See what one student experienced during his dice control seminar. By taking the craps course offered by GTC, this craps player was given the tools to keep pushing the limits of dice control
Confessions of A Dice Control Rookie by SouthpawJim
So, who knew what to expect when the Golden Touch™ Craps class started at 9:00AM Saturday, April 23rd at the dealer school on Sahara Avenue? All I knew for certain: Some forty-odd people were showing up (or should I say forty odd people?), I would be spending fourteen hours of time over two days in a non-descript second floor room off the Strip that could be spent gambling elsewhere, and I knew that I would meet some people who were authors of books and magazine articles I read in Casino Player. And they were going to show me how to become an advantage player, whatever that was!
Ok, cynicism aside, I must confess that I had already bought and read Frank Scoblete’s Forever Craps and The Craps Underground. I’ve been using the 5-count religiously for a while now. I saw the ads in Casino Player about the course so I went to the Golden Touch™ website to check it out. Could I really learn to be a rhythmic roller? Well, my wife removed all doubt when she gave me the course as a Christmas present this past winter. I would, at least, try.
As a gambler, my background consisted of first learning about craps from books. It was even better in person when I finally tried it in Bally’s, Atlantic City. Craps held my attention, even though blackjack was probably a more logical choice. At least blackjack could give you an edge. You couldn’t say the same thing about craps. Or could you? Over the years I picked out books by authors that included Henry Tamburin, John Patrick, Barney Vinson, R.D. Ellison and Jean Scott. I loved to read about Las Vegas via Tom O’Brien, Pete Earley and others. The funniest book title I have is ominously called The Book Casino Managers Fear The Most! It wasn’t until I discovered Frank Scoblete and his mystical ‘captain’ that changed what and how I thought about craps. What would it be like meeting him? Or meeting the Dominator? People who previously lived only on the pages of a book? Well, I’ll tell you.
You could call it The Frank and Dom Show! Dominator was the set-up man for Frank’s one-liners! If they decided to open a lounge act, I’d be right up there to buy tickets (well, ok, maybe if they were comp tickets). But when it came time for instruction, both Frank and Dom were all business. Their jokes were the lubricant that showed the students that this should be fun. A little grueling perhaps, but fun nonetheless. Frank, as a public speaker, was polished, well prepared, and succeeded in generating interest during the course. Dom continued where Frank left off, but spoke with the voice of experience, practicality and conviction. Their enthusiasm and knowledge was contagious. They also told us that this first hour would be the easiest over the next two days. But as students, we were there because we wanted to be taught. Call it preaching to the converted. It was a good beginning.
Before we actually started any instruction, the students all gave a few sentences about where they were from and a little tid-bit about themselves. Some students were taking the class for the second time to brush up on their technique. A few women were in the class. Some students lived in Las Vegas. There was the Massachusetts contingent (Red Sox fans, but don’t hold it against them), a group from Hawaii, some from the mid-west, and it appeared, all points in-between. There were obvious high-rollers, a company CEO as well as low-rollers and people who made a living playing craps and blackjack. In short, we were all over the map. But then it happened. They asked one group, the lefties, to identify themselves as they spoke. I belong to that group. There were at least six in the class.
They say that 10% of the general population is left-handed. The six out of forty in the class made left-handed representation in the course above average at 15%. I like to say that everyone in the world is born right-handed, but only 10% of the people are able to overcome the handicap. I was put in a lefties group with Bill, Gene and Jeff. We started out at main table #1 (the full size craps table).
After all the introductions were made, we had our first hands-on session at the tables where we were sitting. Going to the throwing stations would come a bit later. We learned first about setting the dice. This is where it all began. We learned to look at the dice and arrange them in the hardways power set. The key to this exercise was speed. We dropped the dice and practiced how quickly we could set them. In my haste to start I thought I had the right combinations on the die faces for this set. But I didn’t. Dominator corrected me in the first three minutes of the class. I wouldn’t lose focus like that again for the rest of the course. After learning about proper grip and practicing our dice sets, it was time for one of the highlights of the day. All the students went to the full size craps table to ‘watch’ our introductions to the instructors. All ten instructors showed us their "stuff." It was amazing to see what a proper, effortless throw looked like. It would later take us two days and countless throws as students to try and emulate what we just saw now. Our education was just beginning.
It wouldn’t be any stretch of the imagination to liken what we were going through as training camp. Imagine if you will, going to an all-star baseball pitching clinic where they dissect your every move, every throw, how you grip the ball, where you stand, how you look down at the catcher’s mitt, how you breathe, how you place your feet, how you square your shoulders, and how you follow through on every pitch. Now substitute ‘dice-control clinic’ for ‘baseball pitching clinic,’ and you get the idea of what we went through. Every one of the instructors closely scrutinized every student. These guys left no stone unturned.
