Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lounge Essentials: How to Play C-Low

Seven Red’s Rules of C-Low

“…when I play C-Low.When I roll four five six they go “We know.”So I collect my cash then slide. I got my back, my gun’s on my side. It shouldn’t hafta be like dat. I guess it ain’t where ya from it’s where ya at…” Erik B and Rakim,The Ghetto

I’ve been asked by Fredo to provide a comprehensive guide to C-Low, a dice game. Although Fredo and I have had our problems, and I fully believe that he pulled some infamous swindle in order to thwart me from a Fourth Consecutive World C-Low Championship, in the interest of letting bygones be bygones and, more importantly, of spreading the Gospel of this wonderful game to all the world, I’ve agreed to provide an easy to use guide to this authentic urban pastime.

C-Low is played with three (3) standard six-sided dice, of the kind generally found in Monopoly.. Preferably, the players will have two (2) green dice and one (1) red die, although these colors signify nothing at all in the game itself. If you do not want to risk your reputation by entering some “Gaming Store” filled with Trekkies and overweight “Dungeon Masters” in order to procure authentic green and red C-Low dice, be advised that these dice can be found in almost every bodega, though you’ll often have to ask for them. While C-Low can be played almost anywhere, it is most commonly played on sidewalks, in the back of high school classrooms being run by substitute teachers, on stone “chess tables” provided by the New York City Parks Department, or in staircases operated by the New York City Housing Authority.

Beginners will certainly want to play on the floor rather than on some other surface, if only to avoid the ugly incidents that inevitably follow when a C-Low die runs off a table and under the feet of opposing players. By crouching with one knee and one foot on the ground, the C-Low player can remain close to his or her money, while at the same time maintaining a stance that’s perfectly suited for fight or flight, either of which may be necessary at a moment’s notice, as we’ll discover.

C-Low begins when each player pays for the privilege of rolling the dice by providing a cash sum agreed to beforehand by all players. Some purists believe that the player’s money should be placed under his or her shoe, with ¾ of the bill exposed. Several experts differ on the wisdom of this procedure, however, as it seems to imply partial technical possession of wagered cash. Beginners may want to use the more common “pot” approach, for which the money is placed outside the physical possession, but within easy reach of each player. The order of throwing should be agreed to beforehand for the first round, and play moves counter-clockwise. For each subsequent round, the winner of the previous round shall roll first.

Scoring Players shall roll all three dice simultaneously until they establish a score for themselves. Rolling one die at a time will likely get you beat down, Redhook-style. Scoring is accomplished by rolling identical numbers on two or more dice.

For example, if one were to roll 5 - 3 - 2, one would not have scored, and would have to roll again. It is important to remember that each player continues to roll until he or she scores. Once a player has rolled identical numbers on two or more dice, they have a score.

If the player rolled identical numbers on two dice, then the player’s score is the non-identical number appearing on the third die.

For example, if a player rolls 4 - 4 - 3, then that players score is 3. If a player rolls 2 - 6 - 6 , then that player’s score is 2. If a player rolls 5 - 6 - 5, then that player’s score is 6. Once a player has scored, the player CANNOT roll again. The player’s turn has ended for the round once a score for that player has been established, and the player must then “sit on” his or her score, hoping it is not beaten by the score of another player.

Despite the name of the game, it is not the Lowest score that wins, but the highest.
If every player scores by achieving identical numbers on ONLY two dice, the player with the highest score number wins.

For example, for the game of three players we’ve just seen, in which one player rolled 4 - 4 - 3, thereby scoring a 3, the next rolled 2 - 6 - 6, thereby scoring a 2, and the last rolled 5 - 6 - 5, thereby scoring a 6, the last player will have won the pot, as that player had a higher third number (a 6) than the other two (who had a 3 and a 2). If four player score 5 - 1 - 5, 6 - 4 - 6, 1 - 2 - 1, and 1 - 6 - 1, the last player would have won, since a 6 beats a 1, a 6 beats a 4 and 6 beats a 2. If only Doubles are rolled, it is very simply the highest third number that wins.

