Focus on Fundamentals

At least once a week I hear my daughter’s karate instructor tell the class to “focus on basic punches, basic kicks, and kata.” It’s the same sort of speech we used to get when I played high school football. “Focus on basic running, blocking and tackling.” In both cases the coaches were talking about fundamentals – something very few craps players spend a lot of time on. Why? Because they’d rather be comfortable losers than have to work at a win. And believe me, sticking to the fundamentals is not a lot of fun.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of us who attempt to influence the dice work on our grips and tosses. But when was the last time you really sat down and looked at your betting strategy? When was the last time you gave money management a second thought? And what about that discipline thing nobody wants to talk about? Yeah. That’s what I thought. And with those thoughts in mind let’s borrow heavily from the wisdom of my friend John Patrick and talk about what it takes to win.

1. Knowledge of the game. One of the silliest questions I hear people ask at the craps table is “How do you play this game?” Standing at the table with your hard-earned cash at risk is not the time to learn. Before placing your first bet you should have mastered all of the basic rules of the game, understand the terminology, have a working knowledge of the correct odds and pay-off, and be comfortable with both the pass and don’t pass sides of the game. To that end, you should read some of the top books on the game – including Scarne on Dice, Sam Grafstein’s The Dice Doctor, and John Patrick’s Advanced Craps. Explore the game on the internet through forums like ours and through “play for fun” sites and downloads such as WinCraps. Once you feel you have a good command of the game – head to the casino the try it out. But be sure you have a good command of the other seven tools of the trade.

2. Conservative Strategy. A friend of mine who primarily plays the dark side is one of the most conservative players I’ve ever met. He loves the game but has a limited bankroll, so he has adopted a strategy that fits his needs. He makes a single Don’t Pass bet on each shooter. If he wins a bet his next wager is a single Don’t Pass bet with single odds. On any loss he reverts to his original single unit bet. And if he hits his loss limit – a meager $50 – he ends his play for the day. While he will never win a huge amount of money, he will rarely lose a large amount either. He is patient and plays his strategy flawlessly. As a result, he is a long-run winner at the game he loves. His conservative strategy achieves exactly what he wants it to. It allows him to continue to play the game.

You must approach the table with the same type of logically conceived, conservative game plan. That doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to the pass line or don’t pass – or limit yourself to a single bet. It simply means you step up to the table with a plan. A strategy that allows you to adjust the size of your bets based on your bankroll, minimize your losses, and maximize your wins.

3. Sufficient Bankroll. I like to think of my casino chips as bullets. On the battlefield, if you run out of bullets you’re as good as dead. That’s why it is important to build a sufficient bankroll before stepping into the casino. You will always have limited funds to play with when your bankroll is compared to the casinos. The Pit Boss can roll out the reserves anytime by calling the cage and having the security boys bring out a chip refill.

There are lots of ways you can use your “bullets” against the casino. You can use them like artillery, playing those long shot bets, or a machine gunner raining chips all over the table. Or, if you’re smart, you’ll launch a sniper attack, making every shot count. But to stand any chance at all in these bankroll battles, you must have enough capital to start.

4. Money Management. I can only guess at how many times a player standing next to me at the table has pointed to a stack of chips on the layout and asked, “Is that my money?” I’ve heard it hundreds of times through the years. But money management is more than watching your bets. As I mentioned before, you have to adjust the size of your bets in relation to the size of your bankroll. That’s what the Kelly Criterion – a strategy favored by advantage players – does for you. But money management goes beyond bet sizing. It requires you to set specific win objectives and loss limits based on your total bankroll. It means knowing exactly how much you will bet in every conceivable win/loss situation you encounter. And it means having the self-discipline to execute those bets flawlessly.

5. Self Discipline. Yeah, that phrase stood out in that last sentence. Most gamblers don’t have it. Simply put, self-discipline is how you control your emotions while gambling. A few years ago I bought in at a table and — by using good money management and discipline — doubled my buy-in in about forty-five minutes. At the same time, the player next to me lost a little over $14,000. The more he lost the more he relied on crazy, scared-money wagers – $100 hop bets on two or three numbers every roll, and placing the hardways for $500 each. He was pitting his bankroll bullets against the casino’s. The house had him out-manned and out-gunned. Everyone at the table could see he was destined to lose it all — everyone except him. As the old saying goes, you gotta know when to walk away — and know when to run.

6. Trends and Streaks. I touched briefly on this earlier. Craps is a game of streaks. Streaks of Point – Seven Out. Streaks of Point – Pass. And, most often, choppy streaks where there is no dominant trend. Since craps is a game of independent trials — what happened on the last roll of the dice has no influence on what happens this roll of the dice. Predicting a trend is impossible. However, every forty-five minute monster hand starts out with a half-dozen tosses of the dice. It moves on to the five-minute mark, then ten, fifteen, and twenty. At some point virtually every player at the table recognizes what is happening and the layout fills up with chips. They have spotted the almighty streak. You can spot it too.

7. Precision Shooting. While random trends and streaks do occur in this game, some players prefer to create their own. They do this, consciously or subconsciously, by influencing the outcome of the roll. Generally they take great care in pre-setting the dice to a particular arrangement. Then they affect a consistent, soft toss to a particular point on the table. Casino personnel often crank up the heat on these individuals in an attempt to break their rhythm. Often, though, these shooters appear unflappable as they throw the dice with Zen-like precision, banging out number after number after number. Casinos fear them – and for good reason. The best of them have the ability to significantly alter the odds of the game in their favor – all within the confines of the house rules. Can you master this technique? Absolutely.

8. Winning Attitude. Let’s face it. The only one who likes a loser is the casino. Yet you hear people reinforcing a losing attitude at every turn. The science of neurolinguist programming – NLP for short – teaches that you can actually program your mind for success through positive affirmations. Yet so often we program ourselves for failure instead.

On a recent casino outing I up to the table and turned a quick $360 profit by playing the Don’ts on a streak of point-seven-outs. Eventually a couple of players started tossing numbers and the table got choppy. Recognizing that the Don’t streak at that table was over, I colored up and strolled over to the Wheel-of-Fortune carousel to see if my companion was ready to go to dinner. “Just a minute,” she said, shaking her coin cup. “I just want to lose these last few dollars, then we can go.”

Think about that. How many times have you stood in the casino and heard someone say something similar? They don’t expect to win – so they don’t. They just stand there until they throw their last chip in.

Well, there you have them – the FUNdamentals. Are they really fun? Not particularly. But losing isn’t a lot of fun either. Can you master them and become a consistent winner? I believe you can. Why not try?