How to Play Cribbage

cribbage board

Overview

Cribbage is a card game played with between two and four players, but most commonly two. The object of the game is to be the first player to 121 points.

A standard 52 playing card deck is used. All four suits are considered equal and aces are always low. Facecards are each worth ten.

Score is kept on a cribbage board – one of the most distinctive parts of the game. Usually made out of wood, the cribbage board includes a series of carved out holes for the scoring pegs to be placed into. (More on that later.)

Starting the Game

After each player has shuffled, the players cut the pack to determine who deals first. The player who cuts the lowest card deals first. Remember: Aces are always low in cribbage.

Playing the Game

The dealer deals 6 cards to himeself and to the pone. (Note that we're just providing rules for two-player cribbage in order to keep things simple.)

Both players must pick four cards to keep in their own hand and two to send to the crib. There's a lot of strategy involved here. The crib always gets counted by the dealer, so if that's you, you want to keep four good cards in your hand, but also throw two into the crib that might result in big points there. And if you're the pone, you'll still want to keep four good cards, but you have to be careful not to give the dealer anything too valuable in his crib. On top of this, you have to consider which cards will perform best during the pegging section of the game.

Once those tough decisions are made, the crib is placed face down until later and gameplay begins…

The pone cuts the deck and the dealer flips over the top card. This flipped card becomes the cut card. If the card flipped over is a Jack, then the dealer pegs 2 points for his heels. The cut card and the rest of the deck are placed off to the side.

Following this, the pone selects a card from his hand to play first, announcing the numeric value of it as it is laid down. The dealer follows by laying down a card of her own and announcing the numeric value of the total of both cards. This continues for as long as each player still has cards. Along the way, the following scoring opportunities exist:

  • Pair, three-of-a-kind, four-of-a-kind: If a player follows another player's card with a card of the same value, that player scores 2 points. If a player plays a third card of the same value (three-of-a-kind), they score 6 points. A fourth card (four-of-a-kind) scores 12.
  • Runs: A run of 3 or more cards scores 1 point per card. The cards do not have to run in order. For example, if the cards are played 7-5-6, the player who played the 6 scores 3 points for the run. The other player could then lay down a 4, for example, and score 4 points for a four card run.
  • Fifteen: If a player plays a card that brings the count to 15 exactly, they score 2 points.
  • Thirty-One: Reaching 31 exactly also scores 2 points. If neither player can play a card that keeps the count at or under 31, the count is reset and the last person to play receives one point. Typically, the person passing their turn says Go when this happens.

After each player has played all four cards, it becomes time to score the hands in the following order: the non-dealer's hand, the dealer's hand, and finally the crib (which belongs to the dealer). The scoring opportunities in this stage of the game are similar to before:

  • Pair: A pair scores 2 points. Three-of-a-kind scores 6. Four-of-a-kind scores 12.
  • Run: A run of three or more cards scores 1 point per card.
  • Fifteen: A combination of two or more cards that add up to 15 exactly scores 2 points.
  • Flush: A four card flush in the hand (not in the crib and not including the cut card) scores 4 points. A five card flush including the cut card, in the hand or crib, scores 5.
  • His Nobs: A Jack of the same suit as the cut card scores 1 point.

Winning the Game

The winner is the first player to reach 121 points. The games is over as soon as the first player hits 121 – play does not continue until the end of the hand. If the loser fails to score at least 91 points, they are skunked. If they have less than 61, they are double skunked.