Hoyle's Games Modernized/Cribbage

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Cribbage is primarily a game for two players, though it may also be played by three, or even four persons; in the latter case, two playing against two, as at Whist. Of the two-handed game there are three varieties, known, from the number of cards dealt to each player, as "five-card," "six-card," and "seven-card" cribbage. The number of points to be made in the first case is 61; in the second, 121; and in the third, 181. If the loser has made less than half the specified number of points, he is "lurched," and pays double the agreed stake.

Cribbage Board.

Cribbage Board.

The score is marked by means of pegs of ivory or bone, on a special board, as depicted above. It will be observed that there is on either side of the board a double row of holes, thirty in each, divided, for convenience in counting, into sets of five. The board is placed cross-wise between the players, and both start from the same end (which should be that to the left of the first dealer), each travelling up the outer and down the inner row (once round in the "five-card," twice in the "six-card," and thrice in the "seven-card" game), terminating with the "game-hole" at the end from which they started. In scoring, the hinder peg for the time being is advanced the requisite number of points beyond the foremost.

We will commence with the five-card game.

The pack of fifty-two cards is used, and the players cut for deal, the lowest dealing. For this and for "sequence" purposes, the cards rank in regular order from ace (lowest) up to king (highest), but in counting court cards count as tens.

The pack having been shuffled, the non-dealer cuts, and his opponent deals, one at a time, five cards to each player. Meanwhile the non-dealer scores three holes, known as "three for last," and regarded as a set-off for the advantage of first deal. The undealt portion of the pack is placed face downwards between the players. Each player now "lays out" two of his cards (placed face downwards to the right hand of the dealer) to form what is called the "crib." The principles which govern the "lay out" will be discussed later.

The crib having been laid out, the non-dealer cuts, by lifting off the upper half of the pack. The dealer turns up the card left uppermost and places it on the top of the pack. This card is known as the "start." Should it chance to be a knave, the dealer is entitled to "two for his heels," and scores two points.

The score depends partly upon the course of play, and partly upon the player's holding certain combinations of cards. These latter are scored at the close of the hand.

The scores which may be made in course of play are as under:—

Pairs.—A player playing a similar card to the card last played by his adversary (as a king to a king, or a seven to a seven) is entitled to score two for a pair.[14]

Pairs-royal.—If the first player in the case last supposed can follow with a third card of the same description, he scores six for a pair-royal.

Double Pairs-royal.—If the second player replies with a fourth card of the same description, he scores twelve for a double pair-royal.

Sequences, or Runs.—Three or more cards of any suit but forming a regular numerical succession (as two, three, four; knave, ten, nine), count one for each card to the last player. The sequence need not be played in regular order, so long as the cards exposed for the time being form an unbroken series. Thus, suppose that A plays a five, and B a four. If A now plays either a six or a three, he is entitled to score a run of three (three points). We will suppose that he plays a three. If B can play either a six or a two, he will be entitled to score four; and if A can then add another card at either end, he will score five. Suppose, again, that A has played a five and a three, and B a two and a six. If A now plays a four, he is entitled to score five for the complete sequence. The highest number that can be scored for a sequence is seven, for ace, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Ace, king, queen, do not count as a sequence.

Fifteen or Thirty-one.—A player whose card makes, with those already exposed, the number fifteen, scores two. If either player makes thirty-one, he scores two in like manner. If, when the cards on the table approach thirty-one, the player whose turn it is can go no further without passing that number, he says, "Go." His opponent then plays any other card or cards up to that limit. If they make thirty-one exactly, he scores two; if not, he scores one for "last card," i.e. the last card played. This (at five-card cribbage) terminates the hand.

The hand being over, the players, beginning with the non-dealer, proceed to "show," i.e. turn up their cards, and reckon how many points they may contain conjointly with the turn-up card, which is regarded as belonging, for this purpose, to the hand of each player, as also to the "crib" of the dealer. The first point noted is the fifteens they may contain, two points being reckoned for each, and the cards being combined in every possible way to make that number. Thus three fives and a ten or court card make (apart from their value under other aspects) four fifteens (technically spoken of as "fifteen eight"[15]), each of the fives forming one fifteen with the ten, and the three fives united forming another.

