With a Roll of the Dice
Some world-class craps players have discovered a way to limit the number of 7s that they hit
From the Print Edition:
Cigar of the Year, Jan/Feb 2005
Just prior to departing for Las Vegas, I receive the following e-mail: Bring some money for betting at craps! I'll let you bet with my money if you don't want to risk your own, but if you use my money then everything you win or lose belongs to me. You are more likely to win than to lose when I am shooting.
If you understand anything about craps, your reaction to a suggestion like this should be something along the lines of yeah, right. We all know that, long-term, nobody beats craps unless he's cheating. It's a pit game, run by the casinos, designed to provide excitement for gamblers just as surely as it is devised to take away their money. Dissect the odds and you will see they are hopelessly tilted against you. You'll lose way less if you devote your time to playing basic-strategy blackjack.
What made this e-mail interesting was its source: Stanford Wong. The pseudonymous Wong (he's not Chinese, but he did go to Stanford) is one of the most respected guys in gambling. He's had success at card counting and sports betting, he's written numerous books on both subjects, and he is known for being completely levelheaded and on the square. His name is even part of the advantage player's lexicon. Among card counters, there is a term called Wonging, which is the act of wandering from blackjack table to blackjack table, counting cards and looking for a high count, and jumping in to start betting. Gambling at a casino game that he cannot possibly beat is anathema to Wong. Such a prospect would repulse him and might very well leave him feeling physically ill.
So, what's with the e-mail? Through a series of coincidences, Wong claims to have stumbled across gambling's equivalent of Sasquatch: craps players who have actually devised ways to beat the game. Initially skeptical, Wong is now a true believer. For anyone who knows anything about Wong, that is heady stuff. He has discovered a way to influence the dice—nobody can totally control those bouncing squares—to limit the number of 7s that he hits (which, for pass-line players, is a losing roll, once a dice thrower has established his point). "People toss basketballs well enough to go through hoops, people get ringers with horseshoes, and they throw darts precisely enough to hit a tiny bull's-eye," reasons Wong, making all of this sound perfectly simple and rational. "Why shouldn't you be able to throw the dice in an advantageous way?"
To find out, the ever-curious Wong took a couple of dice-throwing classes. One was with Beau Parker, who calls himself the Dice Coach. The other was with an outfit known as Golden Touch Craps. In both instances, Wong spent hours being tutored on the fine points of setting dice (to increase the likelihood of certain numbers coming up once the dice hit the felt), holding dice (gently) and throwing dice (so they pretty much leave your fingers of their own volition). "The classes are great," Wong says. "But you have to practice, practice, practice. You want the dice to travel with an axis of rotation parallel to the table. Then, when the dice hit the felt, they will hit on a corner. It's very similar to learning to hit a golf ball. But I'm a lousy golfer."
Wong overcame his lack of natural athleticism by endlessly shooting dice onto his bed's mattress, getting the throwing motion down and thus gaining a sense of how it should feel when the dice leave his fingers. Over a five-month period, he estimates that he threw 5,000 practice rolls. In the process, Wong became pretty stoked about the whole thing. He related as much to friends in the gambling world and colleagues at his book publishing company, Pi Yee Press. "They all thought it was total nonsense," remembers Wong. "Their attitude was the same that mine had been a month earlier. But they were sitting around and doing no research and relying on their past perceptions. I, on the other hand, watched people and learned that some of them can have an influence over dice."
When enough friends and acquaintances doubted the viability of it, Wong decided to put his money where his mouth is. He bet several of them that it is possible to consistently throw better than random. In 500 rolls, if you were to simply toss dice without a plan or training, statistically you should hit 83.33 sevens. Based on the way things were going for him, Wong believed that he could get that number down to 76, thus giving him a 1 to 3 percent advantage over the casino. To keep the bet fair, and to make it suitably alluring, he wagered that he could roll 500 times and hit fewer than 80 sevens (it was an over/under bet with $2,800 riding on every point). Mathematically, by the way, his 1 to 3 percent advantage is the same as what card counters and sports bettors require for steady profits, and most of Wong's gambling friends thought it sounded too good to be true.
He lined up a bunch of wagers and coerced his talented buddy Little Joe Green to handle some of the rolling chores (the deal was that Wong would not have to do all the rolling himself), and wound up winning $15,400 from a group of shocked bettors. "I thought it was a bunch of malarkey," says a guy who goes by the single name of Fezzik and happens to be one of the top sports handicappers in Las Vegas. "But I never got caught up on whether or not Wong could do it. It was always more an issue of whether or not I could do it. Now, after watching him, I'm convinced that I can. At the end of football season, I am going to be actively looking for a craps table that I can rent and learn on."
The dice-throwing exhibition reached a peak when some of the gamblers began betting on Wong (that is, against the casino and against their initial beliefs) in order to recoup their losses on the original over/under wager. Wong says he insisted to those who were going against him that they were making bad bets, and he expresses no surprise at having won. Fezzik says he knew he was in trouble when, after they made their initial bet, Wong immediately wanted to increase the stakes by 10 times (and change the cap for Fezzik from $10,000 to $100,000). "I didn't hide my skill from the other guys," says Wong. "But I did hide the details. I got to choose the casino"—Wong prefers old felts, which tend to be less springy than the newer ones—"and I scheduled the challenge for a time when I knew that Little Joe would be in town."
One person who would not be the least bit surprised about Stanford Wong's and Little Joe's abilities to defy expectations is Frank Scoblete. A teacher at Golden Touch and author of The Craps Underground: The Inside Story of How Dice Controllers Are Winning Millions From Casinos, Scoblete has been winning at craps since the late 1980s. His first encounter with a legitimate dice influencer—that is, someone who beats craps without cheating or sliding dice—is a guy Scoblete calls The Captain. He was a New York-based real estate tycoon with a penchant for gambling who traveled to Atlantic City in the late 1970s. "He observed craps and slowly worked on a method for getting an edge on the game by controlling the dice," says Scoblete. "He became very good, but the best I ever saw was a woman who called herself The Arm. She took the dice in her hand, circled them over the felt, and threw in such a way that her dice died at the wall. She and The Captain had a six-month-long stretch in which they won over $1.5 million at the Tropicana in Atlantic City."
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