Cribbage – noble English game. Rules & Basics

Cribbage is really very… English card game.

It has not only English history (described below), but also “English soul”. This game is somehow noble. You can relax with it, but you need to think during play. This is not a game for idiots, and not without reason you can buy books about cribbage. This game is somehow not suitable for gambling, but of course  you can play any game for money.

Cribbage history – from Noddy to ACC

According to John Aubrey (English philosopher) Cribbage was developed by the English poet Sir John Suckling, who lived from 1609 to 1641. Cribbage was not created by Suckling from scratch, but it was a variant of older English game called “Noddy”.

We don’t know much about noddy.  Some knowledge about this game was preserved in the work of Randle Holme III, a member of the family of herald painters and genealogists from Chester. In Noddy there was probably no crib, and cribbage board was not used for counting points.

Cribbage survived, as opposed to Noddy. It became popular in English-speaking countries. It was even an “official pastime” on American submarines. Reportedly Benjamin Franklin liked this game very much. In the British air forces cribbage was popular, but it was played with domino stones, not cards.

Today there is American Cribbage Congress – ACC, which organizes tournaments, standardizes rules of the game and creates a ranking of players. It publishes a Cribbage World magazine. As I mentioned, there are even books about cribbage.

Cribbage equipment

We need two things to play cribbage:

  • standard 52-card deck and
  • cribbage board.

The board is not really necessary , but it adds a lot of charm to game. It allows you to watch the game as a race. And cribbage boards can be very nice artifacts.

Plansza do gry w cribbage - autor Larry & Teddy Page (lic. CC)
Cribbage board – fot. Larry & Teddy Page (lic. CC)

Cribbage board has rows of drilled holes. Line shape of the rows can be different on different boards. There are long stright boards and there are boards, where rows writhe like a snake. There are modest boards, as well as very decorative. On the picture below, we see a charming traveling board.

Podróżna plansza do kribidża
Traveling cribbage board (fot. Geoffrey Franklin, lic. CC)

On such a board pieces (pegs) are inserted in the holes. Typically, each player has two pegs. If player gains 6 points, he (or she) moves a peg through 6 holes. When he (or she) earns another 2 points, he takes another peg and puts it 2 holes before first peg. After getting the next 8 points, player takes “rear” peg and puts it 8 holes in front of his leading peg. Pegs are just like two legs making steps.

As I mentioned, using this board is not mandatory, but it ads a lot of charm to game.

Game mechanics

Basic elements and goal of the game

There are different kinds of card games. Some games are “trick-taking games”, but there are also games where the player’s goal is to achieve specific combinations of cards. Cribbage belongs to the latter.

Cribbage as any old game has many variants. There are variants with different number of cards during play and for 2, 3 and 4 players.

In this article I’ll describe a version for 2 players, played with 6 cards. This particular version is promoted by American Cribbage Congress.

Game proceeds through a succession of hands, and each hand has two stages – the play and the show. Player earns points for card combinations in both stages. The aim of the game is to score 121 points (cribbage board often has 120 holes and a pegging-out hole at the end). So you have to play as many hands as is necessary to achieve 121 points by one player. If a player reaches the target score, game ends immediately.

Cards value

In Cribbage cards have their value. This has no relation to the score, but it’s important during play and achieving combinations. The card value is calculated as follows.

  • Ace – 1
  • from 2 to 10 – value corresponds to card, for example 2 has value of 2, 5 has value of 5 and so on.
  • J, Q i K – they have value of 10.

So, the rank and value of the cards are as follows:

Card A 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 J Q K
Value 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 10 10 10

The four suits are considered equal.

Play, show and earning points


In each hand there is a dealer and his opponent (this is important). In successive dealings, the players are dealers alternately. The players cut for first deal, and the person who cuts the lowest card deals.

The dealer deals six cards to each player.


When the cards are dealt, both players must choose two cards to discard. These cards will be included in the so-called crib, so there are four cards in crib. Discarded cards should not be showed to opponent.

Crib belongs to a dealer.

Starter card

After forming the crib one of the cards remaining in the deck is revealed. This is a starter card. Usually dealer’s oppponent cuts the deck and the dealer reveals the top card

Note: If the starter card is a Jack, the dealer gets 2 points right away.

1 and 2 – players’ cards, 3 – starter card, 4 – crib

The Play

Dealer’s opponent begins the play. He (or she) lays one card face up on the table in front of him. He announces the count – value of the card that have been laid.  If the first card was 4, dealer’s opponent announces 4. Dealer is the next to play. He lays one card and announces a total value of cards on the table. If his card is 5, he has to announce 9. Every time after playing card total value should be announced.

The maximum value of the cards is 31. If lined cards have the value of 28, the player can not play if he does not have 3 or 2 or A. He can’t go above 31. If a player cannot play without going over 31, he calls “Go”, and his opponent can play (of course if he has appropriately low cards).