The next thing to be noted is the presence of any pairs, pair-royal, or double pair-royal. Thus, in the case supposed, the player, after claiming "fifteen eight," would go on to say "and six for a pair-royal, fourteen."

If all the three cards in the hand are in sequence (independent of suit), three points are reckoned for this, or if the three form a sequence with the turn-up card, four.

If three of the cards are in sequence, and the fourth is a duplicate of one of them, such fourth card is regarded as making a fresh sequence with the other two, the "double run," as it is called, scoring six points. Besides this, the holder is entitled to two for his "pair" (the two duplicate cards), bringing the total value (irrespective of "fifteens") up to eight.

Where (as in crib at five-card, or hand or crib at six-card Cribbage) five cards have to be reckoned, it may happen that three are in sequence, and that the other two are duplicates of one of them. In this case they constitute a treble run of three (nine points) and a pair-royal (six points), total fifteen.

If the three cards of the hand are all of one suit, the player scores three points for a flush. If the turn-up is of the same suit, four points.

If the hand chance to contain a knave of the same suit as the turn-up card, the holder is entitled to score one point, "for his nob."

The non-dealer having scored his points, as above indicated, the dealer proceeds to score any points, first in his hand, and then in the crib, in like manner. There is only one distinction, viz., that, in counting crib, a flush is not reckoned unless the "start" is of the same suit as the rest. In this case the flush is worth five points (one for each card).

The following table indicates the method of counting some of the more important combinations (including the start) of the hand at five-card Cribbage:—

Four fives (Fifteen eight and a double pair-royal) 20
Three fives and a ten (Fifteen eight and a pair-royal) 14
Two fives, a four, and a six Fifteen-four, pair, and
double run of three
Two fours, a five, and a six
Two sixes, a four, and a five
Three threes and a nine Fifteen six and a pair-royal
Three sixes and a nine
Three sixes and a three
Three sevens and an eight
Three eights and a seven
Three nines and a six
Three sevens and an ace
Two eights, a six (or nine), and a seven Fifteen four, pair, and
double run of three
Two sevens, a six, and an eight
Six, five, and two fours
Two fives and two tens or court cards of like

  denomination (Fifteen eight and two pairs)

Two nines and two sixes (Fifteen eight, and two pairs) 12
Two fives, a ten, and a court card (Fifteen eight
  and a pair
Two sixes, a seven, and an eight (Fifteen two, pair,
  and double run of three
A five and any three court cards in sequence, or
  ten, knave, queen (Fifteen six and run of three)
A five and three court cards, or a ten and court

  cards, in sequence (Fifteen six and run of three)

Any sequence of three cards, with a duplicate of

  one of them, but no "fifteen" (Pair and double
  run of three


Where the four cards of the hand (or all four of the crib, and the start) are of the same suit, the value of the flush (four or five, as the case may be) must be added. Where either includes a knave of the same suit as the start, one "for his nob" will be scored in addition.

A study of the foregoing table should be a material aid to the player in discarding for "crib." If he is dealer, he desires the crib to be as productive as possible; if non-dealer, the reverse. On the other side, he desires to retain such cards as shall be likely to score best in his hand, and these two objects frequently clash. It is therefore, important to know which to prefer.

We will first examine the question from the dealer's point of view. Both hand and crib belong to him, but the hand consists (including the start), of four cards only, while the crib has five. The possible combinations of five cards are so numerous that space will only permit us to give examples of a few leading hands. The highest possible score is twenty-nine, which is made by three fives and a knave, with a fourth five, of the same suit as the knave, turned up by way of start.[16]

The mode of reckoning is as follows: the four fives, in four combinations of three, score fifteen eight. Each of them again scores a fifteen in conjunction with the knave, making eight more. To these are added twelve for the double pair-royal, and "one for his nob," making twenty-nine.

