Cribbage (strategy)

Cribbage (strategy)

Cribbage, or crib, is a card game where points are scored for holding certain combinations of cards and for playing the cards in a certain order.

Strategy

There are certain cards and card combinations that are likely to be beneficial to a hand. They include

• pairs
• runs
• face-value combinations totaling fifteen (especially those that are embedded within runs)

Players will try to keep these cards, non-dealers discarding to the crib cards deemed least likely to improve their hand after the cut (and simultaneously unlikely to strengthen their opponent's crib), while the dealer retains the best cards while throwing combinations that will likely maximize points in the crib.

Particularly useful cards, whether for the hand or crib, include:

• 5s. Even though 5s are most commonly held in the hand (because players knows the extent to which a 5 matches their other cards), they are also good in the crib. Four out of every thirteen cards (10-K) are worth ten, so there is a good chance that 5s in the hand or crib will form fifteen-twos.
• Two-card combinations of five. The same principle as "5s" applies, with a good possibility of forming runs.
• 6s, 7s, 8s and 9s. Combinations of these cards produce fifteen-twos and runs. Hands totaling 12, 16, 20, 21 and 24 are often composed of these cards.
• 4s, 5s and 6s. These total fifteen and simultaneously form a run. Hands totaling 12, 16, 21, 23, and 24 are often composed of these cards.
• 7s and Aces, and 4s and 7s. These combine to make fifteens, commonly scoring eight (e.g., 7-7-1-1), and occasionally scoring twenty (7-7-7-1-1).
• 3s, 6s and 9s. These also are likely to combine to make fifteens, and can score similarly to the 7s and Aces.
• Flushes. Flushes, because of their 'dog from every town' nature, frequently contain interesting fifteen-twos and runs, plus their count as a flush.
• Jacks. When holding a face card whose denomination doesn't matter, hold a Jack (or throw it to your crib, and refrain from throwing it to your opponent) for its possibility of scoring "nobs".
• Consecutive cards. Especially when throwing to one's own crib, consecutive cards (e.g., Ace-Deuce, 7-8, Jack-Queen) have the chance to meet the starter or the opponent's discards to form a run.
• Statistically the two cards that will score, on average, the most points in any crib are a pair of 5s, then a 2 and a 3, then a Jack and a 5.
• Statistically the two cards that will score the lowest points, on average, are the King and the 10.

Throwing defensively to the crib

Often players are confronted with a conundrum. They have good cards to hold, but must throw cards to their opponent that are likely to score significantly in their crib. You are dealt a hand composed of 10-10-8-7-6-2. Your best opportunity to score points is to hold the 8-7-6-2. Fifteen four and a run of three make seven; more importantly, this hand can be cut to ten, eleven, twelve, fourteen or sixteen. But to what extent does throwing a pair of 10s mitigate the usefulness of holding the deuce? By throwing a 10-deuce the likelihood that your opponent will score significantly in the crib is reduced, and your hand's possibilities still range from five (two less than thrown the "better" way, offset by throwing two less points to the crib) to twelve. And the opponent's largest possible crib, having thrown a 10-2, is fourteen; throwing a pair of 10s offers the maximal possibility of twenty.

The answer to this lies in each player's position on the board. Is this the beginning of the game, and is the player are willing to chance a loss for a hoped-for big gain? Are they comfortably ahead, so comfortably that their opponent's crib won't hurt them? Or are they behind so significantly late in the game that they need holes at any cost? These questions, along with personality and perhaps feelings of "luck" good or bad, influence how best to throw a challenging hand.

Here are some short cut rules on what to throw, or not throw into the crib,

- Avoid breaking up a chance for a 4-6 double run. - Avoid breaking up a run of three. - Avoid breaking up a flush. - Avoid throwing a 5 or J into the opposition crib (OC). - Avoid throwing consecutive cards into the OC. - Avoid throwing a pair into the OC. - Avoid throwing two of the same suit into the OC. - Avoid throwing a (4,A); (8,6); (9,6) or (9,7) into the OC[1].

