Dice Control: The New Frontier
by Frank Scoblete
Note: This is an excerpt from the book I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps!)
I met my future wife the Beautiful AP when I was part owner of The Other Vic Theatre Company on Long Island in New York. Responding to my ad, AP applied for the job of stage manager. I have to be truthful - when I saw her I loved her at first sight. She got the job.
She was a good stage manager and a good actress too.
After she did several shows with us she auditioned for the role of a depressed chorus girl Fran Walker in the play The Only Game in Town by Frank D. Gilroy. I was the lead, Joe Grady, a degenerate craps player with a good heart. It was a powerful, funny, intense play about lives first lost and then found and the life-changing power of love. It also showed the degenerative power of a gambling addiction. I guess another title of the play could have been Losers in Love!
I faced a big problem though. I had no idea what I was talking about when it came to casino gambling. I'd have these really dramatic monologues about casino play, my good and bad streaks, and I wasn't sure what the words I uttered meant. The final monologue of the show, an uplifting David and Goliath story of one incredible night at the craps tables had me emoting like crazy about - what? I had no idea what the words meant.
This was in the mid-1980s. I had never been in a casino, nor had she. We decided we'd better take a trip to Atlantic City to learn what casino gambling and craps were all about.
We went to the Claridge because I had a personal interest in this particular historic hotel. In November of 1946 I was conceived there. The Claridge was built in 1930 and became known as "The Skyscraper by the Sea." The Claridge had an old-world charm. It also had the Captain and his high-rolling Crew.
Unquestionably the Captain had the most profound effect on my gambling life. Without his ideas and mentoring I would never have become an advantage-player or a successful writer of gambling articles and books. I have said before and I'll say it again now (unabashedly) that the Captain made my writing and gambling success.
We met the Captain at the Claridge. What the great Paul Keen was for me in blackjack (see my book I Am a Card Counter), the Captain was even more of that for me in craps. He was the master, the conductor, the genius of the game and I learned more from him about craps and casino gambling than I ever learned from any book.
It just so happened that during this period of time in my life the Captain and his Crew of 22 high rollers called the Claridge their home. So in a sense I was conceived in the Captain's Atlantic City home; the very hotel that would launch my casino playing and writing career. My late father-in-law Don Paone would call this "Divine Providence."
The Beautiful AP and I walked through the casino. I noted some interesting facts about blackjack (for example, if all the aces came out no one could get a blackjack and this started me on the road to card counting) and then we headed over to the craps tables. I observed what was going on - totally confused by the multitude of bets a craps player could make. Chips were flying all over the place.
"Give me a yo!"
"How about snake eyes?"
"Hard eight my man."
The dealers were moving like lightning; taking chips and putting them on various numbers and symbols; paying off winners; taking from losers. It was mind boggling, and then mind numbing, and I wondered how people could play what appeared to be the most confusing game I had ever seen. Even the layout looked like some space aliens had designed it.
The Captain was about 65 years old at this time and he could see that I was totally confused. He also heard me say to the Beautiful AP, "I'll never learn this game. It's insane."
"Yes, you will," he said. "Most of the bets you are hearing players yelling you can ignore. They are bad bets; I call them Crazy Crapper bets, and they should never be made. They sound good but they stink. What you are hearing is a symphony in chaos."
That sold me, "a symphony in chaos." This old man could have been a writer if he so decided.
The way the Captain played the game was anything but chaotic. Eschewing all the bets he called "Crazy Crapper Bets" such as the Horn, the Whirl, the craps numbers, the Hardways, the Field and others, the Captain instead focused on the Pass, Don't Pass, Come and Don't Come.
"It isn't enough just to bet these bets, you must have some rhythm with the dice," he said. "Every bet has a casino edge on it and to win you must overcome that edge. There is no other method to beat the casino at craps than good bets and rhythmic rolling."
The Captain firmly believed in this "rhythmic rolling" idea, the ability of some players to change the probabilities of the game based on the way they handled the dice. Today, we call such shooters dice controllers or dice influencers. He was convinced that if you made the right bets and threw the dice in a rhythmic way, the game could be beaten. In fact, he knew the game could be beaten because he was doing just that - in a big way - for over a decade.
