By Neal Taparia - 5/17/2023
Cribbage is a fun card game with an added board game component. While typically played with only 2 players, you can easily tweak the standard cribbage rules to include 3 (or even 4) players. Here’s how to play 3-player cribbage.
Number of Players: 3
Tabletop cribbage boards are inexpensive and easy to find, but you can always keep scores on paper if you don't have one.
If you’re playing online, you obviously won’t need any of this!
Once a player scores 121 points, the game ends, and they win!
How many points do you need to win 3-player cribbage? To win a game of cribbage, a player must reach 121 points. This is the same as a two-player game. If players prefer a shorter game, they can always agree on another winning point limit.
The best hand of 3-player cribbage is 29 points.
The dealer has an advantage in cribbage so that players will take turns as the dealer. To determine the first dealer, all players randomly choose a card from the deck. The player with the lowest card gets to be the dealer first.
The dealer shuffles the deck of cards, and a non-dealer cuts the deck — usually the pone or the player to the left of the dealer.
Each player must choose a color on the cribbage board and place 2 pegs in the starting positions.
How many cards do you need for 3 players in cribbage? You'll still use 52 cards for a game of cribbage with 3 players; you'll just deal them a little differently than in a 2-player game. The dealer gets 6 cards. All other players get 5 cards. Deal all cards face down.
When all players have looked at their cards, the dealer will discard 2 cards to the dealer’s Crib. All other players discard 1 card to this Crib. This will be an additional hand for the dealer when it’s time to score at the end of the round.
Next, the pone cuts the deck, and the dealer turns over the top card. This cut card is the Starter card. It will remain face-up for the round.
The pone, or the first player, plays a card from their hand face-up. Players take turns playing cards until the number of points equals 31. During this part of the game, players should announce the value of the card they are playing and the new running total of all cards on the table.
It’s also a good idea to keep score as you go — we’ll get back to that.
Once the cards equal 31, the count resets at 0. The round will continue until all players are out of cards.
Cards in play cannot exceed a value of 31. The value of the starter card does not count toward this total.
Players who cannot play a card without going over 31 say "go" to pass their turn. Then, opposing players play cards until they reach 31 or until everyone has said "go."
Example: If the cards on the table equal 28 but only have a King (worth 10), you cannot make a move and must say "go."
The last player — the one who played the last card — gets an extra point. After moving aside the cards, players begin the count again with the remaining cards in their hands, starting with the player who called "go."
If you’re playing online, you won’t have to worry about scoring. If you’re using a deck of playing cards and a wooden board, you’ll want to keep score as you go.
There are several scoring combinations in cribbage, so keeping track of your points with every move is essential.
What are the points of a game of 3-player cribbage? Point values don’t change for a 3 player game of cribbage. Here’s a breakdown of scoring combinations:
|15||2||The value of cards played = 15 pips||5+10, 6+9, 4+5+6|
|31||2||The value of cards played = 31 pips||A+5+5+Q+K|
|Pair||2||A pair of cards of the same rank||9,9|
|Double Royal Pair||12||Four-of-a-kind||9,9,9,9|
|Run of 3+||1 per card||Cards with sequential ranks||6-7-8 (Runs do not have to be in order, 8-6-7 counts as a run)|
|Flush of 4+||1 per card||Cards of the same suit. Can only be scored during the Show.||Four-card flush, e.g. 4 spades in a hand or crib = 4 points or Five-card flush, e.g. 5 spades in a hand or crib = 5 points|
|Nobs, or “one for his nob”||1||Jack of the same suit as the Start or top card||Jack of hearts where the Start card (top card) is a heart|
|Nibs, or “two for his heels”||2||Jack is the Start card. 2 points go to the dealer.|
|Last Card||1||The last card played before someone says “Go”|
|Muggins (optional)||?||A player calls Muggins to take the points another player forgets to claim.||If a player doesn’t notice a combination of 15 by the end of their turn, their opponent may call Muggins to claim the 2 points at the beginning of his turn.|
Optional Muggins scoring. This rule for highly competitive gameplay allows players to steal unclaimed points from their opponents. For instance, if a player doesn’t notice a combination of 15, their opponent may call Muggins to claim the 2 points.
Check out these other cribbage variants to learn more challenges to spice up your game night!
Note that the count value to reach 15 and 31 during play is different from the point values for any card combinations.
At the end of each cribbage hand, players will take back their original cards and tally points. This is called “the show.” Players will take turns scoring their hands, including the Starter card.
The dealer will score cards last, using the Crib as a second hand. The Crib is scored differently, not with the dealer’s hand.
You can use a single card in multiple configurations. For example, if a player’s hand includes 5, 5, 6, and 10 and the Starter card is a 4, he can configure it as follows:
With all the possible combinations of cards, you can see why even experienced players rely on the peg board to keep track of points.
To win at cribbage, try these 5 winning strategies.
1. Assume your opponents have a card worth 10.
That means make sure not to leave 5 or 21 on the table if you can help it. Either case will give your opponent easy points.
2. Be careful with the crib.
Remember, these cards mean additional points for the dealer at the end of the round. Only put good cards in there if you're the dealer. Aces are great throwaway cards. Unless you're the dealer, you don't want to put in 5s or a pair.
3. Start with a 4.
Laying down a 4 is a surefire way to prevent your opponent from getting a 15 in one move.
4. Hold onto your low cards.
As the hand progresses, higher cards will have you saying "go" and losing several points. If you have aces and 2s in your hand, you're more likely to hit 31 and get those 2 points.
5. Stop worrying about the crib at 116.
When a player reaches this point, it's not worth worrying about the Crib, so keep the best cards in your hand. The odds are you'll peg up and win the game before the show on this round.
How long have people been playing cribbage?
Cribbage has been attributed to 16th-century poet Sir John Suckling. Based on an earlier two-player card game called Noddy. Suckling’s main contribution was the Crib.
If you’d rather try playing cribbage than reading about it, you can play it for free here!