Writer and Researcher

Introduction

It’s fair to say that craps can be an intimidating game for the newcomer. Just one look at the layout, with its mess of bets more resembling a lateral thinking puzzle than a casino game, and many players’ eyes being to bulge – and they go looking for a roulette wheel.

But here’s the thing: Craps is flat out fun.

Where most casino games are quiet, contemplative affairs, Craps is punctuated by bursts of applause and stifled cheers. That’s because in games of Craps, players are working together to beat the casino. Everyone’s backing the shooter, because when someone gets on a hot streak, everyone wins – except the house.

The good news is, Craps isn’t nearly as complicated as it looks from afar, and by following this here guide, you’ll be ready to roll in no time at all (pun absolutely intended).

But first, a history lesson.

Craps, like many of the more popular casino games played today, has been around for a long time, having its origins in a game called ‘Hazard’ that was popular in the 16th and 17th century. But Hazard was a complex game, so over time the rules were simplified. In time, the game we know as Craps emerged.

Ever wondered where the name ‘Craps’ comes from? That’s good, because it’s fun fact time: ‘Craps’ is actually a Louisiana mispronunciation of the word ‘crabs’, which was London slang for the outcome of rolling a 2 and 3 – the worst roll in Hazard. Somehow, the name stuck.

Rules

OK, so I know we said that Craps wasn’t such a hard game to pick up… and that’s true. But it’s fair to say the rules can seem complicated when you see them all in one place (just scroll down this page to see what we mean).

The thing is, in order to get yourself started playing craps, you only really need to understand one key bet, known as the pass line bet. That’s enough to get you to a table (whether online or in a casino) and playing the game confidently. Once you start to feel more comfortable, you can branch out into some of the other bets.

The fundamentals of the game are really very simple. Players take it in turns to roll two dice, with the player rolling known as the ‘shooter’. Regardless of who’s shooting, all players at the table are betting on the outcome of the roll.

Bets are made by placing chips in different sections of the layout (corresponding to different types of bet), or, if playing in a real casino, by asking the dealer or stickman (a chap with a stick who moves things around on the table) to do so for you.

Let’s take a quick look at the layout. You can see the pass line bet skirting the edge of the layout on all sides.

how to play craps

Now, about that pass line bet.

Since this bet is fundamental to all others, we’ll discuss it separately, before going on to cover the rest.

Players place their bets on the pass line simply by putting a chip (or chips) in this area of the table (everything from the come box down is the player’s domain, and above the dealer’s).

The shooter will then make a comeout roll to start off the round. You can tell if a roll is a comeout roll by looking for the dealer’s ‘button’, a round disk that sits on the table with ‘on’ on one side and ‘off’ on the other. If the button is set to ‘off’, then the next roll is a comeout roll.

On a comeout roll, 7 & 11 win instantly, and 2, 3 & 12 lose. All other numbers (4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10) establish a ‘point’.

When a point is established, the dealer will move the button to the corresponding number on the layout, flipping it so the word ‘on’ is shown to confirm that a point has been established.

Let’s say the point is established at 8. It’ll look something like this:

playing craps
From here it’s really very simply. The shooter will continue to roll the dice until he either hits a 7, at which point he ‘sevens out’, the pass bets lose and the round ends, or he rolls the point, at which point pass line bets pay out even money and the shooter must make a new comeout roll.

When the shooter sevens out, the dice rotate to another player, and the next round begins with a new shooter.

And that’s how you play Craps!

Understanding this fairly simple sequence is all you need to join a game and play like a pro. Of course there are many, many other bets you can make (which we’ll cover in a moment), but most of them have a much higher house edge than the pass line bet, and they aren’t required to enjoy the game.

Note that unlike Roulette where bets are ‘single spin’, the pass line bet in Craps is a multi-roll bet, meaning it may take many rolls to resolve.

Let’s say the point is established at 9 on the comeout. The next five rolls could be 2, 10, 5, 11, 8, and nothing would happen (if the player has only made a pass line bet). The shooter hasn’t ‘sevened out’, but they haven’t hit the point either – they just keep rolling.

Now, we know that some of you are visual learners, and it’s fair to say Craps isn’t the easiest game in the world to describe merely with words, so here’s a flow chart to represent how the action goes down with the pass bet:

craps

Where things start to get a little more complicated (but not that much, we promise!) is when you cast your eyes over the rest of the layout.

Types of Bet

As we said earlier, each different section of the layout refers to a different type of bet. Now, it’s fair to say that there are a lot of different bets in Craps, but you don’t need to know them all in order to play the game.

In fact, there are only a few ‘good’ bets in Craps, where the house edge is only slight. Many of the more complicated bets are what are known as ‘sucker bets’ – designed to take money from more inexperienced players.

