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Practicing For Perfection - Part II

The Requirements of Proper Practice

There are at least six basic analytic components of one’s dice-influencing practice: (1) Criterion, (2) Environmental Replication, (3) Baseline, (4) Needs Analysis, (5) Training Goal and (6) The Training Plan.

“CRITERION”
Craps shooters tend to operate in a vacuum. Not enough of them are prepared to agree that there is more to be gained by cooperating and sharing with a “team,” than is gained by shielding one’s autonomy, or going into the casino battle armed with only one’s own impulses. These players tend to be only willing to measure themselves by themselves (Doing so is a legitimate and critical element of practice, and is covered in “Baseline, just a few paragraphs further in this article), and, hence, never learn where their proficiency stands in relation to the rest of the craps shooting world.

In the world of Dice Influencing, if one existed as the only dice shooter on the planet, establishing a mean level of competency would be easy. He would simply toss enough times to establish some statistically valid totals and then multiply-and-divide his way to fame, fortune and to defining the apex of dice shooting excellence.

As the only precision shooter in existence, he could impose various standards of measurement; monies won or lost, on-axis tosses, or maybe the number of times he was able to achieve a “dead cat” bounce. Whatever the standard, and no matter how arbitrary, his proficiency would become the universal standard of achievement. The fact that he shot an SRR of 6.0 on the money, was devoid of any extraordinary fine or gross motor control, was on PCP, and had two glass eyes, would mean nothing. He would be the world’s dice influencing champion and would have set the world’s SRR mark at 1:6.

But, since there are hundreds, or thousands, of dice setting practitioners of the precision shooting game, and tens of thousands of non-setting shooters who inexplicably have better-than-random results with dice shooting, I would suggest that a practitioner measure himself against a standard outside of himself.

Note: All right, I realize that there has been no organized data gathering of those facts among our fraternity. But there ought to have been, and there ought to be some. The distribution curve would give us practitioners a backdrop against which we could measure our progress. And that would give each shooter a more realistic profile of his capabilities, and a picture of what level of proficiency is really possible.

Thus, if one sets out to train himself in the skill of, let us say, tossing on-axis rolls, or achieving “dead cat” bounces, I submit that, whenever possible, he ought to fix a standard only within the context of what a cross-section of other shooters have done, and then measure his progress on the basis of that standard.

Let us choose, for the purpose of example, the feat of landing both dice, from a distance of nine feet, on a target area inside a two-inch circle, and requiring no more than 4 seconds per attempt. In a trial of 10,000 attempts, The Angry Academic, and Mr. Weighty are each able to achieve this feat at any hour of the day or night, whether warmed up or not, respectively, 91% and 90.5% of the time. The legendary Gordon Setter is close behind with 9,000 successes out of the 10,000. Meanwhile, on the lower end of the bar, a prolific Las Vegas author of gambling books, which are crammed full of delightful myth and fiction, can achieve no better than 17% accuracy. In the middle of the bell curve, six other randomly selected shooters of varying ability, average (1) 69%, (2) 62%, (3) 65%, (4) 59%, (5) 66%, and (6) 61%, over the same number of attempts.

[Stop. I know what the temptation is, among the churlish arithmetic purists. Nevertheless, I wish to not endure complaints about “averaging averages.” Since doing so is mathematically legal at Standard and Poor’s, and within the insurance universe, and since I never excelled in practical arithmetic, I intend to get away with averaging averages here and for this example. So, shadaaa-aaap.]

Hence, I would begin training in this task by permitting a 67% success rate to serve as training standard, or as “Criterion” for this task. Arbitrary? Admittedly it is (as is the entire science of probability and statistics). But it’s a starting point that can be refined as more data pours in from the world of precision shooters. One can upgrade training Criterion at any time, as real life circumstances dictate. The fact is, I would guess, that most of us can land in the two-inch circle over ninety percent of the time. The point is that, by measuring oneself against a reasonable standard, one can more accurately assess the worthiness of his expectations and of his progress.


2- ENVIRONMENTAL REPLICATION
This is simple enough, and most replicative demands are self-evident. To the highest degree possible, the precision-minded Dice Influencer must conform his practice environment to resemble, if not duplicate, the environment of the venue where he will place his money at risk. Is the table surface hard? Find a way to harden your practice-landing surface. Do loud public announcement speakers surround the pit, or does rock music blast away mercilessly? Borrow your son’s cast off boom box, install auxiliary speakers and turn the volume up while you practice. Does the Stick Man’s gut block out the sun? Perhaps one could fashion a similar obstruction out of a discarded department store manikin. Or he might just position a clothes tree where the Stick Man would normally stand, and then dangle a pillow from it to simulate a protruding tummy. Point: Find a way to replicate that anticipated circumstance.

