Cribbage’s place in history was cemented by Charles Dickens’ tale, the Old Curiosity Shop as well as its popularity with sailors. As the British Empire expanded, they introduced it to more and more of the world. It remains fairly popular in the Northern US as well as the UK. A fun fact is that cribbage is the only game you are allowed to play for money in pubs in the UK.
One of the most famous cribbage stories comes from a US submarine during WWII. The story goes that a submarine was on patrol north of the Yellow Sea, it was quite hazardous as no ship had previously attempted this. To distract the crew from this, the commander of the submarine, Dudley Morton, and his executive officer Richard O’Kane started a game of cribbage. During the game Morton dealt O’Kane a ‘Perfect 29’ which is the best hand you can get, giving you the most possible points. It consists of a jack and 4 fives. The crew did the math and found that the odds of that hand being dealt was 216,000 to 1 and took this as a good luck charm for the mission which they got through without incident.
The board that they played with that day was the personal board of O’Kane and to this day that board is in the wardroom of the oldest active submarine in the US Pacific fleet and whenever that ship is decommissioned it gets passed on to the new oldest submarine to continue on the tradition.
Once everyone only has 4 cards in their hand and the crib is formed, the player to the left of the dealer or the singular opponent if it is only 2 players cuts the remaining cards with the dealer flipping over the top card of the bottom half, this card is called the ‘cut’ or the ‘starter card’. If it is a jack, the dealer gets 2 points for ‘his heels’ or ‘his nibs’. Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each person lays down one card at a time and states the count – the cumulative value of the cards that have been laid going up to but not exceeding 31. Face cards count as 10.
Points during counting are scored as follows:
15 – for causing the count to reach exactly 15 you get 2 points then counting continues
Pair – for completing a pair you get 2 points
3-of-a-kind – counts as 3 different pairs so 6 points
4-of-a-kind – counts as 6 different pairs so 12 points
A run of 3+ cards (laid consecutively but not necessarily in ascending/descending order) gets you the number of cards laid.
When the count reaches the point where a player cannot play a card without exceeding 31 they say “Go”. It continues around the table with play continuing until it reaches 31 exactly or no one can play without exceeding 31. At this point, the player that was last to play or whoever made the count reach 31 exactly gets 1 or 2 points respectively. You are required to play a card unless you cannot play without going over 31. The count then resets to zero and the process repeats until everyone is out of cards and then the game continues to the “show”.
For the “show” each player displays their hand, starting with the player to the left of the dealer, and scores points based on its contents in conjunction with the starter card/cut.
Scoring is as follows:
Fifteen (combination of 2+ cards totaling exactly 15) – 2 points
Pair – 2 points
Three-of-a-kind – 6 points
Four-of-a-kind – 12 points
Runs of 3+ cards – 1 point per card
Double 3-card run, including pairs – 8 points
Double 4-card run, including pairs – 10 points
Triple run, including pairs – 15 points
Quadruple run, including pairs – 16 points
Flush, 4 cards of a suit – 4 points
Flush, 5 cards of a suit – 5 points
A flush in the crib must include the cut/starter card (so only a 5-card flush)
Jack as the cut card – 2 points (nibs)
Jack of the same suit as the cut card - 1 point (nobs)
After everyone counts and scores their hand, the dealer then flips over and counts their crib. All scores 0-29 are possible except 19, 25, 26, and 27. A hand that scores zero points is sometimes referred to as having “19”.
Cribbage is a great way to work on your math skills as well as just have a good time with friends or family, especially this holiday season. You can take what you learned here and teach your friends that may not know how to play! Just pick up a Frost River Cribbage Board and Field Deck and you are all set!