Cribbage Strategy: Logic, A Five-letter Word for Thinking!

Learn the strategy below from four-time national Cribbage Champion Delynn Colver.

After playing several hundred games of cribbage, standard plays become apparent. You will be able to develop “X-ray” vision, a la Superman, if you work at it! This is especially true when playing accomplished players like old Jake, the “snake” (your imaginary expert opponent). Beginning players make too many mistakes to allow full play of logic but, of course, it works to some degree on all players.

A winning cribbage player must be able to read his opponent’s hand rapidly. This ability is acquired through study, practice and critical observation of your opponent’s habits and style of play. Surprisingly, the better the player, the easier it is to apply logic to read his game, his cards.

Beginners play hunches, make unorthodox plays and will surprise you with a poor play. These hunches and unorthodox plays, though confusing to the good player, will lead to defeat for the beginner. Despite being able to read the good player’s hand by applying logic, the good player will be tougher to defeat.

The good player’s game is based upon playing the odds, applying his analysis of your game and his hard, cold logic—a very tough combination to beat. Without applying logic of your own, the consistent logical play from the good player will beat you. But, by applying good, sound logic you will, at worst, play to a stalemate and, at best, come out victorious.

Let’s have an example of how to apply logic. Your analysis of Jake’s board position indicates he will be playing defensively. As the non-dealer he leads a Q. Immediately you may deduce he does not have the small five combinations (1-4 or 2-3) or any 2s, 3s or 4s, nor does he have a K (unless he has two or more Qs). Why? A defensive play would be to lead a 2-3-4 (a 57% less chance of your opponent scoring on a small card lead – three losers vs. seven losers if a lone Q is led). Jake may have a lone A, 5s or he may have led a “sleeper” Q to his basic 6-7-8 combinations. But his lead, by logic, almost certainly rules out any 2-3-4 cards remaining in his hand.

You play a 5 on the Q lead for a 15-2. Jake plays a J for 25. You now deduce that J has all “ten” cards remaining, probably another Q and a 10, with a lone A or K a possibility. Why? If he had two Js, he would not dump one here, but would dump a lone J or “ten” card (the most likely lone “ten” card to be dumped is the J). If Jake does have two Js, then he also has two Qs (with the Q being the first play…the safer defensive play). Since Jake did not pair your 5, his chances of having a 5 have dimmed (unless he is playing desperation defense and pairs royal would surely beat him).

After seeing Jake’s first two cards, logic decrees that the remaining two cards are, in order of probability, Q, 10, K, J, and A. Since the Q play was followed by a J, the Q was not a “sleeper,” but part of a basic “ten” card combination.

You play a 6 for 31. Jake begins a new sequence with another Q. Now logic tells you the odds are that the remaining card is most likely a 10 or a K, the next most likely card would be a J, then the A, and then any “sleeper” cards (6-7-8-9) or a third Q. You would then play a card that Jake would not logically have in his hand—a 2, 3, or 4. You hold a 3 and a 4. You play the 3 for 13 (remember, logic decrees Jake may have an A — if you played the 4 for 14, Jake may play an A for 15-2).

Jake does have an A for 14. You complete play with your 4 for 18 and a go.

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