Don’t Fight a Cold Table, Adapt to It

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F ew things make you feel as lousy as when you’re playing the Pass Line at a cold craps table.  The distribution variance has turned against you and nothing goes your way as you lose every bet you make.  You begin thinking that the casino made some kind of deal with the devil to make the dice land every which way except your way.

cold table crapsOn the contrary, the universe isn’t against you and the devil isn’t influencing the dice.  A cold table is simply a streak that just so happens not to coincide with your particular betting pattern.  There are no hot streaks or cold streaks in craps.  However, there are times when the distribution variance has a hiccup, which is expected, and outcomes tend to fall outside the expected range (refer to our other lesson on distribution variance).  Depending on your betting pattern (e.g., whether you bet the Pass Line or the Don’t Pass), those brief temporary times can be considered hot streaks or cold streaks–again, depending on your perspective.  For example, if you’re a Pass Line bettor, a variance that causes a 7-out 10 times in a row is a cold streak from your perspective.  However, that same exact variance is a hot streak from the Don’t Pass bettor’s perspective.  Again, there are no hot and cold streaks.  There are only variances that go one way or the other, and the way you bet during those variances determines whether you consider them hot or cold streaks.

Generally, a “cold streak” or “cold table” in craps means that the outcomes are temporarily producing more 7-outs than are expected.  Recognizing a cold craps table is easy.  It’s usually almost empty with only a few players who look bored or mad and are quiet as a graveyard.  Nothing a player does results in a win.  Stubbornly standing and struggling with a cold table generally results in you losing your buy-in and walking away mad or disgusted.

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You ask, “Why do people stubbornly struggle with a cold table by continuing to bet the Pass Line until their chip rack is empty?”  I have no idea.  The only reason I can think of is that maybe it’s a combination of ignorance and greed.  Maybe they’re so desperate to make an easy buck that they don’t think straight.  I don’t know.  They remind me of a big male gorilla in the jungle that beats his chest to show dominance and strength.  When people stand and fight the table, it’s like they’re beating their chests trying to show the casino whose boss and that they can dominate the casino.  Honestly, that’s the picture I get in my mind when I see people stubbornly fight a cold table.  At least some people have enough sense to leave the table before losing all their money.  But why fight or leave?  Why not just adapt to the circumstances?  Why not switch gears to play the cold table to their advantage?

This lesson isn‘t about the theory of statistics, so let’s just accept the fact that the distribution variance causes what we call hot and cold streaks.  Remember, a temporary variance out of what’s expected one way or the other can be called hot or cold based on how we bet (e.g., a lot of 7-outs is a cold streak for the Pass Line bettor, but it’s a hot streak for the Don’t Pass bettor).  What we need to do is learn to recognize those variances and adapt to them.  In other words, don’t be stuck on playing the Pass Line.  Don’t be so stubborn in your beliefs that you think, “I hate the Don’t Pass, I refuse to bet it because I don’t want to be a negative person.”  I’ve actually heard people say to other players that they won’t bet the Don’t Pass because they don’t want to be negative.  That’s just plain stupid.

Why continue fighting the obvious cold trend and continue losing?  There are three basic options you can choose:

  1. Stand your ground and be the gorilla.  Slap your chest and show the casino whose boss.  Keep betting the Pass Line.  Lose your entire buy-in amount.  Walk away disgusted that the dice had the audacity to land on 7 so many times.
  2. Leave and play at a different table.  Hope the next table isn’t “cold.”
  3. Play smart.  Be a solid rock.  Make the casino fear you.  Stay at that table and adapt to the obvious trend.  Truly show the casino whose boss.  Switch your betting pattern to take advantage of those 7-outs.

You ask, “How do I win at a cold table?”  It’s simple.  Instead of betting against the 7 (as you do with the Pass Line), bet with it using the Don’t Pass.  You think, “With my luck, the cold streak will be over when I decide to switch to the Don’t Pass, so then I’ll lose on the Don’t Pass just like I lost on the Pass Line.”  Yes, that situation can occur and likely will at times.  So, let’s adjust our thinking such that we won’t try to beat the craps out of the casino during a cold streak.  Instead, let’s just get through the cold streak without losing.  Let’s try to break even, weather the storm, and then when the cold streak is over, we’ll switch back to the Pass Line and defeat the casino when the variance turns in the other direction.  Remember, you’re a solid rock.  Don’t try to break the casino’s back all at once.  Take your time, stalk your prey, and then pounce when the circumstances are in your favor.  During the cold streak, the table isn’t in your favor, so your goal is to ride it out.  Let the other suckers at the table lose all their money to pay for the casino’s new theater showroom.