The play

Some of these tactics will only work in a two-player game (with more players it is harder to devise a strategy). The "pone", the player who leads the play, should consider the following:

• Initiate play with a three or a four. The opponent cannot make fifteen on the next card played. If the opponent completes a pair, the smart player has planned an offensive rejoinder such as "fifteen for two", e.g., having led a 4 while holding a 7, or playing "trips" (a pair royal). (Opening with a deuce is best when holding a trey, or another deuce. Otherwise you are at risk of giving up a pair at four, and then fifteen-two. Aces are almost always better held until the end of play.)
• Play a card from a pair. If an opponent completes the pair for two, the first player can complete a pair royal for six.
• Lead from one of two cards totaling five (2 and 3, or 4 and Ace). A "ten" card is a likely response, and allows you to easily score fifteen for two. Also, as the dealer, holding two cards totaling 11 (8 and 3) increases the chance of making 31 for two.
• If holding two cards that total fifteen, such as a 6 and a 9, play the 6. If the opponent makes "fifteen for two" with a 9, the first player can play "24 for two" with the 9. (This would not work as well starting with the 9, for the opponent's "fifteen-for-two" with a 6 leaves the pone pairing at twenty-one. If the dealer has a face card, the response is an easy "thirty-one for two".)
• If holding a 7 and a 9, or an 8 and a 9, be careful about leading them. While it is common that the opponent will play for the fifteen thus giving the pone a run of three with the 9, it is also common that the dealer's response is for a run of four. For example, pone leads a 7, dealer responds "fifteen for two" with an 8. Pone plays to "twenty-four for three" with a 9, but dealer responds "thirty for four" with a 6, gets a go and ends the series with his ace at "thirty-one for two". More often than not the dealer wins this exchange. (Further, it is equally likely that the dealer plays a 7 rather than a 6 at twenty-four, and summarily announces "thirty-one for five!")

In general:

• Do not lead a 5 except in an unusual and tactical situation[2]; it is likely the opponent has a 10 or face card (16 out of 52 cards count as ten: 10, J, Q, K) and can easily make 15 for two points.
• If you have a choice between a fifteen-two or pairing, make the fifteen. This prevents your opponent from scoring a possible three-of-a-kind.[3] An exception to this strategy is if you can make a four of a kind.
• Holding small cards increases the likelihood of getting "fifteen for two" as well as "thirty-one for two", and often provides an opportunity to play successive cards after getting a "Go" to form a pair or a run.
• Avoid making the count twenty-one. There are sixteen cards—30.8% of the deck—with a value of ten, so making the count twenty-one gives an opponent an easy chance for "thirty-one for two".

Home to deal

Much strategy in cribbage derives from the fact that the first hand counted is the non-dealer's. The dealer may be only two holes from winning and the opponent twenty, but if the pone holds a 3-3-4-5 hand and has cut a 5, the dealer who pegs only a Go will lose. Players use this knowledge to decide when to throw their hands (or play their cards) aggressively or defensively.

The standard cribbage board is laid out in "streets", where players move up the outside and down the inside. Each street comprises thirty holes, and it is universally acknowledged that a good cribbage player getting average hands and pegging intelligently will score about twenty-five points in one pair of turns, i.e., as dealer (a hand and a crib) and as pone (a single hand). Working backward from the end game, it can be seen that when a player deals what should be his final deal of the game, he wants to lie around the corner about six pegs on fourth street (also called the "home stretch"), necessitating twenty-five holes in the final three hands. (At this point of play, the dealer also wants the pone far enough from going out that a single hand and pegging won't end the game to the opponent's advantage.) Being thus positioned, the dealer is said to be "Home to deal", and will play judiciously, scoring only the points needed without allowing the opponent to take over the better position on the board.

Players who "deal short", however, often play more aggressively in an attempt to recoup points sufficient to re-establish the better board position.

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