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11 March 2008

Alex is a craps player, a much better one than when he started writing to me about 14 years ago when this column began.

Back then, he was always sending me convoluted systems, using one-roll propositions to cover up perceived weaknesses in pass, come and place bets. Nowadays he sticks to the best bets on the table — pass/don't pass with free odds, come/don't come with odds and place bets on 6 and 8.

So when the phone rang and Alex started talking, I knew he wasn't going to give me any crazy systems. Instead, he wanted to talk about a good one.

"Tell me about the Five Count," he said.

In years past, Alex had shrugged off the Five Count, the system for deciding when to wager that Frank Scoblete details in his books Beat the Craps Out of the Casinos and Forever Craps. Scoblete is a prime-time craps player as well as the nation's best-selling gambling author, and his Five Count limits the rolls you play and decreases your exposure to the house edge.

I won't get overly detailed here, but basically, you don't bet until a new shooter reaches a count of five without sevening out. The first point number — 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 or 10 — the shooter rolls is the one count. The next three rolls, assuming no 7s, are the two, three and four counts. To reach the five count, the shooter must roll another point number. With no point, the count remains at four and holding.

Once the shooter reaches the Five Count, you jump on board. For more detailed explanations, check out Scoblete's books.

"I understand all that," Alex said. "I've read the books. I even understand you can't bet the way I used to and use the Five Count. You're trying to find a hot shooter, then start betting pass and come with odds. What I'm trying to figure out is whether there's any advantage other than just not risking any money for a few extra rolls. Does the Five Count lower the house edge?"

If we assume all rolls are random, neither the Five Count nor any other system can change the house edge. The house is going to have a 1.41% edge on pass and come and 1.52% on placing 6 and 6 no matter when you do or don't wager.

However, Dr. Don Catlin, a retired professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of Massachusetts as well as a gambling author and columnist at Casino City Times (www.casinocitytimes.com), did an analysis at Scoblete's request. Catlin's simulation found that even though the house edge was the same, Five Count users lost 57 fewer units in the same time of play than those who bet from the start.

"Whoa," Alex said. "Why is that? Just because you're making fewer bets?"

Exactly. You can't overcome the house edge, but even if all rolls are random, you can limit your losses with the Five Count. Depending on individual house policies, you may even decrease the cost of comps by playing the same amount of time with less risk.

"You keep stressing 'if all rolls are random.' Do you think the Five Count has anything to do with controlling the dice?"

Not in itself, though the dice controllers I've met through Scoblete use the Five Count even on themselves. They don't want to risk bigger money unless they're comfortable with their own rhythm on a given day.

But Scoblete maintains that the Five Count can help identified controlled rollers. Some may be people who have developed the skill intentionally, perhaps even taking Scoblete's Golden Touch craps course. Others may be natural rhythmic rollers, who have developed a modicum of control naturally through years of play. If these people have longer rolls than average, then the Five Count will have you betting more on their rolls than on those of random rollers.

"Do you believe that's enough to make a difference? Are there enough controlled rollers out there?"

Honestly, I don't know. I do believe that if you find yourself at a table with Scoblete or the Dominator or any good dice controller, the Five Count will lead you to betting on their rolls. In an average session at your local casino, I have no idea if there will be a single controlled roller at the table.

"While I have you, why do you think dice control works? I mean, you've explained about card counting in blackjack, with more blackjacks and more high cards for double-downs in good counts. What do dice controllers do?"

The most important first step is reducing the frequency of 7s. A random roller will roll one 7 per six rolls. Reduce that to once per 7 rolls, and the odds turn around so that place bets on 6 and 8 have an edge on the house. Advanced dice controllers go a step further, trying to increase the frequency of some point numbers, as well as decreasing the frequency of 7s.

"But they're not trying to hit a certain number?"

No, gambling remains all about odds and percentages. There are no certainties in one roll.

"Or in five," Alex laughed, and bid goodbye.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com.

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Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.