Are you curious how to play the game of Cribbage?
While Cribbage may look confusing of complicated to someone who is just starting out, the rules of the game are actually quite straightforward!
So, in this article we’ll be covering the cribbage rules, how to score points, and everything you need to know to play the game from beginning to end.
Let’s get started!
Cribbage can be played with two, three or four players. Most cribbage boards have peg hole lanes for 3 people to play as individuals. If four people are playing, it is traditional to play as two teams of two.
Cribbage uses a standard deck of 52 cards – meaning that if there are any jokers, they are removed.
If you don’t have a board to play on, you can also play cribbage with just a pen and paper.
Traditionally, there are two ways to play the game. First, you can play a full game which ends when one player or team reaches 121 points or more. Alternatively, you can also play a shorter version ending at 61 points.
The Cribbage Board
If you shop around, you’ll find that there are several different types of cribbage boards. For beginners, it is recommended to use a board that has the full 121 continuous peg holes, as pictured above.
This makes the game a little less confusing than using a smaller board. Smaller boards often require you to loop around the board several times to complete all 121 points, which can make it more difficult to follow along with.
Most cribbage boards will have room for 2 to 4 players. Each player gets two pegs that are in the “waiting” area. Once you score your first points, you place your first peg into that hole.
The second time you score you will use your second peg and “leap frog” over the first peg. Continue to leap your pegs at each scoring opportunity. This makes scoring easier in case you miss count your points. When playing you should place the board in between the two players for easy access.
Object Of The Game
The object of the game is to be the first player or team to reach 121 points or more. Alternatively, you can also play to 61 points if you’re playing the shortened version.
Point accumulation is determined by the various combinations of cards in your hand used to earn points, or by “pegging” out.
The details of this will be covered in just a moment!
Before the game is to begin, shuffle the cards and determine which player will be drawing a card first. Each player must lift a stack of cards off the card pile leaving at least 4 cards at the top and at least four cards at the bottom.
The person with the lowest card will go first. Face cards have a value of 10 and the ace has a value of 1.
After the initial draw of the cards determining who goes first, players will alternate who becomes the dealer after each round.
For any games played after the first game, the loser will be the first to deal for the next game.
Once the dealer is determined, they may choose to reshuffle the cards.
If two people are playing, the dealer then gives each of you 6 cards, giving the opponent the first face down card.
If three or four people will be playing each person will receive 5 cards. Similarly to two players, the dealer will give themselves a card last.
Once you have looked at your cards, pick two of them that you want to discard. These will be given to the dealer’s ‘crib’, and you will keep the rest of them.
If three people are playing you will discard 1 card into the crib and the dealer will also place a card from the deck into the crib.
If four people are playing you will each put one card each face down into the dealer’s crib.
The crib belongs to the dealer and will be reviewed and scored after the dealer has counted their own hand.
So, when it comes time to tally points for that round, the dealer gets to tally their own hand, and the crib.
After each person has placed their cards into the crib, the non dealing player will cut the deck They must leave at least four cards on the top and bottom of the deck, and the card that is selected is called the “Starter” card .
The dealer then takes the facedown “starter” card from the cut pile and places it face up on top of the deck. This card will be used when counting points for your hand after the round of “pegging” is complete (which will be discussed a little later.)
If a Jack is the card face up on the deck, the dealer receives 2 points, this is often called “His Heels”.
The non-dealer player (or player on dealer’s left if multiple people are playing) will start the round by playing a card from their hand face up in front of them.
From that point, you will each take turns laying down cards until everyone’s cards in their hand are shown. This part of the game is referred to as ‘pegging.’
The round goes until a count of 31, or until a card cannot be played to reach 31 without going over. Remember that face cards (Jacks, Queens and Kings) all count as 10.
If there are cards still in your hand after the point of 31 is reached, or 31 cannot be reached, a new round is started until no remaining cards are left in your hand.
When playing down cards from your hand for “pegging”, the first person lays down their card announcing its face value, then the next person lays down their card by adding its face value to the card laid down before it. This continues until you reach 31 without going over.
If the next player cannot lay down a card without going over, the previous player receives a “GO”, receives one point, and must lay down another card if they have one to reach 31.
The running total of the card count during the Pegging round can never exceed 31. If a player cannot lay down another card without exceeding the count of 31 then they must say “GO” which gives the previous player one point. That player must play any cards they can without going over the total of 31.
