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Maddog's Journey - Part VI

(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 6: Putting in the Practice

"I'm a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."
Thomas Jefferson 

"The mode by which the inevitable comes to pass is effort."
Oliver Wendell Holmes 

I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen."
Frank Lloyd Wright

"Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish."
John Quincy Adams 

"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."
Thomas Alva Edison

"Dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you're willing to pay the price."
Vince Lombardi

Dang that’s an awful lot of quotes on the virtues of practice, and by some pretty famous folks to boot.  And I didn’t even include any of the good ole’ standbys like “practice makes perfect”.  I guess maybe this practice thing has some importance.

One thing that I knew for sure was that I needed to put in more practice.  The speed that I was setting the dice made me uncomfortable and I knew that was not a good thing.  Yep, fumbling about with the dice was just not conducive to good concentration and a relaxed pitch.  And my toss, well, my toss was just not consistent enough to be profitable.  Yes sir, I knew there was something wrong and I needed to work on it if I was ever to get anywhere with this DI thing.  So what was I gonna do about it?

I must admit that I spent sometime just thinking about it.   You know, the old “I should probably practice more”, kinda routine.  I’m sure you’ve all been there with something similar like “I otta eat better” or “I should get out and exercise more” or “I should put a few bucks away every week so’s I can have a bigger bankroll”.  Yeah, we’ve all been there.  I was starting to head down that path again myself.  But one day I realized that if I didn’t quit thinking about it and start doing something about it , the next “I shoulda” would be a “I shoulda practiced more” as I watched the dealer pull my bets in after the seven-out.

What I needed was a goal and a plan.  Naw, I’m not gonna bore you with a lecture on goal settings for success.  What I decided to do was actually pretty simple.  I set a goal to get 50% on-axis results over 360 rolls.  Now I knew that it might take me 36,000 rolls to get to that level of proficiency, but that seemed as likely a target as any and a target that would certainly turn profits in the casino if ever I could make it happen.  It seemed a good goal.  It was quantifiable, not something vague like “I want to shoot better”.  The only thing missing was a target date, but I had know idea how long it was gonna take, so I figured I’d just keep at it for as long as I had to, to get where I needed to be.

Ok great.  So there’s the goal.  Now, what is the plan?  What steps would need to be taken to accomplish my desires?  Hmmm, with a family and work and community activities and bla bla bla, how was I gonna get in the amount of practice I needed?  Well for me it turned out that once the dear sweet wife and I got everyone to bed, that was going to be the best time for me.  I made a plan that for the next few weeks I would practice for about 1 hour after everyone got into bed.   This gave me from about 10pm to 11pm to practice.

Well, like starting a diet or a new exercise program, my practice plan started off with a few fits and sputters.  Sometimes I started sooner or later then planned.  And there were some nights where I’d skip practice altogether for one excuse or another.  But after awhile, once the routine was established, it became easier and easier to stick with it.  

So I got the practice schedule down and was getting into the groove and comfortable with the new habit. Another important element to getting the practice routine in gear was getting my practice area set up to my liking.  I set up a Pitching Station covered with grids of masking tape to mark off specific launch points.  A nice Toss Box with plenty of room (not that you need a lot of room in your toss box, I just like to build large), and chalk to mark out landing spots.  Even had pyramid rubber on the back wall by this time.  I had a six foot banquet table set up between the pitch station and the toss box.  When all the pieces were assembled together, it almost looked like a full sized craps table.  Well, ok, it wasn’t that close, but it was a decent set up for practicing.  I even got to the point of looking forward to getting everyone off to bed so that I could go down and futz about with my little “hobby”. 

Course, my goal was to get to 50% on-axis tosses, and the only way to know if I was making progress towards the goal was to keep track of the toss results.