If two players declare “go”, the total value of cards is “reset”. The game goes on, and the points are counted again from scratch. If all players have no cards, the play ends.

During the play, players earn points for achieving certain card combinations.

  • Two of a kind (pair) – 2 points.
  • Three of a kind (or triple) – 6 points.
  • Four of a Kind (or quadruple) – 12 points.
  • Straight (or run) – sequence of three or more consecutive cards during the play; for example 3, 4, 5, 6.

In addition, players earn points for:

  • Playing a card, which gives a total value of 15 for cards on the table (2 points)
  • Playing a card that gives a total value of 31 (2 points)
  • Playing the last card (1 point)
  • Playing a card after the opponent said, “go” (1 point). If adding the card after “go” resulted in the creation total 31 points, the player receives only 2 points for 31 and do not gets point for last card.

Rules for creating combinations are important. If one player plays the 4 and his opponent plays 4, this is a pair of fours. There is no pair, if player plays 4, the second plays different card, and then first player plays 4. Pair is made only from consecutive cards. Similar with triples and quadruples.

As for the strights (runs) cards must be laid one after the other, but not necessarily in order. So if we have 5 and 7 on the table, and the next card is 6, this is a straight (5, 6, 7). You should remember that Ace has a value of 1, so A, 2, 3 is a straight but Q, K, A is not.

An example of stright (run) made during play

The table below summarizes the points you can get in the play.

combination points
Jack turned by dealer as starter card – tzw. his heels 2
Final card played (without reaching 31-count) 1
Go” (without reaching 31-count) 1
Two of a kind (pair) 2
Three of a kind (triple) 6
Four of a kind (quadruple) 12
Straights (runs) 1 per card
Reaching a 15-count exactly 2
Reaching 31-count exactly 2

The Show

The show is the second stage of the hand, in which you can earn a lot of points. At this stage, each player takes back lined cards (the ones he had in his hand) and scores points for combinations which can be achieved with these four cards and the starter card.

In the show its possible to get points for pairs, threes, fours and straights, as well as 15s (cards, which together have a value of 15). In addition, in the show player can earn points for the flush – four or five cards of the same suit . There is also a point for jack of the same suit as the starter card.

Note: Points for some combinations in hand are counted differently than points in the play (see table below).

Dealer’s opponent is first to get a points for cards in hand. Then the dealer gets his points, and at the end dealer also get points for the crib. This order in assigning points is quite important, because game ends immediately when one player achieves 121 points.

Note: Points for 4-card flush are granted only for the cards in hand, so there are no points for 4-card flush in crib. There are points for 5-card flush in crib.

The table below shows how many points you get for combinations in the show.

 combinations points
Jack in hand or crib of same suit as starter card (his nobs) 1
Two of a kind (pair) 2
Three of a kind (triple) 6
Four of a kind (quadruple) 12
Straights of three or more cards 1 per card
15-count (sum of any combination of cards) 2
Four-card flush (only in the hand) 4
Five-card flush 5

Note: During the show one card may be a part of the various combinations.


Starter card is K spades
Player A has 5, 6, 7 and 9. He get points for two 15-counts (6 + 9 and K + 5), and the points for stright – 5, 6, 7. In total 2 + 2 + 3 = 7 pts.
Player B has 10, J, Q spades, Q clubs. He gets points for 4-card straight (10, J, Q, spades, K), and for the second 4-card straight (10, J, Q clubs, K) and he also has a pair of Queens. A total of 4+4+2=10 points.
Player’s B Queens are used in the two straights and in a pair.

An interesting situation is when you have three 5s in hand or crib. You get points for triple and for 15-cunt.

Scoring – Summary

The table below summarizes the scoring in the play and the show. This table is consistent with the ACC guidelines.

cards during play in hand or crib
Jack turned by dealer as starter card 2
Jack in hand or crib of same suit as starter card 1
Two of a kind (pair) 2 2
Three of a kind (triple) 6 6
Four of a kind (quadruple) 12 12
Straights of three or more cards 1 per card 1 per card
15-count (sum of any combination of cards) 2
Four-card flush (only in the hand) 4
Five-card flush 5
Reaching a 15-count exactly 2
Reaching 31-count exactly 2
“Go” (without reaching 31-count) 1
Final card played (without reaching 31-count) 1

End of the game

Once a player has acquired 121 points the game is over. In practice, points are counted each time on the board, as soon as the player earns them. If both players play equally, the game can be decided in the middle of the last hand. Therefore, during the game you should watch the order of assigning points.

My experiences with cribbage

As I mentioned, playing cribbage and watching game as a race on a board is really funny. If you are not far ahead of your opponent, the last hand can be really exciting.

Cribbage is a noble game. It’s relaxing, but it requires thinking and attention. It can be interesting and surprising. I played cribbage many times and I recommend it to you.

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