That isn’t to say you shouldn’t ever make them – Craps is about having fun, and there’s no better way to have fun than to hit a long shot. In fact, the very name ‘sucker bets’ is a little nonsensical, since all bets at the Craps table are losers in the long run.

For the purposes of keeping this article from expanding to War and Peace proportions, we’ll cover only the more common Craps bets below.

Pass

We’ve already discussed this one in the previous section, so there’s no need to do so again. As we’ve said, this is the fundamental bet in Craps, so make sure to learn it first.

Come

craps how to play
Come bets function pretty much identically to pass bets, except they’re made when a point has already been established. Consequently, come bets cannot be placed during a comeout roll.

Once a point has been established, a come bet is made by placing a chip (or chips) in the come box on the layout. For the purposes of this bet, the shooter’s next roll is treated like a pass line bet.

Just like a comeout roll, 7 & 11 are winners for a come bet, and 2, 3, & 12 are losers. Any other number (4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10) establishes a point for your come bet, and your bet will be moved to the corresponding number on the layout. You then have that number covered until the shooter sevens out, just like with a regular point.

Remember, a 7 that wins your come bet will also lose your pass line bet.

Don’t pass and don’t come

Welcome to the dark side of Craps.

And no, that isn’t something we came up with – that’s literally what people refer to these bets as, also known as ‘wrong’ betting.

So, what’s the deal?

With don’t pass and don’t come bets, you’re siding with the house against the shooter, meaning players who bet this way can be pretty unpopular (hence the names). With don’t pass and don’t come bets, pretty much everything is reversed from the pass and come bets.

A don’t pass bet is made before a comeout roll when the button is ‘off’ (just like a pass bet), and you’ll win on a 2 or 3 and lose on 7 or 11. A 12 usually results in a ‘push’ (you’ll see this one the layout if so), meaning you get your money back.

When any other number is rolled (4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10), a point is established. As a don’t pass better, once a point is established you’re backing a 7 to come up before the point is rolled again, just like the house. Your bet wins even money on a 7, but loses if the point is hit.

Much like a come bet, a don’t come bet is placed when a point has already been established, and the button is in the ‘on’ position. It functions just like a come bet, except once again you’re betting that the house wins before the point comes up.

craps basics

Interestingly enough, the odds of playing the dark side are actually very slightly better than playing the pass line.

So, you should play the dark side, right?

Well, we won’t tell you how to play Craps. That’s totally up to you – whatever you find most fun, that’s how you should play.

Having said that, for our money there’s little point playing the dark side. Sure, the odds are slightly more favourable, but we’re talking a fraction of a percent here. You don’t play Craps to get rich, you play to have fun. And one of the best things about Craps is that you get to bet along with other people – you win together, and you lose together.

Some people will tell you that it makes sense to play the dark side when the table is running ‘cold’, but that’s just the Gambler’s Fallacy talking – there’s no such thing as a cold table! Unless the dice are loaded (they aren’t), then each and every roll is an event independent from the last.

One thing to bear in mind if you do play this way… you won’t make too many friends down at the casino if you’re celebrating every time someone sevens out. With that in mind, reign in those fist pumps when playing with others.

For those playing online on the other hand… go crazy!

Fun fact: Ever wondered why you’re able to bet along with the house in Craps?

Let us fill you in…

In the early days of Craps, unscrupulous casinos (i.e. most of them) would abuse the game by using loaded dice, greatly increasing the house edge and therefore cheating players out of money.

The don’t pass and don’t come bets were introduced as a way to ensure the game was fair – with these rules in place, using loaded dice would have bankrupted dodgy casinos in a matter of days, with players able to swing the inflated house edge to their own advantage

The Odds Bet

OK, so this one’s a little bit different to the bets we’ve seen so far. In fact, this bet doesn’t even have its own area on the layout.

Don’t let that fool you!

This little bet, believe it or not, is actually the very best you’ll ever find in a casino. Why?

Because the house edge is a whopping… zero! Zilch. Diddly squat. Nada.

That’s right. The house has no edge at all over the player when an odds bet is placed, which is why we recommend you always take ‘free odds’ in Craps.

Of course, there has to be some kind of catch, but the catch here isn’t so bad. All you have to do to take free odds is place a pass line bet (which is where the house gets its edge back).

Odds bets can only be placed after a point has been made, at which point the player places an additional bet – the odds bet – below the pass line bet (note below, as opposed to underneath – don’t stack the chips).

This bet is now linked to your pass line bet – if the shooter makes the point, both these bets pay out. Likewise, if the shooter sevens out, your odds bet loses along with your pass line bet.

The odds bet pay-out varies along with the likelihood of the point being hit. The easiest to hit point values are 6 and 8, as there are more ways to make these numbers than the hardest to hit point values, 4 and 10. The pay-outs look like this:

  • 6 & 8 pay 6:5
  • 5 & 9 pay 3:2
  • 4 & 10 pay 2:1

The permissible size of your odds bet varies from casino to casino, so be sure to check the maximums before you play.