Dice control critics want to know why there aren't dice controllers making millions playing the game. The critics present their arguments in a sarcastic way, not to win over those who are on the fence but merely to amuse those who already agree with them; their criticism is much the way critics criticize teachers, using that famous refrain, "those who can do, those who can't teach." The Captain made millions, so did Jimmy P., and so have several others that I know. The Captain was also a great teacher - he taught me everything I needed to know about advantage play.
Certainly, casinos try to protect themselves against such dice manipulation by putting rubber pyramids against the back wall where the dice must hit. These pyramids supposedly randomize each and every throw. Unfortunately for a good rhythmic roller the pyramids just reduce the control; they do not fully randomize the results on most rolls.
"The pyramids are a nuisance, nothing more," the Captain said. "You can have some control even with them there. Your edge goes down when the dice hit them but you can still have an edge. The casinos probably have no idea that their pyramids are not fully protecting them against rhythmic rollers."
The Captain also believed that many rhythmic rollers were not aware that they were changing the nature of the contest from one of randomness (which favored the casinos) to one of control (which favored the players).
"If you take a look at rhythmic rollers there are certain things that they all show. They carefully set the dice the same way each time. They aim. They take care with the speed of the dice, with the slowest speed being the best. If you throw the dice in a slow way, when those dice hit the back wall they will not scoot all over the layout as a regular dice thrower's will. They will tend to settle down in basically the same relationship with each other. It doesn't happen on every throw, many throws are random, but this happens with enough throws that some control is created. That control gives the player the edge if the player bets right."
Some rhythmic rollers in those days often said that they have had great success at craps when they throw, never realizing that their "luck" was self-made because they were exerting some control over the outcome. In short, true skill could beat the game of craps. The Captain thought such rollers had helped him win since Atlantic City's Resorts Casino first opened its doors in 1978.
From my more than quarter century of personal experience at the craps tables I can see that everything the Captain said about rhythmic rolling was correct. In those heady days of Atlantic City's childhood, the Captain did the supposedly impossible - he won well over a million dollars. Naturally these wins did not come in one night, one month, or even one year. Having an advantage at craps did not mean you won every time you played. Much like blackjack, the edge a player has is small but it is an edge and the longer you played the better chance you would be ahead.
The Captain was well ahead when I met him that first night at the Claridge. He was well ahead of the casinos to the very day he died on February 10, 2010 during a huge snow storm in New York City where he lived. It is believed in myth that when great men are born or die nature goes into turmoil; wild swings occur in weather, moving stars appear in the sky and the dead walk the earth. The Captain was a great man and nature seemed to reflect his death during that great snowstorm.
The Captain had two strong factors in his favor as well - he was an excellent dice controller with a beautiful backspin and landing, a truly soft throw and, perhaps even more important, he had his not-so-secret weapon, a woman everyone in his Crew called "the Arm." She had a unique lob of a toss, the dice going into the air without any spin, as if they were stuck in time and space, landing softly, and then skidding to the back wall where they died. Indeed, despite the fact that I have seen some of the best of the modern dice controllers, no one has matched the Arm.
The Arm's roll was not a "slide" or "carpet roll," meaning a roll that stayed on the felt all the way down to the back wall. The dice did loft into the air in a gentle arc and then landed as a plane lands, skidding to the back wall where they died.
Still, who was this Captain, this greatest of all craps geniuses, the teacher that taught me everything and has influenced hundreds of thousands of craps players for over a quarter of a century?
The Captain was born in 1922 in Brooklyn. His immigrant father was a fruit store owner whose common-law wife was a descendent of some of the earliest pre-Civil War Americans. [When his father and mother decided to officially get married in 1953, his mother was quite nervous and said, "I'm worried I might be rushing into this." At that time their five children were grown with families of their own.] The Captain's life was a mixture of skill, chance, good fortune and often the inability to see that others took advantage of his generous spirit and willingness to forgive transgressions against him.