However, a player can also roll three identical numbers with three dice, say 5 - 5 - 5. If this happens, the player is said to have rolled a “Trip” (in this case, a “Trip Five” - or triple five). All Trips trump all doubles. So, if a player rolls a 1 - 1 - 1, that player would still defeat a roll of 5 - 6 - 5, since a Trip Ones (triple one) beats a regular 6. Within Trips, the highest score again takes the prize: a Trip Deuce (2 - 2 - 2) beats Trip Ones (1 - 1 - 1), Trip Treys (3 - 3 - 3) beats Trip Deuce (2 - 2 - 2), etc up to 6 - 6 - 6. Again, it is important to remember that ANY TRIP beats any score accomplished by matching merely two dice. This is, of course, highly logical, since it is much more probable that one would roll two identical numbers with three dice than it is that one would roll three identical numbers. Trips do not afford any special privilege other than their higher score: again, once a player has established any score, that player cannot roll again in that round. Automatic Win and Loss. If this procession to highest numbers were all there were to the game of C-Low, it would never have survived. As one can deduce from the seemingly cryptic words of Rakim cited above, there’s another twist involved:

Four Five Six.
If any player rolls 4 - 5 - 6 at any time during a round, that player automatically wins the round and the money. No subsequent players get a chance to roll. If there are eight players, and each has wagered $50, and the first player rolls 4 - 5 - 6 on his or her first roll, that player wins the round automatically. Do not be fooled by neighborhood grifters who insist that they are allowed an opportunity to match your roll of 4 - 5 - 6. They ARE NOT ALLOWED AN OPPORTUNITY TO MATCH. The round ends automatically. A roll of 4 - 5 - 6 trumps EVERY other roll. If said neighborhood grifters persist in this obnoxious fraud, it is within your rights, and may even constitute a duty, to pistol whip them unmercifully.

One Two Three.
If any player rolls 1 - 2 - 3 at any time during a round, that player immediately forfeits his or her turn without a score. Subsequent players do get a chance to roll, but the roller of 1 - 2 - 3 is out of the running for the remainder of the round. Obviously, as one needs some score to win, the player that forfeits his or her turn without a score is a loser. One Two Three is a loser roll.

In the Event of a Tie.

Ties in scoring often cause controversies, since the procedure to be followed varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, and among different skill levels. I will outline two of the most common procedures, but it is wise to agree on a Tie procedure ahead of time, to avoid inevitable ugly incidents. C-Low is much like pool in this respect - House Rules are posted, preventing anyone from bitching incessantly.

Tie Procedure 1: Runoff. This is the most common and in my opinion the fairest of the tie procedures (fairest, of course, does not always mean best). If two or more players tie, those players, and ONLY those players roll again, in the same order they rolled during the round proper. There is often a question here about whether those players engaged in the runoff should contribute again to the pot. While opinions vary on this point, I personally believe that one shouldn’t be penalized for “winning”, that is, that one shouldn’t be required to lose $40 in a run off when those who didn’t even reach the run off only lost $20.

Tie Procedure 2: Round Replay. This procedure is more rare, and practiced by only hardcore players. It requires that everybody re-up and roll again. Should players who rolled 1 - 2 - 3 in the first, tied round be allowed another chance in a round replay? That’s a thorny question, and one that’s gotten more than a few people beat down without restraint. Extreme purists always go for the round replay, and, to heap additional ignominy on 1 - 2 - 3 rollers, require them to re-up their bets without the benefit of another roll. While I find such a policy to be contrary to the basic premise of gambling, and little better than rank extortion on its face, I have to admit that it’s pretty damn funny when you’re not the 1 - 2 - 3 roller. The conventional wisdom is that this practice originated somewhere in Upstate New York where the beds are owned by the Department of Corrections; re-uping with a 1 - 2 - 3 roll is often called ‘feeding the bitch’ for this reason.

O.K. kids. You’re ready to play. Now run on down to your local bodega, pick up some dice, and hit the wall! And remember, if you happen to find yourself playing C-Low with Fredo, keep an eye on his pinky finger. Sorry to undermine you, Fredo, but as you once told me, “Everytingz a tradeoff.”

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