The lefties moved off the main table and went to throwing station #2 with Bob "Mr. Finesse." To the four of us, he taught proper breathing before making our throw. Check that, he drilled proper breathing into us before we could even make our throw (Indeed, a later instructor complimented all of us on our breathing. It was a small victory).
As the lefties group moved from station to station, a running joke started. All of the instructors were right-handed. We had to ‘rearrange the furniture’ or turn the throwing station around so we would have the proper side of the cushion facing us. As we pulled up to each station, we would tell the new instructor he was teaching ‘the lefties,’ and then move the furniture. Sometimes Mike, in the group ahead of us, beat us to the punch and moved everything before we got there. We had the routine down pat.
Bill Burton and Arman "Pit Boss" were our next two instructors. Both of them let us make a few throws before making suggestions. It appeared that my biggest problem with the method concerned my tempo. (Bill kept telling me, "slow down.") I was throwing too fast. My backswing was too long and I was rushing the forward part of my throw. My ‘team-mates’ had their own set of problems. One wasn’t standing properly. Another had a shoulder problem. All the instructors stooped down to look at how straight our fingers lined up across the top of the dice. They held up our hands mid-throw, stopped us just before throwing, or held up our arms for us to look at our follow-through. Were we splitting the dice before throwing? Were we gripping the dice too tight? It was almost mind-boggling how the anatomy of a throw consisted of so many parts. Stickman enjoyed putting his finger between our palms and pushing against the dice. If they didn’t splatter out of our hands, we were holding them too tight (Mine splattered. Another small victory).
Pit Boss gave us a ‘pendulum’ tip. If we keep our arms straight, we could let the large muscle in our arms do the work for us. The top of our shoulder was the ‘fulcrum.’ Our hands and wrist shouldn’t be moving. Our arms did the pendulum swing, like a grandfather clock, perpendicular to the table, to throw the dice. One other thing we were told before the hands-on started: sometimes the instructors will give you advice that conflicts with another instructor. I wouldn’t see that until after lunch.
Was it lunch already? Even though we had twenty minutes with each instructor, time appeared to blur if you thought about it. Frank told us about the nearby restaurants where we could get something to eat. I saw a 7-Eleven next to the dealer school and opted to get a quick bite and go back upstairs. They allowed us to use the throwing stations if we wanted to practice through lunch. I apologize to my fellow students for not going out with anyone during both days of the course. I’m not anti-social, but I can eat anytime. I didn’t, however, have unlimited time to learn this new method. I needed the practice. I saw that I wasn’t the only one getting in extra throwing time. There were other students at the tables during lunch, too.
After the break, the regimen continued. It was becoming clear that the instructors wanted a certain cadence or rhythm to the throw. Height was important. But so was speed (or the lack of it). When you combined height with a soft throw (‘slow down, Jim’ keeps coming to mind) energy was dissipated when the dice reached the end of the table, and they wouldn’t go flying in every direction. Instructors held out one arm and challenged us to throw over it. You couldn’t help but throw a soft toss if you wanted to land the dice before the wall and still make it over his arm. And when you thought you mastered one part of the method, they would check how your fingers lined up along the top of the dice. And check again how your grip was. And check again if you were splitting the dice. Intense. If an instructor said "give me fifty push-ups," not many would have argued. It was a tiring first day!
On the way back to the casino I couldn’t tell you what table or which instructor we finished with. I reinforced what I learned by reading and re-reading my notes. Frank admonished us. He said that we had just learned a new method of throwing dice, so we should get a good night’s sleep. But most importantly he said, "Do not play craps tonight!" When I signed up for the course, Frank sent out an email of just such a warning in advance of coming to Las Vegas. No craps playing inbetween the two days of the course. Mind you, he didn’t say, "no gambling," just no craps. To avoid some of the temptation, my wife and I took in the Penn & Teller show at the Rio and we played some video poker afterwards. I was a good boy; I practiced my dice sets and turned in early.
Ready To Rock & Roll
The next day was marginally better, only because we knew what to expect from the instructors. During our morning briefing from Frank, he asked if we all heeded his advice about not playing craps after class. By a show of hands, "how many of you played last night?" Some of the students raised their hands. So I asked Frank, to be fair, how many instructors played craps last night? Frank turned and asked. Yup, a few of them did play! Frank asked a follow up. "How many instructors lost playing craps last night?" The same hands went up! Though some instructors played, and won, on blackjack and video poker. So it was back to the salt mines and we continued with the balance of teachers we didn’t get to yesterday.