He was a newspaper delivery boy in the 1930s; volunteered for the Army Air Corps during World War II where he saw combat in the Philippines. During this combat period his plane was shot down and he spent over 10 days behind enemy lines, catching malaria, losing 33 pounds, hallucinating wildly and carrying a dead companion around (he thought the guy was alive) before being rescued. He saw the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima, sitting secure on the runway as the officers and airmen ate their meal before taking off on a mission that would see the first use of an atomic weapon.
It was during this time period when the Captain learned to play craps and started tinkering with controlling those cubes. The craps game the soldiers played was different than the casino game as it exists today, but the idea was basically the same. Make your numbers; avoid the seven. The players booked their own games, there was no house. The Captain banked quite a high percentage of these games.
During the 1950s and 1960s the Captain tried his hand at various businesses, some succeeded and some failed. He became the neighborhood go-to guy if you wanted a no-interest "loan" that you could skip out on without fear of having your head bashed in as would happen with a loan shark. That was the Captain. If you needed money, he would give it to you and tell you to pay it back when you could. Many of the people who soaked him never paid him a dime.
But one such act of generosity set the Captain on the course of earning enough money to establish himself in the bigger business circles in Brooklyn where he lived at the time.
During the 1950s the Captain ran a television store. He sold Admiral TVs - one of the first stores of its type in the neighborhood. He kept a television in the window so people walking by could see this new marvel of entertainment technology.
A young man named Johansen would get off the subway near the Captain's store. He'd watch the television in the window. Finally the Captain talked to this young man and told him to pick out whichever set he wanted and pay the Captain when he could.
In the mid 1960s, competition in the television field became intense as department stores started to carry TV sets as well - sets they could price much lower than an independent store such as the Captain's. The Captain then partnered up with a "good" friend in convenience stores spread throughout Manhattan. The friend turned out to be a crook and bankrupted the stores. He borrowed money from loan sharks and one day just vanished - just vanished as the loan sharks were closing in on him - and the Captain.
The Captain had no idea what was going on but even though he lost his business and owed an incredible amount of money because of his partner, he did manage to pay back everything his now-vanished partner and "friend" had borrowed. But his career selling televisions and sundries was over.
"It was horrible that betrayal by a friend I trusted," said the Captain. But the Captain paid the money his "friend" had borrowed from the mob. Some friends are only friends in name, not in deeds - a sad fact of life. He never saw that "friend" again.
He went to work for the airlines and decided to become a commercial real estate broker. He got his first property with his savings from his airline job and a loan. It was an empty lot in New York City. He put an advertisement in the paper showcasing the lot as a great property on which to build an office tower.
A few days after the ad appeared the Captain got a call from an investor. The investor did not ask any questions about the property. He just wanted to know if the man selling it was the same man who used to own the television store by the subway station. The Captain said "yes" and the man said - without even looking at the property - that he would buy it. The man on the phone was Johansen, who had been the young man to whom the Captain gave the television set many years before. Johansen had become a millionaire.
That sale launched the Captain on a successful career as a commercial real estate broker, a career he continued until his early 80s.
When Atlantic City's Resorts Hotel and Casino opened in 1978, the Captain took a trip down to the shore. That started him on his second career, that of the greatest craps player who ever lived - a career that ultimately resulted in my career as well. I'll let him tell the story of what took him from a gambler to an advantage player.
"My one great failing as a young man was playing the horses. I was a decent player but still during the course of my career I took a beating as do just about all horse players. I quit cold turkey when I went into real estate but I always had that urge to try my luck.
"I went down to Resorts and watched the games. The place was always packed with players. I didn't actually play at first. I made many trips and just watched.
"It took me awhile of watching and then playing to realize that craps was a devastating game against most players. They would go up on numbers, make really bad bets, and often lose everything really quickly when a seven showed in a roll or so.
"That's when I decided that I didn't want to go up on shooters right away - why take the chance? I started to wait a few rolls and finally I decided that five rolls would be sufficient before I risked my money. This five rolls idea ultimately became known as the 5-Count and over the first half decade I tinkered with it in different ways. I figured the 5-Count eliminated maybe half the rolls." [NOTE: Mathematician Dr. Donald Catlin's study of the 5-Count showed it eliminated 57 percent of the random rolls thereby allowing the 5-Counter to bet on just 43 percent of the random rolls.]
