What is Cribbage?
Cribbage is a card game for two to four players that dates back to the seventeenth century. The objective is to be the first player to score 121 points. Below we detail the rules of the game, history, and strategy, so be sure to keep reading to get a full grasp of cribbage.
Cribbage was created in the 1600s by a man named Sir John Suckling. Suckling was a notorious cheater and gambler, and would send marked decks of cards out to influential people across Britain as “gifts”, along with his rules of cribbage. When Suckling would then play these people, the players would use the trick decks Suckling had gifted to them, enabling Suckling to count cards and win vast sums of money.
Despite his innoble intentions, Sir John’s game of cribbage was a hit, and spread across Britain, Europe, and North America, becoming one of the world’s most popular card games for a time.
How To Play
Each player is dealt six cards, and lays two of them “face down” in the “crib”, leaving each player with a hand of four cards. The dealer then cuts the deck and flips the top card face up (called the “starter”), which is used after play ends.
What follows is called “pegging play”. Players take turns playing cards face-up from their hand, keeping a running count of the total value of their cards. If player one plays an eight, they call “eight”, and then if player two plays a three, they call “11”. If a player cannot play from their hand without a total count exceeding 31, they call “go,” and the other player gets one last chance to play cards. The players then count their hands, the dealer gets to count the crib, and then both players are dealt new hands and play resumes with the count back at zero.
The cribbage board is one of the things that makes the game so distinct, and it is used to keep score. The board consists of pegs and a series of holes (usually 121). Scoring is called “pegging” because you advance your “pegs” one hole for each point you score. When you are the first person to reach the last peg hole, you have won the game.
Besides a cribbage board, the only other equipment you’ll need is a deck of cards!
Here is the essential cribbage equipment you should have:
- Cribbage Board
- Deck of cards
- Pegs (usually come with the cribbage board)
The main objective of the game is to score points based on different card combinations in your hand. The first player to “peg” 121 points wins the game (you can also play to 61). You can score points at three times; during pegging play, by counting your hand, and counting the crib (only the dealer gets to do this).
Rules and Regulations
Cribbage has a lot of tricky rules that can be hard to keep track of. Here are some of the more important things to keep in mind:
- During pegging play, runs can be made in any order (such as 7-9-8 or 7-8-9)
- During pegging play, you can only score points for pairs or runs within the same count of 31
- If you have the jack of the same suit as the starter, you will get one point when counting your hand
- Only the dealer gets to count the crib
- The non-dealer counts their hand first. This is an important point because the first person to “peg out” and reach 121 wins, even if it happens in the middle of a round!
A lot of strategy comes in the form of deciding which cards to add to the crib and which cards to play.
Here are important cribbage strategies to know:
- The Crib: If you are the dealer, you want to put “good” cards in your crib (like pairs or two cards close in value to try and make a run) because you’ll be able to count the crib after pegging play. If you aren’t the dealer, you want to put “bad” cards (like a two and an eight) into the crib because it will make it harder for the dealer to score points with it.
- Pegging Play: Don’t lead with a 5 or a face card, because your opponent can then score easy points by making the count fifteen! Similarly, don’t fall into the trap of giving your opponent easy runs. If they play a six, don’t play a seven, because they can make an easy run by playing either a five or an eight!
Here is the common lingo and slang in cribbage:
- Crib: The two cards that each player discards at the start of play form the crib
- Pair: Two to four cards of a value, such as 5-5-5-5 or Q-Q-Q
- Peg: Scoring is called “pegging” in cribbage. If you score three points, you “peg” three points, and move your pegs up three holes on the board.
- Run: A series of three to five cards in sequential order such as 7-8-9 or J-Q-K
- Starter: The card flipped face up from the deck by the dealer
There are three times during which you can score points throughout the game.
You can score during pegging play by:
- Landing on a count 15 or 31: 2 points
- Pairing your opponent’s last play (7-7, 8-8-8, etc.): 2-12 points, depending on the number of pairs
- Creating a run (such as 3-4-5 or 7-8-9): 3-7 points
- Calling Go: 1 point
- Having the last card: 1 point
You can also score points when you count your hand by forming combinations of cards:
- Each combination that adds to 15: 2 points
- Each run (such as 2-3-4): 3-5 points, depending on the length of the run
- Each pair: 2-12 points, depending on if it is a 2, 3, or 4 of a kind.
- Flush: 4 points if all cards in your hand are of the same suit
- Nobs: 1 point if you have a jack of the same suit as the “starter”
Finally, the dealer gets to count the crib - the two cards both players discarded at the start of play. The crib is like another hand, and is counted in the same manner as hand points.
How do you determine who deals first?
Before the deal, each player cuts the deck roughly in half. The player who cut to the card with the lower value deals first. For example, if you cut to the three of diamonds, and your opponent cut to the nine of spades, you get to deal first!
How many points do face cards count for?
The ace has a value of 1 when keeping count during play. All other face cards have a value of 10 when keeping count. When counting pairs and runs in hands or the crib, the ace must always be “low” (below the two) and the other face cards go in order of jack-queen-king.
Where can I play cribbage?
The American Cribbage Congress organizes many tournaments year-round. Be sure to check out their website to find a tournament near you!
You can also play cribbage online on a number of different sites. And, of course, you can play with friends any time of day!
Can I play with more than two players?
Though usually played between two people, cribbage can be played with three or four as well. With three players, each person is dealt only five cards to start, and places only one card into the crib. Otherwise, play is exactly the same! You can also play with four players by making two teams of two players, who have a shared hand of six cards like normal two-player cribbage and make decisions together!