Two fives, two fours, and a six Fifteen eight, two
pairs, and a run
of three four
times repeated
Two fives, two sixes, and a four
padding-left: 0} |Two fours, two sixes, and a five
Two sevens, two eights, and a nine

Four threes and a nine (Fifteen twelve and a
  double pair-royal

Three fives, a four, and a six (Fifteen eight, a pair-royal,
  and run of three thrice repeated
Three fours, a five, and a six Fifteen six, a
pair-royal, and
run of three
thrice repeated
Three sixes, a four, and a five
Three sevens, an eight, and a nine
Three eights, a seven, and a nine
Four twos and a nine Fifteen eight and a double
Four threes and a six
Two sixes, two sevens, and an eight Fifteen four, two pairs,
and run of three four
times repeated
Two sevens, an eight, and two nines
Two eights, a seven, and two nines
Three tens, or court cards of like
denomination, and two fives
Fifteen twelve,
pair-royal, and
Three threes and two nines
Three sevens and two aces
Three threes and two sixes[17] (Fifteen ten, pair, and
Three fours, three, and five (Fifteen two, pair-royal,
  and run of three thrice repeated
Three tenth cards in sequence and two fives (Fifteen
  twelve, pair, and run of three
Any three cards in sequence, with duplicates of

  two of them, but no "fifteen" (Two pairs and
  run of three four times repeated

Any three cards in sequence, with one of them

  thrice repeated, but no "fifteen" (Pair-royal
  and run of three thrice repeated


As for combinations of minor value, their name is legion.

With four cards only, the general average is very much lower, as will have been seen from the table on p. 39.

A comparison of the foregoing tables show that the crib at five-card Cribbage is likely to be much more important than the hand, and this furnishes us with a safe principle for the guidance of the player in laying out. In the case of the dealer, he should lay out for crib such cards as are most likely to form valuable combinations, even though he may, to some extent, sacrifice the scoring value of his hand. Conversely, it is to the interest of the non-dealer to lay out such cards as are likely to "baulk the crib," as it is termed, even though he may to some extent injure his own hand in doing so. On close examination of the tables, it will be found that the cards most likely to help the crib are pairs. If the other three cards chance to be in sequence, they are worth, standing alone, three only, but the addition of duplicates of either of the series will bring their value (for runs and pair-royal) up to fifteen, independently of any other points they may contain. Or suppose, with six as start, that the dealer has thrown out a four and a five, these are worth five only; but if the non-dealer had been rash enough to throw out a pair, either of fours or sixes, the score would run up to twenty-one. If the non-dealer had thrown out a pair of fives, it would have been twenty-three.

Next to a pair, two cards forming a fifteen, or two cards in sequence, are most likely to help the crib, and should therefore be preferred by the dealer, and eschewed by the non-dealer—the more so, if they chance to answer both conditions—e.g. a seven and eight. Next to cards in sequence come cards only one or two points apart, as the cards of the opposite player may fill up the gap, and convert them into sequence cards. Of single cards, a five is the most likely to score, inasmuch as there are sixteen tenth cards to four of any other denomination, and the chances of its forming part of one or more fifteens are therefore considerable. The cards which are least likely to make for crib are king and ace, inasmuch as nothing save queen, knave can convert a king into a sequence card, and nothing save a two and three can convert the ace into a sequence card. The best cards for the non-dealer to throw out are therefore a king or ace, and some second card so far removed from the first that the two cannot form part of the same sequence. King or queen, with nine, eight, seven, six, or ace, are good "baulking" cards; likewise two or ace, with seven, eight, nine, or ten. The non-dealer should never throw out a knave if he can help it, as the start may cause it to score a point for "nob." In like manner, the non-dealer should avoid laying out two cards of the same suit, as he thereby runs the risk of a flush in crib.

