Recommended ages: 10 and over due to the nuances of cribbage rules and learning the scoring.
Number of players: Normally the rules to cribbage specify two players or four players play in two teams. However, you can play the game with three players with a few changes to game play.
Average playing time: 5 minutes per hand and around 40 minutes for a game
Cribbage has changed very little since the game first appeared in England over 400 years ago. Its design is closest to New Market or Black Jack, with different cards worth different points. It also resembles Poker in the combinations of cards. Though five hand is popular in Europe, the cribbage rules of many other countries require six cards to be dealt.
The actual cribbage rules are very simple but mastering the nuances can take a lifetime. Learning how to play cribbage requires you to memorize the basic scoring combinations which are as follows:
- Any combination of cards that totals 15 gives that player two points. All face cards count as 10, aces count as one and all other cards count their pip value.
- Any pairs count for two points. Three of a kind is called a pair royale and scores six, while four of a kind scores 12, as it counts as six pairs according to cribbage rules.
- If 1 player plays a card that brings the total to 31 they get 2 points.
- If 31 isn’t reached because you either ran out of cards or can’t play anymore without going over the person who played the last card gets 1 point.
- If you play a card that is the same rank (number) as the card that was just played by your opponent you get 2 points. If they play the same card again they get 6 points, and if you play the last card of the same rank you get 12 points.
- If you have a run where the cards go in order (minimum of 3) the person who puts down the last card get points based on the number of cards in order. So if you have 2,3,4 you get 3 points. If you have 2,3,4,5 you get 4 points.
Score can be kept with a pad of paper and a pencil, but cribbage boards are usually the accepted way of doing so. You probably saw the cribbage board at the top of this page. The board usually consists of two pegs for each player and 60 holes. The pegs are used to show the player’s current score and previous score the hand before. As points are tallied during the current hand, the current peg is moved.
How to Play Cribbage
A hand of six cards is dealt to each player who must choose two cards to discard into the “crib”. This acts as a bonus hand for the dealer and a lot of thought must be given to what cards to give your opponent or yourself.
The players then take it in turns to play one card at a time, announcing the cumulative total. If they manage to make 15, a pair or a run in any order, they score the relevant points. This turn taking goes until the players reach 31. If a player plays a card to make exactly 31, he scores two points. Otherwise, he says “go”, his opponent scores a point and the round starts from zero. The person who plays the last card scores a point.
Each player, starting with the dealer, then shows their hand and totals the points contained therein. The dealer will also turn over the top card from the undealt deck which can be used in combination with a player’s hand. Once both players have scored, the dealer opens the crib and scores whatever points it contains. Another player becomes the dealer for the next round.
Winning the Game
Turn taking is an important part of the cribbage rules as it can make all the difference at the end of the game. A short game is the first to reach 61 points, while the long game is the first to 121. The turn taking is important as it might not end on an equal number of turns or hands. A traditional game will be the first player to achieve seven long games, and since this can take a long time it is best to play over a few days.
To win at cribbage, you’ve got to be able to recognize the series of cards that score you the most points. For example, holding onto a five, or a combination of cards that make five, or putting it in your own crib is a great play as 20 cards can combine with it to make 15. Likewise, holding onto a pair of cards that could make a run makes sense, especially seven and eight as they already score you two points for fifteen.
For all the complexities and nuances, the current cribbage rules mean that each hand is fairly quick and the combination of cards requires a minimal amount of thought. For kids, this makes it easy to keep them involved. For adults, this can make it a good game to play with a glass of beer or wine or when you’re feeling in a lazy mood.
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