How to Play Cribbage – A Comprehensive Guide

Welcome to the world of cribbage, one of the most beloved and challenging card games. Whether you’re a novice looking to learn or a seasoned player seeking a refresher, this comprehensive guide will walk you through how to play cribbage.

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History of Cribbage

Cribbage has a rich history that dates back to the 17th century. Initially developed in England, it has since become a favorite pastime worldwide. Its unique scoring system and the iconic cribbage board make it a standout among card games.

Basics of Cribbage

At its core, cribbage is a game designed for two players, though variations allow for more. The objective is to be the first to reach a target score, traditionally 121 points. Cribbage is played with a standard 52-card deck.

52-card poker

Setting Up the Game

To play cribbage, you’ll need the following components:

  • A cribbage board
  • A standard 52-card deck
  • Two pegs for each player (usually one color per player)
  • A scoring pad or paper

The cribbage board is an essential tool for tracking your score during the Game. Each player has two pegs, one to mark the current score and one for the previous score.

Game Rules and Gameplay

Cribbage is a unique game known for its intricate scoring system. Let’s delve into the basics of cribbage gameplay.


The player who shuffles the cards becomes the dealer. After mixing, the non-dealer cuts the deck. The dealer then deals six cards to each player.

The Crib

From the six cards dealt to each player, four are chosen to form “the crib.” The crib belongs to the dealer, and it’s a hidden hand that scores separately at the end of the round. The remaining two cards in each player’s hand are used for their main hand.

The Play

  1. Starting with the non-dealer, players take turns laying one card at a time.
  2. Players announce the cumulative value of the cards played, but no player can exceed 31.
  3. Players earn points during the play for achieving specific combinations, such as pairs or runs of cards.

The Show

After the play, players reveal their hands. Points are scored for specific card combinations. The dealer’s crib is then displayed, and more points are scored.

An Example Play and Scoring

Let’s explore a hypothetical play to illustrate cribbage’s gameplay and scoring. In this example:

  • Player A is the non-dealer, and Player B is the dealer.
  • The non-dealer’s hand consists of 5♠ 6♦ 7♣ 8♠ 9♠ 10♠.
  • The dealer’s hand consists of 4♣ 4♠ 6♣ 8♣ 10♣ Q♠.
  • The starter card (the first card turned up) is five ♥.

The play might go like this:

  1. Player A plays 5♠, announcing “5” for the cumulative total.
  2. Player B plays 4♣, revealing “9” for the cumulative total.
  3. Player A plays 6♦, telling “15.”
  4. Player B plays 4♠, announcing “19.”
  5. Player A plays 7♣, revealing “26.”
  6. Player B plays 6♣, telling “32.” Player B cannot play anymore, as it would exceed 31, so Player A gets the last card.

Points are awarded during the play:

  • Player A earns 2 points for forming a pair (5♠ and six ♦).
  • Player A earns 2 points for making the cumulative total 31.
  • Player B earns 1 point for playing the last card before reaching 31.

Now, the players reveal their hands, including the crib:

Player A’s Hand: 5♠ 6♦ 7♣ 8♠ 9♠ 10♠ Q♠ (Starter: 5♥)

Player B’s Hand: 4♣ 4♠ 6♣ 8♣ 10♣ Q♠

Crib: 4♣ 4♠ 10♣ Q♠

Now, let’s evaluate the hands for additional points:

  • Player A can form a 15 with the cards 5♠ and 10♠, earning 2 points.
  • Player A can also form a run of three with the cards 6♦ 7♣ 8♠, earning 3 points.
  • In Player A’s crib, the 4♣ and 4♠ form a pair, earning 2 points.

Player B doesn’t score additional points from their hand or the crib.

Player A, in this example, has a total of 7 points from the play and hand. Plus, 2 points from the crib for a total of 9 points. The non-dealer, Player A, wins this round.

Common Cribbage Terms

Cribbage has its terms and phrases that players use during the Game. Understanding these terms will not only make you sound like a cribbage pro but also help you follow the Game better.

1.Pegging: This is moving pegs on the cribbage board to keep track of players’ scores.

2.His Heels: If the starter card (the first card turned up) is a Jack, the dealer immediately scores two points, known as “His Heels.”

3.Nobs: If a Jack of the same suit as the starter card is in a player’s hand, they score one point for “Nobs.”

4.Fifteens: A combination of cards that totals 15 points. Players score 2 points for each unique combination of cards that sums up to 15 during the play.

5.Pair: Two cards of the same rank played in succession earn 2 points.

6.Run: A sequence of three or more cards in consecutive order makes points. The number of points is equal to the length of the run.

7.Double Run: Two lines of consecutive cards that share a standard card (e.g., 3-4-5-5-6) are known as a “double run” and earn double the points.

8.Muggins: This rule allows the non-scoring player to claim any points their opponent misses during scoring. Forgetting to score a combination might lead to your opponent saying “Muggins” and taking those points.

9.Skunk: In some cribbage games, a player wins by such a significant margin that it’s called a “skunk.” It’s often agreed upon before the Game that winning by 30 or more points is a skunk.

Variations and House Rules

Cribbage enthusiasts worldwide have introduced various variations and house rules to add complexity or enjoy a different experience. Some common variations include “Captain’s Crib,” “Cutthroat Cribbage,” and “Lowball Cribbage.”

House rules can be regional or personal preferences and might involve different ways to handle “fifteens,” “pairs,” and “runs,” or other scoring situations. Before starting a game, it’s a good idea to clarify the rules you’ll be using.