In the play of the hand the guiding principle should be to give to the adversary the fewest possible opportunities of scoring. Bearing this in mind, it will be seen that the best card to lead at the outset is an ace, two, three, or four, as the second player cannot make fifteen, and the chance of doing so will revert to the first player. A five, on the other hand, is a very bad lead, inasmuch as, from the greater number of tenth cards in the pack, it gives the second player the best possible opportunity of making fifteen. If the leader holds duplicates of ace, two, three, or four, one of them is a very good lead; for if the second player should pair, the leader will have the opportunity of making a pair-royal. Failing pairs, if the leader hold two cards which together make five, i.e. two and three, or ace and four, it is good to play one of them, when, if the adversary play a tenth card, the leader will be enabled to make fifteen. Likewise, if the leader hold a six and a three, a four and a seven, or a three and a nine, the first card of the couple is a safe lead, for if it is paired, the second will make fifteen. On the other hand, should the second player play a tenth card to the lead, the first player may pair it with perfect safety, for no pair-royal can be made without overpassing the limit, thirty-one.

As regards the second player, he will generally do well to make fifteen if he can. If a low card, i.e. a four or less, has been led, he has no choice, in the majority of cases, but to leave the fifteen to his adversary; but he should carefully avoid playing such a card as will enable the adversary to score not merely the fifteen, but a pair or sequence in addition. On a four led, for instance, it would be very unwise to play either a six or a five, as in such cases respectively, a five or six played by the first player would give him both fifteen and a sequence. On a three it would be equally wrong to play a six; on a seven a four; on a nine a three, or on an ace a seven; for a like card played by the first player would give him both fifteen and a pair. Again, it is in general unwise for second player to play a close card (i.e. next or next but one to the lead), as he thereby gives the adversary the chance of a "run." If he is in a position to continue the run, he may of course play a close card with impunity. The points of "five" and "twenty-one" are to be avoided, as a tenth card played by the adversary will in such case make him fifteen or thirty-one. Similarly, it is bad play to make fourteen or thirty (i.e. one short of fifteen or thirty-one) with an ace; to make thirteen or twenty-nine (two short) with a two; twelve or twenty-eight with a three; eleven or twenty-seven with a four; as in either of such cases, should the adversary be able to pair, he will thereby score four holes. The only exception is where the player chances to hold two deuces or aces, in which case it will be worth while to make twenty-nine or thirty respectively with one of such cards, on the chance of the opponent holding no deuce or ace, in which case the first player will himself gain the advantage of the double score.

Some discretion is needful in pairing the card first led, as the first player may be aiming at a pair-royal, and the temporary gain of two points may be counter-balanced by six to the adversary. Where, however, the player holds two of the card led, it may be paired without hesitation. The chances are much against the dealer's being in a position to make a pair-royal, and if he should, it can be capped (unless the card be over seven) by the double pair-royal of the last player.

A further point to be considered, in deciding whether to make a pair or sequence, is the state of the score. It is calculated that the non-dealer, at five-card cribbage, should make, on an average, six in hand and play; the dealer eleven, or a shade more, in hand, play, and crib. When each has dealt once, they should stand abreast at seventeen to eighteen, and so on throughout the game. The player who has maintained this average is said to be "home," and a player who is in this condition at an advanced state of the game, should run as few risks as possible; should avoid pairing, play wide cards to avoid sequences, and so on. This is known as "playing off." If, on the other hand, he is behind his proper position, his chance of winning will depend, in a great degree, on his making more than the average number of points in play. In such case, he should embrace every opportunity of making a fifteen, a pair, or a sequence, even at the risk of giving opportunities to the enemy. This is known as "playing on." As there are sixteen tenth cards in the pack, and ten out of fifty-two are dealt, the probabilities are in favour of the players holding originally three between them, and this probability should be borne in mind, as the so doing will often help the player to a thirty-one. Suppose that the leader starts with queen, and that the other player has no tenth card, but has a seven and a four, an eight and a three, or a nine and a two. In such case it is good policy to play the seven, eight, or nine. If the first player again plays a tenth card, the second will be enabled, with his small card, to score thirty-one. If the second player have no tenth card in his own hand, the probability of his opponent holding more than one is proportionately increased.