If you’re uncomfortable switching gears to play a cold table, you can stand and fight using the Pass Line or leave and find another table.  It’s your choice.  If you stand and fight sticking with the Pass Line, you must freely accept your losses if the cold streak depletes your chip stack.

Here’s my method that has demonstrated time and again to be my best weapon against a cold table.

  1. Don’t think of them as “dreaded cold streaks.”  They’re facts of life, as are hot streaks.  Play cold streaks to your advantage.  You might even begin to like them because of the money you can make.  So, when a cold streak strikes, don’t get mad and depressed the way most other players do.  Stay focused, stay smart, and keep having fun.
  2. Use the low $5 table minimum and as a weapon against the casino.  When a cold streak hits, simply switch gears and bet the Don’t Pass (and that means no stupid proposition bets, no Place bets, no Don’t Comes, no Lay bets, no anything except the Don’t Pass).  It’s that simple.  Make a $5 Don’t Pass bet.  After the shooter establishes a point, lay 1x Odds against the point.  At a $5 table, laying 1x Odds keeps you within your playing limits and reduces the house advantage to only about 0.7% (that’s less than one percent).
  3. If a shooter makes a point, don’t immediately switch back to the Pass Line.  I suggest continue playing the Don’t Pass.  I’ve found that, a lot of times during a cold streak, the shooter will roll another 7-out on the very next game and the cold streak will continue.  However, if the shooter makes a second point (i.e., two in a row), then I slow down by not making any further bets on this shooter (i.e., I wait for him to 7-out).  If he makes a couple of more points and rolls a lot of numbers before the 7-out, I may switch back to the Pass Line for the next shooter.  It’s a gut feeling.  Sometimes, I guess correctly and the distribution begins to correct itself (i.e., the dice start heating up).  Sometimes, I guess incorrectly and the cold streak continues with the next five shooters rolling 7-outs.

When the table is ice cold, you definitely know it.  Shooter after shooter rolls a 7-out within two or three rolls of establishing a point.  The challenge is to know when the cold streak starts to melt.  An indication that thawing has started is when a shooter makes a couple of points, or several shooters roll lots of numbers before a 7-out.  It’s simply a gut feeling.  You’ll guess wrong as often as you guess right.  But you can afford to guess wrong a few times because of all the money you won with the Don’t Pass on all those 7-outs while the table was still bitter cold.  Remember, your goal is to ride out the cold streak, not make money off it (but if you do, then that’s icing on the cake).  You’ll eventually feel comfortable that the distribution has corrected itself, at which time you can then switch gears back to making Pass Line and Place bets.

By changing gears to the Don’t Pass when the table is clearly cold, you have two powerful things going for you: 1) The table is freezing, so the shooter is likely to 7-out resulting in a win for your Don’t Pass, and 2) Playing the Don’t Pass with Odds is the best bet you can possibly make on the craps table, in terms of house advantage.  Again, the house advantage for the Don’t Pass with single Odds is only 0.7%, which is almost an even-money game.

You think, “If the Don’t Pass is the best bet on the craps table, why shouldn’t I play it all the time?”  Excellent question!  You can.  With its low house advantage, you’re wise to play the Don’t Pass all the time.  But you sacrifice one important variable in the overall gambling equation–fun and excitement.  Don’t forget that your four-day Vegas vacation is focused on having fun gambling.  If you don’t maximize your fun, you may not get everything that you intended to get from your vacation.

Playing only the Don’t Pass gets boring quickly.  By far, most players play the Pass Line and, therefore, alienate the Don’t Pass player.  While everyone else cheers, laughs, talks, jokes, and high-fives, you stand there leaning on the rail alone.  If that’s what you look for in a vacation, then by all means, play the Don’t Pass.

You think, “You tell me to maximize my fun and tell me to switch to the Don’t Pass on a cold table, but then you tell me how boring the Don’t Pass is.  If I’m supposed to switch to the Don’t Pass for a cold table, aren’t you contradicting yourself?”  No.  Occasionally adapting to a cold table isn’t the same as always playing the Don’t Pass.

