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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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When and Why Buying Beats Placing at Craps

24 March 1997

Most craps players wisely "buy" rather than "place" fours and 10s when they're betting big bucks on the numbers. If not, dealers usually - and rightly - suggest it.

Few solid citizens use this option on the five or nine. Fewer dealers recommend it. But it's legal. Sometimes it's even smart.

I'll review place and buy bets in case you're hazy about them.

You place the four or 10 in multiples of $5. If the number rolls, you win in the ratio of 9-to-5 - for instance $9 on $5, $18 on $10, $27 on $15 - and keep your original wager. If the seven appears, you lose whatever you bet. Likewise when placing the five or nine, except that the payoff is 7-to-5.

You can buy the four or 10 for any amount, usually starting at $20. Steps of $5 are typical, but not mandatory. You pay an up-front commission or "vigorish" in addition to your bet. The fee is 5 percent, rounded down to the nearest whole dollar; that is, $1 for bets from $20 to $39, $2 from $40 to $59, and so on. If the number rolls, you win 2-to-1 and keep the original wager, but the house retains the commission. A seven costs you both your bet and the vigorish. Buying the five and nine are analogous, except that the bet must be an even amount and the payoff is 3-to-2.

So much for wherefore. Here's why.

Say you want to risk $25 on a four. If you place the bet and win, you're paid $45 and keep your $25 - $70 in all; lose and you're out $25. Alternately, buy the four for $24. The fee is $1.20, rounded down to $1, so your outlay is $25. This buy bet pays $48 and you keep your $24 - $72 in all; a seven still costs you $25. The sole change is that buying earns you $2 more than placing.

Because the commission is rounded downward, you'll do proportionately better if your bet is just under a breakpoint. To see this, consider a $40 outlay on the four. Winning such a place bet pays $72 and you keep your $40, leaving you with $112. A $39 buy bet with a $1 fee returns $78 and you still have your $39 - $117 in all. Buying puts $5 extra in your rack for the same $40 at risk.

The five and nine are a little trickier.

Picture a $25 outlay. Place it on the five. If you win, you're paid $35 and keep your $25 - $60 in all. Now, buy the five for $24 and give the dealer $1 commission. Win and get $36, keeping your $24, for a total of $60. Lose, and you're out $25 either way. Buying and placing are identical at this level.

Look what happens at $35, though. Placing a five wins $49 and you still have your $35, a total of $84. Instead, buy the five for $34 and pay $1 commission. Lose and you're out $35 either way. Win and pick up $51, keeping your $34, a total of $85 - $1 more.

What's the bottom line?
o Buy bets are best closest to the commission breakpoints.
o On four and 10, buying always beats placing at or above $20.
o On five and nine, buying only beats placing for outlays - bets plus commissions - from $(26+1) to $(38+1), $(50+2) to $(58+2), and $(74+3) to $(78+3), as well as $(98+4).
o On six and eight, buying never beats placing.

One more thing. Many dealers will grimace at weirdly-sized buy bets. Some may simply think you're a jerk because they won't know you're exploiting a loophole in the rounding-down rule. Others may resent having to figure out the payoff when you win something like a $34, $56, or $78 buy bet on a five or nine.

Don't let this deter you. Unless, of course, you think your destiny is to delight the dealers in your favorite dice den. But don't get obnoxious about it either. Just ponder the plea for politesse proposed by the punter's poet, Sumner A Ingmark:

Play to win, but keep a sense of
Acting pleasant, not offensive.

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.