It may be useful to illustrate these elementary principles by the play of a couple of imaginary hands. Let us suppose that A (elder hand) has the queen and six of hearts, nine of clubs, eight of diamonds and seven of spades. And B (dealer) the ace and ten of hearts, ten of clubs, five of spades, and four of diamonds.

It will be observed that A has four cards, six, seven, eight, nine, in sequence, of which either the six and nine or the seven and eight will form a fifteen. His fifth card, the queen, does not and cannot score with either of the others. Obviously the queen should form one card of his lay-out. Of the four remaining, he will naturally keep three in sequence. Which shall he throw out, the six or the nine? The six in one respect is preferable, inasmuch as it cannot be brought into sequence with the queen, whereas the nine might possibly be so. On the other hand, the six is of the same suit as the queen, and might help towards a flush. He decides, therefore, to throw out queen, nine, retaining the six, seven, and eight.

B's proper course is clearly to throw out the ace of hearts and four of diamonds, retaining the two tens and the five, which are good for six points, viz. fifteen four and a pair, and with a five or ten start would be worth twelve. On the other hand, should there be one or more tenth cards in the crib, the four and ace will give them a scoring value.

The cards are cut, and B turns up the queen of clubs.

A leads the seven of spades, saying, "seven." This is his best lead. If B should play an eight, making fifteen, A will be enabled to continue with the six, and so score a run of three.[19] But B cannot make a fifteen, and it is therefore his best policy to go beyond that point. He plays the ten of hearts, saying, "Seventeen," or more shortly, "'-teen." A has no card which will score, and he therefore plays his highest, as the nearer he gets to thirty-one the fewer chances does he leave his opponent of getting closer to that number. He plays the eight of diamonds, saying, "Twenty-five." B plays the five of spades—"Thirty." "Go," says A. B scores one for last card, and the play of the hand is at an end.

The cards are turned up, and A counts his hand. The start has left him "no better." He scores fifteen two for the seven and eight, and three points for the run—five in all.

B is rather better off. With the start he has fifteen six and a pair—eight in all. In crib the start has helped him considerably. Without it he had fifteen two only—the ace and four combining with the queen of hearts; with the start he has six—fifteen four and a pair. The nine is useless.

A having taken his three points as non-dealer, the score stands eight to fifteen. It is now A's turn to deal, and the cards fall as follows: B has king and eight of hearts, seven of spades, eight of diamonds and three of clubs. And A (dealer) five and nine of diamonds, three of spades, ten of hearts and six of clubs.

B throws out the king of hearts and three of clubs; A, the six of clubs and nine of diamonds. The cards are cut, and the six of diamonds is turned up.

B leads the eight of hearts. This is a safe lead, for, if A scores fifteen, B can pair him; if A pairs, B can make a pair-royal. A, not being able to do either, plays the ten of hearts, making eighteen. This prevents all possibility of B's making fifteen; and should B play a tenth card, A's three will make thirty-one. There is a possibility of B's playing a nine, and so making three for the run, but this risk must be taken. Should he do so, A will in all probability score one for last card; but B, having only a seven and an eight, plays the latter, making twenty-six. This is a shade the better card, inasmuch as it brings the score one point nearer thirty-one. As it happens, the choice was unfortunate, for A, having a five, is able to make thirty-one exactly, scoring two points accordingly.

The cards are shown: B scores fifteen four, a pair, and a run of three twice over—twelve in all. A has in hand fifteen two only; but in crib he has fifteen six and a pair, making eight in all.

The game now stands—A 20, B 27. Both have made their full average in the two deals; but B's seven points ahead give him a decided advantage, and, on the principle already explained he will do well to "play off" during the remainder of the hand.[20]

Six-card Cribbage.