The Captain continued: "Simultaneously, I really studied the shooters. It didn't take me too long to see that the shooters who took care with the dice tended to have better rolls or to hit repeating numbers before sevening out. I started to look for these shooters and I started to call them rhythmic rollers because I could see that they got into a kind of rhythm when they rolled.
"I also wondered why others were not noticing what I was noticing. I would look around the table and most of the players just weren't watching closely. They were concerned with their bets for the most part. A shooter was just a shooter. Other players basically thought, if they thought at all, ‘if the shooter had form so what?' Despite the fact that craps is a communal game with many players betting the same bets on the same shooter, it is still solitary because you are concerned with your own bets. Still it did surprise me the lack of focus other players had on the form of the shooters in the game.
"Of course, if shooters sevened-out early there was a lot of grousing on the part of the players who had lost money but being miserable at a craps table is part of the fun for many players. I don't understand why it is fun for them but it is.
"As time passed, I started to make friends with various guys at the casinos. I also had a bunch of friends from the neighborhood that enjoyed going to the casinos. The Arm was one. She is the one that solidified my theory that some players could control the dice because over two decades she was either the luckiest craps player in the history of the planet or she had a profound ability to control the dice. I opt for the second one. She was a marvel.
"I worked on my shooting too. My form and style were completely different from the Arm's but it worked for me. My style was also a lot easier than the Arm's as well. I really don't know how she could do what she did. Those dice looked like slow motion in the air and they rarely bounced when they landed on the table. They just slid to the back wall and died.
"I guess by the time we met at the Claridge, my friends became known as the Crew, we became big shots in Atlantic City because of the Crew's high-roller betting, and for some reason or another I was chosen as their leader. They are the ones who started calling me the Captain. I was never a captain in the military.
"Everything just kind of evolved."
While the Captain used the word "evolved," it took a man of great insight to see the possibilities in the game. His powers of observation brought together two important factors:
Over the years the Captain and I spent a lot of time together in the casinos. He was my coach in craps and my mentor. In the early 1990s, I started trying to control the dice as well. It took me three years of red-chip casino craps play to begin seeing positive results but see them I did. (I'd go to casinos between 100 to 130 days a year during that time.) Even though I was primarily a relatively high-stakes blackjack player through the 1990s, my blackjack play began to decline as my dice control ability started to peak. Craps then became my game of choice. Since 2002, I've played craps about 95 percent of the time.
The Captain also had a profound effect on my writing career. My first book Beat the Craps Out of the Casino: How to Play Craps and Win! is the best seller of any craps book in history. Although the book is now outdated, it is a nostalgic tour for me. Most of the Captain's Crew have passed, with two exceptions, Satch, who was the youngest member of the Crew and me.
Some of the ideas in that book I have changed; I have tinkered with some of the betting elements to make them stronger. My current craps book, Casino Craps: Shoot to Win! is a far more complete and powerful work, but that book is built on the foundations the Captain laid. As Paul Keen was to blackjack; the Captain was to craps - "the greatest of all time" to quote Muhammad Ali.
How good was the Captain as a controlled shooter? Amazing. He is the only player I have ever heard of that had two hands that went 100 or more rolls before sevening out. In 2004, he rolled 100 numbers and in 2005 he rolled what was then a world record 147 numbers. Those are staggering achievements, even more staggering since he did them in his 80s. I have a recounting of his 147 roll in this book.
Over the years I have written many articles and books about the Captain. During that time, he has become a controversial figure in the "gaming community" and I have become a controversial figure for writing about him.
Some bellicose writers, backed by absolutely no knowledge of the Captain, the Arm or the Crew, have confidently written that the Captain was merely a figment of my imagination created to sell books. He's been disdainfully called the "mythical" Captain, the "phony" Captain, and the "crazy" Captain. Other unknowledgeable writers do credit his existence but as an exaggeration - again by me trying to sell books based on the Captain's non-existent ideas. These folks also have the supreme confidence of individuals who know nothing about whereof they speak.
