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Cribbage Strategies for Beginners: Tips to Level Up Your Game

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Cribbage is a classic card game that has been enjoyed for centuries. It combines elements of luck and skill, making it both challenging and exciting to play. Cribbage can be played online, with apps, or with a cribbage board. Whether you’re new to cribbage (we’ll cover the basics of the game) or looking to improve your skills, here are some strategies to help you level up your game and increase your chances of winning.

The Rules

We recommend skipping this part if you’re familiar with them.

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Cribbage is a two-player card game that uses a standard 52-card deck and a cribbage board. The objective of the game is to be the first player to score a certain number of points, usually 121 or 61.

Here’s a brief explanation of the game rules:

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  1. Setup: The dealer is determined by drawing cards, and each player is dealt six cards. Each player then selects two cards from their hand to discard face-down into a separate pile called the “crib.” The crib will be used for additional scoring opportunities later.
  1. Pegging Phase: The non-dealer (also known as the “pone”) starts the game by laying down a card face-up on the table. The dealer then plays a card, and the players take turns playing one card each, trying to create combinations that score points. The cumulative value of the played cards must not exceed 31. Face cards count as 10, numbered cards as their face value, and Aces as 1. The player who plays the last card without exceeding 31 scores a point for a “go.”
  1. Scoring: As the cards are played, players score points for various combinations. Some common scoring combinations include pairs (2 points), three of a kind (6 points), four of a kind (12 points), runs (1 point per card in the run), and combinations that add up to 15 (2 points). The player who played the last card also scores any additional combinations that bring the total to 15.
  1. Counting the Hands and Crib: After the pegging phase, both players count the points in their remaining four cards. They score combinations similar to the pegging phase, including runs, pairs, and combinations totaling 15. The dealer also counts the points in the crib, including any combinations formed by the cards in the crib and the starter card (the card turned up after the hands are counted).
  1. Repeat: The roles switch, and the previous non-dealer becomes the new dealer. The game continues with another round of pegging, counting of the hands and crib, and scoring until one player reaches the target score (usually 121 or 61) and wins the game.


Focus on the Pegging Phase

The pegging phase of cribbage is where you can gain an advantage by strategically playing your cards. Look for opportunities to create runs, pairs, or combinations that add up to 15. Keep track of the cards played by both you and your opponent to anticipate possible scoring opportunities. Additionally, be mindful of the cards you discard to the crib, as it can greatly impact your opponent’s potential scoring opportunities.

Play to the Crib

When discarding cards to the crib, aim to create a hand that is difficult for your opponent to score. Avoid giving them cards that form obvious combinations or make it easy for them to reach 15. Instead, focus on discarding cards that are less likely to be useful in scoring, such as high-value cards without much synergy.

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Time When Not to Think About The Crib

Once you find yourself with a score of 116 points in cribbage, it’s advisable to prioritize playing your strongest hand. When you’re so close to reaching the target score, the significance of the crib diminishes. It becomes less of a concern as the likelihood of finishing the game before all the cards are played increases. Therefore, your primary focus should be on making optimal card plays to secure the win. Remember that once you emerge as the victor, the impact of the crib becomes inconsequential, particularly if you hold the non-dealer position.

Never Start With a Five

To gain an advantage in cribbage, it can be beneficial to make certain assumptions about your opponent’s hand. For example, if you suspect that they have a card worth ten, it’s wise to avoid starting with a five. By doing so, you prevent your opponent from immediately playing their ten to create a total of 15 and earning 2 points. Instead, opt for lower-numbered cards to deny them the opportunity to make 15 and potentially gain an advantage.

Think of the Low Power Cards

To kick off the game on a strong note, consider leading with a four during the pegging phase. The number four is advantageous because it cannot directly contribute to a total of 15 when combined with any of your opponent’s cards. By playing a four, you minimize the chances of your opponent immediately scoring points.

Furthermore, it is wise to hold onto low-value cards such as aces, twos, and threes for subsequent plays. These cards can be strategically utilized later on to help achieve a total of 31 during the pegging phase. This allows you to continue playing even after your opponent declares a “go,” (we’ll talk about it a big later) granting you additional scoring opportunities and potentially swinging the game in your favor.

Counting Cards

As you become more experienced, try to keep track of the cards that have been played. This knowledge can give you an edge by helping you make better decisions during the pegging phase. By keeping a mental tally of the cards played, you can estimate the probability of certain cards appearing in later rounds, allowing you to adjust your strategy accordingly.

Watch Your Opponent’s Discards

During the discard phase, pay close attention to the cards your opponent chooses to discard. Their discards can provide valuable information about the cards they may be holding. If they discard cards that create scoring opportunities in cribbage, you can adjust your strategy to block or minimize their potential points.

Aim for a Balanced Hand

When creating your hand, try to aim for a balance between high-value cards and cards that can form combinations. This approach increases your chances of scoring points in different ways, such as pairs, runs, and 15 combinations. Avoid focusing solely on high-value cards, as they may limit your scoring opportunities.

Strategize Your “Go” Moves

In cribbage, the “go” is an important concept. When your opponent cannot play a card without going over 31, you earn points for saying “go” and continuing to play until neither player can make a legal move. To maximize your “go” opportunities, try to hold back cards that have limited potential for scoring until your opponent is close to reaching 31. This strategy can give you more chances to score points and deny your opponent the same opportunity.

Learn from Your Mistakes

Don’t be discouraged by losses or mistakes; instead, use them as learning opportunities. Reflect on your gameplay and identify areas where you can improve. Analyze the decisions you made during pegging, discarding, and counting, and consider alternative strategies that may have yielded better results. Learning from your mistakes is a crucial part of growing as a cribbage player.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Like any skill, becoming proficient at cribbage requires practice. Play against opponents of varying skill levels to gain experience and exposure to different strategies. You can also find online cribbage communities or play against computer opponents to hone your skills.

Closing Words

In conclusion, by implementing these cribbage strategies, you can take your gameplay to new heights and enhance your chances of success. From the pegging phase to discarding the crib and counting the hands, each aspect of the game offers opportunities for strategic decision-making. By understanding the scoring combinations, maintaining control of the pegging phase, and adapting your gameplay based on observations, you can gain a competitive edge.

Remember to practice regularly, learn from your experiences, and embrace the challenge of cribbage.

Also according to popular belief, engaging in cribbage can contribute to the well-being of your brain, potentially reducing the chances of developing dementia and depression if you play it regularly.

So, shuffle the cards, sharpen your skills, and get ready to dominate the cribbage board. With these strategies in your arsenal, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a formidable cribbage player. Best of luck and enjoy the thrill of the game!

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James Musoba
James Musoba
Studying Africa's startup and technology scene. I always look forward to discovering new exciting inventions and vibrant entrepreneurs.

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