Cribbage, or crib, is a card game traditionally for two players, but commonly played with three, four or more, that involves playing and grouping cards in combinations which gain points. Cribbage has several distinctive features: the cribbage board used for scorekeeping, the eponymous crib or box (a separate hand counting for the dealer), two distinct scoring stages (the play and the show) and a unique scoring system including points for groups of cards that total fifteen.
According to John Aubrey, cribbage was created by the English poet Sir John Suckling in the early 17th century, as a derivation of the game "noddy". While noddy has disappeared, crib has survived, virtually unchanged, as one of the most popular games in the English-speaking world. The objective of the game is to be the first player to score a target number of points, typically 61 or 121. Points are scored for card combinations that add up to fifteen, pairs (plus triples and quadruples), runs and flushes.
Cribbage holds a special place among American submariners, serving as an "official" pastime. The wardroom of the oldest submarine in the fleet carries RADM Dick O'Kane's personal cribbage board onboard, and upon decommissioning it is transferred to the next oldest boat.
The players cut for first deal, and the dealer shuffles and deals five or six cards to each player, depending on the number of players. For two players, each is dealt six cards; for three or four players, each is dealt five cards. In the case of three players, a single card is dealt face down in the centre of the table to start the crib. Once the cards have been dealt, each player chooses four cards to retain, then discards the other one or two face-down to form the "crib" which will be used later by the dealer. At this point, each player's hand and the crib will contain exactly four cards. The player on the dealer's right cuts the deck and the dealer reveals the top card, called the "starter". If this card is a Jack, the dealer scores two points for "his heels", also known as "his nibs".
Starting with the player on the dealer's left, each player lays one card in turn onto a personal discard
pile, stating the cumulative value of the cards laid (for example, the first player lays a five and says "five", the next lays a six and says "eleven", and so on), without the total going above 31. Once no more cards can be played, the cumulative position is reset to zero and those players with cards remaining repeat the process until all players' cards have been played. Players score points during this process for making a total of fifteen, for reaching exactly, or as close as possible to a total of thirty-one, for runs
and for pairs. Players choose the order in which to lay their cards in order to maximise their score according to the scheme shown below. If one player reaches the target (usually 61 or 121), the game ends immediately and that player wins.
Once the play is complete, each player in turn receives points based on the content of his hand in conjunction with the starter card
. Points are scored for combinations of cards totalling fifteen, runs, pairs, flushes
and having a Jack of the same suit as the starter card ("one for his nob"). The dealer scores his hand last and then turns the cards in the crib face up. These cards are then scored by the dealer as an additional hand in conjunction with the starter card.
Scores between 0 and 29 are all possible, with the exception of 19, 25, 26 and 27. Players may refer colloquially to a hand scoring zero points as having a score of nineteen.
Visually, cribbage is known for its scoring board - a series of holes ("streets") on which the score is tallied with pegs (also known as "spilikins"). Scores can be kept on a piece of paper, but a cribbage board is almost always used, since scoring occurs throughout the game, not just at the conclusion of hands as in most other card games. Points are registered as having been scored by "pegging" along the crib board. Two pegs are used in a leapfrog
fashion, so that if a player loses track during the count one peg still marks the previous score. Some boards have a "game counter", with many additional holes for use with a third peg to count the games won by each side.
There are several designs of crib board:
- The classic design is a flat wooden board approximately 250–300 mm (10–12 in) by 70–80 mm (3-4 in) and 10–20 mm (0.4–0.8 in) deep. There are two sets of 60 holes (30 'out' and 30 'back') divided into 5 point sections, see picture above. A pegging-out hole in the middle at each end allows the board to be used in either direction. One player or team scores on one set of 60 holes and the other player or team scores on the second set. Different arrangements are made for three player games.
- A relatively old design is that of an equilateral triangle with two rows of forty holes on each side. These boards did not generally include extra pegging-out holes or holes to count games.
- A newer design has three or four rows of 120 holes with a pegging-out hole at the end and is often brightly coloured. It is best suited to games played to 121, though it can also be used for 61-point games.
- Another common variation is based on features of the highest-scoring cribbage hand. The board takes the form of the number 29 (the highest possible score), with the pegging rows following the contour of the numbers "2" and "9". The design can sometimes include a background image of three fives and a Jack, with the fourth five offset—the "perfect hand" giving that score. The count being 8 times 15 for 16 points, 6 pairs of 2 for 12 points and a matching "nobs" Jack (matching the cut card) for 1 totaling 29.
Because the crib board is a useful scoring device, players sometimes use it to keep score in other games, such as dominoes.
- Scarne, John (1965). Scarne on Card Games. Dover Publications.
- Wergin, Joe (1980). Win at Cribbage. Oldcastle Books.