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Craps Tournaments…The Basics and Beyond

There seems to be a Craps Tournament resurgence of late. 

From the early ‘80’s through to the mid ‘90’s, you could play in the big-money ($50,000+ prize aggregate) tourneys on pretty much a monthly or even weekly basis during some seasons.  Often times from early ’89 through to late ’93; I’d be jetting back and forth between Las Vegas/Mesquite/Laughlin, Puerto Rico, Reno/Lake Tahoe, Bahamas, Atlantic City, Aruba and St. Maarten trying to fit overlapping events into my schedule.

Around about ’94 though, Craps Tournaments rapidly fell into general disfavor, and even though the entire calendar of events for 2005 only has as many gatherings as they used to have in a single month; there is a steadily growing number to choose from as craps contests slowly regain popularity.

Tournament Types and Entry Fees

Typically there are three types of craps tournaments; the weekly $25 entry-fee kind, the more expensive annual or quarter-yearly type where the entry fees range from a low of around $300 to a high of about $1000, and then there’s the high-end invitation-only events.

       The $25 weekly tourneys are run as fun events that anyone can enter, and the prize structure (which we’ll discuss in a moment) reflects the low cost of admission. 


       The more expensive high entry-fee ones are well organized proceedings that see patrons coming from all over the country because of the high-value prize structure.


       The invitation-only events are used as a come-on to draw in additional non-tournament play from the casinos database of best but-not-always-loyal-or-frequent-visiting mid to high-rolling patrons.


$25 Weekly Tournaments

You’ll see these advertised on in-casino posters, monthly Players Club newsletters and on their websites as well as the Tournament Section of magazines like Casino Player.

You simply show up at the appointed time and pay your $25.   The prize structure is usually quite low, usually in the $500 to $1000 range for the overall winner, with 2nd through 5th place finishers getting prizes in the $50 to $400 range.

As I mentioned, these are fun events that can give you a bit of a taste of tournament play.  Though it doesn’t have a high-dollar prize-structure, it does offer a way to get your feet wet and familiarize yourself as to how they are run.  As well, it gives you a better idea of different betting-strategies that might be employed if you ever find yourself in a big-buck event.

High Entry-Fee Tournaments

Commonly, these are held annually or on a quarter-yearly basis.   Although the entry-fees which range from $300 through to well over $1500 in some cases, may seem high; the corresponding prize-structure is even more attractive.

For example, I’ve played in tournaments at Caesars in Las Vegas where the top winner received $300,000 in prize money with the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th place finishers getting $150,000, $75,000, $37,500, and $18,750 respectively.

The amount of organization that goes into one of these events is significant.  You could be competing against as many as 999 fellow entrants, however registration in most of them is restricted to 100 to 400 players simply due to the sheer enormity of staging it and the limited number of prime tournament hours in a day.  After all, the reason they hold these things in the first place is to get attendees to lose their money at the regular tables during most of their other waking hours; so keeping them endlessly in the tournament area does not serve the bottom-line.

Most big-money tourneys have a Welcome Cocktail Party, an ongoing Hospitality Suite or at least a complimentary refreshment area with finger foods, and a final Grand Awards Banquet where the prizes are handed out.

Comped Entry

There are a number of ways to get a comped entry into those high entry-fee tournaments, but it really comes down to how much that particular casino values you as a customer or how badly their Player Development department WANTS you as a customer.

       If you are already a rated-player with the target casino, then a simple call to your casino host will determine whether or not your play-history warrants them comping you into their high-buck event.


       If you don’t have a host there, but you DO have one at any of the other houses in the same casino-corporation family (even if it is in another city, state, gaming jurisdiction or country); a call or two will indicate whether they will waive the entry-fee entirely…and throw in a couple of room-nights and comped meals too.


The better your relationship is with your host, the more likely you are to get a free-ride entry into their high-buck event.

Bet-to-Win Free Entry

Though this isn’t as good as a fully comped entry, it is still a low cost way for a skilled dice-influencer to gain access to the big-buck prize payouts without having to dig into his own kick to come up with the entry-fee.