There is not any good time for an inflexible doctrine pertaining to environmental replication. While, some preparations are logical and can be axiomatic—i.e., “try to keep the height of the rig’s landing surface as close to the height of one’s next venue as he can,” it is a mistake to view any yet-to-be-validated hypothesis as a universal doctrine.

One example of this mistake might be my own temptation to advocate the widening out of practice rigs. Beginning shooters have not earned enough craps winnings to buy a full-sized table. So a newcomer begins with a make-do practice rig of some kind, many of which may offer landing surfaces that are like those of the actual casino tables. But commercially available rigs are usually not much more than around 30” wide, and, thus do not permit a true picture of what one’s results would be at a table that might be twice as wide as that.

Recognizing the width limitations of commercial practice stations, when I first undertook some kind of practice, I created my own, piecemeal, easy-to-disassemble, practice stations out of scrap wood stock, various sizes of felt stock, and cardboard boxes. And I made certain that the target area was as wide as those of the casino tables I would be playing at. Yet, while I insisted upon a wider landing area for myself, it would be foolishly pedantic of me to preach the extra width as a sine qui non. In truth, the fact is that my practice needs were often served as well by bureau drawers, boards on car seats, and by felt-covered TV trays on hotel beds.


3-BASELINE
When a person begins the process of determining his training needs, his goals and a plan to bring his performance to Criterion, he must first determine a starting point for himself. In other words, to begin with, what is his proficiency at a given task right now? Let us say that I wish to exhibit the ability to suppress the occurrence of the Seven. If I am beginning a practice session and my training goal is to attain a 7.0 SRR, I have to ask, “What is my SRR right now? I would guess that 600 unbiased and documented results could be seen to constitute statistical reliability. But I would prefer to see every baseline assessment working from a statistical picture produced by at least a 1,200-toss baseline test.

Some empirically verifiable areas that have been established as critical tasks for the aspiring precision shooter are: LZ Accuracy, SRR Maintenance, Flight Path Dynamics (say, keeping the dice together, traveling at the same speed and rotating in unison), Trajectory Control, Timing of Release, Post-landing Behavior Control (was it a “Dead Cat” bounce? Or was it just “close” to a Dead Cat Bounce? How far did the dice bounce back? How high?), and On-Axis Results.

In addition to these basic critical tasks, I also seek acquaintance with critical variables such as (1) How many times my hand is ended by the double-pitch Seven as opposed to the next two highest combinations which add to a Seven, and (2) How many rolls do I characteristically require before I launch into a longer hand, and when might I expect the Mini Monster hand to appear? Well, before I can chart progress, I need to know the point from which I am progressing; I must know the starting point, or “baseline.”

Clearly, the precision shooter is committed to mastering more than a physical skill. He is submitting to science and must master the disciplines of observation and measurement. Whether I seek to improve proficiency in the critical tasks, or whether I seek more insight into the critical variables, I must observe and record all outcomes and then I must analyze and interpret the results before I can determine my next move.

To date, no software application yet exists that manages all of the data I wish to benefit from when practicing or—would that I could use it for this—actually working a table. But template applications like Bone Tracker and a variety of Excel spreadsheets are available which can at least summarize and graph impressive amounts of data. Furthermore, individually designed tracking sheets exist and can be duplicated for other individuals to use or modify. One model, first displayed in Sharpshooter’s first book, is capable of tracking 100 or more tosses, either die’s landing result, the two-dice outcome, SRR for all series within that 100-outcome session, and more. Although data entries are keyed in for analysis, they are usually, at first entered manually. Another type of manual tracking form is the Task Analysis Data Form, which will be discussed later.
The Task Analysis
After a trainer or practitioner is routinely immersed in data keeping and analysis, he must be able to dissect a task into sub-tasks; that is to say, he must perform a Task Analysis. For the purposes of training or practice, any and all tasks, broken down for analysis, are series of chained behaviors and take on the appearance of the “ ‘Dem Bones” song. The head bone is connected to the neck bone, the neck bone is connected to the shoulder bone, and the shoulder bone is connected to the arm bone…and so on.

For example, let us hypothesize that one’s desire were to, from SL, master the task of acquiring the dice, shifting them to a Yuri set, (say a II/I set) and preparing to launch them from with a three-fingered front. A very generalized analysis, and one which omits much having to do with tactile perceptions of dice orientation, pressure, etc., might look like the following break-down.