The most commonly used odds maximums follow the 3-4-5 rule as follows:

  • 3x odds on points of 4 &10
  • 4x odds on points of 5 & 9
  • 5x odds on points of 6 & 8

Having said that, we’ve heard tell of casinos offering as much as 100x odds during special promotions, diluting the house odds down to a paltry 0.02% (or 0.01% if you’ve been tuned to the dark side!).

Note: as the odds bet is ‘fair’, it serves to dilute the house edge. That means from a purely mathematical standpoint, you should be making your odds bets as large as possible.

You can also place an odds bet with your come bet, and with your don’t pass and don’t come bets. These are fantastic bets, so don’t forget!

Playing the Field

learn to play craps

Here’s a fairly straightforward bet for you – playing the field.

We had hoped this might have been the origin of the popular expression, ‘to play the field’, meaning to make the most of your dating options, but alas a quick Google informed us of our error (the expression actually comes from horse racing – close, but no cigar).

The field bet, made by placing your wager in the corresponding section on the layout, is a single-roll bet that pays out on a 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11 or 12. The pay-out is generally even money, but 2s pay out 2:1, and 12s 3:1.

Note: sometimes the pay-outs for 2s and 12s are reversed, and sometimes both pay 2:1.

Hardways

craps for beginners
‘Hardways’ in Craps refers to rolling doubles. For example, an 8 made up of two 4s would be a ‘hard’ 8. A hardways bet backs the corresponding hardways roll to come up before either a 7, or a non-hardways (‘easy’) roll of the number.

This is a multi-roll bet, so it may take many rolls to resolve.

As an example, say we bet on hard 8. Our bet wins if two 4s are rolled, and loses if either a 7, or an easy 8 (for example, 2 & 6 or 3 & 5) is rolled.

The pay-outs for hardways bets are shown on the layout.

Hop Bets

play craps

Hop bets are single roll bets that try to predict the following dice roll exactly. ‘Easy’ hop bets pay 15-1 and hard varieties pay 30-1.

For example, a player might place a hop bet on ‘hard 8’. The bet’s a winner if the next roll comes in at 4 & 4, and a loser on any other roll.

Note: the house edge on hop bets is high – more than 10%!

Craps Strategy

So, now that we’ve learned the basics, it’s time to get to grips with some higher-level play.

But first, a disclaimer…

Craps is a casino game that’s lots of fun to play. However, you aren’t going to find a strategy out there capable of beating the game. Like Roulette (and unlike, say, Blackjack), Craps is simply a game where the house always wins – at least in the long run.

That said, if you stick to the lowest house-edge bets, Craps can be very profitable if you get on a lucky streak, and due to the ‘team’ vibe Craps encourages, there are few better ways of spending your time in the Casino.

Of course, this doesn’t apply online, but if you’re playing Craps online you may well have been turned to the dark side anyway…

All that said, there are a few strategies out there that people use to try and maximise their Craps winnings. Here are a couple of our favourites:

3-Point Molly

The object of the 3-point Molly system is to use the pass line bet combined with subsequent come bets in order to get 3 points working at all times.

Players using this strategy will wait for a point to be established on the pass line, then continue to place come bets until either 3 points are established, or the shooter sevens out.

The nice feature of this Craps system is that the come bets give some protection against the shooter rolling a 7, as active comes bets will win on this roll.

The Iron Cross

This is a favoured strategy by many because every single number except a 7 is a winner after the comeout roll.

Here’s how it works:

After a point is established, wagers are placed on 5, 6, & 8, alongside a field bet, meaning every number is covered barring that pesky 7.

The ‘iron cross’ name comes from the pattern the chips make on the layout, which resembles a large cross through the pass line and field in the centre of the layout, and across the 5, 6 & 8 at the top.

It’s a fun way to play, making money with every single roll, though remember that your ‘net’ wins on your point numbers will be diluted by a lost field bet when using this strategy.

The other thing to note here is that you need a fair amount of cash on the table to play this strategy, as you’re covering a lot of bases. So, although you’ll be winning on most rolls, a few quick seven outs and you’ll see your bankroll hit pretty hard.

Conclusion

There’s something special about playing Craps at the casino. The huddle of people around the table, the strange, arcane language people use to place their bets, and the excitement that builds as the shooter gets on a ‘hot’ streak – there’s really nothing else quite like it.

That’s why we personally feel Craps is the perfect game to play ‘live’, where the atmosphere just adds to the fun. That said, online play is a fantastic way to gain confidence with the rules, which can be daunting to newer players.

So, now you know your ‘pass’ from your elbow (see what we did there?), why not give Craps a go?

 

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