BY: Steve 'Heavy' Haltom
Table conditions are among the first topics precision shooters turn to when they get together is. To be successful, the precision shooter has to know what he is up against. Is the table long or short - hard or soft - dead or bouncy? These are all variables we're interested in - and many things effect them. Not the least is the tables construction. What goes into the construction of a craps table and why? There are as many variables as there are casinos. Let's look at a few.
First of all let's talk about what the table is - a piece of furniture. Why did you choose the sofa you have in your living room? Perhaps you liked the style or color. Maybe you wanted a sofa that converted to a sleeper. Or a full-sized sofa may have been too large for you living space, so you opted for a love seat instead.
Just as your wants and needs effect the selection of furniture for your home, casinos have different wants and needs when it comes to choosing a craps table. And since most craps tables are built to order, the casino managers get pretty much what they want.
As more and more casino floor space is given over to slot machines, the casino manager may opt for several smaller tables - or one or two very large ones. Likewise, as employee costs skyrocket labor intensive games like craps suffer. The casino may trade its fourteen-foot table, which requires a four-man crew for, and eight-foot tub table that can be staffed by one or two. Most of the tables you will encounter in the casinos will be twelve or fourteen feet in length. Many casinos have a mixture of the two. Occasionally you will see a sixteen footer - commonly referred to as barges or aircraft carriers - out there. Though some longer tables are said to exist, it is rare to encounter one longer than sixteen feet. The economics of building such a table when the standard length for most lumber is eight feet simply makes it cost prohibitive. Likewise, longer tables are more difficult to deal.
Table length and staffing aren't the only variables precision shooters have to deal with. Just as in ordering new furniture for you home, there is a long list of choices available to the casino manager when it comes to ordering a new craps table. How high should the deck be from the floor? What material should the deck be constructed of? Do you want speed bumps installed on the deck? Do you want the deck corrugated? Do you want a foam underlay? If yes, how thick? Which layout do you prefer? Will that be blue, purple or the traditional green? What material do you want it made from? Do you want the traditional wool felt, the less expensive polyester wool blend, or the more expensive Monte Carlo blend? What rail to deck height do you prefer? How many dividers in the chip racks? What material would you like on the top rail pad? Do you want the nine-inch or the eleven-inch pyramid rubber? The options go on and on.
Then there is the issue of the table's shape. The standard table has a curve at the corners based on a twelve-inch axis. Yet there are all manner of custom-built tables that differ from this norm. There are semi-circular sit-down tables that are operated by a single dealer. These tables are slightly larger than a blackjack table - and essentially the same shape. The entire player-side wall is curved, while the dealer's side is straight. This results in a very sharp corner on each side of the dealer. Likewise, the larger two-man tub tables have a smaller axis in the curves - around eight inches. Can these effect the shooter's toss? Absolutely. Sharper curves and tighter corner result in the tops of the rubber pyramids being compressed into a tighter space - reducing their randomizing effect on the dice.
In addition to the tub and straight tables, there are hourglass shaped tables that are wide at each end, while the center of the table where the stick man and box man work is indented by eight to twelve inches. Due to more severe space restrictions, the table on your favorite cruise ship is likely to be longer and narrower than those you'll encounter in a land based casino. And often, when the seas are high, the precision shooter is tossing at a moving target.
From time to time you may encounter a table that is not level. One end may be higher than the other, or the table may lean toward the dealers. This is a frequent problem on riverboats and older land-based casinos where the floor itself is not level.
As a table matures other things can occur that impact the precision shooter. The layout becomes more worn in some areas than others. Spots where bets are frequently placed and paid out may harden as the felt loses its nap and the underlay is compressed. A spilled drink may have left its own mark beneath the felt - a mark that can impact the play long after the felt has been cleaned. A nick or crack in the wood deck beneath the felt may send a die careening off axis. The deck itself may warp over time. All of these variables can have an effect on the shooter as he embarks on his quest for his particular sweet spot on the table.
So how do you avoid table-selection disaster? Here are a couple of tips that might help. First of all, whenever possible play on shorter length tables. Short tables tend to be more forgiving as it is possible to get the dice all the way down to the wall with a softer touch. Secondly, chart the tables themselves before playing. Watch the interaction of the dice with the felt. Are their dead spots on the layout? Make note of them and use them to your advantage. Finally, when you are ready to shoot the dice, try to schedule your play at a time when the tables are less crowded. Start out with table minimum line bets and limit your other action until you've found your sweet spot on the table. Then settle into it like it was your favorite easy chair and watch your bankroll grow.
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