1. (Left) Hand reaches for dice for the purpose of moving them to focal point

2. Shooter visually determines preferred orientation

3. Shooter determines most efficient re-orientation of dice

4. Hand gathers or scoops both dice

5. Monica finger nudges either die into either any I set or any II set.

6. Hand begins brisk-but-measured drag of both dice to penultimate launch point

7. Middle finger either flips, twists or turns second die to remaining set

8. Hand raises to expose dice to Stick Man’s view

9. Three-fingered grip (Subjective—Tactile Evaluation of grip)

10. Tap

11. Drag set and gripped dice to ultimate launch point

12. Tap

13
. Acquire target LZ

14. Initiate launch sequence

This is a benign business that we undertake. If I were to be charged with the responsibility for training a shooter to abandon a previous setting procedure which may be taking too much time, my task analysis might look similar to the one above; Criterion would be to acquire the dice, set, omit the taps, and launch them within a time frame of three seconds. Reinforcement would be intermittent, positive, and consist of alternating verbal approval with concrete reinforcers, such as, say, a kind, whispered, word from one of my young, aromatic and leggy, assistants, or the return of small refunds of his training fees. The net result would be Criterion and the extinction of the prior habits.

After base lining the subject, progress-under-training would be manually indicated on a Task Analysis Data Form. The TADF is a remarkable tool, which can manually graph progress in completing all of the sub-tasks and, over time, creates an accurate picture of many aspects of the training. At the first opportunity I hope to find the means to draft one for the above hypothetical task and to find the means to include it in this article.

4-NEEDS ANALYSIS
When a fresh soul enters the school of Dice Influencing, my guess is that he would be weak in all of the fundamental tasks involved with the science of it. In other words, he would exhibit many proficiency needs. Nevertheless, he is best advised to train in no more than one or two of the critical tasks until he begins to achieve encouragement from the results.

Although serious players and those committed to the discipline will do so, most mere hobbyists cannot and will not spring for between $500 and $1,500 for a class, proven coaching, and materials. So the shooter must become the trainer. This skill, after all, is not like the miraculous gifts that can only be transferred by the laying on of an apostle’s hands. Precision shooting had to first be acquired by people who had no mentors. By the agonizing process of trial and error, with time, each acquired the skill of suppressing the Seven. For each it was costly and a process generously sprinkled with re-invention after reincarnation of the wheel. But that is how the first shooters learned to shoot.

One danger of attempting to train oneself in too many areas at once might be the imbedding of behaviors that—instead of improving one’s shooting proficiency--impede or preclude it. Certainly, without guidance, it is also often the case that a shooter will attempt to adjust too many things at once and, by doing so, retard the means of knowing which of the adjustments hurt and which helped.

However, the determined student will read, exchange information on the web boards, practice and eventually close in on, what for him is, the elusive “perfect” toss. Once a shooter has gone through the purgatorial process of re-inventing the perfect toss and the near-perfect playing of the game, his proficiency needs are less general.

Such a shooter’s needs lie within the context of an established and already well-practiced Critical Task. He may find that his dice fly together as though adhered together with sputum. His dice may land, hit the back wall and drop quietly to the layout with a muffled Meow. His dice may rotate at exactly the same rate and yet, to his utter consternation, yield to him nothing better than a bankrupting abundance of double-pitch Sevens.

Clearly, this shooter must have specific needs. And despite all of the recommendations and guesswork that he receives from peers and mentors, in the final analysis, only long lonely sessions at the table with strenuous observation and lots of notes, will help him through this most recent Purgatory. His job during the sessions is simply to answer this two-fold question: What is the cause of the problem? And what will correct it?

The problems could vary, as could the causes and the corresponding remedial corrections. These are not relevant here. What matters most is the shooter’s resolution to identify the cause of the problem, to seek a solution that is replicatable at the gaming table, and to draft the training mechanism that will extinguish the problem.


5-TRAINING GOAL
In the case of a recurring double-pitch Seven Out, the shooter may determine that he needs to apply slightly more surface area to one or the other dice, or that he must reduce or increase the flight time, or that he must reduce the angle of impact. [NOTE: However, he may also find that in correcting for the DP7, he has opened the way for some other undesirable outcome, such as a yaw or a roll-in or a “snick.” Sometimes the road to correcting one problem is a winding one that forces the shooter to revisit any number of previously laid-to-rest sand traps. That is why the committed practitioner must “sell out” to the vision of becoming “perfect” enough to earn a consistent income from the craps tables, and why he must resign himself to a half-life of practice, intermingled with a remaining half-life of training.] That being the case, the shooter must establish a training goal. The goal might look something like this: With a 95% confidence level, complete 1,000 tosses and reduce the frequency of the DP 7 by 50%, achieved by means of increasing the thumb surface area behind the one or the other dice approximately .05%. Now all he needs is a baseline, needs assessment, and a training plan that will carry him to his goal.


