History, Rules and Strategies
According to John Aubrey, cribbage was created by the English poet Sir John Suckling in the early 17th century, as a derivation of the game "noddy". While noddy has disappeared, crib has survived, virtually unchanged, as one of the most popular games in the English-speaking world. The objective of the game is to be the first player to score a target number of points, typically 61 or 121. Points are scored for card combinations that add up to fifteen, and for pairs, triples, quadruples, runs, and flushes.
Cribbage holds a special place among American submariners, serving as an "official" pastime. The wardroom of the oldest active submarine in the United States Pacific Fleet carries World War II submarine commander and Medal of Honor recipient RADM Dick O'Kane's personal cribbage board on board, and upon decommissioning it is transferred to the next oldest boat.
The players cut for first deal and the lowest cut card deals. The dealer shuffles and deals five or six cards to each player, depending on the number of players. For two players, each is dealt six cards; for three or four players, each is dealt five cards. In the case of three players, a single card is dealt face down in the centre of the table to start the crib. Once the cards have been dealt, each player chooses four cards to retain, then discards the other one or two face-down to form the "crib" which will be used later by the dealer. At this point, each player's hand and the crib will contain exactly four cards. The player on the dealer's left cuts the deck and the dealer reveals the top card, called the "starter". If this card is a Jack, the dealer scores two points for "his heels", also known as "his nibs".
Starting with the player on the dealer's left, each player lays one card face up in turn onto a personal discard pile, stating the cumulative value of the cards laid (for example, the first player lays a five and says "five", the next lays a six and says "eleven", and so on), without the total going above 31. Once no more cards can be played, the cumulative position is reset to zero and those players with cards remaining repeat the process until all players' cards have been played. Players score points during this process for making a total of fifteen; for reaching exactly, or as close as possible to, a total of thirty-one; for runs and for pairs. Reaching 31 exactly scores 2 points. Three or four of a kind are counted as multiple pairs: 3 of a kind is the same as three different pairs, or 6 points. 4 of a kind is 6 different kinds of pairs, or 12 points. If a player plays to get 15, s/he gets 2 points. Players choose the order in which to lay their cards in order to maximize their score; experienced players refer to this as either good or poor "pegsmanship". If one player reaches the target (usually 61 or 121), the game ends immediately and that player wins.
Once the play is complete, each player in turn receives points based on the content of his hand in conjunction with the starter card. Points are scored for combinations of cards totalling fifteen, runs, pairs, (or three or four of a kind which can be considered multiple pairs), flushes and having a Jack of the same suit as the starter card ("one for his nob [or nobs or nibs]"). The dealer scores his hand last and then turns the cards in the crib face up. These cards are then scored by the dealer as an additional hand in conjunction with the starter card.
All scores from 0 to 29 are possible, with the exception of 19, 25, 26 and 27. Players may refer colloquially to a hand scoring zero points as having a score of nineteen.
Muggins (also known as cut-throat) is a commonly used but optional rule, that must be announced before game play begins. If the opposing player fails to claim his full score on any turn, the opponent may call out "Muggins" and peg any points overlooked by the other player.
A match (much like tennis) consists of more than one game, often an odd number (3 games, 5 games, 7 games etc.). The match points are scored on the cribbage board using the holes reserved for match points. On a spiral board, these are often at the bottom of the board in a line with 5 or 7 holes. On a conventional board, they are often in the middle of the board or at the top/bottom.
In a two player game of cribbage a player scores one match point for winning a game. Their opponent will start as dealer in the next game. If a player skunks their opponent (reaches 121 points before their opponent scores 91 points) then that player wins two match points for that game. If a player double skunks their opponent (reaches 121 points before their opponent reaches 61), then they score four match points for the game. If a player triple skunks their opponent (reaches 121 points before their opponent reaches 31 points), they automatically win the match. Double and triple skunks are not included in the official rules of cribbage play and are optional. There are several different formats for scoring match points.
Visually, cribbage is known for its scoring board – a series of holes ("streets") on which the score is tallied with pegs (also known as "spilikins"). Scores can be kept on a piece of paper, but a cribbage board is almost always used, since scoring occurs throughout the game, not just at the conclusion of hands as in most other card games. Points are registered as having been scored by "pegging" along the crib board. Two pegs are used in a leapfrog fashion, so that if a player loses track during the count one peg still marks the previous score. Some boards have a "game counter", with many additional holes for use with a third peg to count the games won by each side.
