Craps lesson 9: Table behavior

It's essential to understand the theory behind the dice game, but more than half of becoming a real craps player is learning how things really work at a crowded table. Here's stuff that you need to know:

Buying in, keeping your chips safe

If you're new to casino gambling you'll probably be more comfortable entering a craps game before the start of a new roll, not in the middle of an existing one. Make your way to an open spot on the rail and wait for the puck to be flipped to the "OFF" side. When you're ready, place your money on the playing field in front you, just behind the pass line is best. If the dealer is unclear about your intentions they may ask if you want chips or if "money plays," which means letting the cash serve as your bet. If that happens just tell them you want chips. It's a good idea to request some of the chips be the $1 variety.

Players are under no obligation to tip the the table workers, but if you choose to do so the best way is to place an additional bet just beside your own pass line bet, making sure to let the dealer know the bet is for them. The traditional way is to say, "This one's for the boys." Note that you can make this bet for less than the table minimum, with the occasional $1 dealer bet being about normal for most tables.

There's not much need to worry about casino staff ripping you off, but you can't be so sure about your fellow players. A favorite scam is for someone to reach into your stack when you are distracted and nab a few chips. It's a good idea to keep a forearm covering your chips as much as possible.

Watch the dice and keep your arms out of the table

When a table gets crowded and many bets are being made it's easy to get caught up in making new bets, pointing to something on the table or just being careless and letting an arm drape down. At some point you might not be paying attention when the dice are passed to the shooter and a roll will hit your arm. Maybe you catch a break and the dice would happen to fall on a number that helps most of the people at the table, but if it lands on a 7... well, for a little while people are going to despise you.

Don't be that despised guy. Watch where the dice are and be careful never to let your arms get into the field of play after they've been passed to the shooter.

One hand, please

When it's your turn to roll the dice the dealer will pass a half-dozen or so to you from which to select two. Reach down with one hand only. You're never allowed to use two hands to hold or roll the dice. They're more even more stringent about the one-hand rule at the craps table than they are at blackjack.

Also be careful about pulling your arm too far back when holding the dice for a roll. Picky dealers and pit bosses will snap at you if you take the dice much beyond the edge of the rail.

Don't worry, they'll get to you

After each roll of the dice the dealers move around the table in a regular pattern, taking bets and paying winners. After a few rolls you'll begin to see how it works, so don't get impatient if your winning bet isn't paid first thing. As long as the dice aren't being pushed to the shooter you've got nothing to worry about. If they begin to push the dice and your winner still hasn't been paid, then it's time to speak up.

Don't mention the word "seven"

Dice players are famously superstitious. Some people will get angry if you speak the word "seven" aloud, believing that makes it more likely to come up on the next roll. So don't say it. If you have to refer to it, call it "That Number," "Big Red" or "Red."

Where to start

Crowded tables can be very confusing until you get a feel for the rythym of the game and how the dealers work. It's probably better to play during non-peak hours at a table with only a few other people. Take a spot near a dealer and let them know you're still learning, so you'd appreciate help at any time. When there's lot of action, dealers are too busy to lend a hand to new players looking lost and often too rushed to be very friendly, but at slow times most are helpful and will go out of their way to keep an eye on dice players just picking up the game.

If you can find a mini-craps table -- called a "tub" because... well, it looks like a tub -- with only one dealer and seats for six or eight players maximum, so much the better. Craps purists look down on this version of the game, but it a great way to learn. The pace is much slower and there is less noise and confusion that at a full-sized table.

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