6.TRAINING PLAN
My most difficult, and most frequently waged, battles occur at a nearby tribal casino. My relationship with that venue is for me and for the crews there, a complicated love-hate relationship. I “love” testing my training against a house that is routinely fined by the state gaming commission for screwing the public. I “love” Half of the six 14’ tables. They are “good.” I “hate” the others, which display micro fiber layouts. The Casino hates the way I bet. My play there has resulted in rules banning the Doey-Don’t on the pass line, and other kinds of hedges. When the dice come to me, the suits multiply like rabbits. I surmise that this is because, when I first began to shoot with control, I had the inclination to show off. Even I “hate” myself for having done so. But now, as long as I hit the back wall, I am not interfered with.

The dice deployed there, I hate. They are, by just a whisker, not standard size. In this region, only the Lucky Eagle seems to employ dice the same size as the Muckleshoot Casino’s. While the early morning crew does not “love” me, it welcomes me and encourages me to succeed. The dealers of the late morning shift hate me and have stolen behind-side money from me, refused to book winning bets, and in many, many, other ways, worked unfairly to cause me loss. The afternoon shift is fair but the night shift crews fast-rush any game I buy into. This is the only venue on the planet at which I have lost more money than I have won. There is no doubt: There are easier venues for me than the “Muck.” But this is where I work 90% of the time. And, when I practice, I shape my practice for this venue.


7-Schedule

I struggle to win every game and can wind up a loser if the slightest wind of change alters my environment or mood, or disrupts my concentration. So my practice sessions are scheduled. That is, I mean that the practices are not only entered into some kind of calendar, but also that each calendared session is devoted to refining one or more specific tasks. By now, practice has become so routine that I do not need to refer to a weekly planner to know that I practice up to 1.5 hours M&T from 17:00 to 18:30, 1.0 hours on W&T 07:00 to 08:00 and 1.5 hours on Friday 20:00 to 21:30.

Furthermore, when I schedule a session, I do not overlook my need to strengthen the walls of the protective cocoon surrounding such subjective elements as mood and concentration. I force myself to imagine the appearance of environmental situations that have tended to disrupt my focus or to upset me.

Practice is held five days per week and sometimes seven when I want to isolate a weakness and to work on strengthening it. And for all of that, considering all past venues, I am just a workman shooter.

Rarely is more than an hour expended per practice session. I try to alternate between mornings, evenings and mid-afternoons on weekends. I am married to my regimen, in sickness or in health, come richer or poorer; dice-tossing practice has been ingrained as an unbreakable habit.

The practice rig is in the basement. I never go down to it just to throw the dice or to see “how well I’m doing.” I descend to the practice arena with an idea in mind of what I hope to accomplish today. I attempt to accomplish the tasks through “Sim,” or in the process of a simulated game. Perhaps I wish to ingrain a betting routine or perhaps a variation of a release and follow-through. Whatever the objective, the only concrete measurement of success now is the amount of play money in my chip rail. I try to remember yesterday’s challenges and what I did to overcome them. These I bring over to today’s game.

Unless there is a specific, and extraordinary, analytic need that goes beyond preparation for the next venue, I no longer estimate that I have to record my 100 to 200 tosses and interpret the computed results. I now practice so as to train myself in one or a small number of Critical Tasks. The hurdles and achievements are interpreted subjectively now, rather than objectively proven by externals such as mirrors, alignments, jig, data recording sheets, and automated computation.

I will “buy in” for $600. My Loss Limit and Win Goal is $300. Maintaining proficiency in Pickup, Setting, Launching and other critical tasks are important; yet I’ve rehearsed these so often that to do so no longer requires conscious thought. Unless I detect an anomaly or am refining one of these, my purposes and objectives are elsewhere. Today, all I want to do is bounce the dice back, 100% of the time, a distance less than a foot from the back wall. When I began this exercise, my first 500 tosses produced a Baseline rate of about 65%.