I worked up a spreadsheet that was simplicity itself.  I worked up a page that contained 36 pairs of boxes running down the sheet.  After a toss, I’d take a pen and write down the results of the left die in box 1A and the results of the right die in box 1B.  After the next toss, the results of the left die would get written down in box 2A and the left die result would be written into box 2B.  And so it would go until I had filled in all 36 pairs of boxes.  After fiddling around with the font’s and layout a bit, I was able to improve the page by increasing the amount of roll I could track on a single page with eight groups of 36 paired boxes for recording the toss results. It was a very simple, very low tech tracking tool.  

After a short while I had a couple of pages filled up with numbers.  Now what? How was I to figure out my on-axis percentage?  It turns out that that is not to difficult either.  I knew I had set up my left die with a 3-4 axial.  So, anytime I saw a 3 or a 4 in the left die (or A) column, I’d circle it.   Same thing with the right die, only, I had the right die set up with a 1-6 axial, so anytime I saw a one or a six in the right die (or B) column, I’d circle that. Next, add up all the lines (tosses) that didn’t have any circled numbers.  The lines with no circles are tosses that stayed on-axis.  Finally the hard part, some math, divide the number of on-axis tosses by the total number of tosses, and ta da, on-axis percentage number.

Of course it only took one time of figuring this out by hand to convince me I needed a spreadsheet that figured it out for me.  The first incarnation of that spreadsheet only tracked on-axis results, but over time, like most things, that spreadsheet has evolved to track additional toss roll statistics, such as, on-axis per die, signature numbers, and die face combination percentages.  Heck I even came up with a way for the spreadsheet to transpose the results from my tossed set into another set to see if a set variation would improve my results.  You can find and download a copy of the current version of my spreadsheet over in the download section of Heavy’s www.crapsfest.com website.

Anyway, as I worked toward improving my on-axis control I began to notice that I wasn’t making much progress.  I kept entering numbers into my tracker and the end results were just not making me very excited.  Dang, is it my grip?  Is it the way I’m tossing?  Could it be the set I’m using.  A million possible problems and how was I gonna get it fixed? 

At some point it dawned on me that I was trying to focus on too many things at once.  I was also far to preoccupied with the “numbers” that were rolling.  “Of course”, you might be thinking, “of course you need to follow the numbers.  That’s what craps is all about. And DI is all about influencing the numbers that are being tossed!”   And yes, yes, I would be in complete agreement with you, but hear me out.  For a while I was so interested in things like “wow, look at all those nines. Nine must be one of my sig. Numbers.  Gotta go check the spreadsheet and see if I do toss a lot of nines.” Or things like, “Damn that was another seven.  Maybe I should turn this set over a quarter roll.  Maybe that will be better.”  These things were dominating my focus when the real issue was getting some consistency into my toss.

Thing was, I needed to free myself of the numbers for a while and FOCUS ON THE TOSS. En Vouge had that song with the verse “Free your mind and the rest will follow”.  That’s what I needed.  When I finally quit worrying about the numbers and started focusing on what I was doing with the toss, with the grip, with my mental focus, that’s when I started to make progress in my toss and toss consistency.

The little revelation was that I had been approaching the problem backwards.  I had spent some significant time making cute spreadsheets and setting up all kinds of tricky tracking formulas.  All the while, I was getting more and more frustrated that those darned little cubes were not producing the results that would turn on all the lights of my spreadsheet.  Then, like a splash of ice-water in the face sleeping beauty, it occurred to me that if I simply practiced tossing the dice, and got those dice behaving more consistently, well then, just maybe then, I’d get what I wanted in the spreadsheet.   Sounds pretty much like, DUH, doesn’t it. 

I finally started to focus on what really mattered.  Not “did I just toss 5 sixes in a row”, but instead, “wow, did I just get the dice to land in the same spot 5 times in a row.”   Things like, getting the dice to land square, keeping them from bouncing around in the box, having the dice end up close together when they come to a final stop.  By focusing on these things and the actions required to obtain these results, and ignoring what numbers were rolling, yes, that’s what led to increased consistency and improved performance.