There are several designs of crib board:
The classic design is a flat wooden board approximately 250–300 mm (10–12 in) by 70–80 mm (3–4 in) and 10–20 mm (0.4–0.8 in) deep. There are two sets of 60 holes (30 'out' and 30 'back') divided into 5 point sections, see picture above. A pegging-outhole in the middle at each end allows the board to be used in either direction. One player or team scores on one set of 60 holes and the other player or team scores on the second set. Different arrangements are made for three player games.
A relatively old design is that of an equilateral triangle with two rows of forty holes on each side. These boards did not generally include extra pegging-out holes or holes to count games.
A newer design has three or four rows of 120 holes with a pegging-out hole at the end and is often brightly coloured. It is best suited to games played to 121, though it can also be used for 61-point games.
A tournament long board is used in sanctioned tournaments in the American Cribbage Congress and consists of four rows of 60 pegs (two rows for each player), no number markings or five point segments, and only a mark indicating the skunk line. Movement around the board starts on the outside and ends on the inside. Players start and end in the same hole.
Another common variation is based on features of the highest-scoring cribbage hand. The board takes the form of the number 29 (the highest possible score), with the pegging rows following the contour of the numbers "2" and "9". The design can sometimes include a background image of three fives and a Jack, with the fourth five offset—the "perfect hand" giving that score. The count being 8 times 15 for 16 points, 6 pairs of 2 for 12 points and a matching "nobs" Jack (matching the cut card) for 1 totaling 29.
Each of the four 30-point divisions of the cribbage board (1–30, 31–60, 61–90, and 91–120) is colloquially called a "street." Being at 15 points would be first street, being at 45 point would be second street, etc.
Throwing your hand
There are certain cards and card combinations that are likely to be beneficial to a hand. They include
- face-value combinations totaling fifteen (especially those that are embedded within runs).
Players will try to keep these cards, non-dealers discarding to the crib cards deemed least likely to improve their hand after the cut (and simultaneously unlikely to strengthen their opponent's crib), while the dealer retains the best cards while throwing combinations that will likely maximize points in the crib.
Particularly useful cards, whether for the hand or crib, include:
- 5s. Even though 5s are most commonly held in the hand (because players know the extent to which a 5 matches their other cards), they are also good in the crib. Four out of every thirteen cards (10-K) are worth ten, so there is a good chance that 5s in the hand or crib will form fifteen-twos.
- Two-card combinations of five. The same principle as "5s" applies, with a good possibility of forming runs.
- 6s, 7s, 8s and 9s. Combinations of these cards produce fifteen-twos and runs. Hands totaling 12, 16, 20, 21 and 24 are often composed of these cards.
- 4s, 5s and 6s. These total fifteen and simultaneously form a run. Hands totaling 12, 16, 21, 23, and 24 are often composed of these cards.
- 7s and Aces, and 4s and 7s. These combine to make fifteens, commonly scoring eight (e.g., 7-7-1-1), and occasionally scoring twenty (7-7-7-1-1).
- 3s, 6s and 9s. These also are likely to combine to make fifteens, and can score similarly to the 7s and Aces.
- Flushes. Flushes, because of their 'dog from every town' nature, frequently contain interesting fifteen-twos and runs, plus their count as a flush.
- Jacks. When holding a face card whose denomination doesn't matter, hold a Jack (or throw it to your crib, and refrain from throwing it to your opponent) for its possibility of scoring "nobs".
- Consecutive cards. Especially when throwing to one's own crib, consecutive cards (e.g., Ace-Deuce, 7-8, Jack-Queen) have the chance to meet the starter or the opponent's discards to form a run.
- Statistically the two cards that will score, on average, the most points in any crib are a pair of 5s, then a 2 and a 3, then a Jack and a 5.
- Statistically the two cards that will score the lowest points, on average, are the King and the 10.
Often a player is confronted with a conundrum: You have good cards to hold but must throw to your opponent cards that are likely to score significantly in his (or her) crib. If you are dealt a hand composed of 10-10-8-7-6-2, your best opportunity to score points is to hold the 8-7-6-2: fifteen four and a run of three make seven. More importantly, this hand can be cut to ten, eleven, twelve, fourteen or sixteen. But to what extent does throwing a pair of 10s mitigate the usefulness of holding the deuce? By throwing a 10-deuce, the likelihood your opponent will score significantly in the crib is reduced, while your hand's possibilities still range from five (two less than thrown the "better" way, offset by throwing two less points to the crib) to twelve. The opponent's largest possible crib, your having thrown a 10-2, is fourteen, whereas throwing a pair of 10s offers the maximal possibility of twenty-two.(10,10,5,5,5)
The answer to this lies in a player's position on the board. Is this the beginning of the game, and is the player willing to chance a loss for a hoped-for big gain? Are you so comfortably ahead that your opponent's crib won't hurt you? Or are you behind so significantly late in the game that you need holes at any cost? These questions, along with personality and perhaps feelings of "luck" good or bad, influence how best to throw a challenging hand.
