Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Craps on a short bankroll

As introductions go, "Craps. Short bankroll. Whaddya do?" wasn't the smoothest I'd ever heard, but at least it was straight to the point. The gentleman in the buffet line wanted to talk about craps.
I asked how he liked to play.

"If I could afford to play the way I like to play, I wouldn't have a problem," he said brusquely. "I like to start on the pass line, then follow it with two come bets until I have three numbers working, with maximum odds on all of them."

That's one of the best ways to attack the game. Free odds, offered in addition to pass and come bets, are paid at true odds and carry no house edge. Backing the pass and come bets with free odds drops the house edge below 1 percent, down to 0.8 percent with single odds, 0.6 percent with double odds, all the way down to 0.02 percent at casinos that offer 100x odds --- if you can afford it.

"Afford it is the problem," he said, adding that he'd just walked away from a table that offered 10x odds, which drop the house edge to 0.2 percent. "With the 10 times odds here, if I have a $10 pass bet and two $10 come bets working, I could back each with $100 in free odds. Or I could if I had more than 200 bucks in my pocket."

That could be a problem. Even with a much larger bankroll, putting $330 on the table all at once, all of which could be wiped out by a single 7, can be a wallet buster. If you're going to take advantage of 10x odds, you'd better be working with a bankroll in the thousands, not the hundreds.

"Yep. I'm no fool. I don't bet the center-table propositions, or the field, or the hardways, the stuff with the really high advantages for the house. I don't place the 4 or 10, or the 5 or 9. I want the best deal I can get.

But I can't get it without betting more."

If you're really smart, I told him, you know that betting more isn't the answer if you can't afford it. The money to gamble has to come from an entertainment budget, not from money you really need for the rent, groceries, kids' schooling or other necessities of life.

"I know that. I've resigned myself to the fact I can't afford the best deal at craps. The problem is, when I break it down, even taking single odds is too rich for my blood. There are no $5 minimum tables in this casino, and when I go to other casinos that do have 'em, they're always packed to the gills. So I play at the $10 tables.

"If I have a $10 pass bet and two $10 come bets, and back them each with single odds, I still have $60 out there at once. Let's face it. That's too much that can go down the drain at one time, when I'm only starting with $200."

I asked him what he'd considered doing to stay within his budget.

"The first thing I thought of was just to make a pass line bet, skip the come bets, and back the pass bet with as much odds as I thought I could afford. Even if I backed a pass bet with double odds, I'd have only half as much money at risk as if I bet pass with two comes, and single odds."

That's probably as good as you can do when it comes to narrowing the house edge, I told him. You're down to 0.6 percent with pass backed by double odds.

"Yeah, well, I tried it --- and it's boring. I can't stand having only one number at a time. So I figure my real choice here is to either bet pass followed by two come bets and no odds, or a pass bet followed by place bets on 6 and 8 instead of the comes."

On a percentage basis, the pass with two comes is the better bet. The house edge on pass, without free odds, is 1.41 percent. Come bets also face a house edge of 1.41 percent. The house edge is a little higher on the place bets on 6 and 8, at 1.52 percent.

"I know that, but given that I can't get the free odds, the difference between come and the place bets is negligible. Especially when it means that I always have the 6 and 8 going."

There is some comfort in having 6 and 8, the most frequently rolled numbers other than 7, working for you. But besides having a slightly lower house edge, there is another advantage for come bets over the place numbers. On the average, it takes more rolls to settle a come bet than to settle a place bet. That gives the house edge fewer opportunities per hour to work against you.

My new-found friend sighed heavily.

"So that's what it comes down to. Fewer bets per hour to lower risk."

That may not be the best deal at craps. But it's as good a deal as the short-bankrolled player can afford.

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