In this form of the game six cards are dealt to each player. Two being laid out for crib, four are still left in hand, and the scores accordingly average very much higher than in the five-card game. The only material difference of procedure is that in the six-card game the scoring of three extra points by the non-dealer is omitted, both players being considered to start on an equal footing; and secondly, that the cards, instead of being thrown down as soon as thirty-one or the nearest possible approach to it, is reached, are played out to the end. The player who failed to score for the "go" leads again, giving the adversary the opportunity to make fifteen, or pair him if he can. Each plays alternately as before, the player of the "last card" scoring "one" for so doing. If there is only one card left after the "go," the leader still scores it as "last card." The general principles laid down as to five-card cribbage apply equally to the six-card game, save that in the latter, as hand and crib consist of the same number of cards, the non-dealer is no longer under the same compulsion to baulk the crib, even to the destruction of his own hand. The two objects—preserving the hand and baulking the opponent's crib—are in this case on the same level, and either may legitimately be preferred, as the nature of the hand may render desirable.

In consequence of the greater facility of scoring, it is customary to play six-card cribbage twice round the board, i.e. to make the game 121 points.

Seven-card Cribbage.

Seven-card cribbage is played in the same manner as the six-card game, save that seven cards are dealt to each player, two being thrown out for crib, and five left in hand, or, with the start, six. With such a largely increased number of possible combinations, very high scores are frequent, and for this reason it is customary to make the game three times round the board, i.e. 181 points.

Three-handed Cribbage.

When three persons play, five cards are dealt to each, one card of each hand being laid out for crib, with one card from the top of the pack to complete it. The start is then cut for in the usual manner. The player to the dealer's left has first lead and first show, and deals in the succeeding hand.

Cribbage-board for Three-handed Game.

Cribbage-board for Three-handed Game.

The score is usually marked on a triangular board, open in the centre, or the ordinary cribbage-board may be furnished (see illustration) with a supplementary arm, turning on a pivot, and duly provided with holes, to keep the score of a third player.

Four-handed Cribbage.

Where four persons engage in the game, two play as partners against the other two, each pair sitting facing each other. Partners and deal are cut for, as at Whist, the two lowest playing against the two highest, and the lowest dealing. Five cards are dealt to each player, and each puts out one for the crib, which belongs, as in the two-handed game, to the dealer. The player to the dealer's left has the lead, and each of the others play to it in rotation. No consultation is allowed during the play, but partner may assist partner in counting his hand or crib. One partner scores for both. The cards are played right out, as in the six-card game.

The score is usually twice up and down the board, i.e. 121 points.

14 ^  Court cards, though they all count as of the same value—i.e. "ten"—retain their distinctive rank for pairing purposes. Thus a knave can only be paired with a knave, and so on.
15 ^  A single fifteen is spoken of as fifteen two, two fifteens as fifteen four, three as fifteen six, and so on. Four (fifteen eight) is the largest number of fifteens that can be made with four cards.
16 ^  If the knave and start be of different suits, the score is twenty-eight. With four fives in the crib, and the knave turned up, the value of the show will be twenty-eight only, but the dealer will already have scored "two for his heels," so that the total value is thirty.
17 ^  The score is made up as follows. Each of the sixes combines with each nine to make a fifteen, giving fifteen four. Again, each of the threes combines with the two sixes, bringing the score to fifteen ten. The pair and pair-royal make it eighteen.
18 ^  If the three tenth cards make neither pair nor sequence, the score will be fourteen only.
19 ^  In the case supposed, it would be very unwise for A to pair the eight, as, in the event of B's holding a second eight, he would make a "pair-royal" and "go" simultaneously.
20 ^  There is no authoritative code of Cribbage Laws, and there is considerable divergence of opinion on sundry minor points. For the rules generally accepted, the reader may be referred to the Book of Card and Table Games (Routledge), tit. "Cribbage."