Ice cold tables are about as frequent as hot tables, so you won’t play the Don’t Pass very often.  Most of the time, the table is “choppy,” which means it goes back and forth from making the point to a 7-out.  It’s supposed to be choppy.  Remember, when playing the Pass Line or Don’t Pass, it’s almost an even-money game (i.e., the house advantage is less than 1% for both bets).  So, just like flipping a coin, you should expect to win and then lose and then win, lose, win, lose, etc.   With a choppy table, you see short-lived lukewarm streaks and cool streaks.  Playing the Pass Line with Place bets allows you to continually experience the full range of emotions.  One game, you’ll lose immediately and wonder why you waste your money.  The next game, the shooter rolls lots of numbers that allows you to press your Place bets and replenish your chip stack.  You continually cuss and moan with your playing partners one minute, and then cheer and laugh the next.  It’s that full range of emotion that makes the game so much fun.  The low emotions when you lose make the high emotions when you win so sweet and exciting.  As explained in one of our other lessons, you defeat the casino by taking advantage of the occasional hot streaks and minimizing your losses during the occasional cold streaks.

When you adapt to a cold streak, playing the Don’t Pass can have its share of fun, too.  It feels good to win the Don’t Pass six times in a row because shooter after shooter rolls a 7-out.  It feels good to know you’re a rock, to know you have the sense to adapt, to know you can win when everyone else insists on fighting a losing battle.  You get some kind of perverted pleasure out of watching everyone at the table look at you in disgust because you switched to the winning Dark Side while they stubbornly continue beating their chests and losing.  Then, when the cold streak is over, you switch back to the Pass Line and everyone is magically your friend again.

You can now head over to the table of contents to find more great content.

Author
Written by John Nelsen in partnership with the team of craps pros at Crapspit.org
  • chris

    I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and re-reading these articles. They are excellent. I am still up several hundred dollars after three trips to the casino. So I hit a cold table the last time, and I didn’t follow the advice here. I left the table with $4. Maybe it was a choppy table – a few people made their point- especially when I bet the don’t pass. Curios why you recommend only betting the don’t pass? Why not make lay bets too? It seem like you can get as much action as on hot table but only on the dark side.

    • crapspit

      Hi, Chris, thanks for your post. You’re absolutely correct; you can get just as much action on a cold table as a hot table by betting the “Dark Side.” We at the Crapspit typically bet only the Don’t Pass on a cold table mostly because of the mental aspect. Of course, we always hope to make money during any session (including on a cold table), but mentally we just hope to get through the cold table with minimal damage to our bankroll. Remember, we at the Crapspit play for the fun and excitement of the game, not to try to make a ga-zillion dollars (we know we won’t get rich playing craps). For us, playing the Dark Side isn’t fun (when the table is cold, there usually aren’t many players, everyone at the table is quiet or groaning about losing, etc.). To minimize the damage to our bankroll but still remain at the table for when the cold table ends, we make only one bet, which is the Don’t Pass. The more bets we make (such as Lay bets), the greater the risk to our bankroll. For example, a shooter may roll six or seven numbers before a 7-out. In this example, the table is still cold by virtue of the 7-out (which is a winner for our Don’t Pass bet), but those six or seven numbers before the 7-out would all be losers for Lay bets. Again, our personal goal during a cold table is to get through it so we’re still at the table when it starts heating up. You (or other readers) may ask, “Why not just leave the cold table and come back when it’s over?” Simply put, we’re at the casino to play craps, not to walk around sight-seeing or sit at the bar watching TV. We don’t live near a casino town, so our occasional trips to the casino are short-term vacations. We want to spend as much time at the table as we can (we go to the casino to play craps, not spend time with our wives shopping, dancing, cuddling, sight-seeing…). We never know when a cold table will heat up, so we want to be at the table when the switch occurs (if we walk away from a cold table, we’ll likely miss the switch). That’s our personal way of playing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make Lay bets to take advantage of the cold table. If you get the same fun and excitement out of playing Lay bets on a cold table and if you don’t mind putting your bankroll at greater risk, then go for it. Good luck and have fun at the tables!

  • Phil

    I’ve really enjoyed all the articles, learned a lot, and increased my $100 bankroll by 50 percent 3 out of 4 times in Vegas the first 4 times I’ve ever played Craps. However, let me observe your comments about a hot or cold table obviously succumb to the Gambler’s Fallacy, assuming past results forecast future results. In fact, the distribution variance can kick in on the very next roll of the dice, in either direction, for you or against you. So, when you switch your Pass bet to Don’t Pass, that could very well occur right before the dice change on you. And assuming otherwise relies on only the fallacy, doesn’t it? Beyond that point, this website is golden. Thanks.

