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Cribbage - Dastardly Review #023

Updated: Jul 2, 2018

Cribbage will always be a game of regret for me...regret that I didn’t start playing it until I was 54! Working hard to make up for the late start.

Englishman Sir John Suckling is credited as refining a much older game called Noddy in the early 1600s into modern day cribbage. Sir John also tried to help a friend who was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The escape failed and Sir John had to flee England. Luckily for cribbage fans he was better at cards than planning jailbreaks.

Cribbage is very recognizable because of the wooden board (a true board game!) with the streets of holes and the pegs placed in the holes to keep track of scoring. The boards can be true works of art. I have seen elaborate boards and pegs or ones that use matchsticks or nails instead of pegs. Typically the first person/team to 121 points wins.

You can play cribbage with 2, 3 or 4 players. Play is similar although the crib is built slightly different. Players draw cards to see who is first dealer. Low card is dealer. In traditional 2 player cribbage each player is dealt six cards. Players keep four cards in their hand and throw 2 cards into the crib which the dealer will use to score. The deck is cut and a card is turned face up on the pile.

Cribbage has two phases - the Play and the Show.

During Play, which starts with the player on the dealer’s left, players play cards down in front of themselves from their hand. As each card is played the player says out loud the running total of the cards. Points are pegged for pairs, triples, quads, straights, fifteens etc. If a player can’t play a card without the running total going above 31 he says ‘Go’. The last person to play a card under 31 pegs a point when all the other players have said ‘Go’. If the running total hits 31 exactly the player scores 2 points. Then the running total is reset to zero and the next person plays a card to restart the running total. This cycle continues until all cards have been played.

Show is started by the player to the dealer’s left. Each player in turns scores the four cards from their hand and the card that is face up on the pile. Again points are given for pairs, triples, quads, straights, flushes etc including ‘nobs’ which is a point for having the jack of the same suit as the face up card.

The dealer scores his hand last and then also scores the crib.

The highest score possible from a hand is 29 so you sometimes see a cribbage board designed to in the shape of 29. The odds of getting a 29 are between 1/200,000 and 1/600,000 depending on the number of players. The perfect 29 hand is three fives and a jack in your hand and a five turned face up. The jack needs to be the same suit as the face up five to score nobs.

Also it is impossible to score a 19, 25, 26 or 27 from a single hand.

The mechanics of cribbage are very solid and challenging. When deciding which cards to throw into the crib and which cards to keep in your hand there is a balance between scoring during Play and during Show as well as building a strong or weak crib depending on who is dealer. It is neat that card hands are used multiple ways.

Also it seems that card play during Play should be simple but the depth of strategy is surprising to maximum your pegging points and to minimize opponent pegging points.

The Good: Fast play with good depth of strategy.

The Bad: Tough to chit chat during Play and keep accurate running total.

The Dastardly: If playing ‘cut throat’, if a player misses points during Show the other team can claim the points.


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