The amounts earned and lost are markers for me and keep me aware of the fact that, in a live game, I could either be holding my own, losing my butt or kicking donkey. But I am less concerned with making simulated money than I am with improving whatever skill or mental ability I am attempting to refine—today it will be my control over the flight of the dice. My current training plan is to master the art of bouncing the dice from the back wall to land no more than one foot away. That is all.

I will attempt to achieve Criterion by means of a consistent toss in which the release point, follow through and body mechanics are repeated with no variation. To more closely simulate a live game, after every Seven Out, I will run upstairs and drink a glass of water or, in some other way, simulate a one-minute break. Doing so is a negative reinforcement and simulates the “cooling” period one must suffer if there are a couple of Randies at the table with the precision shooter.

I do not have chronometers to provide me with dice velocity, laser sensors which would tell me how high the dice bounced or any means to objectively measure how “dead cat” my bounces are. The landing must be assessed subjectively—but mentally recorded as “objectively” as possible. I count the number of tosses in my head because I know that, when I begin a session at the Muck, I historically do not begin to exhibit my advantage until I have tossed at least twenty to twenty-five times. After that, any advantage that I have brought will be evidenced by the way the toss “feels” to me and by consistency of the results. I also keep track of my “left” die (when shooting with either hand, it is always the leftmost die) to see what its result is. From there I can figure out what the other die is and whether or not I am on axis and, if not, which die is deviating.

When I exhibit inferior control, I both sense it and mentally note it. Winning toss or losing toss, I interrupt the flow of my practice game and attempt to discern the reason for the loss of control. You see, I want to deliver 100 consecutive, controlled, tosses. So, if I sense an increasing number of bad tosses, I can profit from this by relating the performance decline to some other variable—which variable I may be able to eliminate or moderate. But, even if I am not able to, correctly isolating that harmful variable (perhaps it is a growing fatigue or emotional disruption) in live action can save me a lot of money if I can just catch it in time and cause the recognition to trigger the “Take Me Down” reflex.

If I am able to correct the problem, I continue the practice game until I have tossed at least100 simulated-game tosses and have Sevened-Out for my last time. If I have not been able to correct the problem due to fatigue, illness, drunkenness or whatever…I continue until I have tossed 100 game tosses and have Sevened Out. There are times when, because of some such circumstance, I have achieved SRR’s in the neighborhood of 1 in 4…or slightly worse. But, because I was able to identify my performance degradation, I was still able to make simulated money. More importantly, I became more intimate with the subjective causes of reduced proficiency.

My plan was simple. 100 practice game tosses out of 100—landing no farther than 1 foot from the back wall. If I find that I am failing in this objective, I now have reason to begin recording the results and formulating training plans that will bring my performance to Criterion.

Who remembers enough to discern that my training regimen for this task is lacking an objective criterion? Everyone? Wonderful. It would be even more wonderful if a “universal” standard existed so that I could measure my progress against the backdrop of the accomplishments of the DI universe. But none exists. Hence, there is no Criterion other than my goal of 100% success rate over a trial of 1,200 attempts. I may never make it. But that would be my plan.

What about your training plan? Your plan may be to quadruple your buy in at 25% of all sessions. Or it may be to toss so well during 50% of your training sessions that you are able to call your shots in advance. More than likely, if you are not endowed with super powers yet, your best bet is to develop a less ambitious, but more efficacious training plan, perhaps to toss the dice together 100% of the time. If you have not yet attempted to execute such a training plan, you may find it to be challenging enough for you to consider taking it on.

Take note. For I believe that my next sentence is absolutely true and that it is a timeless and immutable axiom, which you must brand into your consciousness. You will always perform under fire EXACTLY as you perform in practice.

Always.

Whatever your practice regimen, if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. Without a plan, your practice will never permit enough insight into your needs to permit you to develop a training plan. And without a training plan, you will never be able to incorporate the practice essentials that will train out the bad and train in the good.

You may be grateful that you are not as some, who may be too tired or too confident to plan…or too stubborn to stray from the comfortable recreational approach to Dice influencing that they have already chosen. These are like unreasoning creatures, born to be fleeced and stripped: casino food.

You, however, are not of these if you are determined to win. To win, in the words of the immortal John Patrick, you must be willing to become as ruthless as your adversary. You must learn the game perfectly and then play it perfectly. And then, according to Patrick, you have a 50/50 chance. For that to happen, my friend, do this: practice until you puke and train until you trounce.

Next: The Critical Tasks

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 27, 2007 1:34 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Part 14 - Shooting from the Don’t…A Journey of Opportunity.

The next post in this blog is Part 9: Shooting From The Don't A Journey Of Opportunity.

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