You’ve come to the right place (bet, that is)

March 27, 2001 7:03 AM
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Ask any dozen dice doyens how best to spread money around a craps table and you’re apt to get 13 different answers. There’s no one right way. What pleases some players may pique others. In picking a strategy, it helps to have an intuitive understanding of how and to what extent various alternatives affect the ebb and flow of the game.

One realm where this issue jumps to the fore involves Place bets. These wagers — made on one or more of the numbers four, five, six, eight, nine or 10 — are popular with many solid citizens, owing to the flexibility they afford. Among other considerations, Place bettors can pick which and how many boxes to cover.

Some Place betting buffs select the numbers by going for the lowest house advantage. Edge is only 1.5 percent on the six and eight, rising to 4.0 percent on the five and nine, and 6.7 percent on the four and 10. Others choose high-payoffs. The six and eight return 7-to-6; five and nine pay 7-to-5; four and 10 get back 9-to-5.

Effect on bankroll swings is a more enigmatic standard for deciding how many numbers to cover. For the same total at risk, distributing bets yields more but smaller wins. Concentrating them leads to fewer but larger payoffs. All is lost when the seven appears, regardless of the choice.

Placing additional numbers therefore moderates bankroll swings, trimming profits in hot sessions and losses in cold. The opposite holds when the total is divided among fewer numbers. The tendency shows up in (but doesn’t exactly dominate) sessions of reasonable duration.

Results of a computer simulation will put figures on this phenomenon. Two virtual players each made $32 in Place bets during 90-minute and three-hour sessions. The first player bet $6 apiece on the six and eight, $5 on each of the others. The second bet $12 on the six, $10 on the five, and $10 on the four. Edge and exposure were the same either way. Collectively, both strategies should (and did) endow the casino coffers equally.

Assuming the simulated players had big enough stakes to complete the sessions, instances of finishing ahead or behind were comparable either way. Roughly 37 percent were winners, 62 percent were losers, and 1 percent broke even. Of additional interest, players betting on six boxes were about as likely to wind up ahead of or behind those on three positions.

Bankroll swings were reflected in the tallies at the end of the sessions. In the 90-minute games, chances of boarding the bus having lost over $150 were 21 percent spreading to six numbers, and 23 percent concentrating on only three. Chances of bee-lining it to the all-you-can-eat buffet above $150 were 11 percent covering six numbers and 12 percent wagering on three.

In the three-hour games, chances of finishing below $250 were 19 percent spreading to six numbers, and 21 percent concentrating on only three. Chances of wrapping up after three hours above $250 were 5.2 percent with six numbers and 7.5 percent betting three.

Psychological implications of the alternate strategies may also be decision factors. As an example, compare $10 on nine versus $5 each on five and nine. To the casino, these are equivalent. The house figures it earns four cents per dollar bet either way — and rates the action accordingly. However, don’t you hate those days when you put everything on the nine and wait during a long roll where 1-4 and 2-3 appear again and again, while 4-5 and 6-3 are conspicuous chiefly by their absence?

Alternately, betting $10 on nine and having it hit with a seven immediately following still means a pleasant $4 profit. Putting $5 each on five and nine in the same situation yields an annoying $3 loss.

If the array of opportunities seems overwhelming, keep in mind that — far from a deterrent — daunting diversity is one of the elements that makes true believers out of craps fans. Or, as the Robert Frost of the felt, Sumner A. Ingmark, farsightedly phrased:

If variety of life’s the spice,
Then there’s lots of pepper shooting dice.