Rules on How to Play Cribbage

A cribbage board and hand

Cribbage is a card game that uses a game board to keep score on. Cribbage has strict rules that can be tough for beginners to follow, however. Learning how to count and score points is the trickiest part of the game, but once you've played a few hands you'll be hooked.

Playing Cribbage

Cribbage is usually a game for two players, though three- and four-person variations do exist that work much the same way as standard cribbage. The object of the game is to be the first player to "peg out" or score 121 points.

Equipment

The supplies needed for a game of cribbage are few, though specific.

  • Cards: You will need a standard deck of 52 playing cards with the jokers removed.
  • Board: Cribbage requires a special board to play, known as a cribbage board. This board has 120 holes plus a winner's hole to keep score with. The classic design is a flat wooden board with a curved path for pegs. There are also more elaborate designs available, such as shapes like states or trains.
  • Pegs: Pegs come with the board. Each player has two to keep track of scores.

How to Play Cribbage

The basic rules of Cribbage are:

  1. Cut the deck to determine who deals. The player with the low card is the dealer.
  2. Shuffle the cards and deal six to each player.
  3. Each player discards two of the six cards to a pile know as "the crib."
  4. The non-dealing player cuts the deck to determine the "up" card or "cut." This card is used by both players to count points at the end. If it is a jack, the dealer automatically loses two points known as "heels" or "nibs."
  5. Players take turns laying down cards, calling out the cumulative value as they lay them down. Face cards are worth ten points, while aces are worth one. This continues until a player cannot lay down any more cards without exceeding 31 points.
  6. When a player cannot lay down any more cards without going over 31 points he states "go." The opposing player continues to lay down cards as long as he can without exceeding 31 points. He then receives one point if the total is under 31 or two if it is exactly 31.
  7. Points are tallied on the Cribbage board by moving pegs ahead, one hole per point.

Other Ways to Score

In addition to the front game, there are other ways to score points.

  • When either player lays down a card that brings the total to 15, this is worth two points.
  • Points are further awarded for putting down pairs. For example, if the dealer plays a six and the non-dealer plays a six immediately thereafter, the non-dealer earns two points. If the dealer can follow with a third six that is worth six points, with a fourth six worth twelve.
  • Sequences of cards net points, but do not have to be in order. The points awarded are for the number of cards in a sequence. For example, a sequence of three gets three points, even if played in the order 4-6-5.

Scoring Hands

After the initial counting portion of the game, players score additional points by tallying the cards in their hands as well as the crib. The non-dealing player counts first, followed by the dealer. The dealer then counts the cards in his crib. Points are scored as follows:

  • Two points for any combination of cards totaling 15
  • Two points for each pair
  • Six points for triples
  • Four of a kind is worth 12 points
  • Sequences are worth one point for each card in the sequence with aces always low
  • Four cards of the same suit -- not including the starter and the crib -- are worth four points. You can earn five points with a flush of five cards and this can include the crib and the starter.
  • A jack in the same suit as the cut scores one point

All of these can be combined to score multiple points. Indeed, this is how the best cribbage players play. There is an optional rule called "muggins" that allows an opposing player to claim any points that his opponent did not claim from his own hand.

Glossary

There are a number of terms you should be familiar with when playing cribbage.

  • The Crib: The two cards discarded by each player at the beginning of the hand and handed to the dealer.
  • The Cut: Also known as the starter card, the cut is the card that the dealer flips after his opponent cuts the deck.
  • Game Hole: The final hole in the cribbage board.
  • Match: Several games played as part of a series.
  • Skunked: When the losing player does not score more than 90 points. "Double skunked" means that a player has not even scored 30.

Winning

You win a game of cribbage by being the first player to "peg out." This means scoring 121 points or more, bringing your peg to the game hole. Cribbage games are often played in a series, so winning an individual game might not make you the winner for the night.

Learning Cribbage As You Play

With its unique format and variety of gaming strategies, Cribbage has become quite popular with card game enthusiasts. While the game has complicated rules, once you have played it a couple times you will pick it up quickly. Playing with a partner who is already familiar with the rules is the best way to learn the game.

Rules on How to Play Cribbage