LAS VEGAS — Craps! Probably the most fun game at any casino, but what an UGLY name. CRAPS! REALLY! Never thought about the why. You pick up a pair of dice, roll ’em on a green felt carpet, and they call it CRAPS! What? So, of course, we went down the rabbit hole and found a frog. Lemme explain.
The name derives from the French crapaud, meaning toad, which is probably a reference to the way players would squat down to shoot dice on the streets when craps tables were not available. Let’s just say they coulda done better. We have so many French words that live in our everyday lives, like deja vu, facade, potpourri, hors d’œuvre, cul-de-sac, matinee, encore, risque and fiance. All kind of elegant words, then we get CRAPS! Why? Who?
The most commonly accepted version of the game’s creation is that it was invented by Sir William of Tyre in 1125 during the Crusades. The modern version and table layout comes from dice manufacturer John H. Winn, who developed the game around 1910. Back to the French. In Paris, they call the dice “les cubes.” Elegant, right? “Can you PLZ direct me to les cubes?” Sounds so much more refined than “Where are the craps tables?”
Not sure I have all the French correct, but as they say in Paris, c’est la vie!
All that history aside, when you walk into any bricks-and-mortar casino and wander toward the yelling and screaming, you’ll find a craps table. You get to the table and find a mix of business guys/gals, tourists and, invariably, an older gentlemen with a STUNNING woman half his age. Not making any judgments, it’s just a fact, jack.
Then you look at the green felt table and realize you have NO FREAKIN’ CLUE what to do. You see a pass line, the word “come” on both sides of the table and a field with the numbers 3, 4, 9, 10 and 11. When I walked into a casino on the Vegas Strip for the first time over 30 years ago, I was INTIMIDATED by the table, and just left.
Fortunately, I had a friend, Ray, an ex-Navy pilot, who knew his way around the table. He spent almost three hours schooling me, and my pile of chips started to grow. And then, I got to pick up LES CUBES. The DICE. The BONES. The IVORIES. The TOMBSTONES (my favorite), and it was a MYSTICAL experience. Was still on shaky ground, but rolling the bones was a blast. Hit a YO ELEVEN right out of the gate and everyone at the table thought I was William “The Suitcase Man” Bergstrom. Stay at my table every week and we’ll have more about “The Suitcase” down the road.
Obviously, I crapped out eventually – we all do – and wondered if there were any tricks on how to roll LES CUBES. Well, there are a few. A controlled throw, precision shooting or rhythmic rolling. Tell me, Eck. Well, you can throw LES CUBES in a high arc. You can throw with a little backspin. You can grip the BONES in a certain way. Does any of it work? Some say yeah, and some believe there is no edge. After reading a bunch, the YEAH has my attention.
You can probably find a school, a YouTube video, or a guy out here in Vegas, and if you yell at me, I’ll get you names. Or, you can just set up a table in your garage, roll for a few hours, and when your wife calls you for dinner, just yell, “Honey, I’m perfecting LES CUBES!”
Benjamin Eckstein is a nationally syndicated sportswriter/oddsmaker. His column, America’s Line, with the Ecks & Bacon appetizer, has run in the New York Daily News and over 100 other papers since 1988. You can follow him online at www.americasline.com. He is beloved by most, when he picks winners, and detested by others, when he picks the occasional loser. If you wanna piece of Eck, hit his email... email@example.com.