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Maddog's Journey - Part III

(This article originally appeared in the Precision Shooter Newsletter. 

 To subscribe (it's free), send an email to dicesetter@aweber.com with "subscribe" as the subject.)

Part 3: The Practice Rig

For those of you who read Part 2, you’ll remember that I started practicing by tossing into a cardboard box and that the cardboard was taking a beating.  A cardboard box as a practice station? Come on now, we can do better than that.

The next big step up for my “practice rig” was to do something about what the dice were doing to the cardboard “table”.  I needed an improved bottom (table surface) for the dice to land on.  I wandered back to the garage to see if I could scrounge up a board (Did I mention I’m cheap?).   I found an old piece of 1/2” plywood that was just about the right size to fit into the bottom of my cardboard box.  It was not quite wide enough to fit from wall to wall and left about a 2” gap on the one side, but it was the best I had laying around so it was going to have to do.  It was about 2 and 1/2 feet long and I thought this would give me a good “run-way” for the dice landing zone. 

Next I ran down to the local fabric store and picked up a yard of wool/polyester blend felt.  Found a nice green color that looked about the right shade, same as a traditional craps table felt.   I brought this home and wrapped it around the plywood, pulled it tight and stapled it down on the back side.  Finally, I laid the felt swathed board into the box. Viola!  A new and improved practice rig. 

I hope you have this picture in your head, a cardboard box tipped on it’s side with the topside removed, a 2 foot by 2 1/2 foot plywood board draped in green felt lying inside, and three pairs of used Hard Rock Casino dice (blue, green and red!) laying there ready to be tossed. 

Hey, stop laughing.  Come on now, it’s not that funny!  I actually used this set-up to effect for over 2 months!  Ok, go ahead and keep laughing, it was pretty lame.  But, to learn to grip and toss the dice in a light and consistent manner, you really don’t need anything fancy and you don’t need more then what I described here.  Besides, like all those body toning pieces of home gym equipment they sell on TV infomercials, I could slide this rig under the bed when I wasn’t using it.

Having gotten the rig in a bit better shape, I was now ready to start looking more seriously at tracking the rolls.  To start it was easiest to just record for the touted “Sevens to Roll Ration” or SRR.  From what I’d been reading, that seemed to be the main statistic that needed to be tracked.  I set the dice in the hardways set with the 4’s on top (bye-bye snake-eyes, it’s been good knowing ya) and tossed with the 4 finger grip.   That’s three fingers in front and the thumb in back.  This is what was instructed in SS’s book and for now I was willing to go along.

To track, I would simply count the number of rolls, ignoring the results, until a seven showed.  Record that number, and start over counting from zero.  For the most part you can track this in your head and just write down the count when the seven is rolled.  I’d keep going like this until I was weary of tossing.  I’d then take the average of these numbers and call that the SRR.  This approach worked reasonably well.  I was recording an SRR of a tad better then 1:6 so I was encouraged and kept going.

Pretty soon it seemed like I needed to track a bit more then just the Sevens.  So I began tracking each number that rolled.  Again, it was very simple tracking.  Wrote the numbers 2 through 12 down the side of a piece of paper and just made a check each time a given number rolled using the old scratch and slash counting method.  You know, draw a line for each hit until you have four lines, then draw a slash line through the other lines to represent five.  Using these numbers and the expected distribution for the 36 possible outcomes, I found that I am getting fewer sevens then expected, not by much, but I also notice that other numbers were showing outside expected patterns.  More so then could be explained by just the redistribution of the missing sevens.

How many tosses?  I don’t know how many I did during those early months.  I was recording rolls on the backsides of pieces of scrap computer paper and would usually just toss them (if my wife didn’t first), when I was done.  At first it wasn’t very many.  Maybe a couple dozen every 3 or 4 nights.  Not nearly enough as I found out on a disastrous trip (that’s another story).  But after I began getting serious about this sport, the practice hours/tosses became quite a few.   I would (and still do) practice at least a half hour or so most weeknights after the kids got to bed.

I was just thinking that it was somewhere during this stage of my DI investigations that I started looking around the internet for more info on dice influencing.  I started doing searches for controlling the dice and that sort of thing.  This is when I found the dicesetter.com site. 