The two most common bet-to-win-a-free-entry-into-our-craps-tournament enticements is the “Long Roll of the Day” method or the “Bet-and-Roll” method. 

The first obviously employs a longest-roll list or chart where the longest hand of the day wins free entry into a future tournament.  The second involves having to make a specific bet on a certain number, let’s say the Yo-11.  If the shooter (it doesn’t necessarily have to be you…as long as you have a wager on that specific bet) rolls that number while your bet is active; then you win a free entry.

We’ll discuss how much or how little skill it actually takes for dice-influencers to hit those specific bet-to-win-free-entry propositions in a moment.

The bet-to-win prop, in and of itself, often fuels enough casino-revenue so that the house can offer a value-added positive-equity pay-schedule for the tournament. 

Positive-Equity Overlays

Positive-equity is a situation where the total value of the prize-structure exceeds the total value of entry-fees paid directly by the players themselves.

       Let’s say that you have 200 entrants each paying a $500 entry-fee.


       Their total contribution therefore is $100,000, but the casino decides to add another $50,000 to the prize-structure to make it a grand total of $150,000.


       So instead of paying $500 for an even-money (1:1) 1/200 chance at $100,000; you now have a 50% positive-equity chance to get your hands on part of $150,000 even though you still have a 1/200 chance of doing so.


       In other words, even though you only paid an entry-fee of $500, the sweetened prize-structure makes your 1/200 shot worth $750.  Though that is of little consolation if you finish out of the money, the fact remains that the prize-funds exceeded your proportionate cost of being involved.


Invitation-Only Tournaments

These events are fully comped and include a glitzier Welcome Cocktail Party (often with a few celebrities from the Stone Age and a bevy of full-regalia showgirls or rent-a-models thrown in for good measure), an always-open premium-booze/passable-food Hospitality Suite, and a sumptuous over-the-top Grand Awards Banquet (usually hosted by a barely-employed comedian or a long-forgotten star from a 70’s era sit-com) to hand out the prize money.  These events almost always include super-luxury accommodation and several pre-comped gourmet meals (or a generous food allowance) for your entire stay. 

In addition, invited guests usually receive a welcome gift which comprises stuff like a leather or suede jacket with matching travel bags and a bunch of other logo-stuff that usually gets re-gifted to the landscaper or the pool guy.

There are no entry fees for this type of high prize-value tournament.  The invitations are extended as an inducement to bring back highly-rated but infrequent mid to high-rolling customers.  The central idea of course is to use the lure of the big cash-payout tournament to encourage renewed loyalty to the brand as well as generating a ton of non-tournament betting action from the participants.  These events are usually held in secluded, garishly decorated ballrooms, and are never advertised.   Frankly, most non-participating players never even know that the event is taking place.


       If you hear of one of these tournaments but you don’t have a host at that casino, nor do you have any rated play-history within their corporate-family, all is not lost.  Simply contact their Player Development office and tell them where you DO have a play-history and honestly state what your normal level of action is.  Often times, after verifying your level of action, that information is sufficient to garner a tournament invitation, or at least good enough to get a few comped-upfront room-nights even if they don’t have space for you in the actual contest.


Planning Your Tournament Betting-Strategy Ahead of Time

In Part Two of this series, we’re going to take an in-depth look at some battle-proven betting methods and tournament strategies, but the foremost thing to keep in mind when you are playing in one of these events, is that you have to approach it with a mindset that is diametrically opposed to pretty much everything that you’ve learned about dice-influencing advantage-play.

A craps tournament is all about you beating your fellow contestants and it has nothing to do with eeking out an edge against the house. 

It only matters that you advance in the tournament by beating your next nearest competitor by at least one-dollar.  You can’t treat your tournament chips as though you’ll get to go home with them at the end of a round.  If you start out with $5,000 in tournament chips and you end up with $50…but everyone else finishes with less than you; then YOU are the winner.  Likewise, if you turn that $5,000 into $50,000 but someone else makes $50,001; then you still lose.

