I'm shocked - shocked - to find gambling going on in here!
August 20, 2019 12:04 PM   Subscribe

I can't wait to tell the retired Lutherans I play Liar's Dice with that they are part of an underground scene.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:23 PM on August 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

There's a super goofy and innumerate assertion in there about Midnight / 1-4-24:
1-4-24 relies less on poker face. To play you need one cup and six dice. On each roll, the player keeps at least one die, but can save as many as they like. The goal is to roll as high a score as possible, but to "qualify" you must end up keeping a 1 and 4 (don't qualify and you have to throw another dollar into the pot). Roll sixes with all the other dice and you'll have a perfect score of 24. Once you qualify and have your four-dice score, you pass it to the next player — whoever has the highest qualifying score wins.
Although mathematicians would disagree, the consensus of every bartender interviewed was that 4s are much more common rolls than 1s or 6s. "Four are easy, so if they take that 4, that's a good tell that they haven't played before," says Lola Lugo-Gomez, who tends bar at Black Magic Voodoo Lounge.
And this, children, is why you should pay attention in statistics. Unless there's something wrong with the dice in question, you've got a 1/6 shot at any given number on any given roll.
posted by uberchet at 12:36 PM on August 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

I read that and assumed I had misunderstood the rules of the game because that's such a breathtakingly stupid statement otherwise.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:49 PM on August 20, 2019 [7 favorites]

I remember bar dice in Chicago decades ago, and it's been going on around the midwest for decades longer than that. Silly hipsters.

How Bar Dice Became a Wisconsin Institution
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:56 PM on August 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

i think its a misapplication of the logic behind craps odds - namely that with TWO dice the odds of 2's and 12's are lowest and 7's the highest. You cant just throw a bell curve on a normal single six-sided die and decide that 3s and 4s are more common.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 12:56 PM on August 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

The first rule of dice games at the bar is you don't talk about the dice games at the bar. Shame on Dan Gentile for this wonderful, detailed article.

Liar's Dice has a long history in San Francisco. It was a staple of Herb Caen lore, including the lovely quote
Life is a bad item, short but pointless. You stand at the bar and play liar’s dice with fate. It’s the San Francisco way. You might win, and even if you lose, the scenery’s great and the weather isn’t too bad.
Just stumbled into this fun item, from the 1950s:
Tommy Vasu was the first known lesbian to legally own a bar in San Francisco. When out on the town she dressed like a man in double-breasted suits, wide tie and a fedora hat. She used the men’s room, had a beautiful blond girlfriend and loved to gamble. In short, she was a risk taker. She often came into Pierre’s for high stakes prearranged liar’s dice games with artist/entrepreneur Walter Keane.
posted by Nelson at 12:57 PM on August 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

regarding geographic and temporal considerations - i was raised in SF in the 80s and 90s and definitely remember kids playing dice (for money) at high school speech and debate tournaments (hey, there was a lot of down time and no smart phones).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 12:57 PM on August 20, 2019

We used to play "hot dice" or "10,000" at bars a lot, where you try to keep 1s and 5s but can score with multiples of any other number. Midnight sounds fun too.

I was in Shanghai lately and went to a bar west of downtown (forget the name) where they served very cheap beer and nearly everyone played dice and smoked like chimneys. Generally the trend was, three or four people would order a dozen or more beers, then play Liar's Dice with the included cups and dice until they ran out, which happened remarkably quickly. I didn't learn (didn't want to be that westerner, though I obviously was) but it intrigued me. I didn't realize it has this much history.

Looking forward to introducing these to my friends!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:01 PM on August 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

All the dice in this article have six sides and I am disappoint.
posted by mhoye at 1:40 PM on August 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

I have so many thrifted copies of Liar's Dice and Perudo...

I do like the MB ones with the star dice and the board. Harder to whip out at a bar though.
posted by Windopaene at 1:55 PM on August 20, 2019

Used to play a version of Liar's Dice called Liar's Poker using the serial numbers on dollar bills. As the bartender I always had some dollar bills with real good numbers under the bar.
posted by Splunge at 2:37 PM on August 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

Liar's Dice has a long history in San Francisco.

Dice in SF Bars is a tradition as old as SF Bars.

Way back in the gold-rush days, it was considered acceptable among friends and casual acquaintances to throw dice to decide who paid the check at the end of a night of whiskey. It was also not uncommon for less scrupulous individuals to carry loaded dice for this purpose.

Consequently, the bars started keeping a set of "honest dice" behind the counter -- because, when you can't trust a friend, you can trust your bartender. Local lore says that once there was a liquor-licensing process, establishments that have an on-site liquor license were also required to have no fewer than 10 honest dice available to patrons.

SF's liquor laws were overhauled during the Willie Brown era, and this law is not currently on the books (nor have I seen any actual proof that it ever existed -- I've certainly heard of it from many people from many backgrounds), but I challenge you to find a bar in SF that was established before the 90s that doesn't have two cups with 5 dice each somewhere within the bartender's reach.
posted by toxic at 2:49 PM on August 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

+1 to toxic's post. SF bars have always just had dice around as a matter of course, like pubs have dartboards.
Also agreeing to the article's mentioning pre-smartphone times: four friends walk in and get a pitcher of beer and some dice for a chat. Or two random strangers realize they're both alone at the bar and instead of staring at the walls separately, one says 'wanna play dice?' because everyone knows how (or can be taught a quick game), which can become a 'So, what's your deal?' conversation. But we'd play for drinks or dollar bills, not $20 a roll.

One thing possibly tied to this that I've noticed in SF that I'm not sure is _unique_ to the area but haven't noticed in other cities is that just about every corner store/bodega has 5-packs of dice behind the counter with the liquor and cigarettes. Between the bar thing and the fact that street dice (separate scene - pickup-style casino craps played on the sidewalk instead of a felt table) is still sometimes played in the Bay Area, it would seem a popular enough item to deserve premium shelf space, stocking a solution to the "where do we get a fresh factory-sealed set of dice? at this hour?" problem.

But what I haven't seen as commonplace is what we used to call the Dutch Roll.
If it's closing time, or it's your birthday, or you're a beloved regular, the proprietor would sometimes offer (or accept an offer from you) to roll dice for your bill: you win, you pay nothing, you lose, you pay double. Apocryphally it's a leftover from a Dutch colonial merchant custom, and there are pockets in Yonkers and North Jersey that kept it around after the New-York-was-once-New-Amsterdam days, which is where I've seen it. But that's decades back and I doubt it happens much anywhere anymore.

What has stuck around, at least a little, because I've heard it from multiple unconnected sources, is the idea of 'clean dice' as a complimentary expression about an establishment. One might say to a friend, introducing them to your favorite dive bar, "Hey, I know it doesn't look like much, but their beer is cold and their dice are honest." What dice? What are you talking about? The practice is gone, but the concept rings some distant familiar bell.
posted by bartleby at 4:44 PM on August 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

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