Once I found the site, I started reading some of the many articles to be found.  Man, what an eye opener.   Can you believe all this information on how to set dice and throw dice and grip dice.  I had no idea that there were so many people who were trying to achieve these results.  From here I learned about more books to read and bought a few.  The first two being the John Patrick book on “Advanced Craps” and the book by Yuri on “Dice Control”.  Found other message boards and web sites, including Heavy’s Axis Power Craps board.  Wow, I was blown away.  And I was inspired that maybe there was even more to this then I originally thought.  I signed up for the message boards right away and like many lurked a bit before I got up the gumption to ask a few questions.

From what I was reading and the progress I was making, I began to feel like I needed to do a bit better job on the ole cardboard practice box.  I’ve built two practice boxes since then.  Neither cost more then about $30 in material (not counting the pyramid rubber, which is where the real expense is on the box.  The damn stuff is like gold). 

It doesn’t take a whole lot of skill to build a respectable practice box.  It’s not like building fine furniture with precise measurements and fancy dovetail or tenon joint cuts, but you do have to be somewhat handy and have a few tools.  What you need is 4 pieces of wood and a drill/screwdriver.  Use one piece of wood for the deck, one for the back wall and one each for the side walls.  You can have your home improvement store cut the plywood for you.  Cover the deck with felt.  Then just screw the pieces together.  Screw the back to the deck first, and then screw the sides to the deck and the back wall piece.    The most difficult part is to hold the pieces together while assembling.  Pipe clamps (or a buddy) work well here.  That’s it and you have a relatively decent box to toss into.

Oh, sure, you can get fancier by using hanger bolts and thumb screws to screw it together so that you can take it apart if you want to store it or need to replace the felt.  You could use hinges so that you can collapse the walls.  Upgrading the felt, buying real pyramid rubber for the back wall, and building rounded corners are all things that will make the box more and more realistic.  If you don’t want to build your own, you can get excellent units from the dicecoach.com site or from Site and Dix over at advantagedice.com.   I don’t have experience with their units, but I’m pretty sure you’d be very happy with them.

In the end, you don’t really need much fancy stuff to start out.  As I mentioned, none of that really has an effect on how you set the dice, grip the dice, and deliver the dice.  It does have some effect on learning to position your landing zone.  There is also that difference on the end results of the dice rolls which effects the roll tracking results.  But until you get the set/grip/toss part down, the rest won’t do you much good anyway.

You see the whole purpose of the practice rig, initially, is get the hang of the toss mechanics in a situation and circumstances where you do not have anything at risk (like money, ego, confidence, etc).  The rig is used to build up that thing called “muscle memory” where your body becomes accustomed to performing the perfect tossing motion.  We use the practice rig to get “familiar” with performing the act of Dice Influencing in an idealized setting and without distraction.

Oh sure, the practice rig can’t match the exact bounce and feel of a true casino table.  Heck, even if you practice on a full sized, authentic casino table, you’d still be pressed to find a casino with a table that matched “exactly” to the one you use.  Each table has its quirks with varying underlayments, pyramid rubber size, length, felt type, etc.  In addition, even having a “real” table, you still wouldn’t be able to replicate the mental aspect of the in-casino session.  The effects of waiting for the dice, waiting for payoffs, thinking through betting, having someone swearing at you for not rolling the number they wanted, etc, etc, all take a mental toll.  All of these real-world influences have a hefty impact on your ability to focus and achieve “the zone” and are difficult if not impossible to replicate in your practice arena.

So what is the purpose of a practice rig?  As I pointed out, its primary value is helping establish the mechanics of controlled throw.  Think about it.   What is the one constant no matter what table you are hanging around?  No matter if the table has old felt, brand new felt, or a microfiber layout.  No matter if the dice are the small 5/8 or the 3/4 razor edge variety.   No matter if the table has the large pyramid, the tiny pyramids, or the pyramid rubber half falling off (like I’ve seen on some tables that are in use but in desperate need of restoration).  The one constant is you and your physical ability to toss the dice gently from your starting position (point A) and land them squarely with minimal bounce to the ending position at the back wall (point B).