What a difference a day makes. You could see the improvement! There were still issues to deal with, but gripping, breathing, and taking it slowly were much more evident than yesterday. We would have a lesson on the 5-count, discussions about table etiquette, a talk about Frank’s 401G, and a little Zen this afternoon besides our hands-on. The drill sergeants continued their chatter and took no prisoners.
Billy the Kid warned me about my tempo. Street Dog checked my dice for splits. The most intense instructor was Charlie "10 Pin." He combined an easy style with an eerie command of presence that made you look him straight in the eyes when he spoke to you. Tall even when sitting, Charlie wasn’t far from your gaze or your face (everyone have their breath mints?). Engaging and very helpful, he gave me a few tips like putting the dice off to the side so that my thumb could come down straighter when I gripped, preventing a split. He also suggested I cock the dice a little on the backswing to get a few more revolutions when I threw, contradicting what another instructor told me. When I asked him about it he said, "Whatever you feel comfortable with is what you should do (to get the result)." He also had us throw with our eyes closed in order for us to trust what our fingers were doing. I hit Jeff when I did this, but they told me the dice went in the air together. I could feel when the dice both left my fingers at the same time. I later found out this was Charlie’s first class as an instructor. It won’t be his last.
As I went through the day, I couldn’t help but make a comparison to another sport, bowling. The mechanics of keeping my arm straight, aiming for a target down the lanes, and follow through were similar to dice throwing. The pendulum swing of my arm and the call to do the same motion continuously brought me back to this sport. I used the parallel ‘lanes’ of the pass lines as a shooting zone to guide my hands as I throw towards the back wall. And what I hope is a good comparison; my average improved when I took bowling lessons and practiced!
I mentioned earlier that we were given what I call a Zen moment. I was impressed by how Dom wanted us to think about "nothing" before going to the tables. He said it’s important to clear your head of any distractions. We were told to think about a happy place or an especially good time in your life. Craps is an emotional game, and this mindset that Dominator alluded to is another weapon in the arsenal you need to get an edge. It makes sense that the less you have to ‘think’ about like gripping the dice, setting or squaring your hands, the more you can concentrate on making a nice soft throw. Practicing until your motion is automatic helps here. Aiming for this ‘zone’ in a sea of confusion that is a craps table will take some doing.
There were other discussions that Frank and Dom took us through, like how to bet when you are shooting and when the random rollers are shooting, but I won't detail everything here (you either took this course, or should). I'd like to mention a tip that (student) 'Two Bit' Bill gave the class concerning the 5-count. If you would like a physical reminder that this works, then put a quarter chip in your pocket every time a shooter doesn't survive the 5-count. At the end of your session, count the chips in your pocket. That represents what you would have lost if you didn't 5-count! Frank, if you use this tip in your next book, don't forget who to credit! If you're reading this the second time around, you'll notice that I originally credited 'Two Bit' Bill's friend Mike for this tip (I wanted to keep the record straight). Mike, by the way, was the 'no-sevens' contest winner. I believe it was a 15-16 hand roll. Gene, who was our sole lefties representative, had a 21 hand roll in the qualifying round, but was beaten by Mike in the finals.
To say the course was an eye-opener is an understatement. I know I’ll have my work cut out for me if I intend to improve my game. I received my throwing and receiving stations and I’m practicing. The course was a winner. The camaraderie among the instructors was contagious to the students (my apologies if I didn’t mention every instructor). I hope you all get a chuckle with this story, whether you’re an old-hand at this or you were with me this past April. Frank said he had a good feeling about this class and how he thought many of us will go on to becoming an advantage player (only 10% do). I’m not sure if he says that to all his graduating students, but it had its intended effect:
I want to be one of those 10%.
P.S. My first crack at this with money on the line was at Harrah’s. The table was a little choppy, but I wasn’t betting much on them because only a few survived the 5-count. I was standing SR1 and used the 5-count on myself. My first throw was a hard eight. I had a nine roll hand with one garbage number (an eleven). Winning bets: $35, losing bets: $32, a $3 profit! Not much to write home about, but it beats losing. So, what was my wife doing all this time while I was a student? After complaining about never hitting a royal at video poker since she started playing, she hit her second one in two months on this trip. She certainly made out better than I did!
P.P.S. I had the good fortune to watch Pit Boss at the Venetian (my favorite strip casino) throw for about ten minutes. I was looking to get in at a different table but refused to stand anywhere other than SR1 or SR2. It was during this hunt for a suitable table position that I came across Arman. He was there with his lovely wife and her friend. My wife and I chatted with them for a few minutes before leaving. Watching him throw under ‘game’ conditions was remarkable. I can see that this method works. I will certainly give it a try.