Tournament play is all about finishing ahead of everyone else.  The casino merely acts as the bet-broker and game-manager.   It is you against your fellow competitors, so you have to give some serious thought as to how you are going to make that happen.   Again, in Part Two of this series, we’ll look at a number of compelling ways for you to finish in the money more often.

Running Mock Practice-Tournaments

I know of a couple of savvy players who run mock tournaments in preparation for upcoming events.  It lets them compare notes and sharpen their betting-strategy with a few other like-minded players.

You can run a mock tournament in two ways.

       You could use your practice-rig at home to stage some mock bets and dice-rolls to try out various betting-methods.  The more people that participate in something like that; the more realistic it becomes.  It is critical for you to take notice of the group-dynamic and competitiveness that kicks in when everyone realizes that it is each player against the other, instead of the traditional everyone-against-the-casino scenario.


       You could also run some betting simulations on WinCraps.   That will tell you a lot about how your approach might fair over the long run in a you-against-the-casino battle, but it doesn’t really tell the whole story about how you would fare against other players at your table in a time-restricted or roll-restricted contest.  Remember, it is you against THEM and not you against the casino.


       A more realistic way to do it with WinCraps, is to try out various betting-strategies while using several different chip-stacks.  You can do this by inputting each different players bets before each dice-roll, or you can do it for real on your Practice-Rig.  In any event, each chip-stack will represent a different betting-method and game approach. 


       Clearly you’ll get a lot of variance from mock-session to mock-session due to the random occurrence of outcomes, but it will give you a good idea of what types of wagering-approaches will work best in various situations.


       These mock tournaments are as much about increasing your awareness of what to do and how to do it during the real thing, as they are about coming up with “ideal” tactics and strategies.


Remember also that most players stick with betting-methods that are near and dear to their hearts, and they only usually vary from them in tournament-play when they realize how far behind they are from the current chip-leader.  That’s when things get interesting, and we’ll cover how best to handle several of those scenarios (no matter which end of the chip-count you are on) in Part Two of this series.

Welcome Cocktail Party

I just want to quickly add that the pre-tournament Cocktail Party is more than just a good place to gorge your face.  Besides restricting the amount of alcohol you consume, it is also a good place to engage other contestants in small talk. 

       Beyond the usual, “Where are you from?” patter, you might gain some insight into how other players plan to bet in the tournament.


       You may be surprised to find that many of the entrants haven’t even given their tournament betting-strategy more than a few passing thoughts. 


       Again, many players stick to what they usually do in regular live-money play, except that in a tournament they’ll do it a little more aggressively with substantially higher bets. 


       Even if they don’t want to talk about how they plan to bet in the tournament, most of them will candidly discuss their favorite “real world” plays.  This little bit of insight should not be overlooked.  You may be surprised to see them as your chief competitors during one of the subsequent tournament sessions.  Knowing their “usual” play in the real-world may give you an inside track into how they’ll bet in the tournament.  Like I said, many contestants don’t stray too far from the bets that they are most comfortable in making.


       Obviously that doesn’t always hold true, and I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you again that the guys who win the most tournaments, most frequently; are the ones who make HUGE departures from their usual live-money play. 


       If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many repeat winners in these types of events, it’s because most winners understand the competitive nature of their opponents as well as the best ways to leap far ahead of their competitors during some of the crucial stages of each session…and NO that stage isn’t always the last four or five rolls of the dice. 


       In many of the early rounds, the best players are so far ahead by the end of the FIRST ten rolls, that it is almost impossible to catch them in the subsequent going.


Like I said, the pre-tournament Cocktail Party is more than just an excuse to strap on the feed-bag and guzzle some free booze; it is also a prime spot to size-up your competition.

On-Site Registration

The registration process on the day of the event is a straight-forward affair.  You simply show up at the on-site Tournament Registration area.  After they confirm your reserved spot in the contest, you simply sign that you have received the Rules & Regulations sheet and that you agree to be bound by them.

