Cribbage - also known as crib - is a popular card game which is usually played with two but can be played with more. Crib has a long history: it is said to have been invented by Sir John Suckling in the early 17th century, however it seems likely that he based cribbage on earlier games such as noddy. Whatever the exact origin, the history of cribbage goes back a long way.

Crib requires only a deck of cards to play, however it is traditional to keep score using a cribbage board. A crib board has two rows of 30 holes for each player around which a peg is moved to mark score (hence scoring is referred to as "pegging"). A game is usually played to 121 points - twice round the board plus one. It is also sometimes played to 61 or 91 points. Some modern cribbage boards you can buy have three or four rows of holes per player to avoid going round the board twice. Cribbage boards ae traditionally made of wood, although today you can buy ones in other materials.

Crib has a reputation as a game for old men in dimly lit pubs, however it deserves wider attention.

How To Play Cribbage

The rules of cribbage are slightly unusual but not complicated. The most important point to grasp is that points are scored in two phases per hand, the play or pegging phase and the show or scoring phase. In the latter phase the dealer always has the advantage.

Deal alternates, first dealer being chosen at random. Each player is dealt six cards face down. The non-dealer cuts the deck and the top card is turned face up - if this is a Jack then the dealer immediately scores "two for his nob" ("nob" being term for noble or superior person). This card is the "turn-up card" and is used in scoring later.

Each player must now choose two cards to place face down to form a "box" or "crib". These four cards will form an extra scoring hand for the dealer during the "scoring" phase.

The Pegging Phase

During the pegging or "play" phase, each player starting with the non-dealer plays a card and a running total is kept with aces counting as one and picture cards as ten. The total must not exceed 31. A player must play a card if they can. If they can't then they pass ("knock") and the other player continues playing cards until they too cannot go. At this point the cards played are turned face down and if either player has cards left the process begins again with a new count. The pegging phase continues until both players have played all four cards from their hand.

During this phase points are scored as follows:

15: If a player takes the running score to exactly 15 this is worth 2 points. Since picture cards count as ten, leading with a five is thus very dangerous. The total of 15 may be reached with any number of cards, eg 4-7-2-2
Pair: Matching the value of the previously played card scores two. Picture matches must be exact, eg Queen only matches Queen not Jack even though both count as 10.
Triple: Following a pair, a third card of the same value scores six
Four: Following a triple, playing the fourth card of the same value scores 12. Note that because the total cannot go over 30 it is impossible for this to happen with any card above the 7.
Run of Three: If three cards in a row form a run - eg 4-5-6 or J-10-9 - then the player of the third card receives 3 points. Suit does not matter but order does (some players do not insist the cards appear in order). If the next player lays the fourth card in sequence this scores 4. A run of seven (A-2-3-4-5-6-7) is theoretically possible but I've never seen it happen.
31: Bringing the total to exactly 31 points scores two
Last Card: Playing a card which doesn't bring the total to 31 but which means that no further cards can be played scores 1 point.

Note that points are scored immediately - it is quite possible for someone to reach 121 part way through the phase and win the game.

A single card can score for more than one of the above reasons. Thus in the earlier example, 4-7-2-2, the player who laid the second 2 would score four points - two for 15, two for a pair.

The Scoring Phase

Each player, starting with the non-dealer, takes their cards up off the table and scores them. The card that was turned face up after the deal is a "window card" that can be used by both players. Thus each hand effectively has five cards.

Cards in the hand are scored as follows:

15: Every combination of cards the adds up to 15 scores two points.
Pair: Two points for every pair. Thus 3 of a kind scores 6, four of a kind scores 12.
Run: Three points for a run of three, four points for a run of four, five points for a run of five. Suit does not matter.
4 Flush: Four points if the four cards in hand are of the same suit but the turn up card is not.
5 Flush: Five points if the cards in hand are all of the same suit as the turn up card.
One for his nob:: If the turn up card was not a Jack, having the Jack of the turn up suit scores one.

The non-dealer scores first. Then the dealer scores their hand. Finally the box is turned face up and these cards along with the turn-up card are scored as a bonus hand for the dealer.

As with the pegging phase, points are scored immediately. If the non-dealer reaches 121 on declaring their hand then that is a win regardless of how many points the dealer might have been able to score.

Note that cards can and often do score in more than one way. Scoring usually takes place out loud and often has an almost ritual chant-like feel to it, eg the hand below would score "fifteen two fifteen four fifteen six pair's eight three's eleven and three is fourteen"

Hand: 7-7-8-9 Turn up: Ace

If no player has reached 121, all the cards are gathered up and shuffled and the non-dealer becomes dealer for the next hand.

External Links:
American Cribbage Congress