Pass or Don’t Pass – Heads or Tails?

The game of Craps looks extremely complicated to the first time player, but it’s not. In fact, if you can flip a coin and call heads or tails you can play craps. Why? Because at the end of the day craps is the same as a coin flip game. Ultimately there are two choices. The dice will “pass” or they will “not pass” – the equivalent of “heads” or “tails.”

Let’s say the Pass Line bet is “Heads” and the “Don’t Pass” bet is “Tails.” Here’s how the game is played:

On the first roll of a “game” of craps if the seven or eleven roll the Pass Line wins and the Don’t Pass line loses. Heads won. Simple enough, right? However, if the two or three “craps” roll the Pass line loses and the Don’t Pass wins. Again, it’s like Heads or Tails. This time “tails” won. But what if the twelve craps rolled? Here’s where it gets tricky. On the layout you’ll see a sign that says “Bar the Twelve.” That means if the twelve rolls it’s a “push” or “tie.” It’s as if the coin we flipped magically stood on its edge.

What if some other number rolls? If the four, five, six, eight, nine, or ten roll then that number becomes the shooters “point.” If he is shooting from the Pass Line then he must toss that same number again BEFORE rolling a seven in order to win the bet. If the seven shows up first he loses. But if he’s playing the Don’t Pass line and tosses the seven he wins that bet. If he repeats the point before the seven he loses. So the two bets – the Pass and the Don’t Pass are the exact opposites of each other.

As a player who is not shooting the dice, you can play the Pass or Don’t Pass Line as well. Of course, you don’t have to play either to participate in the game but we’ll get to that later when we talk about Place and Lay betting. But for now let’s focus on the Pass or Don’t Pass. You can play either way, just like the shooter.

Which way is the better way to play? On the Come Out roll the Pass player has an 8 to 5 advantage. That’s because there are eight “ways” to toss a seven or eleven. By “ways” I mean there are eight combinations of the dice that add up to seven or eleven. The seven can roll 6-1, 1-6, 5-2, 2-5, 4-3, 3-4, and the eleven can roll 6-5 or 5-6. So the Pass Line bet looks like the stronger play. However, once a point is established the Pass line bet will lose roughly two out of three times.

The opposite is true of the Don’t Pass. It has an 8 – 5 disadvantage on the Come Our roll for the same reason the Pass Line has an advantage, but it will win roughly two times out of three once the point is established.

So which is the better way to play? Statistically, there’s not enough difference between the two bets for the average player to worry about. Pick the play that suits your disposition and go with it. Some players are eternal optimists and like to bet “with” the dice all the time. Others prefer to bet “against the dice.” Still others try to “follow the trend.” Since the dice have no memory it really doesn’t matter in the long run.

I’ve deliberately avoided the subject of “odds” so far for a couple of reasons. For one thing, keeping track of the odds on the various bets can be overwhelming to the new player at craps. Secondly, for a short-run player who may only step up to the table once or twice a year while on a cruise holiday or a business trip to Vegas – luck plays a much bigger factor in your wins than the odds. With that said, there are some bets that are just so good that you can’t NOT bet them. In fact, they’re so good they are not even advertised on the craps layout. I’m talking about the Free Odds Bet.

They’re called “Free Odds” because the house does not have an edge on these wagers. They are paid at their true odds. For example, the house has a 2 – 1 advantage over the player on the Pass Line with the Four and Ten as the point. Your Pass Line bet on the Four or Ten will pay even money if it wins, but the Free Odds bet on the Four or Ten pays 2 – 1, so a $50 Free Odds bet that wins pays $100. The Five and Nine Free Odds bets pay 3 – 2, so a $60 Free Odds bet that wins pays $90. Note that we wagered $60 because in order to get a correct payoff you have to bet “even” money. We could have wagered $12 or $20 or $54 and still have been paid off correctly. The Six and Eight Free Odds are paid at 6 – 5, so a $50 Free Odds bet pays $60. Bottom line – the Free Odds bet is a great bet and whenever you have a Pass Line bet or Come Bet you should take advantage of it.

What about players who are on the Don’t Pass? They can bet the Free Odds as well. However, because they have the advantage on the point once it is established they must bet exactly opposite of the Pass Line bettor when it comes to odds. For example, on the Four or Ten they might lay $50 to win $25 in Free Odds on their Don’t Pass bet – ‘Laying 2 to 1” odds. The five and nine would require laying $30 free odds to win $20, and the Six and Eight would be paid $25 for a $30 Lay wager on top of the Don’t Pass bet. Of course, you can wager larger or smaller amounts according to the table’s limits.

Not sure how much to bet on Free Odds? On a $10 game, Single or Double odds always work if you are playing a 2X odds game. You’d bet either $10 or $20 odds, placing the wager BEHIND the Pass Line bet. In Vegas the most common Free Odds table limit is 3X-4X-5X. That means you can bet 3 times your Pass Line bet on the Four and Ten, 4 times your Pass Line bet on the Five and Nine, and 5 times your Pass Line bet on the Six and Eight. In a $5 3X-4X-5X game where you play max odds your payoff on every bet will be $35. If it’s a $10 game the odds bets will be $30, $40, or $50 if you are taking max odds, and that payoff will always be $70. Confusing? Don’t worry. The dealer will help you out if you make a mistake.

When playing the Don’ts I prefer to play at least 2X odds. In a $10 game that would be $24 odds on the Six and Eight, $30 on the Five and Nine, and $40 on the Four and Ten. However, a simpler number that works is to lay $30 odds on every Don’t Pass bet, regardless of which number the bet travels to. Then sit back, relax and wait for that “coin flip” win.

The difference in the Free Odds bet on the Pass side versus the Don’t Pass side can be confusing. Just remember that they’re the mirror image of each other and you’ll soon get the knack of it. And any time you have a question at the table just ask the dealer. That’s what she’s there for.

Last of all, remember this. That dealer in front of you is basically working for minimum wage and tips. If they’re giving you good service make sure you’re giving them the occasional tip. You can toss a few dollars on the table and place a bet for them – or simply set the chips in the Come and say “dealer hand-in” and they’ll drop the chips in their toke box. It’s the right thing to do.