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Cribbage is a simple game involving two players, a unique scoring board, and a lot of fun and excitement.

Many credit this game's invention to a 17th-century English poet named Sir John Suckling, who developed or derived his version from another game called "noddy." Noddy used a special scoring board and a standard deck of cards, like cribbage. Centuries later, the game remains unchanged, and people continue to pass it on to the next generation like a precious family heirloom.

The Basics of Cribbage 

The main objective of cribbage is to gain a score of 121 points through a series of rounds involving strategic card playing. The score is represented by pegs on a wooden board called the "cribbage board." The board is a small, rectangular, often foldable wooden plank with 121 holes for each player. Other cribbage boards are designed like track fields to emphasize the race-like action of the game.

To play cribbage, you need a cribbage board, which is relatively cheap, and a standard deck of 52 playing cards.

The game of cribbage is best played with two people, but you can also play with four players in two teams.

Steps on How To Play Cribbage

The beauty of cribbage is that everyone can play! That's why so many people still play this game centuries after it was invented. These are the steps on how to play cribbage that you can learn in a matter of minutes:

The Dealer

In cribbage, the dealer has a significant advantage over the non-dealer. A standard way to decide who will be the dealer is by each player randomly selecting a card from the deck. Whoever gets the lowest card is the first dealer.

Players will switch roles when a round ends, so everyone gets to experience being the dealer.

The Set Up

Get your cribbage board, pegs, and a standard 52-card deck. Jokers have no role in the game, so remove them before the game starts. Each player needs two pegs for scoring.

The deck should be placed face-down on the table. The chosen dealer shuffles the cards, and the non-dealer cuts them. Then, the dealer will deal six cards to each player.

The Crib

Each player will look at their cards and decide which four to keep in their hands and which two they should discard. The four discarded cards (two from each player) will be placed face down to make a pile called the "crib." The crib will be important later in the game, especially for the dealer. For now, they just rest face down.

The Starter Card

After setting up the crib, the players can start the game. The non-dealer, or a player on the dealer's left for a multiplayer game, must cut the remaining deck of cards and turn over the top card; this is the "starter card." This card is shown face up for the entire game but doesn't have any effect until the end.

The dealer gets 2 points and pegs 2 holes on the board if the starter card is a jack of any suit.

The Play

Next, the non-dealer or the person left of the dealer will play a card from their hand by placing it face up on the table. It's important to remember never to pile all cards on top of each other because players need to review their played cards at the end of the round.

When the first player lays down a card, they should announce its value. Each numbered card has the same numeric value in the game, and face cards(jacks, queens, and kings), have a value of ten. Meanwhile, aces count as one.

The dealer will lay down the next card on their side. The dealer will announce the total value of their card combined with their opponent's card. This process will continue alternately. Players will lay down cards and declare the new total of all the cards until the overall value reaches 31. A player who can't play without exceeding 31 must say "go," allowing the next player to play a card if possible.

If both players can't play a card without going over 31, the count will go back to zero. Another series then begins, starting with the last person who said "go." The game continues with the remaining cards in the players’ hands until all cards have been played.

The Scores

There are various ways players can score during a hand of cribbage, and this should be tracked using the pegs; this is called “pegging.” If a player says "go," it means they cannot play a card without exceeding 31, so the other player receives 1 point.

Playing the last card in a hand counts as a “go” and also earns 1 point. Playing a card that gives a total of either 15 or 31 gives the player 2 points. Creating a sequence of three or more consecutive cards gives you points equal to the number on that run (e.g. a three, four, and five would score 3 points). 

Finally, making a pair by playing a card with the same face value as the previously-played card also gives 2 points. Meanwhile, making a three in a row gives 6 points, while making four in a row makes 12 points.

The Show

Players also earn points at the end of a hand, based on the cards that they played. Once both players play all their cards, each will score by combining their played cards with the starter card. The starter card is the one that the dealer turned over before the game began. This process is called "the show."

There are various ways players can score during the show, and players can use the same card to make different combinations of cards for scoring.

following are the scores for each combination in the show:

  • Any two cards with a total of 15: 2 points
  • Pair: 2 points
  • Three of a kind (Pair Royal): 6 points
  • Four of a kind (Double Pair Royal): 12 points
  • Consecutive cards: total number of cards in the run
  • Four cards in the same suit (Flush): 4 points
  • The starter card is in the same suit as the Flush: 5 points
  • The starter card is in the same suit as a jack in a player’s hand (“One for his Nob”): 1 point

Take note always to score consecutive cards as a whole. Never score small runs within larger runs. For instance, if you get a run of six to ten, you count them as a complete run (worth 5 points) and do not score six to seven, and so on.

The dealer will then reveal the four face-down cards on the crib and score them with the starter card. This is a dealer-only privilege in the game; only the dealer scores points from the crib. The scoring will be the same as the show. The only difference is that a flush will only work if all cards in the crib are the same as the starter card. When this happens, the dealer will score 5 points.

Players must move their pegs forward according to the points they get during the game and the show. Each hole on the board represents 1 point. Since they have two pegs on the board, they should always use one after the other to keep track of their previous scores.

After this, players will collect all the cards, and the dealer role will swap. The game will restart until a player reaches or exceeds 121 points, which is the winning score.

Playing Strategies

If you're a first-time player or want to improve your cribbage skills, here are a few tips to help you get a significant advantage in your game:

Remember the Dealer Privilege

Compared with other games, being the dealer is advantageous in cribbage, thanks to the crib cards and the starter card. Remember that the points from the crib always go to the dealer, giving them an extra chance to score points. Plus, since the dealer is the second to lay down cards, they have a better chance of scoring points, e.g. by scoring 15.

