Play Cribbage

Cribbage is a challenging game that can be played with 2-6 people (not 5). Although it may seem intimidating at first, the basic game is very easy to learn and play. If you have a cribbage board (or pen and paper) and a deck of cards, you're ready!


Setting Up and Forming Hands

  1. Get a cribbage board (including pegs) and a standard deck of 52 cards. For this game, the jokers are not used. Each player will need two pegs for scoring -- these can be found underneath the board. The set may include additional pegs for keeping track of match scores. If a proper board is unavailable, the players can keep score with pencil and paper.
    • The two pegs for each player are used to indicate the score in the previous turn and the score of the current turn. This way, any math can be easily checked and double-checked.
    • The first to accumulate 121 points wins. This often occurs in the middle of a deal; the game then ends immediately. Two trips around the board (with your pegs) is equivalent to this. If you are playing a short game, one trip signifies the end, with a player winning at 61.
  2. Pick a dealer and deal the hand. To determine who deals first, any player picks up the deck and shuffles it 2 or 3 times. The deck is placed face down on the table; each player pulls out one card. The person with the lowest card is the dealer. The dealer deals 6 cards to each player.
    • Being the dealer has its upsides and downsides. The dealer gets the advantage of the crib; however, the non-dealer(s) immediately gets 3 points (for compensation[1]) and can "peg out" before the dealer even gets a chance to tally his/her score and win (because the dealer goes last).
    • If you're playing multiple rounds, rotate dealers just like you rotate turns.
  3. Form the "crib." Each player looks at their 6 cards and decides which 4 to keep in his hand and which 2 to discard face-down into a pile near the dealer called "the crib." This is a hand that is looked at at the end of the game and is reserved for the dealer and the dealer only.
    • The crib is an enormous part of cribbage strategy. If you are the dealer, you can save away your good cards in this crib for later. If you are not the dealer, you must try to give the dealer as weak of a hand as possible, while not jeopardizing your own play.
  4. Flip the up-card or starter card. The player who did not deal Easily Cut a Deck of Cards (One Handed Method) the deck to determine the top card. Then, the dealer should flip it over. Both players will use this card, called the "cut," as a wild fifth card to count points at the end of the round.
    • If this "up-card" is a Jack, the dealer gets to peg 2 points immediately. This score is called "his heels" or "his nibs."[2]

Scoring Points

  1. Start counting. Players alternate laying cards down in their own piles, starting with the non-dealer. As they play each card, they call out the value of the total. Face cards have a value of 10; all others are worth their numeric value. Aces are always only worth 1 point. Suits do not matter in this round; only numeric values. Play stops at 31 (or when no one can lay down a card).
    • If the first player lays a 3 and the second player lays a 4, the first player calls out, "3" and the second player calls out "7." Though they're in separate piles, it's the cumulative total of all the cards.
    • The cards are kept in these separate piles because at the end of the game, each person's hand is tallied on its own. However, all players should be able to see every card played.
  2. Start "pegging." Make pairs, runs, and other combinations to score points. While you're laying cards and thinking about not going over 31, use what your opponent(s) is laying to your advantage. You get extra points for pairs, runs, and certain numbers. As you score, move your peg around the board.
    • If either player reaches 15 points exactly, this earns him 2 points.
    • Points are also earned and pegged for pairs (and triplets, etc.). For example, player 1 lays down a 7 and Player 2 immediately follows with another 7, which would earn him 2 points. If Player 1 then lays down a third 7, he earns 6 points. The fourth seven would be worth 12 points. (Note: if Player 2 is not able to lay down any other card without exceeding 31, and Player 1 has the fourth seven, he can lay it down and earn the 12 points.)
    • Sequences also score points. They must be consecutive cards, but not necessarily in order. For example: The first player plays a 4, second player plays a 6. If the first player now plays a 5 he would score three points for completing a run of 3. If the second player now plays a 3 or a 7 he would then score 4 points for making a run of 4.
    • After "31" (or as close as possible in the hand), the person laying down the last card takes a point for having the final card. If the last card makes exactly 31, the player gets 1 additional point.
  3. Continue until a player cannot lay down another card without exceeding 31. At this point, he says "Go." If the other player can still lay down another card without exceeding 31, he must do so for as many times as necessary. Once he lays down as many cards as he can without going over 31, he says "Go" and earns 1 point. However, if the total he ends up with is exactly 31, he earns 2 points.
    • It is 1 point per "Go," not 1 point per card able to be laid down without exceeding 31. If you can lay 1 card without exceeding 31, you get 1 point; if you can lay 3 cards without exceeding 31, you still get 1 point.
      • This player can also get extra points for runs and the like during this time.

