Hazard – an alternative game for the festive season

If you’re dreading yet another game of monopoly this Christmas you might like to try Hazard. The modern game of Craps evolved from Hazard, which is basically a variation, where throws of 7 or 11 always win. All you need are two dice (and some money!)

Hazard has been around since the 14th century and the phrase “Set upon six and seven” first appeared in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and referred to betting one’s entire fortune on a single throw of the dice. We also get the modern meanings of “risk” and “danger” associated with the word “hazard” from this notion.

The name is commonly thought to be Old French, but likely derived from the Spanish “azar”, which is “an unfortunate card or dice roll”. There’s some speculation the game was allegedly first played by the crusaders laying siege to a castle, called Hazart or Asart, in the 12th century.

Hazard was very popular during the 17th and 18th centuries where gambling by the nobility was a favourite past time to chase away the boredom and make some extra money. Or more likely lose it…

Horace Walpole often expressed astonishment at the sums of money being lost at the clubs of St James’ ‘The young men of the age lose five, ten, fifteen thousand pounds in an evening there. Lord Stavordale, not one and twenty, lost eleven thousand there, last Tuesday, but recovered it by one great hand at hazard: he swore a great oath, – “Now, if I had been playing deep, I might have won millions”’ (2 Feb. 1770). Lord Stavordale’s cousin was Charles Fox the leading politician, a very great gambler. He sometimes went to Almack’s (later renamed Brooks) in the evening, staying there until the next afternoon before going to White’s to drink until the following morning, before setting out for Newmarket and the horse races. In the space of two nights he and his brother Stephen, neither of them over 25 years old, lost £32,000.

Fox’s father, Lord Holland, paid off his son’s debts to the princely tune of £140,000. (In today’s terms this sum would be astronomical – depending on the inflation converter you used, you would multiply the sum by 97 to get at the value of 1790s money today.)

The main reason people lost so much money is that the other players could place bets on the outcome of the throw – so-called ‘side bets’.

The basic rules

Hazard is played with two dice. In each of the many rounds the caster picks out a number between 5 and 9, inclusive. This is called the “main”, then the caster throws two dice.

If the caster rolls the main numbers, you win, which is called “throws in” or “nicks”. If you roll a 2 or 3 you will lose, or “throws out”.

If the caster rolls a 11 or 12, the result of that throw depends on the “main”:

  • a main of 5 or 9, the caster “throws out” with both an 11 and 12.
  • a main of 6 or 8, the caster “throws out” with an 11 but “nicks” with a 12.
  • a main of 7, the caster “nicks” an 11 but “throws out” with a 12.
  • if the caster doesn’t “nick” or “throw out”, that number is called the “chance”, then you throw the dice again.
  • if the caster rolls “the main” on a “chance” you will lose, unlike when you first threw.
  • if the caster rolls neither of them, they keep throwing the dice until one or other is rolled, either winning with “chance” or losing with the “main”.

As long as the caster keeps winning, he keeps on playing. If the caster loses three times in a row, the dice pass to the player on his left.

A nick on the first throw wins the caster an amount equal to his stake or wager. The setter or bank gives odds if the setter throws a “chance”.

Common phrases used in a game of hazard.

In order to play this game competently, it’s imperative to have a grasp of terms often used in the course of playing. Here are the more commonly used phrases of the game.

  • Caster-is the current player.
  • Throw out- means to lose.
  • Throw in/nick-refers to rolling the main.
  • Main-any number between 5 and 9, inclusive.

Her are the odds of throwing the different combinations:

2d6 Rolls

Dice Value Combinations Chance of rolling
exact number
Chance of rolling a number
and above or below
2 1 2.8% 2+ 12- 100%
3 2 5.6% 3+ 11- 97.2%
4 3 8.3% 4+ 10- 91.7%
5 4 11.1% 5+ 9- 83.3%
6 5 13.9% 6+ 8- 72.2%
7 6 16.7% 7+ 7- 58.3%
8 5 13.9% 8+ 6- 41.7%
9 4 11.1% 9+ 5- 27.8%
10 3 8.3% 10+ 4- 16.7%
11 2 5.6% 11+ 3- 8.3%
12 1 2.8% 12 2 2.8%

After the first throw, the caster (and others, in side bets) may wager an additional sum that the chance will come before the main. These bets are made at odds determined by the relative proportions of the main and the chance:

Main Chance
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
5 4/3 4/5 2/3 4/5 1/1 4/3
6 5/3 5/4 5/6 1/1 5/4 5/3
7 2/1 3/2 6/5 6/5 3/2 2/1
8 5/3 5/4 1/1 5/6 5/4 5/3
9 4/3 1/1 4/5 2/3 4/5 4/3


For example, with an odds stake of £10, a main of 7 and a chance of 5, a caster stands to win £15 (3/2 × £10); with the same stake, a main of 5 and a chance of 6, he could win £8 (4/5 × £10).

So there you have it. Don’t blame me if you lose all your money…

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