Game card manufacturers often produce custom cribbage decks with unique designs and high-quality cardstock. These decks can enhance your gaming experience and make a stylish addition to your cribbage sessions.

Cribbage Strategy and Tips

Cribbage is a game of skill and a game of strategy. While luck plays a role, a good player can consistently outperform a less experienced opponent. Here are some tips to help you improve your cribbage game:

1.Discard Wisely: When creating the crib, discard cards unlikely to form high-scoring combinations with the starter card. Avoid giving your opponent an easy win in the crib.

2.Pay Attention to the Starter Card: The starter card can significantly affect the play. Keep an eye on it and consider how it can be used to your advantage. To create runs and pairs, a high card can be a valuable tool.

3.Mind the Pegging: Be strategic in your card play during the pegging phase. Try to create opportunities for yourself while blocking your opponent from scoring.

4.Count Your Cards: Keep a mental count of the cards played. This can help you anticipate which cards remain in the deck and make more informed decisions during play.

5.Aim for the Go: If you can’t play a card without going over 31, aim to play a card that brings the count as close to 31 as possible. This forces your opponent to start a new count, giving you a chance to peg.

6.Maximize Your Fifteens: Be on the lookout for combinations that total 15 during the play. These are valuable for scoring and should be played whenever possible.

7.Think About Your Opponent’s Hand: Anticipate what your opponent may have in their hand and crib. This can guide your card play and help you block their scoring opportunities.

8.Practice Regularly: As with any game, practice makes perfect. The more you play cribbage, the more comfortable you’ll become with its unique strategies.

9.Learn From Mistakes: Pay attention to the mistakes you make and learn from them. Cribbage is a game where missing points (muggins) can be costly.

By keeping these cribbage strategies and tips in mind, you can become a more skilled player and enjoy the Game even more.

Frequently Asked Questions

As you embark on your journey to master cribbage, you might encounter some common questions. Here are answers to help clarify any uncertainties:

Q1. How long does a game of cribbage typically take?

  • The duration of a game can vary, but on average, a two-player cribbage game may take around 30 minutes to an hour. However, it can be shorter or longer based on your skill level and house rules.

Q2. Can cribbage be played with more than two players?

  • While two-player cribbage is expected, you can play with three or four players. In such games, players usually form partnerships, each taking turns during the play.

Q3. What is the “skunk line” in cribbage?

  • The “skunk line” is often set at 30 points. When one player reaches 30 or more points before their opponent scores a single point, the Game is said to be a “skunk.”

Q4. Are there different variations of cribbage?

  • Yes, there are several cribbage variations, including Captain’s Crib, Cutthroat Cribbage, and more. Each variation may have its own unique rules and scoring system.

Q5. Can cribbage be played online or with apps?

  • Absolutely. Many online platforms and mobile apps offer cribbage games that allow you to play against friends or computer opponents.

Scoring and Winning

Cribbage is all about accumulating points throughout the Game. To win, you’ll need to reach the target score, traditionally set at 121 points. The first player to get or exceed this score wins the Game. If you’re playing multiple games, the player who reaches the target score first wins the match.

  • Remember that in cribbage, every point counts, and strategy is critical to success. Whether playing for fun with friends or in a more competitive setting, cribbage offers a blend of skill, design, and social interaction that can provide hours of enjoyment.

Cribbage Etiquette

Cribbage is a game known not just for its strategic depth but also for its friendly and social nature. To ensure a positive gaming experience, it’s essential to follow proper cribbage etiquette. Here are some guidelines:

1.Respect Your Opponent: Treat your opponent with respect and courtesy. Cribbage is a game, and it should be enjoyable for everyone involved.

2.Honesty: Honesty is fundamental in cribbage. Don’t manipulate your cards or scores. Part of the fun is the challenge of outsmarting your opponent within the rules.

3.Maintain Good Sportsmanship: Whether you’re winning or losing, be a gracious player. Congratulate your opponent on a well-played hand or Game.

4.Stay Engaged: Pay Attention to the Game. Avoid distractions and interruptions during play to keep the Game flowing smoothly.

5.Don’t Stall: Avoid stalling tactics that slow down the Game or disrupt your opponent’s concentration. Cribbage should be enjoyable for all players.

6.Clarify Rules: If there’s any uncertainty about the rules or how a hand should be played, feel free to discuss it with your opponent or group. It’s better to clarify than to have misunderstandings.

7.Learn From Mistakes: If you make a mistake in scoring or playing, don’t be afraid to admit it. It’s a learning opportunity for everyone involved.

8.End the Game Gracefully: If you win, do so gracefully and without boasting. If you lose, be a good sport and congratulate your opponent.

9.Handle Disputes Calmly: If a dispute arises, handle it calmly and in the spirit of fair play. If you can’t resolve the issue, consult the rules or a trusted reference source.

By following these etiquette guidelines, you’ll contribute to a more enjoyable and friendly cribbage experience for everyone involved.


Cribbage is a classic card game with a rich history and a dedicated fan base. Playing cribbage can be a rewarding journey filled with strategic challenges and social interactions. Whether enjoying a casual game with friends or engaging in competitive play, cribbage offers a unique and enjoyable gaming experience.

With this comprehensive guide, you’re well-equipped to start playing cribbage and, with practice and experience, to become a skilled player. If you have any more questions or if there’s a specific aspect of cribbage you’d like to explore further, please feel free to ask.

Now, it’s time to shuffle the cards, grab your cribbage board, and enjoy the Game. May your pegs move swiftly and your hands be filled with high-scoring combinations. Happy cribbage playing!

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