How to Play Cribbage for Beginners

By Neal Taparia - 4/27/2023

Cribbage has been around since the 1700s, but if it’s your first time playing, the rules might seem a little complicated. Is it a card game? Is it a board game? Is it both?

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll walk you through how to play cribbage and answer all your questions.

Is it easy to learn cribbage? Cribbage can be tricky to learn. This is not because it’s a challenging game in itself — it’s just different that many other card games.

Object of the Game

The object of cribbage is to score 121 points before your opponent. You’ll score points in a few different ways, all of which we’ll cover later. The scoring track on the peg board makes it easy to see who’s in the lead.

How many people can play cribbage? Cribbage is usually a 2-person game, but you can play with up to 4 players in person.

What You’ll Need

A cribbage board. This wooden board is how you’ll keep score throughout the game. Cribbage boards usually have a track with 3 different colors. Each color has 120 peg holes. The final hole, or game hole, is at the very end — it’s not any color, because only one player can reach 121 points and win the game.

Cribbage boards are inexpensive and easy to find, but if you don’t have one, you can just keep score on paper.

Pegs. The pegs keep score on the cribbage board. Each player will use 2 pegs throughout a game. One peg will mark your current score. With the other, you’ll mark your new score after the next round. This is so you can always see how many points you just scored.

A standard deck of cards. Your deck should contain 52 playing cards with the Jokers removed.

If you’re playing online, you obviously won’t need any of this!

Step 1: Choose a Dealer

To pick a dealer, fan the cards face-down and have each player draw a random card. The player who drew the lowest card will be the dealer first. After the first round, players will take turns being the dealer. This is important because the dealer has some advantages.

Pone. In a 2-player game of cribbage, the pone is the player who isn’t the dealer. In a 3- or 4-player game, the pone is the first player to the left of the dealer.

Step 2: Set Up

To set up, each player will add their pegs to the starting holes on the board. Then, the dealer will deal out cards face-down to each player. The number of cards per player depends on the number of players:

  • 2 Players: 6 cards
  • 3 Players: non-dealers get 5 cards, dealer gets 6 cards
  • 4 Players: 5 cards

Once everyone has their cards, the pone will cut cards. After this, the dealer will draw the top card from the deck and lay it face up for everyone to see. This is called the starter card. It will be used for scoring later on.

Nibs: If the starter card is a Jack, the dealer immediately receives 2 points. This is also called “2 for his heels.”

Step 3: Put Your Hand in Order

In cribbage, aces are worth 1, number cards are face value, and face cards (Jacks, queens, and kings) are worth 10. Putting them in order can make it easier to keep track of points and decide what to keep. You’ll have to discard during the next step, so this is important!

Any time a player scores in a cribbage game, they must announce both the number of their points and the combination of cards.

You don’t want to give that information away just yet! So, even though you won’t add any scores right now, it’s important to count your possible scores before you discard anything.

Points in Your Hand

Cards in your hand that will score points are as follows:

  • Cards that add up to 15: 2 points
  • Pair: 2 points
  • Pair Royal (3-of-a-kind): 6 points
  • Double Pair (4-of-a-kind): 12 points
  • 4-card Flush: 4 points
  • 5-card Flush (includes the starter card): 5 points
  • Runs of 3 or more cards in sequence, e.g. A-2-3: 1 point per card in the run
  • Nobs, a Jack of the same suit as the starter card: 1 point

Step 4: Make the Crib

The crib is an extra hand made from player discards. Each player will contribute to it before playing their hands.

  • 2 Players: Each player discards 2 cards for the crib.
  • 3 Players: Non-dealers discard 1 for the crib; the dealer discards 2 for the crib.
  • 4 Players: Each player discards 1 card for the crib.

Crib cards should be left face-down until it’s time to score.

Step 5: Play Your Cards

Now you can begin playing the cards in your hand. This part of the game is called “pegging.”

The pone will always go first. The pone plays a card from their hand face up for all players to see and announce it. Players will take turns playing cards from their hands to try and earn points — we’ll explain points in a minute.

During pegging, the value of the cards is important. Every card played is added to a running total as you go. So, when you play a card, you’ll announce its value AND the new total.

Example: If the pone played a 9, and you play a 4, you’ll say something like “4. New total 13.”

The sum of cards can’t go over 31. If a player can’t play a card without going over 31, they must say “Go.”

Calling “Go”

Saying “go” is skipping your turn and telling the other player(s) to go. If all players say “go,” the running total goes back to 0, and you start the count again with the cards left in your hand.

The person who played the last card before “Go” gets 1 additional point for playing the last card.

Points During Gameplay

While players add cards to the table, the scoring combinations we covered earlier still apply.

If your opponent plays a 4, then you play a 4, that counts as a pair. You get 2 points immediately.

If you play a 10, then they play a 5, they get points for hitting 15.

During this part of the game, you can score points for the same combinations as you would for cards in your hand. But there there are a few more ways to score that you’ll want to keep in mind.

  • Cards adding up to exactly 31: 2 points
  • Last card played: 1 point
  • Flushes do not earn points at this time.
  • Note: Runs do not have to be played in order.

Step 6: Tally the Points in Your Hand

Once all cards have been played, you can score the cards in your hand using the cribbage board. The pone will add up their scores first, announcing their scoring combinations and moving their peg along the track.

The dealer scores last every round.

Note: One unique thing about cribbage you may have noticed is that a card’s face value doesn’t really affect its point value. Having the highest cards doesn’t give you any advantage.

Step 7: The Dealer Tallies Points in the Crib

After tallying their hand, the dealer will discard it and take the crib. The crib will act as an additional hand and the dealer can peg up for any points gained from the crib, plus the starter card.

This is why we said earlier that the dealer has an advantage. Every time you’re the dealer, you get a chance at earning extra points from the crib.

Muggins. If at any point, a player fails to add up points by the end of their turn, another player can call Muggins to take those points. So, if Player One laid down a pair, but didn’t notice it, Player Two can use the beginning of of his turn to call “Muggins” and peg up 2 points.

Step 8: Start the Next Round

Once all players have tallied scores and pegged up on the cribbage board, the pone will become the new dealer. They will gather up cards to shuffle and deal each player a new hand to start the next round.

Repeat Steps 3-7 until a player reaches 121 points.

How to Score Points in Cribbage

Cribbage has a lot of ways to score points. We’ve gone over them all before. To make it easier, here’s a table with all the scoring combinations and how they work.

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.

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

Once you get the hang of playing cribbage, be sure to check out some popular variants of the classic.