Rules of cribbage
Over the 400 or so years that the game of cribbage has been around, variations and rules have evolved, with house rules, preferences and even misunderstandings being passed on from one player to another. However, the core of the rules remains constant, and should be familiar to most players. The rules here apply to the standard two-, three- or four-player games, with details of variations being listed below.
- 1 The deal
- 2 The crib
- 3 The starter
- 4 The play
- 5 The show
- 6 The end
- 7 Match
- 8 Variations
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Cribbage uses a standard 52-card deck of cards. The jokers are removed; the suits are equal in status. The players cut for first deal, with the player cutting the lowest card (the ace counts as one, and is the lowest card) dealing first. If the cutters tie, the cards are re-shuffled and re-cut. The dealer shuffles, offers the deck to the player on his right to cut (required in tournament play), and deals cards singly to each player, starting with the player on his left. During the deal, if any card is exposed by the dealer or found face-up in the deck, cards must be redealt.
Cards must be dealt so that each player should end up with four cards after the crib is formed, and the crib should also have four cards. For two players, each is dealt six cards (though some play with five cards dealt to each player and two to the crib). For three or four players, each is dealt five cards. In the case of three players, a single card is dealt face down in front of the dealer to start the crib.
|# of Players||# cards dealt to each player||# cards dealt to crib||# cards discarded by each player to crib|
Once the cards have been dealt, each player chooses four cards to retain, discarding the other one or two face-down to form the "crib" that will be used later by the dealer. At this point, each player's hand and the crib will contain exactly four cards.
The player on the dealer's left cuts the undealt portion of the deck (leaving at least 4 cards), and the dealer reveals the top card, called the "starter", placing it on top of the deck face up. (It is illegal to peek at any other cards in the deck during this process.) If this card is a Jack, the dealer scores two points for "his heels", also known as "his nibs", or simply "nibs". The game can end on a cut of a Jack for the dealer.
The play (often called pegging) starts with the player on the dealer's left and continues clockwise. Each player lays one card in turn onto the table so that it is visible, stating the cumulative value of the cards played. (For example, the first player lays a 4 and says "four", the next lays a 7 and says "eleven", and so on). Face cards are worth ten; Aces are worth one. Play must not exceed 31, so a player who cannot lay a card without bringing the total above 31 passes by saying "Go". The other players continue to lay cards in turn without exceeding 31 until no cards can be played. The last player to lay a card scores two points if 31 is reached exactly ("31 for two"); otherwise one point is scored, e.g., "29 for one", or "30 for one", etc. The one-point score is known as "One for the go", or simply the "Go". The count is then reset to zero and play resumes, starting with the player to the left of the last card played. Players with cards remaining repeat this process until all players' cards have been played.
In addition to scoring one or two points for the last card, players score points according to the following rules:
- two points for a cumulative total of exactly fifteen ("fifteen for two")
- three points for completing a run of three cards, regardless of the order in which they are laid (a 6, then a 4, then a 5 is a run of three even though they were not laid in order)
- four points for completing a run of four
- five points for completing a run of five
- two points for laying a card of the same rank as the previous card, thus completing a pair
- six points for laying a third card of the same rank (a "pair royal" or "trips")
- twelve points for laying a fourth card of the same rank (a "double pair royal" or "quad")
If a card completes more than one scoring combination, then all combinations are scored. For example, if the first three cards played are 5s, the third one scores eight points: two for making 15, and six for a pair royal. Card combinations cannot span a reset; once the total reaches 31 (or a Go has been scored) and counting has restarted at zero, cards already played cannot contribute to runs or pairs.
Players choose when to lay each card in order to maximise their score according to the scheme shown below. The first player to reach 121 wins the game.
Once the play is complete, each player in turn receives points based on the content of their hand. Starting with the player on the dealer's left, players spread out their cards on the playing surface and calculate their score based on these four cards and the starter card:
- two points for each separate combination of two or more cards totalling exactly fifteen
- three points for a run of three consecutive cards (regardless of suit)
- four points for completing a run of four
- five points for completing a run of five
- two points for a pair of cards of a kind
- six points for three cards of a kind (known as a "pair royal", comprising three distinct pairs)
- twelve points for four cards of a kind (a "double pair royal", comprising six distinct pairs)
Common combinations are often scored as a group. For example, a run of three cards with an additional card matching one of the three in value, e.g., 2-2-3-4, is termed a "double run", and scores eight according to the above rules, three for each of the runs and two for the pair. Even more valuable are "triple runs" (three three-card straights including a three-of-a-kind, e.g., 2-2-2-3-4, that score fifteen) and "double-double runs" (four three-card straights including pairs, e.g., 2-3-3-4-4, that score sixteen). Combined runs may also include fifteen-twos. A 24 hand, the largest commonly seen, comprises a double-double run and four fifteen-twos. Two examples are 4-4-5-5-6 and 6-7-7-8-8.
The dealer scores his hand last and then turns the cards in the crib face up. These cards, in conjunction with the starter card, are scored by the dealer as an additional hand. The rules for scoring the crib are the same as scoring a hand, with the exception of the flush; a four-card flush in the crib is scored only if it is the same suit as the starter card (for a total of five points).
The highest possible score for a hand is 29 points: a starter card of a 5, and a hand of 5, 5, 5, J with the Jack being the same suit as the starter card. The score might be announced thus:
- "Fifteen two, fifteen four, fifteen six, fifteen eight," (four J-5 combinations),
- "fifteen ten, fifteen twelve, fifteen fourteen, fifteen sixteen," (four 5-5-5 combinations),
- "and "twelve for pairs" (four 5s) is twenty-eight,
- "and nobs makes twenty-nine."
