Craps is a mystery to many people. Otherwise intelligent people turn into gibbering wrecks when confronted with a craps table surrounded by people screaming things that just don't make sense. There are two dice, but from there it gets a little strange. Sometimes sevens are good, sometimes sevens are bad, and there are about a kajillion different bets.
Internet craps is a lot easier to get used to, because single player tables move at your pace. This means you've got plenty of time to work things out at your own pace. Once you've played a few "hands" everything will click. A craps games is a battle between the shooter and the house. You can bet on either the shooter, or the house (even if you're the shooter). You can also make bets that have nothing to do with the house vs shooter contest.
But how does it work?
Well, craps is a two stage game.
The first stage is called the come out roll. Here, the shooter is trying to make a "point". On the come out roll a 2,3 or a 12 makes the shooter lose. On the flip side, a 7 or an 11 win for the shooter. Any other number (4,5,6,8,9,10) becomes the shooter's point. That's not too complicated, right?
During the second stage, things are even simpler. If the shooter rolls his point, he wins. If he rolls a seven, he loses. If he rolls any other number, he just keeps going (although on a busy table, these rolls probably decided some bets – craps is a game of constant action).
That's the game. If the shooter makes his point, he gets another come out roll. If he craps out then the dice pass to the next shooter (doesn't really matter online, but it's nice to know).
But what about the kajillion different bets? Well, there aren't really a kajillion different bets, and more than half of the bets are sucker bets anyway, so we can ignore them. But let's go through the bets.
We'll start with the most popular bet. This is the Pass bet (put your chips on the area labelled "Pass" or "Pass Line". This is a 1:1 bet that the shooter will win (if you don't remember how that happens, go back and re-read the game explanation). Since a lot of passes are made on the come out roll (7 is the most common total for 2 dice) NEVER bet the pass line after the come out roll.
The opposite of the pass bet is the "Don't Pass" although the house edge is a little less (we're only talking 0.05% percent which is 5/10,000). Like the name suggests, it is a bet that the shooter will lose. On the come out roll, 12 is a push for Don't Pass bets, otherwise, when the shooter loses, you win. Betting "in the wrong" is not a good way to make friends, or have fun, in live craps, but on the internet it's perfectly safe. You can not make a don't pass bet after the come out roll.
If you want to make a Pass or Don't Pass bet after the come out roll, you can either wait, or you can make a "Come" or a "Don't Come" bet. These work exactly the same as a Pass or Don't Pass bet, except the shooter is not on his come out roll. Confusing? Yep. Just imagine that when you make a Come bet, there's a phantom shooter who is rolling exactly the same numbers as the real shooter. The roll right after you place the bet is the phantom's come out roll, so if you bet Don't pass and the shooter rolls a 4, then you bet Come and the shooter rolls a 7, you win on both your bets!
Clear as mud? Another way is just to pretend all the previous rolls didn't happen and that this roll is the shooter's come out roll.
Pass and Come bets both have a house advantage of 1.41%. Don't Pass and Don't Come bets both have a house advantage of 1.36%. There are among the smallest edges to go up against (this is why a lot of online casinos don't let your craps play count towards bonus requirements).
If you understand these four bets (which are really only two different bets), you know more than enough to play craps. Seriously. You can go out to the casino, or stay in and fire one up on your computer and quite happily just bet the Pass line and no one will know you have no idea how to get to eight the hard way.
The rest of this article will explain a few more of the kajillion different bets (including "eight the hard way", and then offer some crappy advice (sorry, I've held off from this pun for so long now).
The best of the rest (in terms of low house advantage) are the place number bets. These are bets that the chosen number will be rolled before a seven. It's kind of like choosing a point, and skipping the come out roll. A place bet on four or ten pays 9-5 and the house edge is 6.67%. A place bet on five or nine pays 7-5 and the house edge is 4.00%. A place bet on six or eight pays 7-6 and the house edge is only 1.52%.
However, much of Craps' colour and excitement comes from the sidebets / proposition bets / sucker bets, call them what you will. I'll give a couple of examples, but the bets are almost always explained on the felt, so you know what you're letting yourself in for.
Hard way bets are a bet that the selected number (4,6,8,10) will be rolled by a pair before any other roll totalling that number AND before a 7. These pay 7-1 on four or ten and 9-1 on six or eight. The house edge is 11.11% on "four [or ten] the hard way" and 9.09% on "eight [or six] the hard way"
"Any craps" is a bet that the next roll will be a craps (2,3,12). It pays 7-1 with a house edge of 11.11%
You can also bet on things like "snake eyes", "boxcars", and a host of other bets. Proposition bets are definately fun, but they do have fairly steep house edges.
The most difficult kind of bet to understand, and place correctly is an "odds bet". These are also far and away the best bets on a craps table, and perhaps even in the whole casino.
If you have placed a pass line bet, and a point is established, then many places allow you to "take the odds" this increases your bet by some multiple. This "odds bet" is paid out as follows. If the point is a 6 or 8 it pays 6-5. If the point is 5 or 9 it pays 3-2. If the point is 4 or 10 it pays 2-1. Odds bets have no house advantage, and are pretty much the best offer you're going to find in a casino. Typically you are allowed "Two times odds" (you may place twice your pass line bet at true odds on points of 4,5,9,10 and two and a half times your Pass bet on points of 6 or 8 – this is to avoid dealing with payouts like $4.80 on a $4 odds bet). Obviously, the more odds the casino the casino allows you to take, the better deal you're getting. At a real game, you place your money slightly behind your existing Pass bet.
Don't Pass bettors, as much as some craps players hate them, are not excluded from the odds offers. If you have placed a Don't Pass bet, you are allowed to "lay the odds". This is the exact opposite of taking the odds. You bet six to win five on points of 6 or 8, bet three to win two on points of 5 or 9, and bet two to win one on points of 4 or 10. In a real game, you have to place this bet in front of the dealer, tell him it's for "laying [or don't] odds on on [whatever the point is for your Don't Pass bet]"
Odds betting takes a bit of getting used to, but it is a nice weapon to have against the casino. I have heard of 1000X odds being offered as a promotion, but usually, if you can find more than 2X odds, you're doing well.
On the internet, odds bets are almost always available, although you might have to look around a little on the screen. It's often up the top of the screen, above the numbers, otherwise try clicking on your bet itself – it varies.
Half of the fun of craps is finding betting combinations (without giving up too much extra house edge). I personally like "Don't Pass" and then a "Come" bet (and maybe a second one if the shooter is still trying to make his point. After three bets, I usually feel that I have enough action on the table. The nice thing about this system is if the shooter makes a point then sevens out on the next roll, both my "Don't Pass" and my "Come bet" are paid off at the same time. But, there are a dozen other sensible combinations for craps bets (and a kajillion wacky ones), and part of the fun is working out your own favourite combination.
I have heard rumours that Stanford Wong (yes, the blackjack legend) has been investigating craps recently. We'll see if anything comes of it. At the moment though, if you're interested in craps, the best book out there is Craps – take the money and run by Henry J. Tamburin.