Naturally, those who have played with the Captain know him and see him for what he was - they know that everything I have written about him rings the bell. I remember once in 2003 when the Captain and I were playing at Wild Wild West in Atlantic City one of my students, Vegas Ray, came to the table. He had no idea who the "old man" was playing next to me. But when the "old man" rolled and rolled and rolled, hitting number after number, Vegas Ray mouthed to me, "Is that the Captain?" I nodded "yes" and Vegas Ray beamed. When we were finished with our session, I introduced Vegas Ray to the Captain. Even making loads of money on the Captain's roll was not as exciting to him as meeting the man himself.
Indeed, the very first dice control school PARR created by author Jerry Patterson and taught by Sharpshooter, the author of Get the Edge at Craps (Taylor Trade Publishing), used the term "rhythm roll" to describe what they taught. This was a compliment to the Captain's definitive contributions to advantage-play craps. They just changed rhythmic to rhythm.
In fact, in 1996 the Beautiful AP and I met Chris "Sharpshooter" Pawlicki for the first time at Tropicana in Las Vegas. During this lunch, he poured on the accolades for the Captain and how the Captain inspired him to really study the field of rhythmic rolling. I autographed copies of several books for him too. These books (Beat the Craps Out of the Casino, Guerrilla Gambling and The Captain's Craps Revolution) opened the dice control doors.
Without a doubt, Sharpshooter and Jerry Patterson had a profound effect on controlled shooting as Sharpshooter was the first engineer to really study the physical dynamics of the skill and Patterson saw a way to market such a skill to the casino gambling public. The PARR course attempted to teach a throw that was similar to the Captain's. Although that course was mostly lecture, it set the stage for the development of more sophisticated schools. Without PARR, the world of dice control education probably would not have developed.
Sharpshooter is not the only writer who had the utmost respect for the Captain. In the early 1990s I met with Sam Grafstein, author of the enjoyable book The Dice Doctor (Cardoza Publishing). When you read Grafstein's book the man seems a little harsh, the gambling equivalent of Archie Bunker. It turned out he was nothing like that.
My first gambling book Beat the Craps Out of the Casinos had just come out and I was in Las Vegas visiting the Gambler's Book Shop for an autograph session. Howard Schwartz the irrepressible manager of the store and the Gambler's Book Club mail order company told me that in a few minutes Sam Grafstein would be there. I was quite nervous when I heard that because even in those days Sam was a known craps celebrity. What would he think of the book; that is, if he had read it?
Sam also made me nervous because the tone of his book The Dice Doctor showed him to be cantankerous. I was new at this book-writing thing and now a known craps writer was about to greet me.
Then Sam entered the book store, went over to Howard who nodded in my direction. "You Scoblete?" asked Grafstein.
Crap, what was he going to say? Would it be: Kid, your book sucks! You call yourself a craps expert? Who is this idiot the Captain? Don't quit your day job. And you're ugly.
Instead, he was gracious and friendly. "That Captain is a genius. I loved the 5-Count. I loved the book." He was nothing like what I thought. "Let's go play when you finish your book signing."
And we did. We headed to the Horseshoe in downtown Vegas.
Sam was primarily a Don't player when I was with him but he never rushed onto a shooter. He'd qualify the shooter in the interests of picking the one he felt would seven-out quickly or, if betting the Right side, would make some numbers. His method of "qualifying" is a typical gambler's approach since there is no such thing as qualifying a random shooter; still, the more time spent qualifying shooters the less time the house has to grind down your bankroll with its edge since qualifying keeps the player out of the action
I did get to play at the same tables with Sam for several days. I enjoyed every minute of those sessions. Over the years I really don't know if he lost or won (based on his philosophy I would guess he was a long-term loser), but I can say he had a winning personality and I really liked the man.
I am thinking that Grafstein has joined the Captain and his Crew in the heavenly casino. But I do hope Sam doesn't bet against the Arm because then he would lose his halo!
