By Neal Taparia - 10/18/2023
Cribbage is a game of combinations. One of the main tasks of each player is to select four cards from their hand that, in combination with the starter card, will yield the best scoring possibilities. Consequently, understanding the probabilities of certain card combinations can definitely improve your strategy.
Let’s take a look:
Now, familiarize yourself with some fun probabilities in cribbage that can help you create a winning strategy:
The card 5 holds a unique place in cribbage. Since all face cards are valued at 10, holding a 5 dramatically increases the chances of hitting 15 with a single pair. Statistically, there are sixteen 10-value cards in a deck, so if you have a 5 in your hand, the odds are good that the starter card or another card in a player’s hand will yield a 15.
However, during the pegging phase, having a 5 can be both an advantage and a trap. Playing a 5 invites your opponent to play a 10-value card to score two points. But, conversely, if you suspect your opponent holds a 5, and you play a 10-value card, you’re setting a trap for them to play their 5 and allow you to follow up with another 10-value card, scoring points for the sequence.
The 5 is a very significant card in cribbage. Its mathematical positioning within the scoring system of the game, coupled with its strategic depth, makes it a card that can be a game-changer in the right hands. Seasoned players are well aware of how useful the 5 is and will often prepare strategies to bait or trap less experienced players into predictable moves. Be aware of both the strengths and vulnerabilities of 5s when playing cribbage.
Pegging is the phase where players lay down their cards in turn, attempting to score points based on the running total and the relationships between the cards. Once again, mathematics plays a fundamental role here.
For instance, if the running total is 21, playing a 4 means the next player must play a card worth 10 to make 31, or play another card and risk letting the next player make 31. Understanding the remaining possible card values and calculating potential scenarios can give you a huge edge.
The crib, a second hand composed of discarded cards from each player, also poses an important layer of strategy and probability. When discarding to the crib, players should consider not only their own potential scores but also the likelihood of giving points to the opponent. Discarding connected cards (like 7 and 8) can also be risky since they can form runs more easily. Familiarize yourself with common crib combinations and their probabilities to make more strategic discarding decisions and avoid giving your opponents the key cards they need to win.
The highest possible point total for a hand you can have in cribbage is worth 29 points. It’s composed of holding three 5s and a Jack, with the starter card being the fourth 5 of the matching suit to the Jack. The odds of being dealt this exact combination are minimal—approximately 1 in 216,580—so you probably shouldn’t aim for it, but if it happens, winning should be very easy.
Cribbage is a game of strategy and careful decision-making. It requires a careful balance between understanding the statistics, reading your opponents, and finding opportunities in the cards you’re dealt. That is exactly what makes the game a classic.