The Proper Way to Get and Protect Your Chips at a Craps Table
G et your buy-in money ready before you even leave your hotel room. Take your buy-in amount out of your wallet and place it in one of your front pants pockets. Then, place your wallet in the other front pocket. Be prudent and never carry your wallet in your back pants pocket unless it can be properly secured with a button. Even then, I always put my wallet in my front pocket so I’m less vulnerable to theft. When you get to the table, avoid fumbling with your wallet. It’s no one’s business how thick it is with $100 bills.
A game will probably be in progress when you get to the table. You don’t have to wait for the current game to end to buy-in, but there are rules of etiquette to follow so you don’t look like a newbie. If the stickman has started moving the dice to the shooter, wait until that roll is complete and the dealer has paid all the winning bets. Then, while the stickman holds the dice in the center of the table, get the dealer’s attention and drop your cash on the apron in front of you. At the same time you drop your cash, say firmly so you know the dealer and boxman hear you, “Change only, please.” This makes it clear to everyone that your cash is not in play (i.e., you’re not making any bets with it) and that you only want to exchange it for chips. The dealer typically responds as insurance that the boxman knows your cash is not in play, “Cheque change only.” She then picks up your cash and places it in front of the boxman. The boxman then counts it, lays it on the table so the camera gets a good look at it, and then pushes down the slot into the drop box on the underside of the table. The boxman then gives the okay for the dealer to give you chips.
Before picking up your chips, ensure the stickman still holds the dice in the center of the table. If the game is still on hold, then quickly reach down with both hands to pick up your chips. Don’t try to pick up an entire stack with one hand because you might lose control and drop half of it causing the chips to bounce and roll all over that end of the table (not a pretty picture). If the shooter is about to roll, leave your chips where they are and keep your hands out of the table area. An unwritten rule in every casino is to never reach down into the table area when the shooter is about to roll the dice. If a die hits your hand and a 7 appears, everyone at the table blames you for causing a dreaded 7-out where they all lose. Other players get mad, cuss at you, and think you’re the anti-Christ. If you don’t remember any other nugget about table etiquette, remember this tacit rule.
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Now that your chips are off the table and in your hands, put them in the chip rack directly in front of you. With a $100 buy-in, the dealer usually gives you 20 red chips ($5 each). If you buy-in for more than $100, you’ll likely get green chips ($25) with the red ones. Whenever you have chips worth $25 or more, always position the higher denominations in the center of your stack. The lower denominations should always be on the sides of your stack to protect the higher ones. For example, suppose you feel lucky so you buy-in for $200 instead of your normal $100. For a $200 buy-in, most dealers will count out 10 white $1 chips, 18 red $5 chips, and four green $25 chips. Arrange them in your rack so the green chips are in the center flanked on both sides by the red chips, which are flanked on both sides by the white ones (i.e., white ones are on both outer ends of the stack). This is contrary to how most players arrange their chips. Usually, you’ll see all the white ones together, then all the red ones together, all the green ones, and so on. It’s neat, pretty, organized, and makes it easier to grab your chips to make bets. But it’s a risky arrangement.
Most people at the table are honest or too afraid of getting caught to try to steal another player’s chips. The instant you let your guard down is when you might be hit. I’m not saying it’s a free-for-all where everyone tries to steal everyone else’s chips. You’ll probably never experience a cheat or a thief at the table, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t guard against it. Notice the casino’s chip stack in front of the boxman. The cheap $1 chips are on the outsides and the denominations get higher toward the center of the stack. By being in the center, those high denominations are well protected. You should use the same thinking in arranging your stack. The thief almost always goes for a chip on the end of the stack because snatching one from the middle is very difficult to execute.
Thieves are rare at a table, but they do exist. If you see someone take another player’s chip, I suggest that you not make a scene or call the person out. Instead, whisper to the dealer what you saw, who then will whisper to the boxman, who will then whisper to the pit boss. The pit boss will call Security to review the camera footage and the casino will then take appropriate action. A thief will usually try to sneak a chip when you’re distracted, such as when you lean over the table or give the drink server a tip. For example, most shooters lean over the table as part of their throwing motion. They generally remain leaning until the dice have stopped. The thief strikes when everyone’s attention is on the outcome of the dice. By arranging your chip stack so the higher denominations are protected, it’s difficult for the thief to snatch them. Because it’s so risky, the thief will likely forget you and look for an easier target.
I use another preventive measure that has become such a habit that I don’t even realize I do it. I position my hands on both ends of my chip stack and leave them there. If I need to remove one hand for any reason (e.g., roll the dice, tip the server, take a swig of beer, scratch my head), I completely cover my stack with one hand and use the other hand to do whatever I have to do. If I’m tired and lean on the rail, I prop up my head with only one hand while the other covers my chips. I never leave my chips unprotected, even the $1 white ones.
Incidentally, do you know why the table crew refers to chips as “cheques?” Did you know there’s a difference between the two? A “chip” doesn’t have a denomination printed on it. For example, the plastic red, white, and blue chips you buy at Walmart are correctly called chips because there’s no denomination printed on them. A chip can be any denomination as defined by the host. If they’re used in a home poker game, the host typically defines the value of each color (e.g., whites can be worth 50 cents, $1, or $5). In contrast, a “cheque” is a chip with a denomination printed on it. A cheque is always worth the value of the denomination printed on it; the value never changes. That’s why the dealer says, “Cheque change only,” when you drop your buy-in money on the table. That is, the chips (or cheques) at a craps table always have a denomination printed on them and their value never changes.
To be technically accurate, we play with cheques at a casino craps table instead of chips. Sometimes you’ll see a player come to the table, drop his buy-in money, and say, “Cheque change,” instead of, “Change only, please.” You immediately know he’s trying to impress the crew and other players with his gambling knowledge. If I’ve gone over my one-beer limit and I’m feeling frisky, I sometimes act like a newbie and ask, “I don’t know anything about this game, what’s a cheque?” The player usually has no clue the word “cheque” is of French origin and spelled that way instead of “check.” His stupid response will make you chuckle. For example, he’ll say something silly, such as, “I want to check with the dealer so he knows I want some chips.” I usually play along by saying, “Oh, I didn’t know that, thanks for the info.” Then, I watch the idiot lose his $500 buy-in in half an hour and walk away complaining that he lost because of the unlucky dice instead of his ignorance of the game.
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