In some cases this will give the player a scoring advantage if they can lay down cards that make pairs, runs or reach the total of 31. If you reach 31 you will receive 2 points.
The player who proclaims a “GO”, will start the next round of the count to 31. The count will reset at zero.
The person who lays the last card from their hand will receive an extra point for the last card. This is in addition to whatever other scoring potential that remains such as hitting 31 or laying down a pair or run sequence.
(So for example, if they hit 31 and receive two points, they also get an extra point for the last card. This gives them a total of 3 points.)
The object of the game is to score as many points as possible. Pegging is one of the ways you will receive points during the game other than receiving a Go, and finally counting your hand after the pegging round is over.
There are several combinations of cards that can be used to obtain points during the Pegging round.
Fifteen: If you are adding cards and can make the count 15 you will receive 2 points.
Thirtyone: If you can make the count of the cards 31 you will receive 2 points.
Pairs: If you can match the card of the player before you you will receive 2 points for the pair. Even though face cards have the same value of 10 in order to receive points for a pair the face card must match – for example, if the previous player played a queen, you must also play a queen to get the points for the pair.
Triples: If 3 cards in a row match without interruption from another card then you will receive 6 points, as long as the total does not exceed 31.
Four: 4 cards in a row that match will receive 12 points
Run: A run is a sequence of at least 3 cards.
For example if a 4 is played, then 6 then a 5 this would earn you 3 points. If another card such as a 3 or 7 is played is played after that run, then you would earn 4 points. Each additional card that can be played in a run will receive an additional point as long as the total does not exceed 31. After each round of 31 the cards start back at zero and you must start another sequence of cards to earn a run.
In other words, after the number is reset, you are essentially starting over with a blank slate.
Remember that there cannot be an interruption in the run by a card that does not belong in the run. Otherwise, the run will have to start over for it to earn points.
When playing runs, it is very important to pay attention to not only the sequence but also if your cards add up to 15 or 31 resulting in an additional 2 points each along with the points for the run.
A run can’t be interrupted by another foreign card for example if this sequence is played you will not receive the points for a run. Example: 4,6,6,5( the second 6 would be considered a foreign card, though the player laying down second 6 would receive 2 points for the pair.)
If the cards laid down are in this order 4,6,6,4,5 you would receive 3 points for a run, since the last three numbers (6, 4, 5) form a run.
In order to receive the run, the cards do not need to be laid down in sequential order to count as a run, just not interrupted by another card. This is why 6, 4, and 5 work – it doesn’t have to be 6, 5, 4.
When the pegging round is over, it is time to count your hand and earn points. The dealer will count last, first counting their own hand, and then the ‘Crib.’ After each round of counting hands, the alternate person will be the dealer for the next round and receive the crib.
The order in which hands are counted can be extremely important. When closing in on the end of the game, the non-dealer may have the opportunity to “count out” before the dealer even has the opportunity to count their hands. If the non-dealer counts out, the game has ended and that player has won.
The ‘starter’ card drawn after the hand was dealt is used in scoring points in all players hands and the crib. So, it can almost be thought of has having another card in your own hand, only it is shared among all players.
Remember when scoring that the ‘starter’ card counts as if it is a card in your hand, and is used for calculating points.
Fifteen: All card combinations totaling 15 will score 2 points each. It can be in any combination of numbers that total 15. Remember that face cards count as 10, and aces count as 1.
Pairs: A matching set of 2 of the same cards will earn 2 points.
If you have 3 of the same card it would earn 6 points.
Having 4 of the same card will result in 12 points.
Runs: A run must be 3 or more sequential cards. You will receive 1 point for each card in the run. Note that an ace can never be in a run with Jack, Queen and King because it is a low card and can only be in a run with 2 and 3.
Flush: If your hand contains all 4 of the same suit it will score you 4 points. If the starter card is also the same suit you will receive an additional 1 point. NOTE the starter card only applies if all the cards in your hand are the same suit. Note that a flush can never be used while in the pegging round, only in the counting of your hand and crib.
His Nobs: If you have a Jack in your hand that matches the suit of the starter card, you will receive 1 point.
All combinations of cards that total runs, pairs or sets of 15 will each count as separate sets of points for that hand. Each player must count their points out loud so other players can hear the count.
