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What's the Right Way to Shoot the Dice?

12 November 1996

By Alan Krigman

Experienced craps shooters know the right way to pick up and toss the dice. This inside knowledge is one of the subtleties devotees are sure affords an edge over solid citizens who have to ask which end of the table to aim for, or who snatch the five dice first offered by the stickman and let fly across the felt.

Of course, "right" differs among dice diehards. And, for each shooter, may vary from day to day, table to table, roll to roll.

The casinos establish certain constraints.
o Forget the movies where refined rascals rattle 'em in a cavity formed by cupping their palms together; you're only permitted to touch the dice with one hand.
o Hold the dice over the table, not back across the rail.
o Don't dawdle deciding which two of the initial five you want, or arranging them before you throw.
o Hit and bounce the dice off the wall of the table on the opposite end from where you're shooting.

o When throwing, avoid smacking the mirrors in the side walls of the table, keep the dice below the dealers' eye level, and don't consider it a sign of machismo to whip them so fast as to maim bystanders they might accidentally strike.

Within these limits lies lots of latitude.

You may gruffly grab the dice the way they're slid to you, or you may suavely "set" them. Say you opt for setting. You may put lucky combinations on the tops, bottoms, sides, ends, or any subsets thereof. The combinations may be numbers you're trying to roll, or - on occasions such as games where nobody is scoring - one of the sevens you don't want to see after the dust settles.

You may pick up the dice in your fist or with your fingers. Before throwing, fist casters may shake them and finger flingers may tap - but not rub - them on the table.

The actual throw is your coup de maître. You may lob the dice or apply some English. Toss from the waist, shoulder, elbow, wrist, or knuckles. Tumble the dice end over end, spin them sideways, or keep them from rotating. Bounce them from the table to the wall and back, or go directly for the wall. Aim squarely at the end, or skim them around the corner. The permutations are plethoric.

Me? I set the dice, execute a fingertip pick-up with a dual table-tap, and wrist-waft them toward the end. I try for a classic table-wall-table cushion shot without hitting any chips.

The toughest part is deciding on the setting. One reason is it probably doesn't matter. But, make believe it does. And pretend I can control dice better than Sandy Koufax ever controlled a baseball. There are just too many indeterminates. Dice differ among vendors and most casinos switch brands regularly. The edges start sharp and become rounded during play. The cloth on the table and the bumps on the walls gradually degrade. Bettors stack chips all over the place; some droop their paws down over the rail.

Suffice it to say, I begin with one of my favorite settings. If a seven shows on the come-out, I try another. Likewise, if one roll is short, I go to plan B - maybe even C, D, or E - on my next turn. If and when a set-up succeeds, I hope circumstances stay steady enough so the arrangement applies on my following at-bat.

Maybe it's chemistry. Or karma. Or the stars. Or the craps gods. Or dumb luck. But one player's joss is another's jinx. So, I'll gladly discuss options but won't tell anyone how to shoot. And, here's the kind of thing I really hate. I'd had a fairly good roll. Made money. The bettor next to me would've done well, too, had he not kept pressing with his winnings and left it all on the table. When it ended, he chided, "Who taught you craps? Everyone knows setting one-three on top of the dice is a loser." Sumner A Ingmark, the shooters' Shakespeare, may have summarized it best:

At craps, where superstition lurks,
All shooters have their special quirks.
I hope I'm there when one's quirk works.

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.