Improving your controlled throw is similar to the basketball player who is trying to improve his free-throw percentage.  Our basketball friend might have practiced many years in his driveway using the simple backboard and hoop nailed above the garage.   He probably spent many hours shooting over in the school playground.  He even spent many, many nights practicing his shot in the collage gym.  Now he is about to shoot two with a chance to put the game out of reach in the NBA semi-finals.  Sure, the driveway hoop doesn’t match the perfectly measured and positioned basket in the arena, and he didn’t have several thousand fans screaming as he lined up to flush one from the chalk line he drew on the asphalt of his driveway, but does that invalidate the practice hours he spent there, leading up to this moment?   Or another way to look at it, even if our BB friend practices hours on end in the best facilities his NBA franchise can provide, does he achieve 100% accuracy on his free-throws?  Even the best in the NBA have difficulty keeping their percentage up above 75% at crunch time.

Ok, an extreme example, but you get the point.  Even if you don’t have the perfect casino replication, you can still prepare yourself and achieve strong results with even the most simple practice target.  The initial goals of the aspiring dice influencer need to be (a) can I set the dice quickly, (b) can I toss the dice softly and on target, and (c) can I land the dice squarely to keep them on-axis.   None of these goals require fancy set-ups, but they do require practice and at least some form of practice station.

I said the primary rationale of the practice rig is to produce and develop an ability to execute the controlled toss.  Once you have established the ability to toss, the next value of the practice rig comes to the fore.  That is your ability to start analyzing the RESULTS of your controlled toss.  Now, the one short-coming that I will concede regarding the use of practice rigs vs real-world casino tables, is that the numbers that you are able to toss may differ between your practice rig and your in-casino experience.  I’m running long here, so I’ll save the discussion on tracking and the value of tracking practice results to casino experience for a future Journey article.

For those of you who are thinking about setting up a practice rig, let me point out a few minimum requirements that your set up should cover to maximize your early practice.

~ First, you need some form of a box to toss into.   Doesn’t need to be fancy, just some place to catch the dice (oh, and cardboard doesn’t work too well).

~ Second, a place where you can launch the dice.  Again, you don’t need anything fancy.  I started launching from a barstool.

~ Third, get the correct height of both the toss station and the landing box.  They should both be around 28 inches from the floor.  BTW, this just happens to be the height of most standard folding card tables.
~ Finally, get the correct distance from toss station to landing box.  You need between 8 and 10 feet to practice the distance from the SR/SL 1-2 positions on a 12-14 foot table.  Position yourself farther out if you’re practicing from straight out (match the table size, i.e. 14 feet for a 14 foot table).

That’s it.  Get this set up and you have everything you need to start practicing and practicing and practicing (and while you are at it, practice a little more).

Well that is how I got started with my practice equipment.   Do I still use the old cardboard box and chicken scratch notepad?  Nope.  I’ve rebuilt and upgraded my rig a couple of times.  Each alteration of the rig providing an enhancement, sometimes dramatic, sometimes subtle.  For example, making it larger, adding better felt, adding pyramid rubber, that sort of thing.  I’ve also changed the way I track my practice rolls many times, each time tracking more and more variables in the dice tracking equation.  I expect that as I continue to learn and evolve my game that I’ll also continue to upgrade my tools over time.

Not that there was really anything wrong with what I was using.   In fact I would suggest a similar approach to any new and aspiring Dice Influencer.  Why go to the expense of fancy rigs and stuff, until you know for sure that you are into the DI scene?  Start with simple stuff and if you find out this is something you want to do, and that you’re willing to practice several hours a week, then upgrade to better equipment.  (The one exception is the dice.  You HAVE to get decent dice.)

Well, after spending about 3 or 4 months practicing (in the cardboard and plywood box) and reading up on the many topics on these fine boards I had discovered, I got an opportunity to head out to the casino and give it a shot.  Yep, the Maddog was ready to go on a hunt and I was loaded for bear.  We’ll talk about that in Part 4…

Until next time, keep your toss straight and your rack full.


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