How to Play Cribbage Card Game

Cribbage Card Game Overview

Cribbage Icon

Cribbage is a card game from the family of games called “adders” – games in which players add successive card values to a running total with the aim of making certain totals. Cribbage is traditionally played with two players. Play involves playing and grouping cards in combinations which gain points. Cribbage has several distinctive features: the cribbage board used for keeping score, the crib or box (a separate hand counting for the dealer), two distinct scoring stages (the play and the show) and a unique scoring system including points for groups of cards that total fifteen.

Championship Cribbage

Click for larger image.

Players earn points based on their hand, pegging during the game, and by the cards in the crib. The score is tracked on the cribbage board, and the first player to 121 points wins.

Cribbage Rules and Strategy

The deal

The rules require that the game starts with a cut. The player cutting the lower card is the dealer. He should shuffle the pack and offer it to his opponent (the non-dealer is known as pone) for a further cut. Although the official rules of cribbage dictate that the dealer must offer the cut or take a two-point penalty, in friendly games this is usually not insisted upon and you are free to cut or not as you wish. The dealer then deals six cards to each player.

The deal alternates with each hand. Over several games, the first deal may alternate between the players, or it may go to the loser of the previous game. One common convention in a 3-game match is to alternate the first deal of the first 2 games, then cut for the last.

The Discard

Following the cut, each player throws away two cards from his hand into the ‘crib’ or ‘box’ – a third hand that is scored by the dealer. Since the crib scores points for its owner, your choice of discard will generally be different depending on whether the crib is yours or your opponent’s. However, you must throw two cards; it is against the rules to discard none or only one.

It is no exaggeration to say that the discard is the part of cribbage where skill and knowledge has the greatest effect on the outcome of the game. Whole books can be, and have been written, on the art of cribbage discards.

The Turn-Up

The game of cribbage then begins with the dealer turning up the top card on the remaining pile after the cards have been dealt to each player. This card is called the turn-up or starter. If the turn-up card is a Jack, the dealer immediately scores two points (“two for his heels”).

The Play

The count
In the playing phase of Cribbage, the players take it in turns to lay down a card, trying to make the running total equal to certain values. The non-dealer plays first and states the value of her card (for example, “ten” for a Jack). Court cards count ten (together with the face 10 they are known as the ‘ten-cards’, or ‘tenth cards’). Ace counts one.

15 and 31
The dealer then plays a card, the value of which is added to the current running total. The player who makes the total exactly 15 scores two points (“fifteen-two”). Two points are also awarded for making 31. Additionally, you score a point if your opponent cannot play without going over 31 (“one for the go”, or just “one for go”). You must play if you can.

Pairs
If your card is the same rank as the last card played, you score two for a pair. If your opponent plays a third card of the same rank, he scores 6 for a “pair royal” (three of a kind). Four of a kind scores 12 (“double pair royal”).

Runs
If the last 3 cards played form a sequence, the player making the sequence scores 3 for a “run”. For example, 3-4-5 makes a run of 3 and so scores 3 for the player laying down the 5. If the opponent then plays a 6 (or a 2) to extend the sequence to 4 cards, she scores 4, and so on as long as the sequence is unbroken.

Sequence do not have to be in order. For example, if the play goes 7-9-6, you can then play an 8 to score 4 for a run of 4.

The Go

The cribbage rules for scoring ‘go’ sometimes cause confusion. You earn a point for go when your opponent cannot go. This may be because:

  • your opponent has no cards (sometimes called ‘One for last’)
  • your opponent cannot play without going over 31 (‘One for the go’).

In either case if you make the total 31 you score only 2 points on the cribbage board, not 3 (because the go is included, as described above). However, you may well make 15 with the last card (in which case you do score 3).

The Score

Having played out all the cards, both players then score their hands, pone first – this time including the turn-up card as part of both hands. The dealer’s crib also includes the turn-up. Again, points are scored for 15s, runs, and pairs; you can also score for a flush (all cards of the same suit). It is a key part of the rules of cribbage that the non-dealer should score first – at the end of the game, both players may have enough points to win, and the right to score first will determine victory. The cribbage board’s positions usually alternate during the game, with first one player leading, then the other. The trick is to be in the first-scoring position when you are close enough to win!

Cribbage flush
If the four cards in your hand are of the same suit, you score four for a flush. If the starter card is also of the same suit, you score five. However, in the crib you cannot score a four-card flush; all five must be the same suit.

Cribbage pairs
2 points are scored for a pair in cribbage, and 6 for a pair royal – that is, three cards of the same rank. This can be considered as 3 different pairs worth 2 points each. Similarly, double pair royal (four of a kind) scores 12 as there are 6 ways of picking two cards from four.

Combinations of cards making 15 score two points each – for example, 8 and 7. As many ways as you can make 15 with your cards, you score 2 points for each of them. For example, 8-7-7-A can make 15 three ways: the 8 and one 7, the 8 and the other 7, and the 7-7-A. Consequently it scores 6 points (for 15s, and a further 2 for the pair of 7s).

Cribbage runs
Runs score as many points as there are cards in them. For example, a four-card run 9-T-J-Q scores 4.

Cribbage nobs
You also score 1 point if you have the Jack of the same suit as the starter card (known as ‘his nob’ or just ‘nobs’).

Play Championship Cribbage Card Game Now

Related Cribbage Card Game Articles

Over the years we have posted quite a few articles about Cribbage. Read on to learn additional tips and strategy for the Cribbage card game.