Of course, I didn’t give up tracking the numbers altogether.  I still needed a way to measure results and hopefully improvements.  So I continued to record the toss results and enter them into the spreadsheet.  But I was only interested in the numbers when I entered them into the spreadsheet, not while I was practicing.  Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, as my shooting consistency improved, sure enough, so did the numbers in the spreadsheet.

The only thing left to complete the practice formula was time.   They say that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.  Even though I had been practicing the DI thing for several months up to this point, it took setting up a consistent schedule and consistently working at it to begin to see some light in the form of a consistent toss.

Those of you who have been practicing for awhile all know that constant tossing of the bones can become a bit monotonous.  To break up the routine I began to include a practice “casino” session.  I’d do the “casino” session about once a week.  What I’d do for the “casino” session is break out all my spare change.  Pennies were $1 chips, nickels were $5 chips and quarters were $25 chips (Naw, I had no need for black chips at this stage of my progression) I would take this change and practice making bets and tossing as if I was in the casino.  It was a good way to practice betting moves and dealing with “chips” (I now have a set of poker chips that I use for the casino sessions).   It’s also a way to get used to how making and instructing bets effects the rhythm of a hand.

As I continue to strive towards my goal of 50% on-axis consistency (oh, I’ve met my goal of 50% and then some several times, but then I’ll get lazy or lose focus and boop, boop, boop, I’m back into the mid 40% again), I’ve settled into three types of practice sessions.  The three types are very similar and share common characteristics, but each has a distinct focus and purpose.

First, and most important, are the Dice Mechanics Practices.  The focus of this practice is to train for correct toss and develop muscle memory.  This is when I’ll practice such things as grip and grip modifications, wrist control, arm position, launch points and landing zones, etc.  This is also when I practice setting the dice to a desired permutation.

Second, and similar to the first, is the [color=Pink][b]Dice Set Practices.[/b][/color]  In these practice sessions I’m after consistency and tracking of a dice set.  All of the mechanics issues from the first style practice still apply.  But now I’m not “working” on the mechanics so much as executing the training from the Dice Mechanics Practice.  It is during this practice that most of the roll tracking takes place.

And Third, the Casino Practices.  All of the activities from the first two practice types are still taking place, but now the focus is on betting and betting strategies.  Finding ways to exploit what was learned from Dice Set Practices.

By breaking out the specific aspects of the DI activities into separate practice styles and types, I was able to overcome the “overload” factor.  That overwhelming feeling of trying to set the dice, grip the dice, toss the dice, be consistent, make adjustments, track the results, figure the bets, uggg.  There are too many variables.  The Mad Professor calls it something like the “Web of Craps”, all these tangible and intangible variables that must be woven together to create a mosaic of successful play.  He is so right and we all must find our way to cover all the bases.

One last thought on roll tracking.  Some folks like to track rolls the same way they would toss them in the casino.  They set the dice for their come-out action and then alter their set for the point cycle.  All the while keeping track of what numbers are point numbers and what 7’s represent naturals vs seven-outs, etc.  I’ve found that (at least for me) it is easier to focus on a given set and work at improving my ability to maximize that sets characteristics.  What I mean is that if I’m practicing the 3V set, I’ll set and toss only that dice set, over and over, writing down the results of that set.   If I’m focused on practicing the S6, then that is all I set and toss for several hundred throws.  All of the statistical tracking requires a lot of tosses. Thousands even to have any meaning.  The easiest way to get 1440 tosses of a given set is to stay focused on that set and not mix it up with come-out vs point-cycle vs permutation, etc.  Of course when I’m doing “Casino Practice”, then I toss (and track) the dice just like regular.

Until next time, keep your rack full and use a V for Victory.

P.S.  In the last installment, I mentioned that I don’t think probability math and DI activities go together.   Those of you who have seen the various charts and graphs that I’ve put together using probability theory, might think this is an odd statement coming from me.  Well I still feel that it is a true statement, and I’ll beg your forgiveness, but I’m gonna hold off explaining myself for a future installment.


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