Cribbage is a highly popular card game that is often played in the work place during lunch, at family reunions tournament-style, and in every day life as a recreational hobby. Regardless of the setting, playing cribbage is a great way to pass the time.

The game of cribbage is fairly easy to learn, yet difficult to master, and consists of two main parts - counting hands and pegging points. This article will focus on the general structure of cribbage, covering how to deal hands, and how to use a cribbage board.

When playing cribbage, the amount of cards you are dealt depends on the number of players in the game, which can range from two to four.

Playing Cribbage - Dealing Hands

  • Two players - each is dealt 6 cards.
  • Three players - each is dealt 5 cards (and one is dealt into the crib, explained below).
  • Four players - each is dealt 5 cards.

Before play begins, each individual must discard, again depending on the number of players, either one or two cards into the "crib". The crib is created for the dealer to utilize as an extra hand. Any points in the crib go to the dealer, and the crib is not looked at until after both pegging and hand counting by all players has finished.

Once all cards are dealt, discarding occurs so that each player has only four cards remaining in his hand. Strategy is involved with discarding, as a player wants to discard something that will help the crib if it is his, but discard something completely different, which will not help for points, to his opponent's crib.

Playing Cribbage - Discarding Procedures

  • Two players - each player discards 2 of his 6 cards to be used in the crib
  • Three players - each player discards 1 of his 5 cards into the crib, and one is dealt from the deck into the crib (as the crib must always have four cards, the same as an individual hand)
  • Four players - each player discards 1 of his 5 cards into the crib

Now that the cards have been dealt, and the necessary cards also discarded, the deck must be cut.

Playing Cribbage - Cutting the Deck

  • The deck is cut to provide players with a universal 5th card for their hands (similar to how all players utilize the table cards in texas hold 'em to form their hands)
  • The individual to the left of the dealer cuts the deck
  • The dealer then takes the top card and places it face up on the cards remaining in the deck

Playing Cribbage - The Cribbage Board

The game is now ready to be played! In two and three player cribbage, individuals are their own teams; however, in four person cribbage teams are formed. Individuals playing in pairs sit every-other around a table (person from team one, then from team two, alternating).

Playing cribbage with a board is not necessary, though it is very helpful and tends to make the game much more enjoyable. The use of a cribbage board is an aspect that makes the game so unique. Cribbage boards are either designed for two and four player cribbage, or three player cribbage. A three player cribbage board can be used for all cribbage scenarios, but a two or four player cribbage board only allows two teams to track their points. Each team utilizes two pegs to keep track of their score.

Game play commences, and to win an individual must score 121 points. The first 30 points are deemed "first street", points 31-60 are called "second street" and so on. This is due to the fact that two-team cribbage boards have two rows of 30 pegging holes. Scoring travels down (away from the starting point) the outside of the board and up the inside; therefore, turning the corner signifies reaching a new "street" of points.

If the winning team scores 121 points before the other team can score 91, that team is said to have been "skunked", something everyone wants to avoid. Much worse for the loser to experience, and also much harder for the victor to accomplish, is "double-skunking", which occurs when the loser fails to score 61 points before the game's end.

Playing Cribbage - Scoring

Scoring occurs in two settings, during play (pegging) and when counting hands. After the cards have been dealt and discarded and the deck has been cut, individuals lay their cards down one at a time (similar to uno or crazy eights). During this process, pegging occurs.

Aces are low cards, and add one to the total count during play, tens through Kings all add ten to the total count, and the rest of the cards add their face value to the count. Counting goes to 31 and then begins again until the players run out of cards.

Playing Cribbage - Pegging Points

  • Using twos as the example: a pair of cards (you lay your two directly after your opponent did the same) gives you 2 points
  • Playing a third two in succession will give you 6 points for three of a kind
  • Runs are worth an amount of points equal to the number of cards in the run and need not be the same suit or in succession (you play a 5 of clubs, your opponent plays a 6 of diamonds, and then you play a 4 of hearts = 3 points. If your opponent plays a 7 after, 4 points to him, and so on)
  • If 15 or 31 is made in the count, a player receives 2 points
  • If a player doesn't reach 31, but nobody else can play, the last player to lay down a card receives 1 point for a "go" (the count then begins at 0 again)
  • The player who places the last card during the pegging portion of play receives 1 point for "last card"
Strategy plays a huge part in four player cribbage pegging, as working to play into your partners hand can increase the amount of points you score. It takes a great deal of time to develop this sense of strategy and awareness, as partners cannot discuss with each other which cards they possess.

Playing Cribbage - Counting Hands
  • The scoring process is identical to pegging, except only utilizing your hand with the cut card included
  • Pairs (2 points), three of a kind (6 points), four of a kind (12 points)
  • Each combination of cards that equals 15 gives you 2 points
  • A flush gives you 4 points if all in your hand are one suit
  • With the cut also the same suit, a flush is worth 5 points
  • In the crib all five cards (4 + the cut card) must be the same suit for a flush to count (5 points)
  • Runs are one point for each card included (3 or more in a run)
Two other strange rules for earning points while playing cribbage:
  • If the jack in your hand is the same suit as the cut card you get 1 point for "knobs"
  • If you are the dealer and the cut card is a jack, you receive 2 points for "heels"
Interesting facts about playing cribbage:
  • The worst hand you can receive is a zero point hand
  • The best hand you can receive is a 29 point hand
  • It is impossible to get a 19 point hand
Now that you know the basic dealing and scoring rules of cribbage, give it a shot! It can be difficult to master cribbage, but after playing a few games you will catch on quickly. This is a wonderful game to play with friends, family, and even co-workers, and although challenging, is extremely addictive. Good luck!