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Cribbage or Crib is a card game that involves forming combinations of cards over a series of hands to accumulate points. Points are mainly scored by runs, regardless of suit; by pairs, triples and quadruples; and by cards that add up to 15. Cribbage is derived from a mediaeval card game known as Noddy, and is generally played by two people, although it can be played by three or four, or by a pair of two-person teams.

The game has several unusual features: one is the crib (or box), from which the game takes its name. This is a separate, four-card hand made up of discards from each player, which counts for the dealer. Another is that each hand has two distinct scoring stages, the play and the show, see below.

Visually, cribbage is known for its scoring board - a series of holes on which score is tallied with pegs. Scores can be kept on a piece of paper, but a cribbage board is almost always used. There are two main designs of cribbage board:

  • the older has four rows of thirty holes and a pegging-out hole in the middle at each end (allowing the board to be used both ways round). It not suitable for three- or four- player games,
  • the newer has three or four rows of 120 holes with a pegging-out hole at the end and is often brightly coloured. It is only suitable for games played to 121.
In both cases there are two pegs for each player, so that if a player loses track in the count one peg still marks the previous score. The holes are divided into groups of 5.


  • Five-card cribbage is the oldest version. Each player is dealt five cards, so the crib consists of four cards but each hand only three. Whoever is non-dealer first is given a three-point start and play is to 61. The pegging is also slightly different from six card.
  • Six-card cribbage is the most common game. Here each player is dealt six cards, leaving them with four once two are placed in the crib. Play is to 121.
  • For three players, five cards are dealt each and one to the crib. Each player places one card in the crib. Then play is as six card.
  • For four players, five cards are dealt each and each player places one in the crib. Play is as six card.
  • Seven-card cribbage is rare. Seven cards are dealt each and one to the crib, so the hands have five cards. The points can be very complicated to calculate. Play is to 151 (two and a half times round a traditional board).
  • Low-ball is a variant of six-card, in which the first person to score 121 points loses.

Table of contents

Playing the game

The dealer rotates with each hand, this is important because of the advantage the crib gives to the dealer (especially in five-card). If at any point in a hand a player pegs out (that is reaches the winning score), then the game ends and he wins.

The deal and the formation of the crib

The dealer shuffles the pack and deals the required number of cards. The players then discard cards face-down to form the crib, which will be by the dealer.

The turn-up

The player to the dealers left cuts the pack and the dealer turns up the top card. If the card is a Jack, the dealer scores two points "for his heels".

The play

Each player in turn plays a card, (the dealer is last to play), stating the total as he goes (face cards count as 10, aces as 1). The total must not pass 31. If a player has no cards left or no cards small enough to play, then he misses his turn. The cards should be played face up in front of the player. Players peg points as follows:

  • 2 points for bringing the total to 15,
  • 2 points if the card is of the same value as the previous card (i.e. completing a pair),
  • 6 points for playing a third card of the same value,
  • 12 points for playing a fourth card of the same value,
  • Three points for completing a run of three cards, four for completing a run of four cards, etc. This is regardless of the order of play, so if the cards played are 4,2,6,5,3, then the player who plays the 3 will score five.
  • 1 point for playing the last card before 31 (i.e. none of the other players can go),
  • 1 point for bringing the total to 31 (2 in total, including a point for last card).

In all games except five card, when no player can go the cards played are turned over and the tally begins again at 0. An example from a two player game:

Player 1 plays a 10, saying "Ten",
Player 2 plays a 5, saying "Fifteen for two" and pegging two points,
Player 1 plays a 5, saying "Twenty for two" and pegging two points,
Player 2 plays a 5, saying "Twenty-five for six" and pegging six points,
Player 1 plays a 6, saying "Thirty-one for two" and pegging two points.

The show

Each player in turn (in the order of play), ending with the dealer, totals up the points in his hand, including the turn-up card, and pegs the amount. The order in which this is done is important as a player who tallies his score first may peg out and thus win the game even though another player's tally would take him to an even greater score. Points are scored for:

  • 2 points for having a group of cards that total 15 (again, face cards count 10, aces 1),
  • 2 points for having a pair (notice that three of a kind forms three pairs, hence scores 6 points, and four of a kind scores 12),
  • 3 points for a run of three, 4 for a run of four, etc.
  • The number of cards in the hand (3 in five card, 4 in six card, 5 in seven card) points for a flush (that is cards of the same suit) not including the turn-up card, one more if the turn-up card is included,
  • 1 point "for his nob" for having a Jack of the same suit as the turn-up card.

For example, if a player has the Ace, 6, 7 and 8 of Spades in his hand and the turn up card is the 6 of Hearts, he would score:

"Fifteen six" - for three ways to form 15, that is 7 and 8, and Ace, 7 and 8 twice,
"and two" - for a pair of sixes,
"and six" - for two runs of three (6, 7, 8),
"and four" - for the flush,
"makes eighteen" - the total.

The score is traditionally read as shown, though players may simply declare the score, particularly with low-scoring hands. The highest possible score in six card cribbage is for a holding of 5, 5, 5, J with a turn-up of a 5 of the same suit as the Jack. This scores:

"fifteen sixteen" - for J-5 four times and 5-5-5 four times,
"and twelve" - for four 5s,
"and one for his nob makes twenty-nine."

In the seven-card game it is a whopping 46, scored by 4,4,5,5,6,6 (including turn-up), that is fifteen 16, 24 in runs and 6 in pairs.

Not every score below these can actually be made and the lowest of those that can't is 19 (except in seven-card). Because of this, a player with a hand scoring 0 will often declare "nineteen". Other common calls are "Fifteen two and the rest won't do", and "Fifteen four and the rest don't score".

The crib

Finally the dealer tallies the points in the crib. This works precisely the same as tallying the other hands, except that a flush scores only if its suit matches that of the turn-up card.


Forming the crib

There are certain cards and card combinations that are likely to be beneficial to a hand, so a non-dealer should try to keep them in his hand and the dealer should try to keep any good combinations together, either in his hand or in the crib. It is less beneficial to plan for the play Obviously pairs, runs and combinations totalling fifteen are good. Other things to look out for are:
  • Fives - Since 4 out of every thirteen cards are worth 10, there's a good chance that a 5 in the crib will help make 15s, and even in hand
  • Sevens and eights - Not only total 15, but have a chance of meeting a 6 or 9 and completing a run,
  • Threes, sixes and nines - Likely to combine to 15 (69, 366, 339, etc.),

The play

Some of these tactics will only work in a two player game, with more players it is harder to devise a strategy. If you play first:
  • Don't play a five, chances are your oponent has a ten or face card,
  • Other than the above, if you have two cards totalling fifteen, play one, that way if your oponent takes the score to fifteen for two, you can complete the pair to get two yourself,
In general:
  • Play a card from a pair, if your opponent completes the pair for two, you can smugly complete a triple for six (make sure there will be room for your play).
  • Try to keep small cards, making it more likely that you the last card for a point or even 31 for two.

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