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Winning at the Big 3

Everyone's got a buddy or an Uncle with winning gambling strategies, here are some that actually work.
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Hopper, Jan/Feb 01

(continued from page 1)

After about 20 minutes, Grossman's $40 stack has been depleted. I win a few times with single chips but never manage to parlay the next bet into a bigger payoff. The possibility of how well things could go, however, becomes evident after Grossman refuses my offer to get him going again with a dozen chips and his numbers hit three times in a row. Looking a little heartbroken, Grossman calculates how much money he could have won -- $525. Then he says, "We started playing about five minutes too early."

After my 40 chips get wiped out, I ignore Grossman's advice and cash in for another 40. After about a dozen spins of the wheel, those are gone as well. I decide to save the rest of my money for the craps tables and depart to that annoying dealer's send-off: "Better luck next time, sir!"

En route to valet parking, I can't help but wonder what happens if you work your way up to a $25 spin and your number hits again. "You go up one more increment, to $50 on each bet," says Grossman. "Then, if you lose, you walk. You're done. Go to the bar and buy yourself a glass of Champagne to celebrate having accomplished what you set out to do: you beat a game you really shouldn't have beaten. The gods smiled on you." Then he shrugs and adds, "But even if you don't win, you get a good ride and the most you stand to lose is $40."

Craps is arguably the most exciting game in any casino. When a dice thrower gets hot, the table seethes with so much action that it feels likely to levitate off the ground as players scream for numbers and spray chips all over the felt, making random bets based on hunches and intuition. It's a lot of fun -- in a team sport kind of way -- but it also tends to be costly when those hunches fail to pan out.

Michael DeMarco is a former stockbroker who moved to Las Vegas 10 years ago. For a while he made a living playing craps and, under the pseudonym Mickey Day, recently wrote an entertainingly surreal book about the game, entitled Master Craps with Einstein. DeMarco is a friendly guy with a brushcut of gray hair and a booming voice. He's devised a craps system that minimizes losses, maximizes wins, and is easy enough to learn that you don't need to be Albert E. to put it into practice.

DeMarco waits for me at the bar inside Binion's Horseshoe, an old-school temple of craps and the casino where a gambler named Archie Karas enjoyed a legendary run at the tables that generated many millions in winnings before his luck turned and he gave it all back to the house.

We order a couple of Cokes and I wonder why DeMarco chose Einstein as his metaphorical gambling partner. "A girl I know gave me a book about Einstein; I started thinking about how he would play craps," explains DeMarco, as if this would be the most obvious consideration after reading about a genius mathematician. "Two of the things he believed in were a unifying principle to the universe -- which you could call a god -- and closed systems. I started to think of 7 and 11 as the two gods of craps. The closed system is the 36 combinations of numbers that you can get from rolling two dice. When you massage those numbers, you find out that the average number of rolls before a craps decision gets made is 3.75. If you were Einstein, what would you do with that information? You would devise a system for three rolls, which honors the 7 and 11 when they do show."

If you're Michael DeMarco, and you are playing with $10 units of chips, your system translates thusly: $10 on the pass line (in which you bet on the first number that the shooter throws, the "point"), $10 on the come (in which you bet on the next, nonpoint number that the shooter throws), and $20 for a second come bet. It's a conservative money management system in which you double every second wager. The idea is that if numbers fail to hit, your downside is limited, but, if a thrower suddenly gets hot, then your bets escalate quickly. Most importantly, since the come bet's opening roll pays off on 7 and 11 (but loses on 2, 3 or 12 on the opening roll), you protect your money against crapping out on the second or third roll.

Because craps is a streaky game, DeMarco likes to increase his chances of making some early headway by finding a good table. "Good" in this case is defined by dense crowds of bettors who are cheering wildly. This means that the dice are hot and people are winning money. "If you see somebody walking away from a table, even if it is crowded, don't be too quick to slip in there," warns DeMarco. "You have to figure that the guy is leaving because he's lost money."

No wildly ecstatic crowds are in sight. So we settle for a table that's fairly busy and lively. I throw a pair of $100 bills on the table; the croupier hands me stacks of chips. The first thing DeMarco does is tell me to put four of the $25 chips into my pocket. Then we lay out $1 and $3 bets (this is about testing the system, not about being a high roller). Every time 7s or 11s hit on the opening roll, DeMarco tells me to put those chips in my pocket. "That way," he says, speaking with the logic of a true gambler who's sweated through his share of god-awful nights, "you know you'll have something to bring back to the cage with you when this is all over."

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