Cribbage: Possibly the best two player card game played with a standard deck of cards. Possibly. Definitely one of the two most popular, along with Gin Rummy.
Cribbage is closely associated with Britain, and British pubs. How closely? According to law, a "licensed premises" (anyplace that primarily serves alcohol) need permission to host card games from the local authority... except Cribbage. Cribbage is always allowed at a pub. By law.
Cribbage is also closely associated with the US submarine service, to the point where there's a special cribbage board that's passed down from oldest serving submarine to oldest serving submarine.
Okay, but what are the rules?
Cribbage is a game of three phases. One player is the dealer, the other the non-dealer.
Phase 1: Dealer deals six cards to himself and his opponent. Each player looks at their hand, and chooses two cards to discard to the "Crib". Nondealer cuts the deck, and a card is revealed (called "the Cut" or "the Starter"). If it's a Jack, dealer scores 2 points.
Phase 2: The main event. Each player in turn starting with the nondealer plays a single card in turn. The main goal of this phase is to have the cards total 15 or 31 (all face cards count as 10), for which you get 2 points. You also get points if you play a pair (2), three of a kind (6), and four of a kind (12), and a run of cards (see below). If all your cards would result in a total greater then 31 if played, you say "go" and don't play, and your opponent gets either 1 or 2 points, depending on if they hit 31.
Phase 3: Non-dealer and dealer (in that order) score their hands, with the "the starter" card revealed earlier counting as the fifth card in each hand (including the crib). 2 points for each arrangement of cards that total to 15, 2 points for each pair (6 and 12 for 3 and 4 of a kind, respectively), runs (same as a poker straight, but with a minimum of 3 cards, do not have to be in order, and you score as many card are in the straight; if you have more than one (say 3,4,4,5), you score them entirely separately (so 3,4,4,5 would score 6 points)), 1 point if you have a Jack that matches the starter in suit, and flushes (cannot include the starter, unless it matches the other four, in which case it scores 5, otherwise, it scores 4).
And then the Dealer reveals and scores the Crib, at which point non-dealer has the option of either wanting to stab dealer for being so bloody lucky or laughing at him scoring nothing.
Phase 0/4: Non-dealer becomes dealer for next hand.
First player to 121 points wins.
Optional rule: If your opponent doesn't notice and declare some cards he could have scored, after letting go of his peg, you can score the points your opponent missed. This is known as "Muggins", because you're mugging your opponent.
If one player hits 121 points before his opponent hits 91, he is said to have "skunked" his opponent; in multi-game matches, he scores 3 points for winning in this case, instead of the usual 2.
The Two Props of Cribbage
There are two props closely associated with Cribbage: a listing of the various methods of scoring, which is cheating in Muggins play, and thus, we have the etymology of the phrase "Crib sheet", and one of two styles of board used for keeping score with wooden pegs. If you've ever seen a piece of wood with a bunch of holes in 4 straight lines of 6 groups of 5 for sale at your local gaming shop, now you know what game it was used for. Another style a linear track with 120 holes on 2 or 3 "lanes".
More Than 2 Players
If you want to play with more than 2 players, there are rules for that. Be warned: Multi-handed cribbage is nowhere near as fun, usually.
Each player gets 5 cards instead of 6 (the main reason it's less fun). If 3 are playing, a card is pre-dealt to the crib. If 4 are playing, play is in partnerships (thus the need for only 3 lanes on even the 120 hole cribbage board).
Some important numbers
You cannot score 19 with a hand. No way no how. Thus, if a player scores 0 points, he is said to have (but does not actually) scored "nineteen". (25, 26, and 27 also share this property, but are usually ignored.)
The highest score possible in a single hand is 29 (for the uninitiated: three 5s and a jack, with a 5 whose suit matches the jack as the starter), although 28 is also obviously possible, and far more common (76 combinations, as opposed to 4 for 29). Some cribbage boards are in the shape of the number 29, in a rather excessively optimistic arrangement.
The mean score of a truly random Cribbage hand is theoretically 4.7, but remember, you chose 1 or 2 cards to discard, so this number is meaningful only for comparison--in normal play, the average score of a hand is roughly 8, and the average score for a crib is roughly 4.5.
A side note
If you're going to drink while playing Cribbage, as you well might if you're British, remember: Beer, not the hard stuff. Drunk people can't count (thus the Muggins optional rule, above).
- Scarne, John (1965). Scarne on Card Games. Dover Publications. pp. 395–404. ISBN 0-486-43603-9.
- Wergin, Joe (1980). Win at Cribbage. Oldcastle Books. ISBN 0-948353-97-X.
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