differing potential.

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.