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Even blindfolded in a crowded casino, anyone can find the craps table when the dice are hot. Just follow the screams, shouts, and cheers. Jackpot winners on slot machines may be the loudest individuals in the house, but nothing is quite like the collective excitement that builds at a craps table. Whereas blackjack players are quiet studies in concentration, craps players let loose as they win or lose together.

Conversely, nothing is quite as dead as a craps table when the dice are cold. At peak hours, when you see three or four somber individuals at the big table for 24, you can be sure the loser 7s have been coming up all too frequently.

Craps is the fastest-moving of casino table games. An average speed at a busy blackjack table runs around 60 hands per hour, but the house expects about 100 decisions per hour at craps. That, along with the tendency of craps players to have several bets working at once, means that craps requires a larger bankroll than other table games. And craps offers the widest variety of bets in the casino, with dozens of wagering options on the table.

All this can be pretty intimidating to a newcomer. But casino games were not designed to chase customers away, and craps is easier than it looks at first glance. Yes, there are an enormous number of bets available, but only a few are really worth playing. And those few are among the best bets in the casino. In this article, we'll discuss the fundamentals of craps, as well as the wide variety of bets and which ones to place at the right times to increase your odds of winning. We will begin with the layout of the table and the common terminology used for a game.

The Table and Personnel
Most craps tables today are double layouts. At the center of one side of the table is the boxman, who supervises the game and takes cash collected by the dealers and deposits it in a drop box. Directly opposite him is the stickman, who uses a stick to push the dice to the shooter. The stickman controls the tempo of the game. He calls out the results of each roll and keeps up a continuous patter, urging players to get their bets down.

At the center of the table between the boxman and stickman are boxes for proposition bets -- one-roll bets. Also here are areas for hard-way bets -- betting that a 6, for example, will be rolled as two 3s before either a 7 or any other 6 is rolled.

The standard craps table layout for American casinos.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
The standard craps table layout for American casinos.

On the sides are two dealers who take bets, pay off winners, and collect losing bets. The players encircle these side areas. In front of the players is the "Pass" line, a bar that extends all around the table for players who are betting with the shooter. A smaller, "Don't Pass" bar is for players betting against the shooter. The areas marked "Come" and "Don't Come" are for bets similar to Pass and Don't Pass but are placed at different times of the game.

Also on the layout in front of the players is an area marked "Field" for a one-roll bet that one of seven numbers will show up. Boxes marked 4, 5, Six, 8, Nine, and 10 are for "Place" or "Buy" bets that the number chosen will be rolled before the next 7. Six and nine are spelled out because players are standing on both sides of the table -- no need to wonder if that's a 6 or an upside-down 9. Down in the corner at either end of the double layout are boxes marked 6 and 8 -- the "Big 6" and "Big 8" bets that a 6 or 8 will roll before a 7.

Craps Lingo at a Glance

Craps

2,3, or 12
Yo, or Yo-leven
11
C and E Craps
11
Snake Eyes
Two 1s
Boxcars Two 6s. Though the public is familiar with both snake eyes and boxcars, most stickmen don't use them very often. The more common calls would be "Two, craps," or "12, craps."
Little Joe, or Little Joe from Kokomo 4, particularly rolled as a 1 and a 3
Jimmy Hicks The number 6
Skate and Donate
8
Skinny Dugan
A loser 7
Center Field
9, because it's in the middle of the seven numbers on the field bet
Puppy Paws
Two 5s -- though the more common call is simply "Hard 10," or "10, the hard way"
Natural Winner
7 or 11 on the come-out roll

Craps Talk
"Comin' out. Bet those hard ways. How about the C and E? Hot roll comin', play the field. Any mo' on yo?"

A fast-talking stickman goes hand in hand with the rapid game of craps. Listening to the chatter, a novice player may have no idea what it's all about. In the example above, the stickman is letting players know that the next roll is a come-out and is urging bets on the hard ways; the one-roll proposition on craps or 11 (C and E); the one-roll bet on the field of 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, and 12; and on the one-roll bet on 11 (yo, or yo-leven).

Once the roll has been made, you'll hear something like, "Winner seven!" (a 7 has been rolled, Pass line bets win) or "Seven, line away, pay the Don't" (a 7 has been rolled, Pass line bets lose and Don't Pass bets win). Many casinos prefer this call to "Loser seven," meaning the same thing, because they want to emphasize the winning Don't bets without forcing the ugly word "loser" into the minds of customers.

Every stickman has his or her own style, and some invent calls for dice combinations. But most calls are well-established throughout the United States, and below is some common game terminology to be aware of.

Craps Trivia and Superstitions
Opposite sides of dice -- tops and bottoms -- always add up to 7. That is, 1 is opposite 6, 2 opposite 5, and 3 opposite 4. Adjacent sides never add up to 7.

Dice can be rotated so that 1, 2, and 3 come into view in succession, then turned so that 4, 5, and 6 come up in rotation. It's an anticheating device, so that players and casino personnel know dice with all numbers are in the game.

Casinos do not use dice with round corners. Modern dice have square corners and are manufactured to a tolerance of 1/10,000th of an inch.

Dice made from sheep's knuckles have been found at archaeological sites, including a die with 4s on two faces found at a Roman site.

Superstitious players consider it bad luck to change dice in the middle of the roll. If, in the middle of a hot roll, the shooter throws one or both of the dice off the table, he'll often call "Same dice," just to make sure.

Don't be surprised if the table clears if a player yells out "Seven." The word is considered unthinkable, let alone unspeakable.

A penny thrown under the table is supposed to be good luck. More likely, it's just a lost penny.

It's supposed to be bad luck to throw both dice in the air while preparing to shoot. Toss one up and you'll look like an old pro; toss both and you'll have 'em heading for the exits.

Knowing the table layout, terminology, and common calls are a good start, but it's also important to know how to bet. Players have dozens of wagering options available to them and they need to make wagering decisions within seconds. We will discuss the various types of bets, and when to use them, in the next section.