While the dealer alternates between players, it's best to be the dealer on the first hand to gain a significant advantage at the beginning. However, being the first dealer relies solely on being lucky in selecting the lowest-valued card at the draw.

Don't overlook the importance of this role when playing. If you become a dealer first, continue to play the best hand possible to boost your lead on the cribbage board.

Think About Your Crib

Dealers can benefit from an excellent hand in the crib. This means if there are cards that add up to 15 in there, the dealer scores an easy 2 points. So, never put such cards in the crib if you're not the dealer to diminish the dealer's chances of gaining more points. Aces and Kings are some of the safest cards to let go into the crib if you’re not the dealer.

Never Start With a Five 

Play on the assumption that your opponent has a card in their hand worth ten. If you start with a five, they'll immediately lay their ten to make a 15, giving them 2 points. So, always start with numbers lower than five, so the other player has no chance of making 15.

Power of Low Cards

One of the best ways to start the game is by laying down a four. Four is the highest card that cannot  produce a 15 when your opponent drops any card. Meanwhile, you should keep aces, twos, and threes for later use. These low cards will help you form a 31 and keep playing after your opponent declares a "go."

Pay Attention to Your Opponent

Consider the cards your opponent is playing. You may be able to spot if that person is setting up something that earns more points, like a pair or a sequence. This will give you an idea of the other cards in the player’s hand.

Don't Provide an Opening

One of the best ways to win in cribbage is to think ahead. This means never setting up your opponent for an easy score. Avoid making a 21 because there's a big chance that your opponent has a card worth ten. When you make a 21, your opponent can quickly drop a ten, jack, queen, or king and win the round while earning 2 points.

Avoid making runs, like dropping consecutive numbers and pairs. Let your opponent drop such cards so you can earn the points. But don't be too reliant on your opponent. Trust your own hand always.

Master Counting 

Miscounting during the game will hinder your ability to foresee possible plays that will help you win. Remember that the value of all cards is the same as their numbers, except that aces are one, and jacks, queens, and kings are ten.

Knowing all these will help you keep track of points during the game. Try practicing by randomly laying down cards and adding their value until you get the hang of it.

When Not To Worry About The Crib

If your points reach 116, try to play the best hand possible. At this point, don't worry about the crib because, chances are, you'll finish the game before you clear out your cards anyway. Focus on playing the best cards and winning the game. The crib won't matter when you win, especially if you're a non-dealer player.

Play Carefully 

Cribbage is a game of logic and not of luck. This means you shouldn’t gamble with random plays and expect successful outcomes every time. Don't lay down cards aggressively. Calculate ahead and predict every possible play.

Play Cribbage

There's a reason why cribbage remains a popular game despite being centuries old. These are some of the reasons why you should play this exciting game:

Accessible to Play 

Cribbage is a play-anywhere game since the board and cards are portable. You can play in the park, in a restaurant while waiting, or wherever you feel like starting a game.

Cribbage is also fast-paced, with most games taking around 15 to 30 minutes max. This means you can have as many rounds as you want without dedicating a whole day to setting up and playing.

Boosts Children’s Brain Function

Generally, card games involve hand-eye coordination and various cognitive skills, from memorizing numbers to recognizing patterns. Allowing children to play games like cribbage will help boost their brain function by using basic probability and quick addition and subtraction, which they can later apply in school.

Cribbage is also a fun activity for parents and their children or children and their friends. However, this game may not be suitable for younger children who have yet to learn basic math principles.

Improves Cognitive and Motor Skills Among Older Adults

Meanwhile, older adults can also benefit significantly from playing cribbage. Card games typically require logic, which means playing such games can help older individuals exercise their brains and keep their minds sharp. In the long run, playing cribbage and other similar card games can potentially reduce the risk of conditions like Alzheimer's disease.

Cribbage can also help older adults improve their motor skills, which diminish over time. The game may only involve placing down cards or moving pegs on the board, but regularly playing such a fast-paced game can help rebuild their motor skills over time. Of course, it also helps to get therapy, but playing can complement treatment while keeping the seniors happy.

Finally, since the game is centuries old, the seniors in the family likely grew up playing it. This can be a fantastic opportunity for children to connect with grandma and grandpa.

Uncomplicated Gameplay

Some card games take a long time to learn, which means it can take a while before you begin enjoying the game. Of course, cribbage involves logic and calculations, but it's not as complicated as other games. There are various rules to remember, but since they're easy to learn, you can immediately master the game and have fun.

Cribbage also provides a more casual gaming experience that offers a break from complex card or board games. If you're looking for a quick-fix game that you can play to kill time while exercising your mind, cribbage is the perfect game for you.

Excellent for Socialization

Because cribbage is a take-it-anywhere type of game, it can make for an excellent tool for socializing outdoors. Bring your cribbage board to public places, play with friends, or maybe make new friends with fellow players.

Twist and Turns

Cribbage is a game of logic, but there are times when players need luck to move forward, giving the game a certain unpredictability. Even a seasoned pro at cribbage can still get bad cards at the deal. This means that newbies have a fighting chance at winning this game.

Additionally, cribbage involves various ways to score points, like making 31 or playing consecutive cards, which adds more layers to the thrill of the game.

Cribbage is Timeless

Cribbage dates back to the early 1600s, which may discourage younger players, thinking the game is old-fashioned or involves complicated mechanics. However, the game continues to be played today, which means many previous generations grew up enjoying cribbage. This means cribbage has a charm that has stood the test of time. The game has rapid gameplay and mechanics that are friendly to newbies, potentially allowing them to win against more experienced players.

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