Finishing the Round

  1. Count up the cards to get your final score. Once all cards have been played, it is time to count them up. The person to count first is the non-dealer(s), then the dealer, then the crib. Your hand consists of the four cards you played, plus the cut card. This is why you kept them in separate piles! If you are the dealer, count your original hand and the crib separately.
    • You score one point if you hold the Jack of the suit that was cut.
    • Pairs, triples and quadruples count -- 2, 6 and 12 points, respectively.
    • Sequences (e.g. 6-7-8) do not have to be the same suit, and count as 1 point per card. They must consist of at least three cards.
    • Any combination of cards that add up to 15 counts as 2 points (even if it took all five cards to do it). You may use a card more than once in different combinations.
    • A flush (all four cards are the same suit) is worth 4 points.
      • The cut cannot give you a flush. It gives a fifth point if it extends a 4 card flush to a 5 card flush, but 3 spades and a heart don't score flush points if you cut a spade. (When counting the crib, only 5 card flushes score.)
    • If all four cards in the crib are the same suit, no points can be taken unless the fifth card is also that same suit. Then 5 points are pegged.
  2. Consider the "Muggins" variation. Because patterns and scoring are so intricate in this game, lots of players like to take advantage of the possibility of their opponent flubbing up and missing would-be points in their hand. This is called the "Muggins" rule.
    • Each player tallies up their hand aloud. If they finish and another player notices points they missed, they call out, "Muggins!" and receive those up-for-grab points. If playing this variation, it's important to be thorough!
  3. Play until one person reaches 121. If no player has made two trips around the board (or one trip for a short game), play another round. The next person then deals and the game continues as normal. When someone does reach 121, the game immediately stops. That person is the winner, even if other players have yet to take their turn.

Playing with Strategy

  1. Don't start off with a 5. Odds are the next player has a card in their hand worth 10. If you start off with a 5, they'll probably be able to land on 15, scoring them 2 points. Ideally start off with a 4 -- it has the least amount of value to you.
    • Aces or deuces should be kept to make a 31 or to upset your opponent's "Go."[3] Generally lower cards are useless, but not in this case.
  2. Think about what you put into the crib. If you are not the dealer, it's best to avoid putting 5s into the crib (if there are any tens in there at all, that's an automatic 15). Obviously, avoid putting in pairs and numbers that are consecutive (6 and 7, for example, to avoid sequences). Ace and King are pretty safe to put in, as they are too low and too high to be any real threat.
    • If you are the dealer, it's a magic touch between "salting" your crib with good cards but still keeping a decent hand for play.[3] Try to envision what you think the other players will toss away and working off of that.
  3. Avoid landing on 21. Cribbage is very much a game of thinking ahead. You are setting your opponent up for each play they make, allowing or not allowing them points. In as much as you want to avoid 15, also avoid 21. A ten or a face card and voila! 31 they've got.
  4. If you're close to winning, don't worry about the crib. You've played four rounds already and you're at 116 points? Great -- toss whatever you'd like into the crib, just keep the best hand possible. Odds are you won't make it to the end of the game, so don't worry about crib strategy. Just play your best cards and get out of there! The game ends as soon as you win, no crib counting allowed.

Cribbage Help

Doc:Cribbage Scoring Rules,Cribbage Terms


  • A 10 card is most likely to be the up-card, so try to gear your 4 cards towards that by saving any fives. A hand that contains a 5 or two cards that sum to five can never score zero.
  • Try to never place a five or a pair in your opponent's crib. On the other hand, don't destroy your own good hand just to give your opponent a lousy crib.
  • When counting the points on your cards, start off with fifteens, then pairs or triplets, then runs, then 4 or 5 of the same suit.
  • When starting a round, it is best to begin with a 4, a 3, or even a 2 - your opponent cannot reach 15 with any of those.
  • The highest hand you can have is 29 points.
  • Experts suggest that throwing an off-suited K-10 to the opponent's crib will on average give up the fewest points. A pair of fives is by far the worst.
  • Remember, the person who wins is the first person to peg OUT, which means beyond the pegs on the cribbage board, not to the last hole.
  • It is impossible to have a hand worth 19 points. So if you hear a person counting their hand say "nineteen," it's just a slang way of saying zero.

Things You'll Need

  • A cribbage board (or pen and paper)
  • Two pegs for each player
  • A standard deck of cards
  • At least 2 players

Sources and Citations

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