Since there will usually be a lag between the time you sign-up and the time your first session begins; this is when you should sit down to review the Event Rules and Regulations so you truly understand them.  You definitely don’t want to find out in mid-throw that your planned strategy is not permissible within the Tourney rules.

The registration process is not only where you find out the time your first session begins; it is also where you draw for or are assigned your table-position for the first round.

Start Time

You have to show up at least 10 or 15 minutes before the commencement of play.  That lets them take care of any last minute glitches, technical delays, and answer any questions you may have after they explain the general rules of play.  If you show up late, you are usually excluded from the tournament…and you DO NOT receive a refund of your entry-fee.

You and Your Bowels

In most tournaments, if any player leaves the table prior to the end of a round for any circumstance other than a "bust out" (where they lose all their chips); they get disqualified…so go to the washroom well before you are scheduled to be at your table.

I was in one tournament at NewYork, New York just after it opened (when Primmadonna Resorts were operating it).  On the second day, one of the players had unwittingly eaten lunch at the Boardwalk Casino’s Surf Buffet.  He was a vibrant shade of green by the time our fourth session was ready to begin. 

We were into the final round, so there was some pretty decent money at stake even for the 14th-place finisher.  He wanted to substitute his brother-in-law in his place but the officials wouldn’t have any part of it.  By the time we were just past the tenth or eleventh roll, this guy was doing all he could to keep his lunch from doing an indecorous projectile exit from either his northerly or southerly bodily outlets.  I genuinely felt sorry for the guy until he put all of his money out on the layout in what looked like an intentional attempt to lose every chip and be eliminated.  Instead, his bets kept winning and winning,  but due to the grimace-inspiring show that he was putting on, I didn’t notice for a roll or three just how far behind I was falling in the chip-count.

Officials finally allowed him to step away from the table to vomit into a trashcan after all the nearby contestants were forced to move away because of the stench that was emanating from another region of his body.  I’d love to tell you that I went on to win that tourney or that he did; but neither of us finished in the top three.  The point is…take care of ALL your needs BEFORE you step up to the table…oh, and don’t forget that the hand-soap is free in most casino washrooms.

Getting Situated At The Table

When they dole out the tournament chips, you can organize them in your rack by denomination as most people do, or you can do it by breaking them into betting-unit configurations. 

For example, if you are planning to bet $660-Inside, then it makes sense to break out that amount from your rail-bank and segregate it with a white $1 chip.  Along those lines, you could split your chip-stake into easy to use $100 or $500 increments.  This enables you to have your focus on what the other contestants are doing and how your strategy fits in with or runs counter to what the current top three or four players are betting. 

Some tournaments do not allow that sort of chip-segregation, opting instead to have all the players keep their chips organized in easier-to-monetarily-estimate red, green and black demarcations.

Maintaining Decorum

When you look at the rules at most tournaments, you may come away with the feeling that it is too regulated.  After having played in countless events, I can tell you that most of those rules are there for a good reason.

Even though there is major prize-money involved in these things, the casino wants to maintain the fun element too.  That means that they have to maintain decorum and good behavior at the table.

To that end…

       There is usually no beverage service available during play, which means you can’t leave the table to get a drink.  It also means that you can’t converse with your spouse and tell them to go get you one.  I’ve even seen a chip-leader (the guy who was leading at the time) eliminated specifically for that reason.

       Many tournaments are now non-smoking events; but if they aren’t, cigar or pipe smoking is usually prohibited.

       Conversing with spectators will be cause for disqualification.  Even hand-signaling between players themselves may result in disqualification and forfeiture of any prize money.  This is to prevent any hint of collusion between players.  The rule is also in place to prevent one player from becoming offensive to another.

Rules and Regulations

The rules for tournament play are fairly universal.

       You have to keep ALL of your chips in plain sight at all times. No squirreling them away or holding them in your hand unless you are putting them directly on the layout without delay.


       You generally have to keep the denominations separate. No "barber pole" alternating stripes or anything like that.  However, if that rule isn’t in place, then as I just mentioned; you can break your chips into the anticipated betting-units that you are planning to wager.


