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Down the Dice Control Rabbit Hole
Can you win at craps using skill?
The upcoming episode of the show will feature an advantage player, and an economist, who both explored the issue of dice control - i.e. using actual physical skill to win at craps. One reason that I like the inclusion of an AP and an economist in the same episode is that their incentives are very different. An AP only makes money by finding beatable gambling games. An economist gets paid to think about things, study them, and publish. But these very different individuals ended up down a very similar trail.
Craps is also a fun topic because it seems like maybe beating it could be possible, but it could also be the domain of suckers and bullshit artists. Although, the whole thing that makes advantage play cool is finding games that seem unbeatable - and then beating them.
I wanted to post some background information in case any listener is interested in getting up to speed in advance of the episode.
If you’re going to talk about dice control then you really need to start with Stanford Wong. Absent Wong, almost no one would take seriously the idea that you could win with skill at craps. He’s a serious gaming mathematician, he wrote a book (Wong on Dice) on the subject, and he put up his own money in a famous dice control challenge.
This is an article from Cigar Aficianado by the great gambling writer Michael Kaplan. He offers one account of the famous prop bet challenge that Wong made in advance of publishing the book.
My favorite part of “Wong on Dice” is the section detailing the challenge where skeptics bet against Wong and his ringer who went by Little Joe Green.
The first 432 tosses took place at one casino, and included 60 sevens, for an SRR of 1:7.2. Little Joe had 222 tosses with 29 sevens for an SRR of 1:7.7, and my 210 tosses included 31 sevens for an SRR of 1:6.8. We did not intend to stay at one casino that long, but we were getting in lots of tosses per hour so we thought it made more sense to stay than to move to another casino. Then we broke for dinner. Somehow on the way to dinner we lost Little Joe Green, or he lost us; and he did not have a cell phone. At dinner Panama Rick handed me $389, which was the $200 I had given him plus the $189 he had won betting $5 on the pass line and taking $10 odds. After dinner I did the final 68 tosses by myself at a different casino. I used the hardways set, getting 14 more sevens, for an SRR of 1:4.9 on those final tosses. I was trying just as hard on those final 68 tosses, but it was late and I was tired.
SRR is the ration of rolls to sevens. So anything above 6 is good. Basically Little Joe Green was crushing the challenge, and they still had 68 rolls to go, but he got lost at dinner!
Here’s an episode of Gambling With an Edge where Wong talks about dice. The episode came out several years after the book was published. In the episode Wong kind of seems like he’s trying to strike a balance between being less enthusiastic, while avoiding walking back the earlier writing. But that’s just my impression.
One of the things that you would be interested in if you’re trying to think about whether craps can actually be beaten would be to see if any advantage players had won substantial money at the game. Here’s a link to another Gambling With an Edge where KC talks about playing craps, getting $1.5M ahead… and then giving it all back.
There are various dice control coaches on Youtube and I have been watching some of them… then quickly closing the window when they say something that infuriates me!
One dice expert, who was in the process of showing his prowess of rolling hard way numbers, said “See and that’s why you never say ‘seven’ when you’re rolling,” as he rolled a seven. All I could think was that the whole schtick is to convince people that you are in control of the physics, and yet you’re also admitting that there’s some magic involved too.
If you can conjure up numbers, by their mere mention, then you are in command of a massive massive edge! Why bother with the basement crap table?
I won’t link to any of the Youtube coaches as you can find them if you want to.
The upcoming episode gives a much broader view of the issue than I’ve given here. Both of the guests completed thousands of rolls, and they both took it very seriously. The AP even took the results of his practice into the casino, where he was backed off all over Vegas. The economist didn’t make it into the casino, but he did set up a full crap table in the business school, which carries a different kind of risk.
I’m working on the episode now and hope to have it out in the next couple of weeks.
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