If your hand contains:
The starter card is a 7
Your hand contains 6,7,8,9
This is how you would score this hand:
- 3 sets of 15 =6
- 1 pair = 2
- 2 runs of 4 =8
- Scoring points total = 16
If your hand contained a flush you would add 4 for a potential total hand score of 20 points.
The three sets of 15 can be confusing, so let’s break this down further. Note that there are two sevens in this scenario – one in your hand, and one as the face card.
- The face card 7 + 8 = 15, so two points are awarded.
- The 7 in your hand + 8 = 15, so two points are awarded.
- 9 + 6 = 15, so two points are awarded.
Similarly, because you have two sevens, you also have to separate runs, and are awarded points for both.
Once you become familiar with the game, counting the score becomes easier.
Usually you would start by counting your fifteens, then your pairs followed by runs and flushes. This is how it is suggested to count this hand out loud:
15 two (for remembering your points), 15 four, 15 six, a pair is eight, a run of 4 for 12 and a second run of 4 for 16. Plus a flush (if applicable) for twenty points.
Counting becomes easier once you remember these few rules for counting.
- Runs of 3 cards plus a duplicate card will equal 8.
- Runs of 3 cards with 2 duplicate cards will equal 16.
- Runs of 3 cards with a triplicate will equal 15.
- Runs of 4 cards with a duplicate card will equal 10.
- 3 of the same card equals 6.
- 4 of the same card equals 12.
- The perfect hand in cribbage contains 29 points!
Optional Muggins Rules
Once players become familiar with the game, you may play with the optional “Muggins” rule.
While playing cribbage you must count your hand out loud and announce your total. If the person counting the cards overlooks any points, any non-counting player can call muggins and claim those points for their own.
Winning The Game
Whether you have decided to play the full game of scoring to 121 points or are playing to 61, the winner is determined the same way. A winner is declared when the first person reaches the agreed-upon score.
This can be done by either pegging out or counting of the hands. If the non-dealer counts his cards first and reaches the end score, the game is over. The dealer may not count their cards even if the dealer has a higher scoring hand than the non-dealer, or would peg out with more points.
If you are less than halfway to the end score (61 for a standard game, 31 for the shortened version), and your opponent has won the game this means you are “Lurched” and the winner scores as if they have won two games of cribbage.
A variation of the game that has become popular is when a player has become “Skunked”. This pertains to the game playing to 121 points. A player becomes skunked when they fail to reach ⅔ point of the game (91 points), before the winner scores 121 points. This results in the winner of the game to score as a 2 game win.
“Double Skunked” is when the winner reaches 121 points before the opponent reaches the halfway point (61) and this counts as a quadruple win.
When it comes to having high scoring hands it takes both strategy and a little luck.
If it is your crib, you will want to determine the best way to divide your hand and your crib. Determine which cards have the highest benefit for your hand, and put the other 2 in your crib.
Sometimes it is an easy choice because all your cards have good scoring potential. Remember you will be counting your crib after your hand, and it is good to give your crib hand some points as well. Also take into consideration which cards will help you score during the pegging portion of the round you are playing.
If you are not the dealer, you will still need to put 2 cards into the dealer’s crib. First, retain the best cards for your hand and give the dealers crib cards that might not have a high scoring value. For example putting a 5 into the dealer’s crib could be very beneficial to the dealer’s crib because there are several face cards, so the probability of these appearing is higher than for other cards.
You should also try not to put sequential cards into the opponent’s crib, as it could make it easier for them to obtain a run.
Sometimes your best option might be to give the dealer some points in the crib, because your hand points far outweigh the loss of points to the dealer.
Retaining cards that can help you peg during game play is a good strategy. Often low cards can come in handy when trying to hit 31. Mid range cards are often good for hitting 15 or playing runs. Try not to let your cards total 21, since there are so many face cards it could be easier for your opponent to hit 31 and receive their 2 points.
Leading with a 5 could be beneficial to your opponent as well, making it easier for them to hit 15 and score 2 points. It is often a good strategy to lead with a card that cannot make 15 with their next turn. This will prevent your opponent from scoring at 15, but could enable you to score at 15 if you have another low card.
Cribbage an an incredible game, with incredible historical importance.
We hope that you found this guide on how to play cribbage helpful, and you now have a full understanding both of cribabge rules, and cribbage strategy.
Of course, if you have any other questions about cribbage, ask them below and I’ll be happy to help!
Wishing you the best,
– James And Amara