       You cannot give your chips to another player at any time, nor can you take Odds behind someone else's bet even if they aren't laying Odds or even if they have excess "head room" on their Odds-bets or any other bet, and all chips must be accounted for before results become official.


       If you reach the tables maximum-bet limit (and I can tell you that some players hit the max very quickly and very often in some tourneys); you cannot have another player make bets for you with your chips, and obviously you aren't allowed to take chips from another player even if they offer them, or even if they try to make a "toke bet" for you.


       In some tournaments, if you pick up chips from your rail-space, you are obligated to BET those chips. You'll find this rule in a lot of BJ tournaments, but some craps tourneys have started to employ it so that you don't try to "fake out" another player by making them think that your going to make a $500 bet when in fact you end up only wagering $25.


       In a lot of tourneys, once you make a specific bet after the roll has been made...let's say a new $30 Place-bet on the 6...you CANNOT add to that particular bet until the next roll has been thrown. That is, if you make that $30 Place-bet 6, but someone else makes a $300 Place-bet 6, you cannot ADD to your bet until the completion of the next toss.


       Most casinos do not allow late "Off" bets. That is, you cannot call your bets off at the last minute. In fact, some casinos make the bet come all the way down (off the table completely). 


       If they do allow "Off" decisions to be made (as marked by the plastic lammer); then it is usually restricted to your betting-turn.  Once the boxman calls “No more bets”, then even calling your bets “Off”, “On” or “Down” is not permitted.

Typical Table-Limits

In most tournaments, the minimum bet is $10 (but it can range up to a $100 minimum).  At the start of play, all players have to have either a Pass or Don’t Pass bet on the line.  After that, it is as wide open as a wild west town without a sheriff.

One of the most important things you need to know upfront is the MAXIMUM allowable-bets for that tourney.  You may be surprised at how quickly some players reach that limit…sometimes right from the first roll.

For example:


Maximum Amount

Pass or Don’t Pass



typically 10x or 20x

Place-bets or Buy-bets



$1000 or $2000



Ace-Deuce or Eleven


Aces or Twelve


Any Craps


Any Seven


No Hop Bets Allowed

Handling Disputes

Keep a copy of the Tournament Rules in your pocket.  You would be surprised at how often a dispute arises, and you’d be further surprised at how often the dealers or box-person or TGS MIS-interprets the rules.

Since the Tournament Supervisor is almost always in the pit while the tourney is in play, they have the final say.

       If for example, the wrong player in succession accidentally rolls the dice, the roll is called a "No Roll”.  If for any reason, there is a "No Roll," bets may be taken down; otherwise, all bets must play as they lay.

       All bets must be made while the dice are in the center of the table, and dealers cannot assist or remind a player to make a bet. Further, to that, no “call” bets will be allowed even if you have the chips in your hand and are ready to put them on the table.  In many tournaments, late-bets are treated as an attempt to “past post” and may result in your exclusion from play.

       Doey-Don’t betting is almost always strictly prohibited.

       It is your responsibility to keep track of what and where your bets are on the layout at all times.  Equally, it is your responsibility to pick up your winning bets and to ensure that any new bets that you put on the layout are properly placed on the appropriate wagering spot. 

       In many tourneys, you are only allowed to make bets after the dealer has finished serving the player beside you.  That’s just common sense and common courtesy, but I’m still amazed at how many veteran players still have no clue as to why there is so much confusion during real-world live-money play when they and their tablemates all shout out betting-orders to the base-dealer or the stickman at the same time…and then they have the audacity to blame the dealers for slowing the game down.  I would urge every avid craps player to re-read “Slaughtering A Sacred Cow” at least once a year.

Preparing for Subsequent Rounds

Sit down and relax so you can put some thought into how you want to play the next round. Carry a pen and paper if you need to figure out a different strategy.

       As we discussed under the Welcome Cocktail Party heading; you can use the between-rounds interval to relax and reformulate your game-plan for subsequent rounds. 


       You can plan your tactical reformation based not only on what you observed other players doing during your previous round, but this is also an ideal time to discuss what happened at other tables during other sessions with other players.  


