Step on a Crack – Craps Shooters and Superstitions

What the heck is up with crapsters and this superstition thing? You know what I’m talking about. It’s a disorder called Apophenia.  That’s the human tendency to make incorrect assumptions based on random data.  That leads to the presumption that there is a cause and effect relationship between certain random events that occur during the course of the game. Take that “dice off the table” thing, or “see a horn bet a horn” for example. Is there really anything to that?

Occasionally connections between two apparently unrelated events are discovered after careful study, but most of the time these apparent connections are found to be mere coincidence. This is especially true in random games of chance such as casino craps. Consider for a moment how these superstitions come into being.

Early psychological behaviorist Ivan Pavlov demonstrated it quite nicely. The work that made Pavlov a household name in psychology actually began as a study in digestion. He was looking at the digestive process in dogs, especially the interaction between salivation and the action of the stomach. He realized they were closely linked by reflexes in the autonomic nervous system. Pavlov wanted to see if external stimuli could affect this process, so he rang a bell at the same time he gave food to his dogs. After a while, the dogs – which before only salivated when they saw and ate their food – began to salivate whenever the bell rang, even if no food were present. This became popularly known as a conditioned reflex, and the learning process became known as “conditioning.”

Meanwhile, back at the craps table, where some gamblers think they can anticipate the future outcome of the roll based on past events. In truly random games such notions are nothing more than superstition that grow out of conditioning. Just as an example, let’s consider the belief that “if the dice go off the table the seven will roll next.” In fact, based on a pure random roll the seven WILL roll approximately 16.7% of the time – no matter when the dice are tossed. Let’s say one person at the table believes in the superstition and calls his bets off. If the seven does not appear the next toss nobody really things much about it because it has no effect on their own wagers. But supposed the seven does roll next? Everyone playing the right side of the game would lose their wagers while the “superstitious” player’s action stayed up. A bell has rung. Ring it often enough and an association will be made. And when that association is made one more person begins to believe.

The greater question is whether or not subscribing to these superstitions does any harm? With superstitions that prompt the player to turn his bets off – the answer is no. In the “dice off the table” example, the player turned his bets off. On the next roll of the dice he could not win – but neither could he lose. And if you follow the math of the game that means he will ultimately lose less.

One of the better examples of  Apophenia can be seen in that small schism in the dice community that believes casinos are deliberately inserting biased dice into the games.  They spend countless hours tracking random data to prove their point.  Yet none of them understand statistics well enough to grasp the number of rolls it would take to prove their theory.  Instead they take small samples and bend them to support their ill-founded theories.  They pack around bags of cancelled gift shop dice that have picked up a bias in routine play and wave them around as proof of their claims.  They have all of the answers – but with all of their “proof” they are still playing low limit games in third rate casinos most of us would never even enter.  They are still sponging comps off their high roller friends or bunking in with their low limit believers.  And when their meager bankrolls dry up they load up their old beaters with their thrift store clothes and ride off into the sunset – busted out in Vegas again.

Yes, superstitions can become that expensive. The old “see a horn bet a horn” belief is a good example. Like the all-powerful seven, a horn number will roll about 16.7% of the time. But that means it will NOT roll 83.3% of the time. Toss out a $4 horn bet and lose it and it’s no big deal in most players’ minds. Toss it out and win $27 on the roll of a twelve and it IS a big deal. The player remembers the big wins – but his mind skips over the losses. But we know for a fact that if you bet the horn at this level over the long haul you will lose $24 for every 36 wagers. Over a series of sessions that can add up to a substantial edge you’re giving up to the house.

Many precision shooters use superstitions a bit differently. They use them, along with knowledge of which sets are being used, to read the table and the shooter. If, for example, you see a player setting the V-3, then tossing an ace-deuce craps you know he’s had a three-face shift of the dice on axis. You also know that if he does not correct the grip or toss issue that caused the excess rotation of one die that there is a likelihood that the ace-deuce or yo will show again. So, you toss out $2 on the ace-deuce/yo or a $4 horn and look for a lightning strike. It happens all the time.

My advice for players looking to play the hops and props – dedicate a very small portion of you session money for this type of play, then set some very firm rules regarding when and how you’ll play that action.  Oh, and save that salivating for the steak house

Do I make “superstition plays?”  Sure.  Anytime there’s what I refer to as an “energy draining event” at the table I’ll turn my bets off.  If I miss a payout on one of my bets – it’s the price I pay.  If the ugly number shows up then turning my bets off may save a thousand dollars or more – and THAT’s a decent days profit.