Cribbage is a classic two-player game that is based around the running count of cards played. The game is often associated with the Cribbage board, a score-keeping device that is theoretically useful for any number of games, but in practice used exclusively for Cribbage.
Cribbage is based upon an older English game called Noddy, but the invention of Cribbage itself is attributed to Sir John Suckling, a seventeenth-century English poet-soldier who was widely regarded as the best card player in England. In 1641, Suckling led a conspiracy to release a friend who was being held in the Tower of London. His plot was exposed, and he fled to France. He was convicted of high treason in absentia, making him unable to return to England. Exiled, cut off from his income, and fearful of falling into poverty, Suckling swallowed poison and died in 1642.
Object of Cribbage
The object of Cribbage is to be the first player to reach the score of either 61 or 121 (depending on the length of game desired). Players score points by forming card combinations with the cards in their hand and the cards already played.
Cribbage uses one standard 52-card pack. Many Cribbage boards include a deck of low-quality cards, but we of course recommend Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards.
You will also need a way to keep score. While pencil and paper works, traditionally score is kept on a Cribbage board, the use of which is described below.
Determine how many points constitutes a game—traditionally, the game is played to 121, but if a shorter game is desired, it can be shortened to 61. Shuffle and deal six cards to each player.
Using the Cribbage board
A Cribbage board consists of a piece of wood or plastic with two tracks of sixty holes drilled into its surface. Each track also has a 61st start/end hole separate from the rest of the track. The board also includes two like-colored pegs for each player, usually with one player controlling red pegs and one controlling blue pegs. Players track their progress through the game by inserting these pegs into the board, progressing up one side and then down the other in a U shape. For a 61-point game, the pegs will make one lap around the board; for a 121-point game, the pegs will make two laps.
The game begins with each player placing one peg in the starting hole, representing a score of zero. Scoring on the Cribbage board is called pegging, and the first score by each player is recorded by placing the second peg the appropriate number of holes down the track. For example, if a player were to begin by scoring two points, they would place their second peg two holes down the track. Thereafter, scoring is recorded by removing the trailing peg and leapfrogging it over the first one, placing it the appropriate number of holes beyond the formerly-leading peg. In the example above, if the player were to score another two points, they would remove the trailing peg from the start hole and place it two holes beyond their leading peg, that is, the fourth hole, representing their total score of four.
Scoring with a Cribbage board presents a number of advantages over other scoring methods. For one, it is much quicker than pencil-and-paper scoring. Mathematical errors are less likely, since the board provides a visual method of calculating a score. It also allows for error-checking, since the number of spaces between the two pegs represents the last score that was pegged, making it easy to verify that the correct number of points were pegged and clearing up any confusion as to whether something was scored or not. Using two pegs also guards against a player pulling the peg out and forgetting where it was supposed to go.
The crib and the starter
Each player selects two cards from their hand and sets them, face down, in a central pile called the crib, an action which is called laying away. The crib is essentially a third hand that will be scored for the dealer at the end of the hand. The crib remains face down until that time and takes no part in game play.
The non-dealer cuts the deck stub. The dealer then takes the top card of the bottom half of the pack and exposes it. This card is called the starter. If the starter is a jack, it is called “His Heels”, and the dealer pegs two points. Otherwise, though, the starter takes no immediate part in gameplay, and is set aside for the time being.
Play of the hand
The non-dealer goes first, playing a card from their hand face-up on the table, announcing the value of the card played—aces are one point, face cards are ten points, and all other cards are their face value. The dealer does likewise, calling out the total value of their card plus their opponent’s card, and so on, alternating turns, with each player calling out the running total of the cards played. Players should take care to place their cards in such a way that both the order played and the person who played them remain clear.
As cards are played, players may score points for the following combinations:
- Fifteen (2 points): Playing a card that makes the running count 15.
- Pair (2 points): Playing a card that makes a pair with the card played immediately before it. Face cards must be the same rank; two kings would an appropriate pair, but a queen and a king would not.
- Sequence/run: Playing a card that creates a sequence with the previous two or more cards. Note that the sequence doesn’t necessarily have to appear in order; 5-7-6 is a valid sequence. A sequence of three scores 3 points, a sequence of four 4 points, and so on. Aces are low only.
- Triplet (6 points): Playing a card that makes a three-of-a-kind with the two cards played immediately before it.
- Four (12 points): Playing a card that makes a four-of-a-kind with the three cards played immediately before it.
It is customary to call out the points scored as you’re pegging them, e.g. “Fifteen for two” when scoring a fifteen. Note that any cards interrupting the chain will cause the combination to be invalid; 2-3-8-4 cannot be scored as a sequence, nor can 5-8-5 be scored as a pair.
The running count of cards played cannot exceed 31. If a player has no card that they can play without sending the count above 31, they call out “Go” rather than playing. The other player then pegs one point (or two if they were able to make the count exactly 31 just before the Go). The opponent of the player that called “Go” then plays any cards they have that can still be played without exceeding 31 and scores for any combinations made. The player who called Go then leads, with the running count resetting to zero; no combinations can be made with the cards played prior to this lead from this point onward.
Game play continues until the hands are exhausted. Whoever plays the last card scores one point for Go (as their opponent now cannot play), or two points if the running total ends on exactly 31. The hands are now counted out.
Each hand is then examined for scoring combinations, as listed below, a process known as counting out. The non-dealer’s hand is counted out first, then the dealer’s, then the crib (this order is important because it can influence who reaches the ending score first). Each hand is considered to have five cards: the four cards actually dealt to each player, and the starter, which acts as a community card.
The scoring combinations possible are listed below:
- His Nobs (1 point): A jack of the same suit as the starter. (Note that if the starter is, itself, a jack, this was already scored as “His Heels” and is not scored again.)
- Fifteen (2 points): A combination of cards that totals fifteen.
- Pair (2 points): Two cards of the same rank.
- Run: Three or more cards that form a sequence. A sequence of three scores 3 points, a sequence of four 4 points, and so on. Aces are low only.
- Flush: Excluding the crib and the starter, four cards in the hand of the same suit scores 4 points. If there are four cards in the hand or the crib that are the same suit as the starter, the flush scores 5 points.
Note that each card is not limited to appearing in one combination; it can be used multiple times, even in combinations of the same type! Therefore, if one were to hold four jacks, one would score 12 points, as follows: J♠-J♣ (pair for 2 points), J♥-J♦ (2 points), J♠-J♥ (2 points), J♣-J♦ (2 points), J♠-J♦ (2 points), J♥-J♣ (2 points). A hand consisting of 4-5-5-6 would score for two runs of three (4-5-6 twice, each using a different 5) as well as for a pair of 5s, and two fifteens (4+5+6=15 twice, again each using a different 5) for a total score of 6 for the runs + 2 for the pair + 4 for the two fifteens = 12 points.
As each player counts out the score, they announce the combinations that they see and peg them as they are called out. When they are done, if the opponent notices any unscored combinations, they may call “Muggins”, and claim the points for themselves.
The crib is counted out last, and all points scored from it are pegged by the dealer. After the crib is counted out, the next hand is dealt, with the deal passing to the non-dealer from the first hand. Game play continues until either player reaches a score of 61 or 121, as agreed; play immediately ceases, even if the score is reached in the middle of the hand.