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Playing it smart - Buying five or nine at craps

16 July 2007

If you bet \$20 or more on the four or 10 at craps, you should Buy rather than Place the number. Chances of winning are the same. But you earn more for the money at risk, and accordingly give the bosses less edge. This, regardless of how much you bet. However, edge and earnings for every dollar you can lose vary with the size of the wager. They're best when bets are just below integral multiples of \$20 \$39, \$59, \$119, and so on.

You needn't be a dice doyen to Buy, not Place, the four or 10. Toss a quarter on the layout and ask for the number. The dealer will take it for granted that you want to Buy it for \$25 and will request a \$1 "vigorish" or "vig." Drop the buck, or say "Buy it for \$24," letting the dealer take the vig from the quarter.

Should you also Buy fives and nines when betting \$20 or more? And, if so, will the dealer presume that this is what you want?

When you Place the five or nine, the payoff is 7-to-5. Bet \$20 to earn a \$28 profit. That's \$28/\$20 or \$1.40 per dollar you're out if a seven pops. Edge in these cases is 4 percent. The same rate of return and edge prevail for any acceptable Place bet on these numbers \$5, \$20, \$100, \$2,500, whatever.

Compare this with the Buy alternative. For this purpose, assume that as is usual the vig is 5 percent of the bet rounded down to the nearest whole dollar. And, further, that the casino charges this fee up-front, keeping it whether you win or lose.

Buys on these numbers pay 3-to-2. Bet \$20 to earn \$30. But, to Buy the five for \$20, you must take \$21 from your rack \$20 for the bet and \$1 for the vig. A win gets you back your \$20 plus a \$30 payoff. Since you start with \$21 and finish with \$50, your net profit on a possible \$21 loss is \$29. That's \$29/\$21 or \$1.38 for every dollar you can lose. The edge based on the \$21 at risk works out to be 4.76 percent. The \$20 Place bet is preferable.

The figures change for bets of different sizes. You must Place the five or nine in multiples of \$5. But you can Buy them for any even total of \$20 or more. Say you want to bet \$38. Vig is \$1 (5 percent of \$38 equals \$1.90, which rounds down to \$1). You lay out \$39. A win recovers your \$38 and gets a \$57 payoff. Net profit on the \$39 is therefore \$56, for \$56/\$39 or \$1.436 on the dollar. Edge based on the \$39 you can lose is 2.56 percent.

When you have to cover the vig up-front, return per dollar and edge on Buy bets beat the \$1.40 and 4 percent of Place bets on five and nine with some but not all wagers. The good ones are \$26 to \$38, \$50 to \$58, \$74 to \$78, and \$98. For anything else, the profitability of Buying is equal to or less than that of Placing.

A few kinder, gentler casinos collect the vig only when a Buy bet wins. Buying fives and nines then outshines Placing these numbers at any level. The smallest relative gain is realized at integral multiples of \$20, where return is \$1.45 on the dollar and edge is 2 percent. As an example, a \$40 Buy returns \$60 - \$2 or \$58. And a little third grade division shows that \$58/\$40 equals \$1.45.

The best you can do is at \$38. Since you pay the vig only if you win, a loss costs you \$38. On a win, receipts are \$57 minus the \$1 vig on your \$38 bet. The profitability is \$56/\$38 or \$1.47 per dollar bet. Edge based on \$38 is 1.05 percent. As you raise the stakes, bets just under the \$20 steps still return over \$1.45 on the dollar and have edges below 2 percent, but the premium for solid citizens tapers off. For instance at \$98, you're talking \$1.46 on the dollar and 1.63 percent edge. At \$198, it's \$1.455 per dollar and 1.82 percent.

Dealers generally don't give you a Buy on the five or nine automatically. You have to ask. When you do, they may confer with higher-ups to see if it's allowed. They may also think you're nuts to want this wager. By the way, whether or not they book the action don't try to explain that it's a better bet and spell out the reasons why. Nobody will thank you for confusing them with messy things like facts. As the poet, Sumner A. Ingmark, wrote:

Conventional wisdom's often right,
But when it's amiss, avoid the fight,
With people who'll never see the light.

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Best of Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.