Here are some short cut rules on what to throw, or not throw into the crib:
- Avoid breaking up a chance for a 4-6 double run.
- Avoid breaking up a run of three.
- Avoid breaking up a flush.
- Avoid throwing a 5 or J into the opposition crib (OC).
- Avoid throwing consecutive cards into the OC.
- Avoid throwing a pair into the OC.
- Avoid throwing two of the same suit into the OC.
- Avoid throwing a (4,A); (8,6); (9,6) or (9,7) into the OC.
Some of these tactics will only work in a two-player game (with more players it is harder to devise a strategy). The "pone", the player who leads the play, should consider the following:
- Initiate play with a three or a four. The opponent cannot make fifteen on the next card played. If the opponent completes a pair, the smart player has planned an offensive rejoinder such as "fifteen for two", e.g., having led a 4 while holding a 7, or playing "trips" (a pair royal). (Opening with a deuce is best when holding a trey, or another deuce. Otherwise you are at risk of giving up a pair at four, and then fifteen-two. Aces are almost always better held until the end of play.)
- Play a card from a pair. If an opponent completes the pair for two, the first player can complete a pair royal for six.
- Lead from one of two cards totaling five (2 and 3, or 4 and Ace). A "ten" card is a likely response, and allows you to easily score fifteen for two. Also, as the dealer, holding two cards totaling 11 (8 and 3) increases the chance of making 31 for two.
- If holding two cards that total fifteen, such as a 6 and a 9, play the 6. If the opponent makes "fifteen for two" with a 9, the first player can play "24 for two" with the 9. (This would not work as well starting with the 9, for the opponent's "fifteen-for-two" with a 6 leaves the pone pairing at twenty-one. If the dealer has a face card, the response is an easy "thirty-one for two".)
- If holding a 7 and a 9, or an 8 and a 9, be careful about leading them. While it is common that the opponent will play for the fifteen thus giving the pone a run of three with the 9, it is also common that the dealer's response is for a run of four. For example, pone leads a 7, dealer responds "fifteen for two" with an 8. Pone plays to "twenty-four for three" with a 9, but dealer responds "thirty for four" with a 6, gets a go and ends the series with his ace at "thirty-one for two". More often than not the dealer wins this exchange. (Further, it is equally likely that the dealer plays a 7 rather than a 6 at twenty-four, and summarily announces "thirty-one for five!")
- Do not lead a 5 except in an unusual and tactical situation; it is likely the opponent has a 10 or face card (16 out of 52 cards count as ten: 10, J, Q, K) and can easily make 15 for two points.
- If you have a choice between a fifteen-two or pairing, make the fifteen. This prevents your opponent from scoring a possible three-of-a-kind. An exception to this strategy is if you can make a four of a kind.
- Holding small cards increases the likelihood of getting "fifteen for two" as well as "thirty-one for two", and often provides an opportunity to play successive cards after getting a "Go" to form a pair or a run.
- Avoid making the count twenty-one. There are sixteen cards—30.8% of the deck—with a value of ten, so making the count twenty-one gives an opponent an easy chance for "thirty-one for two".
Home to deal
Much strategy in cribbage derives from the fact that the first hand counted is the non-dealer's. The dealer may be only two holes from winning and the opponent twenty, but if the pone holds a 3-3-4-5 hand and has cut a 5, the dealer who pegs only a Go will lose. Players use this knowledge to decide when to throw their hands (or play their cards) aggressively or defensively.
The standard cribbage board is laid out in "streets", where players move up the outside and down the inside. Each street comprises thirty holes, and it is universally acknowledged that a good cribbage player getting average hands and pegging intelligently will score about twenty-five points in one pair of turns, i.e., as dealer (a hand and a crib) and as pone (a single hand). Working backward from the end game, it can be seen that when a player deals what should be his final deal of the game, he wants to lie around the corner about six pegs on fourth street (also called the "home stretch"), necessitating twenty-five holes in the final three hands. (At this point of play, the dealer also wants the pone far enough from going out that a single hand and pegging won't end the game to the opponent's advantage.) Being thus positioned, the dealer is said to be "Home to deal", and will play judiciously, scoring only the points needed without allowing the opponent to take over the better position on the board.
Players who "deal short", however, often play more aggressively in an attempt to recoup points sufficient to re-establish the better board position.
Source: Wikipedia 2013