    • crapspit

      Phil, thanks for your comment and for your nice words. We appreciate hearing from our readers, and we’re glad our website has helped you learn the game. Technically, you’re correct. Yes, adapting to a cold table does involve relying on past results to predict future results, but let’s see if we can find an acceptable justification for using it. Casinos rely on the Gambler’s Fallacy to get non-bettors to bet. Recall from our other article the example of the tote boards by the roulette wheels. Suppose one of those tote boards shows the last 5 hands were even numbers. A non-bettor strolling through the casino sight-seeing might think, “Wow, that wheel has been all even, it can’t be even again, so I’m going to bet odd.” Gotcha! The tote board relied on the Gambler’s Fallacy to suck that guy in and get him to make a bet that he normally wouldn’t make (i.e., if he hadn’t seen the tote board, he would have walked right by the wheel and continued sight-seeing). Now, let’s go to the craps table. Suppose you’re a staunch Pass bettor; you hate the Don’t and anybody who bets the Don’t. There’s no way you’ll switch to the Dark Side. When the table turns cold, you continue playing, you don’t walk away. You beat your chest, and stand and fight the dice until you toss in your last $1 chip. Now, you’re broke. You have no choice but to quit. You walk away mad, blaming everything except your own stubborn play for your losses. We know trends occur in craps (that’s what “streaks” are). Our objective during a cold streak is to ride it out and stay at the table as long as possible. We don’t want to quit. We came to Vegas to play craps, not walk around sight-seeing. So, if you’re going to continue playing through a cold streak anyway, then the Gambler’s Fallacy isn’t tempting you to make bets that you normally wouldn’t. That is, you continue making bets because you want to keep playing, not because of the Gambler’s Fallacy. So, if you’re going to continue playing anyway regardless of the Gambler’s Fallacy, and if you know streaks do occur in craps, then why not try to take advantage of those streaks and try to minimize your losses to maximize your playing time? If you know you’re in the middle of a cold streak (it’s usually obvious), are you going to be one of those losers who beats his chest and stands to fight against the streak? Yes, as you stated, the streak could end immediately after switching, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take. And even if it does go the other way soon after switch, you won’t be losing that much because you’re minimizing your betting action while playing the cold streak (i.e., make minimum Don’t Pass flat bets with single Odds). Remember, your objective is to stay at the table playing and survive the cold streak so you’re still at the table when a hot streak appears. Phil, yes, technically you’re correct. By switching to the Don’t, you’re basing your play on past results. But in this case, history has proven to our bankrolls that it’s better to switch and play the cold streak with the minimum Don’t bets than it is to stand and fight. Thanks again for your post. Have fun and good luck at the tables!

      • Philip Donohoe

        Trouble is, with any “streak” (hot or cold), you can only identify it after it’s over and wish (in hindsight) you’d found a way to identify it in advance. For example, with, say, three or five seven outs in a row, you can then bet Don’t Pass. But if the seven outs quit, your streak is obviously over. If you get another seven out, all you know is it lasted one more seven out, but that’s no reason to expect yet another seven out, unless you subscribe to the Gambler’s Fallacy. Nothing can predict what the next roll of the dice will yield, no more than the prior spin results can predict what color the next spin of the roulette wheel will yield. That’s the exact lesson you’ve taught us. Talk of recognizing and adapting to “streaks” (hot or cold) always rely on past results to seek to predict future outcomes. Any streak is only hot or cold — until it’s not.

  • Slypig

    What do you think about the “Buffalo” bet on the Come-Out roll? All the hard ways for $5 each – working on the come-out – hop the 7 for $2 each and a $5 horn-high Yo. That is $31 action. I don’t play the Pass Line either. You win on a 2,3,7,11,12 and cash in nicely on a hard way. The bad part is when a point is established the easy way – you have to rebet the hard-way. You will be surprised how many times a hard way comes on the Come-Out roll. Plus when others are losing their Pass Line bets on a 2,3,12, you are winning.

    • crapspit

      Hi Slypig, thanks for your comment. Please refer to our articles on craps systems and hedge bets. If betting that way makes you feel good or comfortable, or if it’s a fun way for you to play the game, then go for it. Entertainment in Vegas usually costs money, so betting your complex hedge system is just another entertainment expense. But don’t think you’re going to win over the long term. And don’t forget, just because the bet is complex and looks exotic, it’s still a losing bet. You should compute the overall house advantage and you might be surprised at how much you’re giving up to the casino. But, again, if it makes the game fun for you, then go for it. That’s the key; if you have fun with it and you’re willing to accept the losses that go with it, then the bet is no worse than any other bet. Thanks again for your post.