Scores between 0 and 29 are all possible, with the exception of 19, 25, 26 and 27. Players may colloquially refer to a blank hand (one scoring no points) as a "nineteen hand".
After the dealer has scored his crib, all cards are collected and the deal passes to the player on the dealer's left. The next round starts with the deal.
Although the rules of cribbage do not require it (except in tournament play), the traditional method of keeping score is to use a cribbage board. This is a flat board, usually made of wood, with separate series of holes that record each player's score. It is usually arranged in five hole sections for easier scoring. Players each have two pegs that mark their current and previous scores, and all scoring is done by moving the back peg ahead of the front peg.
When a player reaches the target score for the game (usually 121), the game ends with that player the winner.
A match (much like tennis) consists of more than one game, often an odd number (3 games, 5 games, 7 games etc.). The match points are scored on the cribbage board using the holes reserved for match points. On a spiral board, these are often at the bottom of the board in a line with 5 or 7 holes. On a traditional board, they are often placed in the middle of the board or at the top/bottom.
Two player game
In a two player game of cribbage a player scores one match point for each game won. Their opponent will begin the next game as first dealer. If a player skunks their opponent (reaches 121 points before their opponent scores 91 points) then that player wins one extra match points for that game (two match points in total). If a player double skunks their opponent (reaches 121 points before their opponent reaches 61), then they score two match points extra for the game (four match points in total). If a player triple skunks their opponent (reaches 121 points before their opponent reaches 31 points, they automatically win the match regardless of how many match points are needed to win). Double and triple skunks are not included in the official rules of cribbage play and are optional. There are several different formats for scoring match points.
|Scoring Variation||Points for a normal win||Points for skunking opponent||Points for double skunking opponent||Points for triple skunking opponent|
|Official Tournament rules||2 points||3 points||no extra points||no extra points|
|Variation of Tournament rules||2 points||3 points||4 points||no extra points|
|Free play rules||1 point||2 points||4 points||no extra points|
|Free play rules with triple skunk||1 points||2 points||4 points||Automatic win of match|
Three player game
Winner takes all
When playing a three or five player match in a winner takes all format, the winner scores three (or five depending on the number of opponents) match points for each game won. If he/she skunks one of their opponents, they score an additional match point per each opponent who is skunked. If he/she double skunks an opponent, he/she scores two additional match points per each opponent who is double skunked (double skunk scoring is optional).
In continued play format, the winner of the match earns two match points for three player cribbage and four match points for five player cribbage (plus applicable match points if the player has skunked/double skunked their opponents). The remaining players play until there is a second winner, who scores one match point for three player cribbage and two match points for five player cribbage (with no extra points for skunking opponents). In five player cribbage, the remaining three players play until there is a third winner, who scores one match point (with no extra points for skunking opponents).
- Three players: Five cards are dealt to each player and one card directly to the crib, and each player then discards one card to the crib, as shown in the examples above. Three players can score individually, with the winner the first to reach 121, or in a "two against one" team format, where the two-player team must score 121 to win before the lone player reaches 61.
- Four players: Five cards are dealt to each player, each of whom discards one to the crib. The players can play as individuals or as two sets of partners.
- Five-card cribbage (called the "old game"): Each of two players is dealt five cards, two of which are discarded into the crib. The crib thus consists of four cards but each hand only three. The non-dealer is given a three-point start and play is to 61.
- Five players: Five cards are dealt to each player except the dealer, who has only four cards. The four non-dealers each discard one card to the crib.
- Muggins: This is a scoring variant in which a player who fails to count all the points to which he is entitled in the play or the show loses the unclaimed points to an opponent who calls "muggins" or "cut throat".
- Lowball (or "Loser's Crib"): This is a misère variant in which the normal rules apply but the aim is to avoid scoring. The loser is the first to 121.
- Jokers: Jokers are fully wild, with their rank and suit decided only at the moment of play. The choice of card may even replicate a card already in play, allowing for 5 of a kind (20 points), 6 of a kind (30 points), etc. When a joker is cut as the starter, the dealer scores 2 for heels and each player may choose a different rank and suit for the joker when hands are scored.
- Toss Fives: This is a variant in which players must discard any 5s they may have into the crib (even an opponent's crib).
- Auction Cribbage: In Auction Cribbage, it does not have to be the dealer who gains the points in the crib or box – any player may bid for the points in the box. If a player who is not the dealer puts in a bid, he or she must announce how many points he or she is going to sacrifice for the privilege of taking up the box, and these points are deducted at the end of the scoring for that round (the only player who does not have to sacrifice points in this way is the dealer).
- Null point penalty: When a player scores zero points during "the show", their opponent scores one point. This applies to both players hands as well as in the crib.
- Back 10 (Backup Ten): The hand and the crib must contain points. If either hand does not, the owner of the hand must go back ten points.
- "Cribbage Official Tournament Rules". 4.3 Exposed Cards. American Cribbage Congress. August 2010. p. 13. Retrieved April 11, 2012.
- Parlett, David (October 1987). The Penguin Book of Card Games. Treasure Press. ISBN 1-85051-221-3.
- "The Mechanics of Playing Cribbage". The American Cribbage Congress. 2004-10-01. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
- "Cribbage Rules". Cribbage Corner. 2008-05-01. Retrieved 2008-05-05.
- Block, Mike, et al. "Six Card Cribbage". Card Games. Pagat.com. Retrieved 9 July 2010.
- "Rule 1. The Mechanics of Playing Cribbage: Definitions". Cribbage Official Tournament Rules. American Cribbage Congress. Retrieved 9 July 2010.
- Steven S. Lumetta (2007-05-15). "Amusing Cribbage Facts". Retrieved 2008-03-03.