How to Play Cribbage: The Comprehensive Guide

By Neal - 4/26/2023

Cribbage is a fun card game with a unique and engaging scoring system. Here’s how to play and some strategies to give you a competitive edge.

Number of Players: 2-4

What you need:

  • A cribbage board with pegs
  • A standard 52-card deck (remove the jokers)

The Object of the Game

To win a game of cribbage, a player must reach 121 points. You’ll do this by adding the values of cards in play, both in your hand and in the Crib.

Once a player scores 121 points, the game ends, and they win!

Getting Started

The Dealer

The dealer has an advantage in cribbage, so players will alternate turns as the dealer. To decide who deals first, both players choose a card at random from the deck. The player with the lowest card gets to be the dealer first.


The dealer shuffles the deck of cards, and the non-dealer cuts the deck. The number of cards dealt is based on the number of players.

2 Players: Each player must choose a color on the cribbage board and place 2 pegs in the starting positions. Then, the dealer will deal 6 cards face down per player. Each player will choose 2 cards to discard to the Crib.

3 Players: Each player must choose a color on the cribbage board and place 2 pegs in the starting positions. Then, the dealer will deal 5 cards per player. Each player will choose 1 card to discard to the Crib.

4 Players: Each team of 2 must choose a color on the cribbage board and place 2 pegs in the starting positions. Then, the dealer will deal 5 cards per player. Each player will choose 1 card to discard to the Crib.

The Crib

When all players have looked at their cards, they will contribute to the Crib. This will become part of the dealer’s hand when it’s time to score at the end of the round.

The Starter Card

Next, the player to the dealer’s left 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.

Playing Your Cards

The player to the dealer’s left plays a card from their hand face-up. Players take turns playing cards until the value of the cards 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.

Card Values:

  • Ace = 1
  • Number cards = face value
  • Face cards = 10

Once the cards equal 31, the count resets at 0. The round will continue until no more cards are in any player’s hand.

Cards in play cannot exceed a value of 31. The value of the starter card does not count toward this total.


When players cannot play a card without exceeding 31, they say “go” to pass their turn. Opposing players can then play cards until they reach 31 or until everyone has said “go.”

Example: If the cards on the table equal a total of 28, but you only have a King (worth 10), you cannot make a move and must say “go.”

The player who played the last card gets 1 extra point. After that, the cards are moved aside, and players begin a new pile 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.

| Combo | Points | Description | | ----------- | ----------- | ----------- | | 15 | 2 | The value of cards played = 15 | | 31 | 2 | The value of cards played = 31 | | Pair | 2 | 2 cards of the same rank | | Pair Royal | 6 | 3 cards of the same rank | | Double Pair | 12 | 4 cards of the same rank | | Run of 3+ | 1 per card | Cards with sequential ranks, e.g. 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. | | Nobs | 1 | Jack of the same suit as the Start card | | Nibs | 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. |

Download and printe a Cribbage scoring card here.

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. Note that the count value to reach 15 and 31 during play is not the same as the point values for any card combinations.

The Show

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. That is, the crib cannot be combined with the dealer’s hand but scored separately.

Note that 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:

  • 5 + 5 + 10 = 15
  • 4 + 5 + 6 = 15
  • 4 + 5 + 6 = 15 (using the other 5)
  • 4, 5, 6 = run of 3
  • 5, 5 = pair

With all the possible combinations, you can see why even experienced players rely on the peg board to keep track of points.

Cribbage Strategies

To win at cribbage, try these 5 proven winning strategies.

1. Assume your opponent has a card worth 10.

That means don’t 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. If you’re not the dealer, don’t put good cards in there. Aces are great throwaway cards. You don’t want to put in 5s or a pair unless you’re the dealer.

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 you 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. Odds are you’ll peg up and win the game before the show on this round.

Learn to Speak Cribbage

When a board game or card game has been around for centuries, it’s bound to have inspired some terminology. Here are some cribbage terms to sprinkle throughout your game:

  1. Cribbage to lose: A variant of cribbage where the player with the lowest number of points wins the game
  2. Game hole: The 121st and final hole in the cribbage board. The first player to reach this hole wins
  3. Pegging: Moving pegs in the board to claim points
  4. Pegout: When 2 players could win by pegging
  5. Pips: The marks on a playing card to denote its rank, usually in that card’s suit (e.g., the 7 of hearts has 7 heart-shaped pips in the center)
  6. Pone: In a 2-player game, the player who is not the dealer. In a 3- or 4-player game, the player to the dealer’s left.
  7. Raggedy Ann: A hand and Starter card combination of A, A, 6, 7, 8; worth 13 points
  8. Skunk: A player skunks their opponent if they win by 31 or more points
  9. First Street: Holes 1-30 on the peg board
  10. Second Street: Holes 31-60
  11. Third Street: Holes 61-90
  12. Fourth Street: Holes 91-120

How long have people been playing cribbage?

Cribbage has been attributed to 16th-century poet Sir John Suckling. It was based on an earlier two-player card game called Noddy. Suckling’s main contribution was the Crib.

Check out the full history of cribbage here!

If you’d rather try playing cribbage than reading about it, you can play it for free here!