Penalties in Cribbage

By Neal Taparia - 6/17/2023

While most instructions give plenty of information on how to play cribbage, they rarely cover penalties. So, what happens if someone breaks a rule? Do you just rewind play until before the infraction? Not according the American Cribbage Congress!

Thanks to tournaments, many cribbage rules have been established regarding rule violations, including penalties for everything from peeking at cards to falsely claiming a win. 

If you’re playing cards casually with a friend, you might not care about penalty points, but they could up the stakes and offer more competitive gameplay.

If you’re playing cribbage online, you can’t really break the rules anyway!

Let’s talk about some of the basic cribbage penalties and traditional point deductions.

Peeking at Cards

Peeking is probably the most common cheat in any card game. Cribbage is no exception. Here are some common situations and how to deduct points.

Looking at the Bottom Card

Penalty: 2 points

After the dealer shuffles the deck, neither player can look at the bottom card. This also applies to the cut cards — neither player can look at the bottom card of either half of the deck. If they do, it costs them 2 points.

Checking the Crib Early

Penalty: 2 points

Neither player can check the crib before the show. Leave those cards face down until it’s time to score them. 

If you’re the dealer, you don’t want it to look like you’re switching cards from the crib to your hand. 

If you’re the pone, or non-dealer, the crib isn’t your business yet anyway — you can wait until they’re face up in the show.

Other Peeking Rules

Penalty: 2 points per violation

  • Don’t look at the starter card, or turn-up card, before each player discards. 
  • Dealers don’t get to pick which stack to use for pegging (crib vs. dealer’s hand). The crib is not the same as the dealer’s hand.
  • You may not look at the deck when drawing to find out who goes first. When choosing the first dealer, fan the deck face down on the table to draw cards. Whoever draws the lowest card deals first, then players alternate as dealer.

Wrongly Requesting a Redeal

Penalty: 10 points

If any player is dealt the wring number of cards, the cards are automatically redealt. That player must prove the first deal was incorrect beforehand. 

If a player claims they got the wrong amount and puts their cards back on the deck before letting the dealer count, they lose 10 points.

In a standard game of cribbage, dealing a 6-card hand shouldn’t be a challenge. But if you’re playing a variation of cribbage with fewer cards, muscle memory could trip up the dealer. 


Penalty: 2 points per renege card

If a player fails to play a card when they should have, this is called reneging.

Cribbage is one of those card games where players must play a card if they can. Because all players will see each other’s hands during the show and find out what the remaining cards were, holding back during pegging is unwise anyway.

If a player calls “Go” when they could play a card without going over 31, it’s an illegal play that costs 2 points.

Moving the Starter Card

Penalty: 2 points

A player who puts the starter card, or top card, into their hand, the crib, or back into the deck, will be given a penalty. 

Scoring Points Incorrectly

If a player scores incorrectly in a friendly cribbage game, there’s usually no penalty. Miscounting points is common, especially when players are new to the game. However, in tournament play, there are penalties for various scoring mistakes.

Pegging With Your Opponent’s Peg

Penalty: 2 points to the opponent

If a player moves their opponent’s peg at any point during the game, the opponent scores 2 penalty points.

Claiming the win incorrectly.

Penalty: 15 points, plus overclaimed points to the opponent

If a player claims the game hole incorrectly, they lose 15 points and the opponent takes the number of points overclaimed.

So, if Player A accidentally scores himself 2 extra points and pegs up to the game hole, Player B can take those 2 points while Player A loses 15.


Penalty: The number of miscounted points

This optional rule is probably the most widely-known cribbage penalty. It’s best for experienced cribbage players — you want to be very familiar with cribbage rules before playing with muggins. 

Any time your opponent miscounts their points or pegs up incorrectly, you correct them and take the points on the cribbage board.

Other Scoring Rules

Players take turns scoring points during the show, starting with the pone.

The first player in pegging is the pone, or non-dealer.

Some game variations give the pone a 3-point head start at the beginning of the game. Players should agree on this before drawing the first card.

Check out our scoring chart below if you need a refresher, or a more complete guide to scoring here.

For More Information

We’re not sure how many of these rules were implemented when Sir John Suckling came up with cribbage, but the game has taken a few twists and turns since then. If you want the full guide to tournament cribbage penalties, check out this guide from the American Cribbage Congress.

For quick reference, here’s a chart of scoring combinations:

Combination Points How it works Examples
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
Royal Pair 6 Three-of-a-kind 9,9,9
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)
3-Card Double Run 8 A run of 3 including a pair Four cards total, e.g. 6,7,7,8 (Counts as two 3-card runs and a pair)
4-Card Double Run 10 A run of 4 including a pair Five cards total, e.g. 6,7,7,8,9 (Counts as two 4-card runs and a pair)
3-Card Triple Run 15 A run of 3 cards with three-of-a-kind Six cards total, e.g. 6,7,7,7,8 (Counts as three 3-card runs and a royal pair)
3-Card Quadruple Run, or Double Double Run 16 A run of 3 cards including 2 pairs Five cards total, e.g. 6,7,7,8,8 (Counts as four runs of 3 and 2 pairs)
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 ? 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.