Perhaps the greatest compliment for the Captain by a writer on the inside of the casino industry came from Robert Renneisen who was president of the Claridge Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City during the early 1990s when the Captain and his Crew played there. His book How to Be Treated Like a High Roller: Even Though You Are Not One (Lyle Stuart) references the powerful impact the Captain had on his casino.
"We had a host, I'll call him Mike [author's note: interesting because I believe his actual name was Mike and he was the Captain's host at several casinos in AC over the years]. He had a large following of players who knew how to take advantage of the system. They came frequently and would quickly leave when they were unlucky, rarely losing much. [author's note: I am guessing the use of the 5-Count by the Captain, the Arm, Jimmy P., Satch and me limited time when things went south]. When they were winning, however, they would bet enormous sums and rack up a lot of ‘points' in the rating system.
"Frankly, they were smart players."
Mike said this: "The Captain is killing us."
Whether the Captain's followers actually left the casinos when things weren't going well happened not to be my experience with the majority of them. As I said, only the Captain, Jimmy P., the Arm, Satch and I would leave if things were going poorly. Still Renneisen summed up how the Captain played.
The Claridge was the Captain's paradise for several years until Mike moved on to the Castle in the Marina district. The Captain then moved his whole Crew to that casino-hotel. The Castle went through many incarnations over the years. It became Trump Castle, Trump Marina, the Marina and now the Golden Nugget.
I spent many nights at the Castle with the Captain and his Crew. I remember one Saturday evening the Captain and the Crew and their wives and girlfriends (a few of the women played craps; most played the slots) had a huge party in the Harbor View restaurant (now the Chart House), a beautiful restaurant overlooking the Marina with a wonderful view of the skyline of Atlantic City. Even though it was a Saturday night, the executives closed the restaurant for the Captain's private party.
Why did casinos such as the Claridge and the Castle and subsequently the Showboat, the Taj Mahal, Resorts, the Grand and - for awhile - Tropworld treat the Captain so well? Simple. While the Captain won boatloads of money as did the Arm, as did (eventually) Jimmy P., the rest of the Crew tended to be crazy bettors. They liked to play and they liked to bet big money. Their losses over time were immense. The Captain's wins could not touch those losses.
I also think the casinos did not fully appreciate the concept of rhythmic rollers - it almost seemed that the Captain had exclusive rights to this brilliant idea until I opened - as Ralph Kramden said - my "big mouth" by writing articles and books that the idea of controlled shooting (now also called dice influencing) made its way into the consciousness of craps players. The smart ones learned how to do it or, at least, tried to learn how to do it; while others pooh-poohed it, although most players today at least know about it. Keep in mind that just "setting" or "fixing" the dice is not enough to give the player the edge. It is merely the first step; so all those "dice setters" out there have no impact on the house edge. About the only thing some of them do is slow down the game because they have no idea how a die's pips are laid out.
There are many people out there who met the Captain and also some who know his name. The real names of some of his Crew members have also come to light. My "big mouth" was not responsible for that. I promised him I would never reveal his name and I have and will continue to keep that promise. I keep such promises.
The next level of criticism concerning the Captain has to do with my written statements that the Captain discovered the modern theory of dice control (or dice influence) in today's casinos; ideas that I wrote about in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Such critics wish to postulate that while the Captain might be real, he knew nothing about rhythmic rolling in today's casinos - they postulate that others created the idea and I absconded with it and made it look as if the Captain discovered it.
This criticism is nonsense.
Not only were my publication dates before all the other claimants' publication dates but my actual research and writing took place long before the books' publication dates as well. If you've ever written a book for a real publisher you know the lag time between writing it, editing it and then finally seeing it in print is often quite long.
Why others try to diminish the Captain's contributions to advantage-craps play or to deny his very existence puzzles me. Perhaps it is a heavy dose of jealousy or the mistaken belief that if they knock someone superior they elevate themselves. Who knows?
But long after the self-described experts and Internet website gurus are totally forgotten and their criticisms lie in the dust like Ozymandias' ruined statue, the Captain's ideas will live on.
He started it all.
He was and still is the man.
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