       During your discussion with those players who are also advancing, you can often pick up some subtle or overt clues regarding strategy and tactics that they employed during their session and what they plan to do differently in the next round.


Again, the insight you can gain into what other players are planning should not be underestimated or ignored.   Rather, it is an ideal place to see the difference in mindset between players who were eliminated during the first round compared to players who have now advanced to the second or subsequent rounds.  

Still further, as you advance to subsequent rounds, you’ll find that many of the players who won their respective table-sessions, did so with strikingly similar betting-strategies. 

Now obviously, luck does play a part in terms of whether your bets will produce enough profit as far as each roll-outcome is determined; but most importantly, it is how you respond to the current chip-leaders bets that will make the ultimate difference when the chip-count is tallied.  Obviously then, if you wait until the last minute or the last two or three rolls of the session to make your big move…just like everyone else; then an unmatched desperation move is your only hope for advancement salvation.  Relying strictly on luck, is hardly a strategy for making money.

The Yo-11 Shoot-to-Win Free Entry Angle 

As I promised earlier, I want to show you the best way to bet on and shoot for the Yo-11.  This is not only helpful to win a free entry in the Las Vegas Hilton’s annual craps tournament (by having an active $5 bet on the 11); but it is also a very powerful C-O or stand-alone point-cycle Prop-bet as well.

We start with the Straight-Sixes (S-6) dice-set, but we permutate it (transpose) so that the top-faces are 6/5 and the near-faces are set as 5/6.   This gives you two primary-face outcomes as 11 and the other two primary-face results as 3 (2/1 and 1/2).

Let me give you an assumptive example for three different levels of on-axis proficiency:


On-Axis Outcomes:




which are comprised of…










Single-Pitches in either direction:





Off-Axis Outcomes:




which are comprised of…


One-die off-axis




Both Dice off-axis






Number of combinations

Random Probability

S-6 set    50% O/A

S-6 set  55% O/A

S-6 set    60% O/A









































































Now the first thing that I have to make clear, is that you should expect your Sevens-to-Rolls Ratio (SRR) to be absurdly low with this approach.  In fact, you shouldn’t be surprised  (if your on-axis proficiency mirrors any of the above examples) that your SRR will be in the 4.44 range for a 50% O/A shooter to a high of 4.76 for a 60% O/A player.

Much more important than your actual SRR though, is what you do with the actual rolls that each of these skill-levels offer.  Have a look and I think you’ll immediately see what I mean:


Type Of Bet

S-6 Player


50% O/A

S-6 Player


55% O/A

S-6 Player


60% O/A

Edge per roll on Field bets, triple on 12




Edge per roll on 2 or 12




Edge per roll on 3 or 11




Again, your on-axis efficiency does not even have to come close to the theoretical 100% efficiency to make a given dice-set work. 

Even mediocre axial control delivers up usably bettable and tangibly profitable results. 

Besides seeing the obvious reasons that I primarily use the S-6 set when I’m shooting from the Don’t, there is still a fairly strong and compelling reason to use this from the Rightside even if you aren’t trying to earning a free entry into the Hilton Craps Tournament.

       For the 55% O/A shooter with a 20% edge over both the 3 and 11 as well as the 2 and 12; the S-6 is a Horn-bettors delight…even during the point-cycle. 


       On the Come-Out you could make this into a World-bet instead of the Horn since the 7 is also expected to show up 21.5% of the time.  That “little” 4.83% difference-from-random for the 7 actually represents an increased expectancy-rate of 29% (28.9742% to be exact).  So if you are seeing nearly 30% more 7’s (which accounts for why your actual SRR will be so low); you’ll probably want to do something about that, wagering-wise.

Still To Come

Now that we’ve covered the basics of Craps Tournament play, Part Two…Going For The Gold takes a serious look at a variety of betting-methods and game strategies that you will probably want to consider when going for the 1st place gold.

I hope you’ll join me for that.

Until then,  

Good Luck & Good Skill at the Tables…and in Life.


The Mad Professor

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